There’s no debating the fact that social casino gaming has become big business.

Naysayers within our industry who may have felt that social casino gaming was just a short-term trend were rocked awake recently when Eilers Research revealed that global demand for social casino games increased 5.5 percent in Q4 alone, generating as much as $590 million in revenue for the quarter.

The painful reality, however, is that many brick-and-mortar casinos consider social casino gaming to be a side project, unworthy of the company’s full attention. Other casinos ignore social casino gaming altogether, surrendering the opportunity to build brand awareness and equity among their returning players and in turn, ignore tens of thousands of potential players who could be incentivized to walk through their doors.

In total, the industry is set to generate $2.7 billion in revenues for 2014 and is estimated to grow to $4.2 billion by 2016. That’s a large pie and many in the industry aren’t striving for a piece of it.

As an industry veteran, I’ve seen scores of small and mid-sized casinos forego private label social casino gaming simply because they believe they can’t afford a reputable platform. In the alternative, others are afraid of surrendering their valuable—and confidential—database to larger software companies who ultimately will treat them like just another account.

I am here to tell you that if small- and mid-sized casinos take the first step toward adopting a social casino—and if they demand a little respect along the way—the matters of cost and confidentiality will no longer be a concern.

Let’s first discuss what casinos are missing out on when they fail to launch a social gaming platform.

According to SuperData research, 82 percent of social casino gamers have visited a land-based casino within the past year. More compelling is the fact that 60 percent have visited within the past six months. The takeaway is simple: people like to play casino-style games even when they’re not at an actual casino. Some players log on in order to hone their skills while others simply enjoy playing and accumulating membership points in the process.

Either way, millions of players prepare for their next visit to a brick-and-mortar casino by visiting a social casino online. Furthermore, many players will willingly purchase credits in order to elevate their play, generating revenue for a casino without ever having to provide physical services (such as food or hotel) nor engaging in a conventional gambling transaction where the house always risks a loss.

A dynamic and branded social casino gaming platform can ensure that players remain active on a casino’s site at any time and on any device. Furthermore, keeping players engaged on a casino’s site enhances brand loyalty and generates (through accumulated points and various incentives) excitement about returning to the casino floor.

Simply put, every casino—regardless of size—needs to have a branded social casino online. Those that don’t are almost literally leaving money on the table. Therefore, let’s talk about how your casino can navigate the emerging world of social casino gaming.

• Your brand, your players, your platform, your marketing—A scalable social casino platform can be affordable, but it won’t be cheap. So why would you allow the provider to co-brand your site if you’re paying the tab?  Your social casino should have a customized virtual lobby that replicates the look of your casino.  Just as important, you need one-of-a-kind player engagement through “magic moment” redemptions that replicate real life experiences on the casino floor. Finally, in terms of customization, your platform should have direct-to-player marketing messages that your in-house marketing team creates and issues via the platform.

• No more shared databases—These days, providers no longer need read/write access to your casino’s proprietary database of players. Platforms nowadays should have a consistent and simple API for integration. The important considerations is who owns the players, who can market to your players and where are you sending your players to?

• Seamless integration with your existing loyalty program, know your customer (KYC) and payment processing systems—This one is a no-brainer. If your casino already has a viable loyalty program, KYC and payment processing system, then your social casino platform should integrate with minimal effort.

• Game selection—For social casinos, more games equates into more time spent online. Your social casino should offer exciting, entertaining and engaging games that draw players back through your doors. The misconception is that you need to have the same games on the casino floor on your online social casino. What really matters is that you have game content from multiple publishers, on multiple devices that your players will be entertained with. This is a great opportunity for the casino to introduce new games, ideas and concepts to their audience. In the near future many games will be tested online and then make their way to the casino floor. Casino operators will now have many more choices than ever on how they get their game content.

• Finally, conversion to real money—Once again, there are naysayers who will predict that real money play outside of Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey is a long way off. My read of the situation is far closer to conventional wisdom: real-money play will gradually expand in 2015 through 2016, followed by a dramatic spike in adoption among tribes and states. Why wouldn’t you want to be prepared when real money play visits your jurisdiction?

 I’ll close by addressing another misconception: there are some that consider a social casino platform to be merely a stopover to real-money gaming; once you understand the broad potential of social casino gaming you will realize that both platforms—social and real money—exist together. Each platform is built from the ground up with different features and functionality meant to serve a different-yet-vital purpose.