One of the most overlooked aspects of a marketing campaign is measuring its effectiveness and building upon that tradition. One of the things marketing managers must do after every campaign is analyze what made it a success, then improve on it and make it their casino’s signature.
Never become so complacent as to think your marketing idea is on automatic. Instead, you should always feel that without 100% effort on your part every time, you will fail.
When the Bicycle Club opened its doors in the early 80’s, George Hardie created a tournament called the Diamond Jim Brady. Hardie dressed up as Diamond Jim Brady and a group of models donned period costumes while they greeted players. When a player won a tournament, these women presented the winner with prizes, such as cars and rings. It became the second highest-grossing tournament after the WSOP.
When the government seized the Bicycle Club in the 90’s, George Hardie took away the rights for the casino to hold the event. I was asked to create something that would equal that event. This is when I came up with the idea for the Legends of Poker. At the time, all the hosts had to wear formal wear when they greeted the players. Each of the 28 events was hosted by a poker legend, such as Johnny Chan, Yosh Nakano, Mike Sexton and Phil Hellmuth, just to name a few. Each host was paid for their appearance and their expenses.
Even the Ford Motor Company provided automobiles to give away as prizes. This was one of the first sponsorship deals for poker.
Another idea I had was to ask the late Jerry Buss if he would like to host his own poker event during the Legends of Poker. I suggested we call it Jerry Buss Go for the Gold.
“Robert,” he said, “I will do it on one condition. I will only do it if you play with real gold.”
That startled me for a minute. He suggested I go to Superior Coin in Los Angeles and rent the gold for charity. I did it and $10 million in real gold coins was brought into the Bike under heavy security. Imagine armored cars pulled up to the front of the Bike transporting real Spanish gold coins from sunken treasure ships.
We lost a very good friend on Monday in Dr. Jerry Buss, my friend of many years to whom I dedicate this article. I met him in the early 80’s playing poker tournaments in Las Vegas. I was fortunate to have worked with him on some of the first poker tournaments for charity. The poker world lost one of its biggest supporters. I never met a more down-to-earth individual who was also a sports icon. He will be missed by the sports and poker communities, both of which he loved.
As for the Buss Go For Gold event, it attracted 48 poker players for $10,000 with 10% of the proceeds going to charity. This was one of the first major charity events held by the poker industry. (We will have much more on the life of Dr. Buss next week).
Imagine that much in gold coins on the table, and guess what? We did not lose a single gold coin! I think Stu Ungar won the first event in 1995, and the event raised over $40,000 for the United Negro College Fund.
That event continued for many years and built up a tradition. I later had to stop bringing in the gold and purchased chips with Jerry’s and Frank Mariani’s pictures on the chips.
Another event held at the Legends of Poker in those days was a roast of players such as Doyle Brunson, Puggy Pearson, and Lyle Berman. We had so much fun in those days coming up with ways to make poker entertaining and players feel appreciated.
After I left, the government sold the Bike, and the tournament took a different direction from an elite event to multiple buy-ins and multiple sessions. The prize money is up, and so is its profit, but Legends lost its tradition.
When the Binions began the World Series of Poker in the 70’s, they used to comp everyone’s room, food and beverages. It was probably one of the greatest times in poker.
When Harrah’s Entertainment (now Caesars Entertainment) bought the rights to the WSOP in 2004, it was a perfect storm where the Internet and television started the modern era of poker.
Now may be the time to revisit the roots of the WSOP. Today the tournament seems to be more about the profit and less about the players. Every year since 2003 when Chris Moneymaker won, the fees for the tournament keep getting higher, and the players keep getting less.
If poker players really want to change things, they would only play in tournaments with added money in the prize pool. The players cannot be expected to foot the bill for the rising cost of putting on a major event. Tournament organizers today are charging a 25-33% entry fee with no money added, and in a million-dollar tournament they are taking out up to $300,000. This practice may eventually kill the goose that laid the golden egg if this path of taking more and giving less continues.
The first casino that adds $1 million to their event, either from the host casino or a sponsor, will become the number one tournament in the world. Every poker player in the world would play in it. That’s why the WSOP is vulnerable today; they add nothing.
Other casinos in Las Vegas have been capitalizing on this vulnerability by hosting their own series during the WSOP. Right now high registration fees have really hurt the poker industry. Added money from sponsors or host hotels may be the best solution.
When I started in casino marketing, our main goal was how to make the poker players enjoy our events and want to come back. We wanted to do something for them because they are our customers. Without them, we have no business.
Each event we gave away gifts and free food. We built a tradition like Jack Binion did with the World Series of Poker and Steve Wynn with the Grand Prix of Poker at the Golden Nugget. Later, when I went to marketing meetings, it became all about how much profit we can make from the event and how not to give away anything. Then there is another marketing meeting blaming the economy for the bad event numbers, and the cycle of failure continues.
Robert Turner, a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert with over 30 years of experience in the gaming industry, is best known for inventing and creating the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and California in 1986. He also created Legends of Poker for Bicycle Casino and the National Championship of Poker for Hollywood Park Casino, both in 1995; World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker, in 2000, and Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.
Respected both at the tables and in gaming industry boardrooms Turner has spent 20 years in casino marketing and player development, served as executive host at Bicycle Casino and MGM, and has an exemplary record of taking financially distressed casino operations and improving their profitability. His innovations include player tracking, information centers, and introducing world-class entertainment and sporting events to Southern California casinos. He is an expert in both casino and online gaming marketing and player development.
Currently, he is working with his new companies Crown Digital Games, developing entertaining and engaging apps across all platforms, and Vision Poker, a poker marketing and managing group. Robert Turner can be reached at [email protected].