Trying to draw poker players – stay old school

December 09, 2014 2:30 AM


Poker Industry Ultimate Poker Rooms Nowadays you have to be like a politician and personally invite players to your gaming site or card room. Once you have the customers’ attention, then the real work begins.

Let’s take Ultimate Poker as an example and analyze what caused them to fail.

For any poker room to succeed, it must have a certain number of players and a variety of games available around the clock. Players need to know they can log on and get action any time of the day or night. Ultimate Poker could provide neither.

Even with Station Casinos marketing the Ultimate Poker website through its Nevada casinos, a $1 million marketing campaign and a marketing agreement with the UFC, Ultimate Poker folded in a year and a half.

I was really troubled by the failure of UP, which seemed almost impossible given all they had going for them. Could UP have bought the business?


What Ultimate Poker failed to do was add a personal touch to its marketing and reach out to every poker player in Nevada making them an offer they could not refuse. All the marketing dollars in the world are not going to help if you don’t put in the sweat equity.

With all those marketing dollars, they could have instituted the following:

• Hire approximately 100 affiliates with great incentives and communication programs to monitor what was working and what wasn’t.

• Hire over a 1,000 players with 80% rakeback. Build a great relationship with them, so they could help identify the site’s weak areas and have input on how best to promote the online site.

• Take some of your best customers to lunch and ask for their recommendations on ways to make the site and their player experience better.

You may say that sounds like a lot of work. Well, if you want to be successful, it requires a lot of hard work. You say this is old-school marketing, and to that I answer, “Nothing beats the personal touch.”

In California when they legalized hold’em, one casino dominated the gambling market. So how did number two overtake number one? Here’s how they did it.

The general manager at the time hired everyone who wanted a job. Over 100 proposition players were hired to promote the middle-limit games. The GM knew that out of a those “props,” only 10 percent could survive gambling. He hired friendly people who had friends.

The players who had reputations for providing lots of action would eventually go broke. His challenge was to keep finding and hiring players as very few could survive in a job gambling six to eight hours a day.

Did his plan work? Yes! This casino went to number one and has never looked back. It was an amazing marketing concept I have used to turn around many casinos – without one failure.

This is not a new concept in casino marketing. When I was in marketing at the MGM based out of the Beverly Hills office, it was my job simply to recruit players. The cost of acquisition was never an issue as long as the company had a shot to make money from the players.

For as long as I can remember, casinos have hired people to go out and find players. As old school as this may seem, it works. Translating this to the online world means offering incentives both to affiliates and directly to new players.

Remember when Party Poker had hundreds of affiliates that took them to No. 1? Everyone wanted to be part of the growth of the new online poker business. Many people worked their tails off, which led to Party Poker’s spectacular success.

It troubles me to see sites that had people promote them for years, but once they reach a certain level of success, they abandon those same people that brought them to the dance.

The concept is simple: All business is about people, but in gambling even more so. People want to be where the action is.

Once you create action, the promotions are just maintenance to keep your players happy. I would rather spend marketing dollars on people-to-people business than intangible concepts like analytics and data mining.

Call me old school; I’ll take it as a compliment.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert, best known for inventing the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has over 30 years experience in the gaming industry and is co-founder of Crown Digital Games. Twitter @thechipburnerRobert can be reached at

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