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The future giants of Internet gambling may end up being familiar names20 February 2007
By Aaron Todd
When The Sands announced it would open an Internet casino targeting the U.K. market in December, European gaming companies cried foul.
How could an American company open an online casino and target Europeans when the U.S. Department of Justice was prosecuting executives of regulated European Internet gaming companies that allowed U.S. players?
No one can blame Party Gaming, SportingBet and 888.com for feeling like they're getting the short end of the stick. But the Sands represents a much larger threat to traditional Internet gambling companies: Brick and mortar gaming companies looking to enter the online space.
"This is another opportunity for our company to create greater awareness of our global brands and further establish our presence and interest in the U.K. market," said Bill Weidner, the Chief Operating Officer of the Las Vegas Sands in a statement. "As the Internet gaming landscape continues to evolve, this effort will put us in a strong position to evaluate and react to other potential opportunities."
The Sands isn't alone. Dusk Till Dawn, a card room set to open in April in Nottingham, England, already has an Internet poker room up and running, and the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, Calif., has been running a play-money Internet poker room for three years.
With brand recognition, cross-promotional opportunities and the increased consumer confidence in the safety of an Internet casino run by a brick and mortar corporation, it may become difficult for Internet-only casinos to keep up.
The 46-table card room in Nottingham will be the largest in Europe once it opens. And based on the success of the online business, which opened in December because it took less time to build, it's bound to be a success. DTDpoker.com had more than 1,000 players less than a month after it opened for business.
"Everybody in Europe is talking about it," said Simon "Aces" Trumper, who will serve as the Live Poker Director when the club opens this spring. "We're going to cause a huge stir on the European poker market."
Part of the buzz around Dusk Till Dawn is that DTDpoker.com will help bring customers into the physical card room. Online players earn "DTD Points" which can be used to pay for membership fees or to buy food and drinks at the live club.
Players may also choose to channel rakeback bonuses into buy-ins for large live tournaments as part of the DTD$$$ Club. Players who use this option and finish in the money in live tournaments will earn extra bonuses from Dusk Till Dawn, with larger bonuses for players who make the final table or win a tournament.
"I'm hoping as many as 75 percent of our (live club) members will play online," said Trumper. "A lot of the players that were already playing a lot of hours (at other online sites) have decided to cross over and start playing on our site with a view to making money to play with once the club opens. I'm hoping that it will have kind of a wave effect; the players that come in will tell people that haven't started playing (online) yet."
U.S. players hoping to work towards the buy-in for an EPT tournament, however, will have to find another way. DTDpoker uses CryptoLogic software, and U.S. players are restricted from real money games on the site.
Building a Community
"When players go home from playing in the casino, they get online and play at home together," said Kelley O'Hara, Marketing Director for The Bicycle Casino. "People know each other's screen names, and later they contact each other and meet up at the casino. It really created an interesting social advantage."
The Internet presence even gives The Bike a way to reach customers well beyond its local clientele.
"We have players that come from around the world to play in our tournaments," O'Hara said. "This is a chance for us to reach out to them and be able to have them play online with us with the feel of the Bicycle Casino and keep our name in front of them, even if they live in Australia or England."
The Bike used to offer online freerolls to help promote the brick and mortar card room, but stopped that practice after the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) passed in October. While the bill doesn't outlaw such giveaways, management at The Bike decided the freerolls were no longer worth running.
O'Hara, however, seemed receptive to the idea that The Bike could run real-money games on its site should the government warm up to the idea of regulating Internet gambling.
"Right now it's just a play money site," O'Hara said. "It's a pretty quiet subject, but do I think (regulation) is a good idea? Yeah, I do."
The Future of Internet Gambling
If and when states regulate Internet gambling, new Internet gamblers are most likely to trust the names they know. While several Internet gambling companies have built solid reputations with players who are already playing online, it will be tough to compete with established brands -- especially those that combine their live and online rewards programs.