"Win a seat at the 2005 World Series of Poker -- on us!"
I think that Harrah's Entertainment
Zillions of people everywhere have been watching the coverage of the 2004 WSOP on ESPN on a weekly basis since the episodes began airing on July 6 (see Playing on Poker's Draw). And by covering almost every event of the WSOP and dedicating 10 hours over a span of five weeks to the championship No Limit Hold'em tournament alone, ESPN has successfully capitalized on and accentuated the fact that the World Series is by far the biggest event in poker.
That's so true that ESPN had just aired the final two hours on Tuesday night, and to milk them some more, those episodes have already been replayed on ESPN and ESPN2 about a dozen times.
And then there's Harrah's.
So last night, I get an email from Harrah's titled "World Series of Poker." The tagline of the email is, "Win a seat at the 2005 World Series of Poker -- on us!" The link directs the recipient to the Web page for the new poker room at Harrah's St. Louis (Maryland Heights).
Now if you've followed my coverage of the gaming industry to any extent, you know how I feel about Harrah's marketing. First of all, I think the emails are brilliant (see The Game of eMarketing). On the other hand, the corporate-run Harrah's of recent years has been anything but friendly to card players, closing down poker rooms in exchange for profit margins, stiffing blackjack players with continuous shuffling machines (see Harrah's Gains, Gamers Lose), and tricking similarly unsuspecting low-limit blackjack players by offering an unplayable 6:5 "Single-Deck Blackjack" game and marketing it as the classic single-deck game (see Casinos Get Greedy).
But poker is back in vogue, and Harrah's is now leveraging itself as the proud owner of its holy grail, the World Series. Harrah's has been opening new card rooms and reopening once-closed ones in markets (including St. Louis; Kansas City; Lake Charles, La.; and Council Bluffs, Iowa, near Omaha). To celebrate, the company brought in last year's world champion, Chris Moneymaker, to play in a single-table tournament with lucky Harrah's patrons, who picked up raffle tickets to get in the game by playing virtually any casino game, including blackjack and Shuffle Master's
And now Harrah's can offer poker tournaments where the winner gets a seat in the World Series.
This is excellent branding for Harrah's and a nice competitive advantage. Over the past year, the popularity of World Poker Tour Entertainment's
In St. Louis, Penn National Gaming's
Hmm, which sounds more appealing?
Harrah's now offers or plans to offer similar tournaments in Lake Charles and Harrah's East Chicago, among others. What's clear is that while poker is still a low-margin game for the casino, the World Series of Poker has proved and will continue to prove to be a major competitive score for Harrah's Entertainment.
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Fool contributor Jeff Hwang owns shares of Ameristar Casinos.