Which Ad Agency Is Already Cashing In On Internet-Gambling Jackpot?

Agency Will Lead Campaign for World Series of Poker Branded Site

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Independent agency Zambezi has hit the online gambling jackpot, winning the Caesars Interactive Entertainment creative account, Ad Age has learned.

The marketer, a subsidiary of gaming giant Caesars Entertainment, has tasked the agency with a campaign for its World Series of Poker branded online poker site, which is set to go live this summer for real money play for Nevada residents and visitors.

The U.S. Justice Department had once considered online gambling illegal, but softened its stance in 2011 when it said the federal Wire Act of 1961 only applies to sports betting. That has cleared the way for states to pursue legalization, setting up what experts say could be the next boom category for ad spending. H2 Gambling Capital, which tracks the industry, forecasts that the internet-gaming sector could spend up to $4 billion on marketing in the next five years, Ad Age reported last year.

So far, online gambling is legal in Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill this week, starting what The New York Times reported could be "the largest expansion of legalized gambling in New Jersey since the first casino began operating in Atlantic City in 1978."

More states could follow. "We anticipate that other states will fall like dominos and we will be prepared to be in all of those states when it happens," Michael Staskin, VP-marketing for Caesars Interactive Marketing, told Ad Age. Asked if Zambezi would pick up that potential work, he said, "I'm the kind of guy that likes to take the girl home that I brought to the prom. Assuming that we are successful [in Nevada], we will be successful everywhere."

That could translate into a substantial opportunity Venice-Beach, Ca.-based Zambezi, which won the account after a completive pitch involving several other unidentified agencies. The shop, which launched in 2006, is already enjoying a growth spurt by pursuing brands in the sports and entertainment industry that rely on discretionary purchases. In the past year, Zambezi has doubled its workforce to 70, while it added accounts including online sporting goods retailer Eastbay (which is owned by Foot Locker), Ashworth golf brand, and Strongbow, a hard cider marketed in the U.S. by Heineken USA that is expected to get a significant push this year. Other clients include 2K Sports and Popchips.

Nevada's legislation, which was signed last week by Gov. Brian Sandoval, applies to online poker only and allows the state to strike deals with other states, potentially creating a multi-state online poker network.

The law requires poker providers to get regulatory approvals before online play can begin with real money, a process that Caesars expects to be completed "sometime in the summer." To ensure that players are located in Nevada, it is expected that participants will have to respond to a text message on their cell phone, "which will then permit geo-locating you, so we'll know whether you are inside the borders of Nevada or not," Mr. Staskin said.

The campaign will include TV, out-of-home, radio, events and digital components. "Despite the fact that it's an online brand, there is going to be a lot of off-line marketing to really capture the locals that live here in Nevada," Mr. Staskin said.

The footprint is also likely to extend regionally, potentially including billboards in California, for instance. And the marketer will surely take advantage of the World Series of Poker event broadcast annually by ESPN.

The target demographic for the online site is males ages 21 to 49. The media agency for Caesars Interactive Marketing is Zenith Media.

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