US gambling whale Harrahs Entertainment joined forces this week with
AOL to build a co-branded cyberspace home for the popular World Series
of Poker tournament and its associated interest groups.
The new site will include free-play poker rooms, event updates and other content in an effort to widen the tournament's audience. The relationship between Harrah's and AOL will also allow 12 poker fans, age 21 or older, to win a free seat at the $10,000 buy-in No limit Texas Hold'em world championship event at either the 2006 or 2007 World Series of Poker.
"We're thrilled to pair the best brand in poker with the best brand in online games and content," said Jeffrey Pollack, vice president of sports and entertainment marketing for Harrah's Entertainment. "AOL's powerful reach will help more people than ever before experience the fun, excitement and energy of the World Series of Poker. This strategic alliance is an important foundation for our growth strategy over the next 24 months."
"The renewed interest in poker has also been reflected on AOL.com, where poker is constantly among the most popular games on our service," said Ralph Rivera, vice president and general manager, AOL Games. "Joining forces with Harrah's to create the most compelling World Series of Poker-branded poker destination online is a great way to satisfy our users' interests in all things poker."
The announcement seized the opportunity to publicize the World Series of Poker, which will take place next summer at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. During the 2005 World Series of Poker, more than $52 million in prize money was awarded in the Main Event alone, and every player who advanced to the final table won at least $1 million.
Industry observers were also interested in the results of a new survey released with the announcement and contradicting pessimistic reports about a fall-off in global poker interest recently.
Conducted by Schulman, Ronca, & Bucuvalas (SRBI) the AOL Games Poll was conducted by telephone April 21-May 1, 2005 among a random sample of 1,005 people throughout America. The margin of error for the entire sample is approximately +/-3 percentage points.
It showed that mainstream interest in poker has increased significantly over the last year.
Almost half (47 percent) of Americans surveyed play poker in some form. Among poker players, almost one in five (17 percent) say they have played poker "more than ever before," and about a quarter (26 percent) have taken up the game just in the past year.
More than one-third of the poll respondents (37 percent) watch poker events such as the World Series of Poker on television, and about one-in-10 (11 percent) have played poker online. When asked why they play on the Web, most players said it was to learn the game or to practice before playing at offline casino events.
The AOL Games deal provides WSOP with access to millions of players using unique and exclusive high-speed and narrowband programming features for online, PC and console gamers. AOL provides more than 150 online games to approximately 8 million game fans per month, who have an average monthly site dwelling time of over 3.5 hours.