BOB DIX, former promotions manager at PokerStars, recalls the fascinating and humourous background to a high-profile marketing push at the online poker site. See his site reluctantgambler.com
Today I thought I’d tell you the story about the time I gave away a Lamborghini. Three times. It’s just a little chaotic look behind the scenes of a marketing team in the gambling industry.
The initial PokerStars Lamborghini Dream promotion ran around 11 years ago. It was a global acquisition campaign, so you might have seen the ads on TV. It was inspired by a regional German promotion that had apparently performed very well. I never saw that analysis – I was just told to reproduce it for the rest of the planet.
The first obstacle came with securing rights to publicise the prize. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the good people at Lamborghini weren’t interested in associating their brand with a gambling company. However, they were willing to play along once we had spent €150K+ on one of their cars. We would generously be permitted to use photos of the car we bought.
My good friends in the Italian marketing team leapt to work and ordered a black Gallardo from a dealership in Rome. They also arranged for a photoshoot so we’d have something to use in the marketing material. So far, so good.
The promotion itself went relatively smoothly. It was a standard mix of impossibly large free-to-enter tournaments (for the newly acquired customers), and smaller low-stakes events (for existing real money customers).
The hope was always that the free-play customers would be inspired to improve their chances by making a deposit, and they were strongly encouraged to do so as part of a tedious and mostly ineffective customer journey.
After perhaps three months, it all led to a grossly top-heavy grand final that gave away lots of small cash prizes and a shiny sportscar to the winner, who was Bulgarian. I’ll always remember the beautiful, heart-warming words of our lucky Lamborghini champ: “I live in Bulgaria, what the f@#k am I going to do with a Lamborghini?”
It was a fair point and a situation I had foreseen. I directed him to our promotional terms that allowed him to opt for a $100K cash alternative instead. He gladly accepted.
Unfortunately, we still had a Lambo tucked away at a Rome dealership, so we’d need to try again. This time, there would be no big TV budget, so we could focus on our real money players and try to recoup some of the costs with additional revenue.
I came up with a simpler tournament structure and a shortened promotional timeframe. There were two reasons for this; firstly, it’s not good to drag a promo out too long, and secondly, it’s expensive to leave a Lamborghini parked up at the dealership where you bought it.
By tailoring this second version to real money players, we hoped our winner would be financially able to take delivery of our 200mph white elephant. This time he was from Uruguay.
In fairness to the small South American nation, they have a higher GDP per capita than Bulgaria. The world rankings have them at 62nd and 64th, respectively. Sadly, your average Uruguayan $10 online poker tourney player is no better bankrolled to keep a Gallardo on the road than their Bulgarian counterpart.
So we paid out another $100K cash alternative and went back to the drawing board.
This time we would make sure our winner was rich. The fifth anniversary of the Sunday Million was coming up, so we’d do an extra special edition. Rather than the usual rubbish proposition of promising a huge prize pool and making the customers pay for it, we’d actually add some value with an untouched, shiny, third-hand Lambo to the winner!
The event was just over ten years ago now and you can still read about it here on the company marketing blog. This time we had a North American winner with $677K freshly paid into his account. He was also keen to take the car because it was worth much more than the cash alternative. Great poker players are obsessive about maximising their EV.
But there was a problem. It turns out a Lamborghini bought in Italy can’t just be exported to the USA. It wouldn’t be road legal. If you’re interested, the cost of conversion is about the same as just buying the US version of the car.
After some back and forth with our latest winner, it was clear the car wasn’t destined for a transatlantic cruise. This time we paid out a cash alternative of $200K.
At this point, we did what all tenacious marketing professionals do. We gave up. In a realisation worthy of an MSc in Psychology, I concluded that people like the idea of winning a fancy car much more than actually winning one.
We got back in touch with the Lamborghini dealership/parking garage to see if they’d be interested in taking the car back. They were, for €100K. Back then, PokerStars was swimming in cash and the company accepted the deal without a second thought.
So, in the end, we paid €50K to take some pictures of a car we never even moved (plus parking fees) and a combined $400K to the three gentlemen that won it. The analysts told me it was money well spent. To this day, I’m not so sure.