A Recipe for Success?

7 March 1999
Remember way back in the old days (circa 1997) when operating a successful online casino was as easy as finding some decent software, launching a website and letting the money roll in? Well, things have changed a bit. Now, with more than 300 cyber gaming sites competing in an exploding industry, it takes some marketing savvy to avoid getting lost in the pack. The creators of BingoMania have it, and despite the fact that they've yet to accept their first bet, their grassroots marketing strategy is already beginning to reward them.

The game, developed by Executive Business Services, debuted in October 1998 as a website in which bingo enthusiasts could play their beloved game for free and win cash prizes. Since then, Global Player Systems (GPS), an Antigua based company, took over operations and will launch a pay version March 19.

The game boasts an impressive membership of more than 29,000 players, but what's truly amazing is their advertising budget: $0. Instead of distributing banners and spam letters everywhere, GPS hit the cyber streets and rounded up customers by word of mouth-an old concept all but forgotten in a technology-driven industry. By spreading the word at bingo newsgroups and bingo-interest web sites, they were able to inexpensively create client base strong enough to justify the expenses involved with setting up an Internet wagering site.

The technique has been tried before-in the form of Internet gaming operators planting "hey, ya gotta check out this great new siteā€¦" notes throughout online gambling forums-but with little or no success. GPS approached it a bit more tactfully, however, and went in with the understanding that bingo players are simply looking for a fun place to play and hang out with other players.

Why did it work?

First of all, there's a strong sense of community among bingo players online. They chat a lot and the bingo newsgroups and forums are always full. So, when someone shows up with news of a fun new place to play, the players are actually interested, unlike online casino and sportsbook players who typically hit the forum pages to complain and/or trash various gaming operators.

But, before letting the cat out of the bag, they spent a long time making sure they had a good product, including 18 months of developing the game itself and another six months heavily researching the industry. "I've talked to so many people who have the money and just dive into it without any research," GPS General Manager Shawn Brady explained. "It just doesn't work that way. A million things could go wrong."

Brady and GPS sought the best software on the market and the advice of Internet gaming experts from all over the world. And once they established a community, they went after the input of the players themselves.

The results were interesting, to say the least. Surprisingly, around 12,000 players (nearly a third of the group) agreed to fill out an optional survey. 90 percent were female, 80 percent were married and the bulk of them were in the 23-55 age group. An astounding 65 percent of the group said they wanted to see Bingo Mania add a live wagering site with bigger jackpots. In a matter of months, GPS managed to gather thousands of "bingo maniacs" eager and willing to spend, so the decision to go live with a pay version was a no-brainer. And the only money spent was in man-hours.

GPS is establishing an average of 425 new accounts a day for the pay site, which will operate with an Internet gaming license in Antigua. To keep the money flowing, they offer members bonuses for referrals as well as for opening accounts with $50 or more.

The free site is lucrative as well. The players also told GPS through the survey that they wanted to establish a members-only community. Membership fees are collected, although play is still free. The site generates modest revenue through its membership fees and the players are thrilled because the prizes are bigger than those at sites that are totally free.

Once Bingo Mania was running on all cylinders, the next logical move was to go on to bigger and better things. Thanks to an advertising company called Bulletproof Marketing, an infomercial is now in the works, entirely on Bulletproof's budget. The advertisement will air in 25 U.S. cities and will focus on the free play site. Because of the shaky legal status of Internet gambling in the U.S., not a word will be uttered about the pay site, so the commercial will be legal by all standards.

How many people will the infomercial draw to Bingo Mania?

According to Brady, 100,000 people per month is a realistic number.

In a year-and-a-half, GPS has managed to establish a strong client base with a minimal advertising budget. They found a market willing to spend and they figured out what that market wants. They also figured out a legal way of funneling customers to the pay site without raising the eyebrows of Attorneys General waiting to pounce. It's still early, but they appear to have a dandy little recipe for success on their hands.

For more information on Bingo Mania, visit http://www.bingomania.com.

Mark Balestra

Mark Balestra is the Managing Director at BolaVerde Media Group. He previously worked at Clarion Gaming and the River City Group where he was the publisher of iGamingNews. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.