David Carruthers, CEO of BetOnSports.com, is the first to admit his company has always thought "outside the box." But you don't become one of the largest Internet sports books without having business acumen.
Florida law enforcement officials didn't think it was very smart, though, when a luxury bus and Chrysler PT Cruiser showed up last week for a Tampa Bay Buccaneers football game decked out with logos and promotional items for BetOnSports.com.
The vehicles were part of an aggressive marketing campaign from the popular Costa Rica-based sports book and are just the latest in what has been a history of ground-breaking ploys for the site.
Despite efforts from numerous attorneys general across the United States, the site continues to aggressively market itself through radio advertisements on sports-talk and FM rock radio stations that draw listeners from the prized 18-35 year-old male demographic.
The company has billboards throughout the United States, including one prominently lauding the URL in the heart of New York city. The company is also exploring traditional advertising streams like cable TV and print outlets.
Those outlets are traditional for most companies, but few online sports books and casinos have ventured away from Internet marketing campaigns. BoS took a major step in distancing itself from the rest of the field this fall when it unveiled plans to take the $100,000 bus and PT Cruiser on the road and hit as many prominent college and pro football games as possible.
The decision came at the same time the site opened a posh VIP club in August for some of its high rollers and frequent customers.
The club is complete with a spa, cigar shop, poker room and a host of other amenities. The facility is also close to golfing, scuba diving and rainforest tours.
Once the decision was made to move forward with an aggressive marketing campaign by using the bus and PT Cruiser, BoS contracted out Mobile Marketing to do the legwork for the campaign.
Two teams were sent out to cover the country and hit popular tailgating lots at games to disperse promotional fliers for the site as well as give away T-shirts, mouse pads and other marketing items.
Carruthers told IGN on Tuesday that the idea behind the appearances is two-fold. He hopes to prove to the general public the interactive sports betting is a legitimate industry and, of course, to acquire new users for the site.
A recent stop in St. Louis by the BoS team saw the bus in a massive tailgating lot directly across the street from the Edward Jones Dome, home of the NFC Champion Rams.
The BoS bus was parked alongside other promotional vehicles from established brands such as Jack Daniel's whiskey, Miller Lite Beer and a variety of mainstream radio stations.
"That is what we try to do," Carruthers said. "Right now there is no Coca-Cola among online gaming operators. We want to become that brand."
Just as the aggressive radio ads have caught the ire of many law enforcement officials, so have the bus and PT Cruiser.
When the BoS promotional team stopped in Tampa in mid-October, it was its second visit to the area. Apparently during their first visit, they were warned by local police that they were in violation of the law for soliciting bets and signing users up via a laptop computer inside the bus. They were told to leave and to cease operations.
On the return trip, undercover police showed up to the bus and signed up as new users and were allowed to make wagers on the Buccaneers game and other football action scheduled for that Sunday.
Once the bets were made, authorities promptly arrested the four men manning the bus and impounded both vehicles.
The four men were charged with various-gambling related offenses and released once their bond had been posted.
A week after the incident, Carruthers said he doubts anything will come of the charges and insisted that the individuals on the bus are not supposed to be taking bets. But even if they were, he said, he insists no laws were broken.
"The bets take place in Costa Rica, where our servers are, and not in Tampa or St. Louis," he said. "We operate out of a licensed jurisdiction and we follow the letter of the law down here. This is a legitimate operation in a legitimate industry and people need to know that. We aren’t criminals."
Carruthers does find it ironic that countries all over the world have started to embrace and regulate online gaming, and increase their tax base, while the United States deals with a lagging economy. Jurisdictions like the Isle of Man and Malta are just the latest countries to embrace the industry, he said, with the United Kingdom working on new laws that will also regulate online casinos and sports books.
"You have to wonder when the U.S. will wake up and get a clue on what the rest of the world is doing," he said. "You have operators begging to be taxed in the U.S. and all the politicians want to do is try to pass legislation that is aimed at prohibition."
As for more problems arising for his marketing crew similar to what happened in Tampa Bay, Carruthers shrugs it off.
"I don't think we have anything to worry about there," he said. "No one needs to be flexing their muscle with us and we haven't had a problem anywhere else since we have been doing this."
All in all, Carruthers feels the bus tour has been successful. He wouldn't comment on how many new users have signed up due to the appearances, but he said he is "very pleased" with the early results.
The buses are scheduled to make appearances in Kansas City and Cincinnati on Oct. 27 to wrap up the tour. Carruthers said there is a good possibility that the bus and PT Cruiser could be making appearances at college football bowl games and NFL playoff games throughout December, too.