Harrah's Makes It Officia

26 October 2000
One of the traditional "big boys" in the casino industry has ventured into the virtual casino world ever so slightly.

Harrah's Entertainment, Inc. recently launched a "play for fun" section on its newly revamped website at www.harrahs.com. Today, the company officially announced the free-play casino's launching and announced as well that gaming software developer Chartwell Technology of Vancouver provided the technology.

Chartwell was chosen as the software supplier to run the new section of the website, but the deal could have other implications down the road. The site is being billed as "Harrah's Play for Fun Virtual Casino," offering a wide array of casino games. But, with Chartwell signing a three-year deal with Harrah's, one might speculate that a real-money version could be in the future. Officials with Harrah's, however, have expressed that Internet gaming is not in the company's immediate plans.

"That is still a sticky subject in the United States," said Dick Norton, vice-president of Marketing for Harrah's. "The play-for-fun section of the site is strictly there to add another dimension to our overall site."

Norton said Harrah's is hoping visitors who take advantage of the play for free section, will be drawn to other areas of the site.

"Hopefully they will be drawn into some other events or last minute deals that we have," he said.

Chartwell officials feel the agreement with one of the industry's leaders is a watershed moment for the Canadian based software firm. "Our agreement with Harrah's represents a very significant milestone in Chartwell's market expansion strategy," Chartwell President and CEO Darold H. Parken said. "Launching with one of the leaders in the casino entertainment industry is a tremendous achievement for our company and provides an invaluable endorsement of our software."

Parken feels that Harrah's joining MGM with a play-for-free site could create a domino effect with the other giants in Vegas following suite.

"This has been in the works for nearly six months now," he said of the Harrah's deal. "We were in discussion with MGM before they decided to go with someone else, and we are in discussions with some of the other traditional casinos."

As part of the deal, Chartwell designed and built the new website and will provide online casino software for Harrah's that includes blackjack, roulette, craps, Pai Gow poker, Caribbean poker and virtual Harrah's slot machines.

Although the "play for fun" section of the site is free, only members of Harrah's award-winning Total Rewards program can access the games. Only allowing Total Rewards members is just one way Norton feels Harrah's can protect itself. "We don't want to do anything that even appears to be encouraging underage gambling," he said. "If they are in the Total Rewards program we know they are of legal age."

And they also know they are frequent players in the Harrah's system. Norton said the company's goal is not so much to gain new customers with the free play site, but to retain the ones they already have.

"We offer a lot of different things on our website," he said. "We don't have any set numbers as to what we would like to see in the free-play site. We haven't really been promoting it. That will come down the road."

And a large part of that promotion will be letting regular customers of Harrah's know they have another outlet for their leisure.

"A lot of people just like to play the casino games," Norton said. "If they want to play for fun they can. It will also give them a chance to test other games they may not feel comfortable trying while at a casino. They can test the game out right at home."

And he emphasized that Harrah's is not about to put its bread-and-butter in jeopardy. "While Internet gaming is growing, our focus still remains on our traditional land-based casinos," he said. "We do not want to do anything that could threaten our presence."

Norton also said Harrah's relationship with iwin.com gives the company another presence on the Internet without venturing into the online casino sector. Last month Harrah's bought a minority stake in the site that offers games-for-prizes and lotteries.

Norton said the iwin.com avenue is higher priority for Harrah's when it comes to the Internet, than the new play-for-free section of harrahs.com

Through iwin.com Harrah's was able to tap into a database of over 6 million registered users. Norton said Harrah's would likely target that database for new players before seeking ones through its own site.

Parken agrees with Norton that at least in the time being, traditional casinos will not venture into the real-money arena. "There are a lot of big players out there," he said. "But until there is legislation that figures out a way to regulate it, I think the future for the land-based operations will be play-for-fun sites."