Gaming Strategy
Featured Stories
Legal News Financial News Casino Opening and Remodeling News Gaming Industry Executives Author Home Author Archives Search Articles Subscribe
Newsletter Signup
Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Recent Articles
Jeanette Kozlowski

Initial Poker Rebrands, Aims to Reap Rewards

9 December 2008

Initial Poker Ltd. has made a name for itself in the I-gaming industry as the one-stop shop for rewards programs. It does all the dirty work for companies that want to give customers something back for playing -- the software developing, the stocking, the warehousing, the distribution. The only problem was, Initial Poker became solely associated with poker -- or even worse, company co-founder Lee Reuben told IGamingNews -- some thought it was just an operator.

“So, they were like ‘Are you with Microgaming, or are you with iPoker?’ And we were like ‘No, no, no, no -- you’re getting it wrong.’ So, we had to change the name to give people a better flavor of what we do,” Lee said in a telephone interview on Monday.

Officially announced on Monday, Initial Poker Ltd. now will be known as Initial Rewards Ltd. The rewards program merchandise supplier is taking aim at all gaming verticals: casino, sports, bingo and poker.

Founded in 2007 by cousins Lee and Jon Reuben, Initial Rewards grew out of another merchandising company called Initial Incentives, where Lee has been the managing director since 1993. According to Lee, Initial Incentives has run promotions for all the major United Kingdom companies including British Airways, the British Broadcasting Corporation and Sky Television. The idea for Initial Rewards came about three years ago, when Lee was in Gibraltar meeting with PartyGaming to discuss promotional merchandise for its loyalty platform.

“We came away from the meeting just talking about the information they had given us, saying ‘My goodness, what a huge business the store is in itself,’” Lee recalled. “And we thought, ‘Wow, I wonder how the smaller operators would ever be able to replicate that -- how could they ever compete?’”

So, Lee and Jon built a platform that allowed smaller operators to enter the same playing field with the bigger poker companies at a lower cost. Since then, Lee said that bigger operators have decided not to waste time by running their own rewards stores and outsourced the hassle to Initial.

The platform works by having customers log in to the gaming site’s corresponding rewards store, which Initial skins for each operator, using the same username and password from the poker site. Lee explained that when a customer logs into the store, his or her name will appear as will the amount of points ready to be redeemed.

“We have found a niche for ourselves, which I am very grateful for,” he said. “Being poker players, myself and my partner, we felt like we had a good understanding of what poker players wanted to see in their stores, and we had a good understanding of what operators would want from us. And that’s been proved by the fact that we are live with so many stores.”

Currently, Lee said Initial Rewards operates 28 shops for I-gaming operators, including Sportingbet’s Paradise Poker, Poker Heaven, Mansion, and Fortune Poker, among others. He believes this number will grow by the end of January with the launch of four new stores, one of which will be with a major poker operator, but Lee said he cannot disclose which one.

He said the combined traffic from all shop Web sites will also double with the expansion -- going from 1 million page views a month to 2 million. He said the sites receive 25,000 unique visitors monthly, another number he projected will double by the end of next month.

“We are busy building stores as we speak for one of the United Kingdom’s largest online bingo rooms because they also have a loyalty platform,” Lee said. “And loyalty retention is very hard. I remember someone said to me once ‘It’s easy to find new players; the hard part is keeping them.’ That’s a large part of what these loyalty programs are all about -- retention.”

Harry Lang, managing partner of The Fridge, an integrated gaming marketing agency, sees rewards programs as a necessary evil. He told IGN on Monday that if other sites aren’t giving out prizes for playing games, then players might be drawn to those that are.

“Once one of them had it, they all had it,” he said. “But none of them are very different.”

A real downfall, he said, is having a boring rewards program. At that point, he thinks some companies are adding these programs to the site just to do it. Another negative to a rewards program is that many prizes given out aren’t of real value to the customer.

“I’ve been playing on (Poker) Stars and (Full) Tilt (Poker) for two or three years with low stakes,” said Mr. Lang. “I could get myself a pack of cards off their frequent player program. Unless you’re a serious player, it’s quite hard to get something that’s worth having.”

The few rewards programs that stand out to Mr. Lang are on Virgin Games, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker. To Mr. Lang, these are the only ones that are truly brand focused.

“That to me has got a strong message,” he said about Virgin Games’ program. “It collects towards a couple of free flights somewhere. You can take your wife or girlfriend away having not talked to her for six months while you play poker. That is a quite nice thing to work towards, and it very much relates back to the brand, which is why theirs has always claimed to be very strong.”

As for PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, Mr. Lang explained, they offer players the ability to face off against the pros, which he considers much more appealing than a deck of cards. Nevertheless, Mr. Lang called rewards programs a must-have, though he views sponsorship to be the best way for I-gaming companies to conduct brand marketing.

On the other hand, Lee views his rewards program stores as a great branding tool that’s focused on the player. He said that by giving poker players branded hoodies and sunglasses, there’s a chance that when those players are not betting online, they are at home or in a casino with friends wearing that branded hoodie. It gives them bragging rights, he explained.

“The fact that they actually just spent their points for it doesn’t matter,” he adds. “They can turn around and say ‘I’m sponsored,’ or ‘I won this’ because ultimately that’s what they like. Poker is about proving that you are better at it then someone else. If they are wearing the merchandise and giving that impression, then that’s what they want to show.”

Initial Poker Rebrands, Aims to Reap Rewards is republished from
Jeanette Kozlowski
Jeanette Kozlowski