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Kevin Smith

Q & A: Damian Cope, Rank Interactive Gaming

14 March 2002

The Rank Group is the latest land-based gaming and entertainment firm to broaden its brand strength by launching an online gaming site. The company owns the popular Mecca Bingo halls and Grosvenor Casinos in the United Kingdom, as well as the worldwide chain of Hard Rock Cafés. was launched two weeks ago through Rank Interactive Gaming Ltd.

IGN spoke with Rank Interactive Director Damian Cope to discuss the launch of and the future plans for his division. The company hopes to use its land-based brand recognition as leverage on the Internet.

IGN: Your launch wasn't highly promoted, but have you seen a spike in hits now that it has been a couple of weeks since officially launching?

Damian Cope: We have seen a little bit of additional business, but most of the PR that went out was in a lot of the business publications. What we have actually tried to do was to keep it kind of low key.

We actually soft-launched our U.K. site a couple of months ago, and it has been operating for our bricks-and-mortar bingo customers since that time. We won't be starting any high profile marketing campaign for at least a few more weeks.

IGN: The site isn't related to your Isle of Man license, correct?

DC: That is absolutely correct. This site is strictly out of the U.K. We hope to have by this summer two completely distinctive sites. One will be based in the Isle of Man with our license that we were issued there by the Isle of Man government in January. We intend to offer an online casino there, kind of a traditional-type set up. Our U.K. site currently offers fixed odds products.

We have a British bookmaker's permit under which we can offer fixed odds games. We aren't legally allowed to offer casino games in the U.K. The games on our site currently are the games that fall under the jurisdiction of the gaming board of Great Britain.

IGN: So you will be in a really unique position in that you will have two different sites up and running and the ability to cross-promote them.

DC: There are various different reasons we have gone the two-site route. One is a reflection of our bricks-and-mortar databases. In our bingo estate we have over 5 million members. The U.K. law requires that a person has to apply for membership 24 hours prior to them wanting to go to the bingo hall. You can't just walk in the door. Similarly for casinos, the same laws apply and there we have about 700,000 registered casino users offline.

So the U.K. site is kind of built for our bingo members. The look and feel is very much fun and games, although the emphasis is very much pay to play. The offshore site will be an online casino that our casino members will expect to play.

IGN: Do you have a target date for the launch of the Isle of Man site?

DC: We are shooting for the end of the summer but we haven't given a specific date. Sometime in the summer so we can get it out before the end of the year.

IGN: I know you guys are getting ready to kick start a pretty aggressive marketing campaign for the site. What do you hope to gain with that effort?

DC: I guess it won't be aggressive in the traditional ".com" sense. We won't be buying spots in the middle of the Super Bowl. We will certainly be trying to actively increase the awareness of our site, while at the same time not trying to market a specific demographic. We believe that most of the products and the games on our site have a very large potential audience. We already have players on our site over the age of 80 and all the way down to 19 and 20 years old.

The one interesting fact about our site, though, is that currently our online membership is predominately female. About 75 percent of our registered users are female, which to a large part reflects the profile in our bricks-and-mortar bingo business.

What we are finding though, particularly in the U.K., is that the female audience hasn't been catered for properly or ignored all together. There are several free-to-play game sites that have tried to rely on an advertising model, but to date there is no particular gaming site that has tried to market itself to the female audience despite the fact that they are about half of the Internet audience.

IGN: So we can assume that that will be a niche you guys try to carve out for yourselves?

DC: Absolutely. We are not going to become women only, but we want to make the site as attractive as possible to female players.

IGN: The site was purposely designed as kind of a low-frills site--how important was that during the research and development of the site?

DC: It was very important. I think that a lot of people who work in the Internet take it for granted. We surf the Internet many hours a day and have transacted many times in the Internet. But for a lot of our bricks-and-mortar bingo customers, particularly, it might be the first time they have gone online. Their awareness and knowledge of the Internet is limited to headline stories off portals getting hacked or credit card details being stolen across the Internet. So security and ease of use and the reinforcement of the privacy policy aspect were very important to us right from the start.

We are also aware that a lot of people don't want to download things to their PCs. They don't understand how to do that or are concerned about viruses. They may not know where to save the files to, and they don't necessarily want a piece of software permanently on their PC. What they want to do is visit a site, play on the site, have fun on the site, and then leave it and then have the freedom to come back and play it when they choose. That is another reason why our games are very simple and relatively small files that are all built in flash and accessible in a few seconds.

IGN: Do you anticipate a paradigm shift with other sites? Obviously the industry is watching you closely, and if your site is a success, do you see others going to a more low-frills kind of site?

DC: Possibly. All we are saying is that there is a much larger market out there on the Internet. Traditionally on the Internet people have played games for free, and there are a lot of successful game sites out there. We view online casinos on the "hard" end of online gambling, and the casual game player, who wants the additional thrill of possibly winning some money, is often intimidated just by the word "casino." We are trying to make it a fun, but secure, environment in which they could play. Then we can try to exploit what we believe is a large opportunity. The middle ground of gamers aren't currently catered to, either in the more hard-core sports betting area or the hard-line online casino route.

IGN: We talked earlier about merging your land-based customers to the Internet. How important will having a known land-based brand be in acquiring new customers via the Internet?

DC: The Rank name is very well known in the U.K., and it is fairly well known around the world. What we have to do is leverage the brand and educate people on what we are doing. With other brands like Hard Rock and Mecca Bingo, which are both well known and established, we will have a leg up. But we will be very selective about the online partnerships that we have. They will be with names that are familiar with Internet users, rather than a free-for-all where we just appear on a million sites on the Internet and hope for traffic wherever we can.

We hope that as we educate people on the Rank brand … we also partner with the right types of people. We have too much at stake for our heritage and our off-line business to risk partnering with any fly-by-night operators.

IGN: When will consumers start to see the marketing campaign?

DC: We are in the final stages of negotiations with a bunch of people. But you know how things go with legal contracts. I could certainly say in the next month or so you will start to see a series of announcements.

Q & A: Damian Cope, Rank Interactive Gaming is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith