Gambling Marketing Musings: Breaking down PokerStars Big Race

TAGs: PokerStars, Ryan Mandara, The Big Race

In another instalment of gambling marketing musings, Lee Davy takes a closer look at the PokerStars Big Race.

Yesterday, someone called me a fucking loser.

Gambling Marketing Musings: Breaking Down PokerStars Big RaceThis morning, I wake up, and there is an email from someone saying shame on you for creating an online training course that helps people quit alcohol. If I cared for these people, I would give the course away for free.

It’s a reminder that I still have work to do.

I need to thin the herd.

I need to be more explicit on what I am doing, and who I am doing it for.

It’s not only me.

Coffee #1.



All businesses have the same problem. When it comes to storytime who sits on those laps eagerly waiting for the stanzas to fall out?

Banging on About The Big Race 

This is perhaps the third article I have written in admiration for PokerStars collaborative effort with BetStars. I’m not a shill. As each part of the masterplan unfurls I feel compelled to stitch it together for you.

So for the third time, here is the spiel.

PokerStars and BetStars aligned focus to create a hybrid poker/sports betting experience called The Big Race.

The $2 buy-in online poker tournament provided the winner with a $3,000 PokerStars Festival Marbella package. But, as Jimmy Cricket used to say – there’s more. 

BetStars handed out hundreds of pounds worth of free bets to the top finishers, but they also gave the top 15 ITM finishers a horse in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The person with the winning horse would win a $3,000 Marbella package and the shot at winning a $30,000 Platinum Pass for the 2019 PokerStars Player’s No-Limit Hold’em Championship in the Bahamas.

Winner Winner Horse Meat Dinner 

In only its second start of the season, and after finishing third last year, Native River, won the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup, and the 30-year-old CAD Technician, Chris Hopgood, won a $3,000 PokerStars Festival Marbella package, despite finishing 12th in the poker tournament.

How do I know this?Gambling Marketing Musings: Breaking Down PokerStars Big Race

I read about it in the Wimbledon Guardian.

And that got me thinking.

I also learned of the 2017 winner of the Big Race in the same way. A local paper picked up the rags to riches story, and it ended up under the rather big nose stuck in the middle of my face.



I’m going to go with the latter. Maybe Genius is too strong a word, but if we break this down into bite size pieces, it is a pretty impressive piece of marketing ingenuity from the PokerStars team.

Breaking it Down 

Ryan Mandara has just won the partypoker sponsored 2018 Irish Poker Open. Mandara won €210,000 after cutting a heads-up deal with Ferdia O’Connell.

Mandara qualified for a penny.

A penny.

I read about it in PokerNews.

I keep checking Google. There is nothing yet. No mainstream rag has picked up on this fantastic plotline. I am sure it will come, but will it arrive because a journalistic fluke, or because partypoker fed them the news?

PokerStars is in the business of making products that they know their customers want. The decision to open up the poker room email list to the sweet-smelling scent of the online casino and sportsbook was one made on evidence that showed poker players love to gamble.

Cross-pollination then becomes key.

How do you get your poker players to use your sportsbook and casino? How do you get your gamblers to use the poker room?

You create events like The Big Race.

Certain quarters of the poker community mock the Reward Chest system introduced by PokerStars to replace an older system designed to benefit professionals and semi-professionals, but it works for the crowd PokerStars is seeking to serve.

Who doesn’t have $2 to take a punt in a tournament that (a) is entertaining, and (b) could end with a fairytale appearance at the final table of the PSPC and the opportunity to win millions of dollars?

The horse racing angle is brilliant.

If you had one of those 15 horses, you would have climbed over 50 naked Vogue like men and women to find a way of watching that race. Anyone who has ever had a bet on a horse has experienced the rush of feelgood peptides. And in the UK, your interest in the equine industry begins very young, likely with your father allowing you to have a bet on the Grand National.

There is an intense emotional connection to horse racing in the UK. Connect that to the same buzz you feel when running deep in a poker tournament, and you’re creating a customer for life, eagerly returning to the tables as the neocortex, limbic brain and cerebellum keep replaying the same hit.

And then the advertising.

The Wimbledon Guardian and any other rag that picks up on this win will sell the dream far better than any well-placed marketing ad that PokerStars may pay for to be positioned within your social media feed.

You get to see who Chris Hopgood is.

He looks like your typical working-class hero.

He looks just like you and me.

He’s holding a pint and wears a funny hat.

“Native River is a horse I will never forget,” Hopgood told the paper.

And if anyone ever asks him where he plays online poker, or gambles online, he will say PokerStars.

He might not realise he is never going to forget them, but his relationship with the online poker room is seared into his neural pathway, as it is for any other punter who reads his story over their bacon and eggs this morning.


views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of