Sixers partner with online poker site

Posted: January 10, 2014

NEWARK, N.J. - Norbert Teufelberger has been in the gaming business a long time. As the CEO of bwin.party digital entertainment, the Denmark native has made a living off "the national and international casino and betting business" for more than 2 decades.

Before the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act by Congress in 2006, bwin's Partypoker brand was the largest online-poker brand in the world.

Teufelberger's experiences in the United States made him well aware of America's relationship with gambling, where a large percentage of the population does it but it's still considered taboo.

So yesterday, when Partypoker officially announced it was partnering with the 76ers, New Jersey Devils and the Prudential Center in a landmark deal that is the first of its kind for U.S.-based sports organizations, Teufelberger expertly fired a pre-emptive strike at possible critics by not ducking or trying to put a sweet side on the business he operates.

"We are very much aware that we are not selling diapers or toothpicks," he said as he announced a multiyear deal for partypoker to become the official online gaming partner of the Sixers, Devils and Prudential Center. "We are selling gaming products and this is a very controversial topic here in the United States for many, many years. So we know a lot of eyes are on us. We have to do a good job and develop this product very respectfully and according to the local regulatory regime here in New Jersey.

"Tying up with an organization like this will help us do a good job. We have a tradition of teaming up with sports with leading sports franchises in Europe, but this is the first time in the United States,so there is a lot for us to learn."

But Europe has a much more liberal view of betting than here in the USA. So partypoker teaming up with soccer powerhouses like Manchester United, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich isn't nearly as debatable as it partnering with the Sixers and Devils.

Gambling is still viewed as the biggest no-no for all of America's sports franchises. One of the common things you see posted in the locker room of every NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB or MLS franchise is a warning about the dangers of being involved in gambling.

And while those messages specifically refer to betting on sports, especially your own, there is the perception in many that it applies to all forms of gaming, which it clearly does not.

Still, Scott O'Neil, CEO of the Sixers, Devils and Prudential Center, acknowledged it took some rules changes from the NBA and NHL to make this deal possible.

"Gambling, gaming, casinos have been around the game, certainly in basketball and hockey, for many years," O'Neil said. "I've been to a NBA All-Star Game in Las Vegas and a WNBA All-Star Game at the Mohegan Sun [Casino in Connecticut]. We have Parx Casino as a partner of ours with the Sixers.

"So this doesn't seem like we're breaking any big taboos. I think for us the most important thing is being with a partner that can engage our fans in a smart way, someone who understands that for our fans who do play poker and those who are inclined for gaming that when they come to a concert , a Sixers or Devils game, they'll be treated as a Royal Flush."

It should be pointed out that most NBA teams have some marketing link with casinos. Obviously, there are a lot of different views from the morality debate on this in which no side is going to change to opinion of the other.

"I have been doing this for 24 years," said Teufelberger, who said his company sets betting limits on customers, requires proof of income to get higher limits and will ultimately suspend accounts that start to get in over their heads. "I can look in the mirror and know that we are offering an entertaining product if you do it right and within limits."

Again, the merits of that argument can be debated, but as long as this is a legal product, there is little doubt that as a business product, it has the potential to be huge for the ownership of the Sixers and Devils, headed by Josh Harris, and partypoker.

When New Jersey passed laws to allow regulated online gambling in April, partypoker began negotiating with the Devils' former ownership group to begin a marketing deal. But New Jersey is a fractured sports state, with the northern part dedicated to the Devils and Nets and the southern part the Flyers and Sixers.

However, once Harris' group purchased the Devils and Prudential Center in August, it opened up the entire state.

"It came as an unexpected surprise," Teufelberger said. "When the common ownership continued talks with us, they said it had to be with both teams. That was ideal and for us a very nice coincidence."

Presently, only residents of New Jersey can legally participate in online gaming, but again, half of the state is considered Sixers territory so the advertisements and marketing events during Sixers games will serve immediate customers.

Still, clearly the hope for partypoker is that more states, including Pennsylvania, will follow New Jersey's revenue-stream lead and legalize some form of online gaming.

"It's there, people do it, so regulate it," Teufelberger said.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

|
|
|
|
|