Norbert Teufelberger, CEO of Bwin.Party, sat next to O'Neil on a raised stage alongside legendary 76ers and Devils players at Thursday's news conference at the Prudential Center. Among them were World B. Free and Allen Iverson, dressed in his trademark sweats.
A large LED TV screen to the side of the stage showed the icons of the four: the partypoker insignia, the Devils' red devil, the Prudential Center rock, and the 76ers logo.
Teufelberger said he was well aware of the kind of product he was introducing to the American public and the controversy around it.
"We're not selling toothpaste or diapers," he said. "Our product is online gambling, and it has to meet regulatory requirements in New Jersey."
Teufelberger said Bwin.Party had to leave the United States seven years ago when federal regulations changed and online poker became illegal. New Jersey's legalization of it last year made it possible for the company to return, he said. In November, partypoker partnered with the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, where it operates nj.partypoker.com.
Under the partnership with the sports teams, the entities will integrate marketing efforts. For instance, through a promotion called the "Dream Seat Series," fans in New Jersey who play on nj.partypoker.com will be able to compete for various prizes, including regular, courtside, and VIP-suite seats to all Devils and Sixers home games. They could also compete for road trips with the teams and tickets to concerts year-round at the Prudential Center.
O'Neil said partypoker would be integrated into the Devils and Sixers websites, social media channels, mobile apps, tickets, in-arena signage, and rights to broadcast TV and radio advertisements. A walk-through of the hockey arena at the Prudential Center on Thursday showed the integration in full display, as partypoker was on the scoreboard as well as kiosks and LED screens throughout the rink and adjacent bar and restaurant.
Teufelberger estimated that there were 60 million poker players in the United States.
"I'd like every single one of them to come to the Prudential Center, to come to the great state of New Jersey and log onto to partypoker.com and play a few hands," O'Neil said, adding that there were about two million Devils fans and one million more who attend the 76ers games that partypoker could now reach.
"New Jersey is a starting point," Teufelberger said of his company's bigger plans. "Other states will follow with online gaming only if New Jersey is successful."
Those who are 21 or older and physically in New Jersey can participate in online gaming after setting up an account with the Atlantic City casinos or their Web partners. For those who just want to play online poker for fun and not for cash, they can log on to partypoker.com from anywhere.
The Sixers have an advertising partnership with the Parx casino in Bensalem. O'Neil said that since this was the first online-gaming joint venture, the NHL and NBA had to revise their guidelines to treat legal online nonsports gaming the same as they do casinos.
"This category is really fascinating, being the first sports team in the U.S. [to do this], you can imagine there was some apprehension by the leagues," he said. "So we thank the NBA and NHL."
The stigma of a connection between gambling and sports remains. The courts denied New Jersey's attempt last year to offer sports betting on professional and collegiate sports at casinos and racetracks. With the ruling, sports wagering remains restricted only to Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon under federal law.
Not all the professional sports leagues accept casino advertisements. Also, the NCAA bans state lottery and casino ads.
"Our current policies prohibit clubs from accepting advertising from companies that also offer sports-betting services," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Thursday night. "NFL teams would not be able to accept advertising from this company." Bwin.Party offers online gaming and sports betting in Europe.
O'Neil and Teufelberger clarified that the partnership had nothing to do with betting on sports.
"The deal is not about sports, it's purely about poker," Teufelberger said. "Sports betting is not on the table."
"Gaming casinos," O'Neil said, "have been in and around the game, particularly basketball and hockey, for a while, so this doesn't seem like we are breaking any taboos. More important for us, we wanted to be with a partner that can really engage with our fans in a smart way.
"We can help their business, and they can help ours."