Fertittas Look to Leverage UFC for Online Gaming

Fertitta Interactive, a company owned by brothers Frank III and Lorenzo Fertitta, is launching its Ultimate Gaming platform this Friday. At first, Ultimate Gaming will offer free poker via Facebook, but as states approve full-fledged Internet gambling, even in the absence of a federal bill, it will let players bet real money on their poker skills.

The story here isn’t so much the debut of a new online gaming platform. It’s the way that Ultimate will be branded and marketed. The Fertittas will align their betting platform with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the premier mixed martial arts organization in the world, whose live shows, pay-per-views, and television broadcasts reach an audience of millions of men who happen to share
the same demographic profile as poker players.

That’s big news, and a look into how gambling is going to be shaped by the Internet. The entire premise of casino-style gambling—that it is something that primarily takes place in a casino—is going to change, and Fertitta Interactive looks to be leading the charge. Liberated from brick and mortar casinos, online poker is going to be more about branding than provider. The game will be fundamentally the same, and while there may be some differences in promotional offers (a Caesars Entertainment-branded site, for example, would be tied into the company’s Total Rewards Program), but that’s only going to be of interest to players who have an interest in going to brick and mortar casinos.

And many, despite what the industry thinks, may only come to Las Vegas rarely, if ever. The current conventional wisdom in casino circles holds that online poker can be a marketing adjunct for brick and mortar casinos. It certainly can, and should be. But the real potential of online poker is that it appeals to people who don’t already go to casinos (or at least not frequently). The ability to see beyond the customers already sitting in front of slot machines has been rare in the casino business; witness the initial fear and doubt about the proliferation of Indian gaming, riverboat and land-based casinos, and, for much of the past 15 years, Internet gaming.

By branding its platform under the Ultimate Fighting Championship badge and not the Station Casinos badge, Fertitta Interactive is betting that a brand that’s bigger than Las Vegas — and bigger than gambling — will have far more traction that one that’s anchored to a casino that many players may have only a vague idea of. Building on a brand that millions of fight fans already are invested in, Ultimate Poker will have a ready-made base that will be the envy of other operators.

This is exactly the kind of diversification Las Vegas has been hungering for. Both the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Ultimate Poker are Las Vegas-based businesses that take what Vegas is known for — main-event fighting and gambling — and make it accessible around the world. In a global economy (particularly one that is saturated with casinos), that’s going to become increasingly necessary.