DraftKings Had Massive Presence At Poker Tourney Series In Las Vegas
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Ahead Of November Nine, World Series Of Poker And DraftKings Relationship Heads Into Hiatus

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The decision to pull DraftKings’ sponsorship of the World Series of Poker could signal the end of extensive marketing of daily fantasy sports via poker.

DraftKings and WSOP, no more

The decision to cut ties comes in the wake of Nevada officials saying that DFS constitutes gambling and requires a license to operate in the state. All DFS operators made the decision to stop accepting players from the state, as a result.

The development had a trickle-down effect to the WSOP, which takes place in Las Vegas.

In a statement made to media outletsSeth Palansky, a spokesman for the World Series of Poker said: “In light of last week’s news in Nevada, DraftKings asked us to cease any sponsorship activities around the remaining few WSOP events of the year, and we complied.”

The decision has resulted in the following:

  • DraftKings branding and commercials won’t be seen in the events surrounding the final table of the WSOP main event, the November Nine, Nov. 8-10.
  • DraftKings has pulled its qualifiers for next year’s WSOP main event that it ran through its website
  • Max Steinberg — a November Niner who won his way into the WSOP ME via DraftKings — will no longer be sponsored by the site

It’s not clear whether the relationship will return for next year.

The statement released by Nevada’s Gaming Control Board suggested that sites like DraftKings would have to apply for and receive a gaming license in Nevada to continue a relationship with the WSOP — something the DFS operator has not yet done.

In fact, no known major operator has declared its intentions to procure a Nevada license in order to reenter the market.

Not the only thing leaving Las Vegas

DraftKings and the other major DFS operator, FanDuel, have also been forced to uproot their “live finals,” as well.

Both companies had planned to host massive events in Las Vegas, prior to the Nevada decision. Now, both are holding their events in San Diego.

Between the two live finals, there is $27 million in guaranteed prize money; players can win their way into the finals via online qualifiers. The DraftKings version is slated to be shown on ESPN, in some fashion.

Draft Ops — a second-tier operator that had been headquartered in Las Vegas — said it would move the company to California.

The Associated Press even reported this weekend that the Nevada decision could affect seasonlong fantasy contests, eventually.

DraftKings had a huge presence at the WSOP

DraftKings was the dominant sponsor for the 2014 November Nine, and its presence was nearly ubiquitous at this year’s tournament series:

  • The DraftKings logo appeared on the felt of every poker table at the event.
  • Signage appeared throughout the tournament rooms and in the main TV studio.
  • It had a major presence on TV broadcasts.
  • It sponsored a specific tournament and its format.
  • There was a temporary DraftKings “lounge” on site at the Rio.

DFS + poker = ?

The biggest impact for DraftKings and its push via the WSOP in 2015 had arguably already passed, by the time the Nevada decision dropped.

DraftKings’ direct marketing to the poker players at the WSOP — who obviously also have lots of disposable income to play DFS, as well — is arguably the biggest benefit of the relationship. Marketing to poker players, at least until now, had always been a major part of DraftKings’ marketing strategy.

Not being affiliated with the November Nine and the WSOP as it comes to a conclusion this month is obviously not ideal for DraftKings. But the viewership of the November Nine is not exactly massive; last year, the number of people tuning in peaked at just over a million.

Given the tens of million of dollars that DraftKings has spent on television advertising this year — and for integration with ESPN’s TV and online platforms — losing these eyeballs seems like a drop in the ocean. And, at this point, most people who follow poker in the U.S. are probably already familiar with DraftKings.

The bigger impact might be the aforementioned live interactions with players, and the ability to offer a way to qualify for the WSOP online in 2016 and beyond.

Is this the beginning of a ramping down of the relationship between DFS (or at least DraftKings) and poker, or just a bump in the road? We probably won’t find out until next year.

Photo by Dutch Boyd used under license CC BY 2.0

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Dustin Gouker
- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.