Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban once said that a sure sign of failure for a start-up is too much promotional gear.
Take a quick look at the poker industry and you’d likely agree 99% of the time.
The unregulated online gaming industry in the early 2000s, before the UIGEA passed in 2006, was the wild west of online poker.
The marketing teams for these sites pretty much went on a bender that lasted for years.
Promos went far beyond just branded swag. It was over-the-top, excessive, ridiculous, greedy and downright sexist at points as online poker sites did absolutely anything they could do attract new players or generate publicity.
Here's a closer look at some of the strangest, craziest or improbable promotional campaigns that online poker sites have run over the years.
1. Someone Tried to Buy a Monkey into the Main Event
It sounds like a joke but someone 100% tried to buy a monkey into the Main Event in 2006.
That someone would be Poker Share and the name of the chimp was “Mikey” (because of course it was).
The good folks at Poker Share (now defunct btw, no idea why) actually taught Mikey rudimentary poker skills such as moving chips all-in and sitting at a table.
Surprisingly there was a great deal of uproar from players who didn’t want to be busted by the monkey (isn’t a loose all-in machine at your table the best possible draw?).
Perhaps the funniest part of the entire story is that the monkey wasn’t even allowed to play.
The WSOP actually had to find a section in the rulebook that stated only humans are allowed to play.
So don’t get any ideas about entering your cat Snootchies next year.
Don’t believe us? Check out video proof below (monkey part starts at around 1:00):
2. The WSOP Literally Shot Money into the Air
This is a relatively new one but in 2014 the WSOP used air cannons to shoot money into the Amazon Room.
The WSOP shot 10,000 one dollar bills to be exact.
It was a very odd promotion considering some of the players that frequent the Rio are millionaires and not exactly thrilled with the idea of scrambling on the floor for $3.
But hey at least it was a tax write off for Caesars!
3. You Could Win Mike Tyson’s House by Playing Poker
This is a really weird one.
Self-made English multi-millionaire Dominic Marrocco bought Mike Tyson’s house for $4m in 2004 but decided to give everyone a freeroll to win it, including Tyson.
Marrocco had plans to make a reality show based around the house where hundreds of players would have a shot at the mansion.
The field would be narrowed down to two players who would then travel to the mansion where they would battle Marrocco and Tyson in a final-four situation.
The winner would win the house. In Marrocco’s case he would simply keep the house while in Tyson’s case he would actually get the house back.
There’s been no word as to whether the show ever came to fruition and we’ve never seen any evidence of it.
Mike Tyson did play the 2009 Ante Up for Africa however.
4. Kimono Condoms Ran a TV Ad Called “When One-Eyed Jacks Are Wild”
How popular was poker in the mid 2000s? Even condom companies were trying to jump on board with the phenomenon.
Kimono Condoms aired a series of TV ads called “When One-Eyes Jacks Are Wild” that consisted of using condoms instead of chips.
It didn’t really make a lot of sense. Especially when poker has a ton of innuendo that would have worked (all-in, squeeze play, big stack, suckout etc., etc.)
Here’s the ad in all its glory:
5. Christian Merchandisers Made Religious Poker Chips
Even religious groups were trying to get into the poker game in the mid-2000s.
Christian merchandise vendor Kerusso actually released a set of chips that included inspirational slogans like “Jesus went ALL-IN for you” and “CALL on the name of the Lord.”
It wasn’t clear if they were actually meant for poker-playing purposes or were purely decorative because gambling is bad, right?
Perhaps noted Christian poker player and former world champ Jerry Yang has a set of them somewhere.
6. Swank Poker Offered Sex for Poker Basically
Sex sells, but apparently not well enough.
Swank Poker was an extremely short-lived poker site that was built on the basic premise of trading frequent-player player points for sex or sex products.
One of the most expensive items? Directing and acting in a pornographic movie with one of the Swank girls.
Here’s a quick look at what you could get with player points on Swank Poker:
- A year’s supply of condoms - 4,000 Swank Points
- 1,000 HotMovie.com Minutes - 4,500 Swank Points
- $300 Adam + Eve adult store gift certificate - 15,000 Swank Points
- One night at Babylon night club in Vienna, Austria - 75,000 Swank Points
- One year VIP membership at Green Door Sex Club Las Vegas - 80,000 Swank Points
- One hardcore scene with a Swank Girl that you direct - 100,000 Swank Points
There’s been no word if anyone was ever able to generate enough points to do anything. It was a tough feat considering there was very little traffic on the site.
Than again it’s doubtful if anyone will ever admit to playing on the site so we’ll probably never know.
7. PartyPoker Gave Paris Hilton a $200k Freeroll
Paris Hilton was just blowing up in the mid-2000s and was making a lot of headlines at that point.
She was also a bit of a poker enthusiast and there was a widespread rumor that she once lost a $200k Bentley in a poker game.
Did she? Seems doubtful considering poker players aren’t in the habit of actually betting vehicles (this isn’t the movies).
Regardless PartyPoker offered Hilton a freeroll to win the Bentley back if she could beat Mike Sexton heads-up.
The match never happened to the best of our knowledge.
Apparently the poker world couldn’t get enough of Hilton either as Clonie Gowen would later challenge the heiress to a $100k heads-up challenge.
Hilton didn’t accept although she did play the WPT Invitational and a few other invite-only tournaments.
8. Bodog Hosted a Reality Poker Show and Got Sued for It
Bodog was known for numerous over-the-top promotions but the infamous Wild Card Poker Reality Show really took the cake.
In the show Bodog founder Calvin Ayre acted as the host for a tournament that included pros and qualifiers.
Qualifiers were whisked away to Antigua for a week’s worth of partying while filming the show. Josh Arieh actually won $500,000 in the first edition of the show.
Keep in mind that Ayre was kind of being built as a Dan Bilzerian-type before that was a thing so this kind of thing was right in his wheel house.
The story didn’t have a happy ending as Bodog was eventually sued by reality TV show producer Babette Pepaj who claimed it was derivative of a show she invented.
9. 888poker Sent Players on a Ride in a Jet Fighter
This is a relatively new promotion as 888poker offered it for the first time in 2014.
In the promotion players could win a flight in a L-39 Albatross Fighter Jet in Prague just by playing Snap Poker on the site.
You don't get to drive it, however, which actually seems really smart.
10. Full Tilt Poker Offered a Piece of Ivey in the Main Event
In this famous promotion Full Tilt Poker 1.0 gave players a chance to win 6% of Phil Ivey at the WSOP Main Event final table in 2009.
It was actually two separate contests where one 9-player Sit & Go split a prizepool that was equal to 5% of Ivey’s winnings.
The other Sit & Go straight-up gave the winner 1% of Ivey’s eventual haul.
First place in the Main Event that year was worth $8.5 million so that piece could have been worth $85,000.
Instead Ivey finished 7th for $3.8 million, which meant a payday of $38k for the lucky player.
It should be noted that Full Tilt didn't actually give away Ivey's winnings. They just matched the value, as he probably would have had something to say about that.
11. Play Poker on PokerStars = Win a Porsche
This promo is unique because it’s one of the few in this list that’s actually still running.
If you’re able to accumulate 3.1 million frequent player points on PokerStars you can trade them in for a Porsche Cayman S. No questions asked.
Italian Dario Minieri was actually the first player to accomplish the feat in 2007 when he was just 22 years old.
Since then a collection of players have driven off with a Porsche purely from putting in some serious volume on PokerStars.
At one point PokerStars even offered an Aston Martin V8 for players who were able to earn a staggering 5,000,000 frequent player points.
12. ChiliPoker Sent Players on Safari
It’s not all the time that playing a card game sends you on Safari but ChiliPoker made it happen in 2008.
Chillipoker ran satellites into the $1.5m-GTD Sun City Million Dollar Poker Tournament in South Africa.
The $10k included the $3k buy-in, accommodations and an honest-to-god jungle Safari. We’ll spare you the pocket armadillos jokes.
13. Bet.US Actually Ran This Ad
Just watch this. There are no words (slightly NSFW):
14. Ja Rule Had a Poker Site Called StarsonPoker
Of the many celebs who fronted poker rooms, Ja Rule was kind of a surprise.
The rapper was huge in the mid-2000s and when news broke that he was going to launch StarsonPoker it was sort of a big deal.
The site was going to have some “great” features like a music player with Ja Rule’s music, a link to his website and Ja Rule merch.
Sadly it disappeared after UIGEA without making any noise.
Ja Rule did show up at the WSOP in 2009 to sweat Phil Ivey's final table appearance, however.
15. Bombshell Poker Ran a Win-a-Date Promotion
The short-lived Bombshell Poker had a unique gimmick: instead of just winning cash you could potentially win a date with a model.
Bombshell offered a roster of models that would actually play poker on the site but you could also win the chance to email them personally or win a date.
It was all pretty creepy and we can’t imagine what those dates were like, if they actually happened.
It's also somewhat sad/funny that Bombshell immediately assumed its players didn't have the ability to get their own dates.
In the end Bombshell Poker was but a blip in the online poker world and never really had much of an impact.
16. Full Tilt Ads Were Featured Prominently in UFC Fights
It’s hard to remember but Full Tilt Poker 1.0 was heavily involved with the UFC at one point with ads appearing in the ring.
Randy Couture even had a FTP logo on his shorts during his big match against Brock Lesnar at UFC 91.
There was actually a massive deal between the UFC and FTP that was set to go into place in 2011 but the entire thing had to be scuttled because of Black Friday.
Who knows how relevant Full Tilt would have become to MMA if they hadn't been forced out of the US market in 2011?
Regardless MMA and online poker remain forever intertwined.
17. PokerStars Had a Pay-by-Poker Restaurant
How exactly do you Pay-by-Poker?
We’re still trying to figure it out but that’s what PokerStars offered at a pop=up restaurant in London in 2014.
Basically you played a Sit & Go before your meal and where you placed decided how much you actually had to pay.
Finally you could get a Royal Flush burger and pay for it with a flopped set.
18. All-In Energy Drink Ran a $500,000 Freeroll at the WSOP
Energy drinks were pretty much the perfect storm for poker.
They were all the rage in the mid-2000s, before doctors took issue with the massive amounts of sugar and caffeine in them, and poker is an activity that benefits energy boots during long sessions.
None were bigger than the Johnny Chan-backed All-In Energy Drink, which made a serious push for relevancy at the WSOP.
Available in Root Beer, Citrus and Grape players consumed over 100,000 cans of All-In Energy Drink at the 2008 WSOP alone.
On the bright side it led to this AMAZING music video featuring Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth and Layne Flack all rapping along to the song:
19. Poker Was So Hot Victoria’s Secret Created a Strip Poker Game
Perhaps the greatest sign of just how red-hot poker was in the mid-2000s is that even Victoria’s Secret was trying to get in the action.
The lingerie giant ventured into poker in a very unusual way by launching PinkPantyPoker.com.
The site, which let players play a strip-poker game where the reward was real photos of Victoria’s Secret models (both men and women) in their underwear.
Despite the fact that poker’s mostly male demographic probably doesn’t buy a lot of underwear the site reportedly drew half a million visitors in its first two weeks of existence.
You can check out the relatively-tame game here:
20. BetCris.com Offered Cameron Diaz a $1.5m Endorsement
During the poker boom there were plenty of poker sites that were throwing money at celebs looking for endorsements.
In 2005 actress Cameron Diaz professed a love of poker after she learned the game from Ellen Degeneres.
No sooner than Diaz talked about the joys of No-Limit Hold’em did the offers started rolling in.
Defunct poker site BetCris.com offered Diaz $1.5 million to endorse the company but she never took them up on the deal.
It's unknown if Diaz still plays poker but a number of celebs moved away from endorsing the game after UIGEA passed in 2006.
21. PokerStars Was Nearly Featured in Casino Royale
As most poker fans know the James Bond flick Casino Royale features a fair amount of poker.
What people don’t know is how close PokerStars came to being one of the official partners of the movie along with mainstream sponsors Sony, Aston Martin, Omega and various others.
According to Dan Goldman, one of the earliest marketers with PokerStars, there was a deal in place that would have seen a satellite on PokerStars culminate with a final table in the exact location where James Bond and villain Le Chiffre faced off against each other in the Bahamas.
There was also a chance that PokerStars would have actually been featured in the movie as part of the deal.
Instead, at the last minute, the company behind Casino Royale decided it didn’t want to be associated with an online gambling site (ironically this was just a few months before the UIGEA would have most likely ended the partnership anyways).
The deal was very far along and you could even see 007 marketing materials in the PokerStars lobby.
While the deal with Casino Royale fell through, PokerStars actually made a deal with Aston Martin to sponsor one of its racing teams. That’s the reason a DB9 was actually given away to a PokerStars player in 2006.
22. Paradise Poker Gave Away $1.1m in a Freeroll
Poker sites were so hungry for players in 2005 that Paradise Poker actually ran a $1.1 million free tournament (with $1 million for first place and $10k for places 2-9).
It was a freeroll but it did have some caveats. The site ran three qualifying “heats” for months. Each heat had up to 4,000 players.
The first heat you could enter for free but in subsequent heats you would have to use 100 MillionPoints, which were basically frequent player points.
Paradise Poker actually ran this contest several times with the second one being won by a Navy Officer who was stationed in Hawaii at the time the tournament was held.
23. My Car Runs on FPPs!
How’s this for a promotion: play poker and get free gas.
In 2008 that’s exactly what UltimateBet did.
In the midst of the gas price hike in the USA, UltimateBet started giving away $10,000 gas cards randomly to people playing cash games on the site.
You could even use that gas card for fueling up that Porsche you purchased with FPPs on another site.
24. Russ Hamilton Wins His Weight in Silver Thanks to WSOP
And finally an oldie but a goodie.
Russ Hamilton (the guy behind the UltimateBet scandal) won the 1994 WSOP Main Event. The prize included $1 million… AND HIS WEIGHT IN SILVER.
That’s right, Hamilton won his body weight in silver.
It was hardly inconsequential either as Hamilton was a hefty 300 pounds at that point, which ended up equaling 43 bars of silver worth a total of $28,000.
Jack Binion came up with the promotion to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the WSOP.
In many ways the silver prize was a pre-cursor to the many zany promotions that were to come in the world of poker.