The Making of

By Sports, Casino and Poker Founder and CEO Calvin Ayre.

How fast does time fly. It is now early 2005 and we are well into the planning of our second annual gaming industry conference. It is also two and a half years since I first came up with the idea to put a conference together for what I accurately identified as a segment of our industry that did not have a place to come together – sports handicappers.

But, let’s go back in time and let me tell you how it all came to pass. It was actually the summer of 2002 where I first got the idea for the conference. We were at an affiliate conference for online casinos that a UK-based magazine put on mid summer in Vegas. While in Vegas I made a point of having our team, including the original Bodog Girl Suzy Jackson, meet up with all the sports handicappers who were in the area. There are a lot of them and I noticed that even though almost all of them recommended the sportsbooks they thought were most credible, none of them came to the conference.

It was then that I realized that there was not enough value being created for the handicapper to justify the time and expense to go to the conference as it currently existed. In thinking on this I also realized that if someone put on a conference and optimized it for the handicappers, that not only would all the ‘cappers in Vegas show up, but that quite likely so would every handicapper in North America. I also realized at that time that we would have to hold the conference in the summer slow season, and that it would likely take a year to put together if we wanted to do it right. The last observation was that having a focus on doing deals with sportsbooks would be enthusiastically received by most handicappers. Given what a great party town Vegas is, I knew that doing it right would by definition include a great party.

By the time I left Vegas on this trip I had the basic plan in my head on what would later become the 2004 Handicapper Conference. Originally we were going to do the first one in 2003, however over the course of the next year we realized we wanted more time to plan things out and get a dedicated team on this project so that it would be a hit right out the gate. With conferences you only get one shot to do it right. As luck would have it we were afforded an opportunity to test our hypothesis that the sports betting handicappers and marketers would like to have an annual networking opportunity. One of the handicapping services that we advertise with wanted us to sponsor a party to coincide with a sports betting festival they were putting on in Vegas.

The target of this festival was players, but there would be a few handicappers coming so we said, “sure.” This party was the first of what has now been officially named ‘Bodog Girl’ parties and was a smashing success. I was amazed at how many times during the course of the evening that I heard someone say that they had just met someone they had known by phone and email for years but had never met in person. This was all the input we needed and in the fall of 2003 we put detailed plans together for the 2004 conference. We work with a company called Media and we gave them the job of putting the conference together in Vegas. The person in charge was a young Vancouver-based woman named Kate Krioukova. Kate had never put on a conference before, but what she lacked in experience, she made up in intelligence and hard work.

We knew that the conference would need the support of the entire industry to reach its true potential, but we also knew that someone had to prime the pump so we went into this conference with the intent of spending all the money needed to make it first class, we did not look at this as a profit center, but rather as a inter-industry branding exercise. This meant that everything was done first class from our choice of the Mandalay Bay Hotel for the guests and the conference, to the ultra-hip poolside party venue at the Palms Hotel and Casino.

If there is one thing that everyone in the industry now knows (after attending the first annual conference), it’s that knows how to organize events! Both the conference and the party were over subscribed, we had to turn down speakers, and all of the exhibition space was sold out. The highlight of the entire event had to be Joe Montana showing up to sign footballs for the big Bodog Girl party at the Palms. This party had everything (and then some!) – from the juggling midgets to the balloon girls and mermaids, to the 20 plus Bodog Girls and finally to Joe Montana tossing you a pass – it was pretty much a sports and gaming enthusiasts dream come true! Joe returned to the conference the following day and gave an hour-long speech about his life – he had the crowd so completely engaged that you could hear a pin drop!

The conference was such a hit that we have decided to expand it and make it an annual event. This year it’s been renamed the Poker and Sports Marketing Conference, and though we are still the lead sponsor and will pay whatever it takes to make this world class again, we are going to have all of the other top brands in online sports betting and poker in attendance, and we will be providing speakers. In addition, we are going to have the top speakers in the world in other areas of interest to anyone doing marketing for online poker and sports betting sites, as well as sports handicapping sites. Lastly, we are going to have the industry’s top suppliers present. This will be a unique conference of its type and is worth attending just for the networking opportunities associated with this conference and the bigger than life Bodog Girl party. Our party was such a hit that even George Maloof, the owner of the Palms Hotel and the Sacramento Kings NBA team came down and asked me for a football with Joe’s signature on it. We even got a shot of him tossing it around in his casino later that very night!

Why are we mixing sports betting and poker in one conference? The main reason is that these two product channels are increasingly showing participatory cross over. Meaning that sportsbooks are opening poker rooms and marketing companies historically marketing sportsbooks (including handicappers) are now also marketing poker rooms. The two channels are morphing closer together and the reason why is clearly that there is substantial overlap between the customers of the two channels. Clearly there is a thirst in the industry for this type of event, and is very proud to be the lead sponsor of it. That said, we are also looking forward to working closely with all of our best competitors in making this conference into something of value for the entire industry. Lastly, thinks everyone in the industry deserves a good party and nobody in the industry throws a party like we do. Last year was over the top, but I personally promise that we are going to outdo ourselves again this year!

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