Successful online casinos are all about reputation. And what better way to establish a good reputation for yourself than to partner with someone who already has one?
But the key is to choose someone the public will recognize immediately. Enter Bubba Smith, former NFL great and star of six Police Academy movies.
Sports and casino marketing firm GoBet took advantage of that notoriety, teaming up with Bubba and Internet Opportunity Inc. back in 1999 to launch BubbasCasino.com.
I recently talked with Bubba and Richard Bonsall, GoBet’s CEO, to find out more about the casino and this unique partnership.
Bubba Smith, Football Great (and Actor)
Bubba’s career has spanned almost two generations. He first rose to fame as a football lineman during the 1960s and ’70s, and was a two-time All American at the University of Michigan. Bubba also won both a Superbowl ring and lineman of the year award with the Baltimore Colts.
Since he retired in 1977, Bubba’s had numerous acting roles in film and television. The most memorable were as Moses Hightower in the Police Academy movies and the Miller Lite pitchman.
All of that time in the spotlight – both on the field and in front of the camera – adds up to a lot of popular recognition. GoBet was looking for that type of person to promote a new casino, but the deal only happened because Bubba pumps iron.
Bubba met Anthony Sporango, president of GoBet, while he was working out at the gym. The two were able to put together a plan that saw Bubba lending his face to the venture and GoBet finding a casino operator to run the web site.
When I asked Richard and Bubba, ‘Why Bubba?’ they both said the same thing – sort of.
“Bubba is a recognizable figure,” said Richard. “People know [who] celebrities [are], and they attract customers. The name has a strong brand appeal.”
The way Bubba figures it, he’s had a lot more exposure than most other retired football players. That exposure has given him a reputation, and in the casino business, reputation equals reliability (in most cases). And as Bubba modestly puts it, “They could have chosen anyone they wanted, but they chose me.”
Does it really make a difference to have a celebrity fronting your casino? “Absolutely,” said Richard. “People are more comfortable when they see a celebrity’s face. They know everyone’s reputation is at stake, and that the celebrity isn’t going to do anything to tarnish their good name.”
The bottom line for players is that celebrity endorsements go a long way towards guaranteeing they will get paid when they win. Celebrities can’t afford the bad publicity associated with a fly-by-night operation that leaves players hanging.
Why pitch online casinos?
I asked Bubba, who isn’t a gambler, why he had signed on to promote the casino. His reason is actually pretty simple. “I thought [the money] would be a good way to do the things I want to do.” And what he wants to do is help people.
In the past, Bubba has worked with various childrens’ charities but his latest project is a nursing home for Alzheimer’s patients. It’s something that’s close to his heart – his mother was diagnosed with the condition two years ago.
Bubba’s goal is to build a treatment facility in his hometown of Beaumont, Texas that will allow patients to receive the dignified care they deserve. He hopes to have the facility operational by the end of this year.
What does the future hold?
Bubba is spending most of his spare time in front of the camera these days. He’s working on a television pilot with director Hugh Wilson, who directed the first Police Academy movie. Not surprisingly, Bubba plays a football coach.
What does GoBet have planned? Two new online casinos, for starters. Richard wouldn’t give me many details when we spoke, but did say that one will be a celebrity casino and the other will be based on a recognizable brand name. CocaColaOnlineCasino.com? I wonder
The three-year endorsement deal with Bubba ends next year, and GoBet would like to renew the agreement – assuming Bubba’s still interested. We’ll have to wait and see on that one, but things look good so far.
My last question to Richard was whether he was satisfied with the decision to use Bubba as the name and face for the casino, and he answered without hesitation. “Absolutely. People are always recognizing him when we’re out for lunch.” And that’s what celebrity endorsements are all about – recognition.