Friday, Feb. 8, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Barry Shulman, the owner of poker industry powerhouse Card Player Media, describes his latest venture as a way to reach beyond his conventional hard-core poker audience and tap the vast international market of recreational players — the “kitchen table” crowd.
“Casual gamers,” as they’re called in marketing terminology, make up the target audience for SpadeClub, a legal online poker community operated by Card Player and scheduled to have its official launch Monday after a preliminary testing stage. (The Web site is www.spadeclub.com.)
Appealing to casual gamers — hobbyists who play all sorts of games and puzzles on their computer — can be a profitable enterprise in itself, Shulman said.
He has bigger plans for SpadeClub down the road, however.
“We want to build a database,” Shulman said in his Las Vegas office. “Separate and distinct from how fun this is going to be, there is no doubt in my mind that something is going to happen with the legality of online poker — probably in 2010, maybe in 2009, but unlikely in 2008.
“It’s much more likely than not it will be legalized, taxed and regulated. I am very intent, as an entrepreneur, to build SpadeClub so it has a huge database of players who will play when it becomes legal in the U.S.”
SpadeClub will carry a fee of $20 a month for membership and offer a variety of poker tournaments, free for members to enter, paying out at least $100,000 in prize money. The prize pools will increase in correlation with the number of subscribers.
Because it operates on a sweepstakes model rather than as a gambling site, SpadeClub is legal in at least 36 states, including Nevada, and many countries.
Shulman, who previously worked in oil and gas exploration, the investment advisory business and real estate developing, sees SpadeClub as the culmination of his career.
“I was at the point of just about retiring from Card Player,” said Shulman, 61. “This is basically my last hurrah. It’s the first business I’ve ever had that I can seriously say I think I have a shot at building a billion-dollar business.
“Whether I’m successful or not, I don’t know. That’s my plan, to have SpadeClub worth a billion dollars. And I mean sooner rather than later.”
On its launch, SpadeClub will offer a monthly tournament with a $40,000 prize pool and $10,000 to the winner, weekly $5,000 tournaments and daily $1,000 and $500 tournaments.
One of Shulman’s goals is to have a tournament with a $1 million prize pool by next year.
It’s the “community perks,” or “the fun stuff,” as Shulman put it, that will attract most casual gamers, though. Perks include the ability to post personal profiles, chat with other members, collect “badges” for winning tournaments and other accomplishments, and earn cash for knocking out players with “bounties” on them, such as Shulman.
“There’s a stat saying 100 million people in the U.S. have played poker at least once,” said Tim Resnik, chief marketing officer of Card Player. “Of that group, only a small percentage actually go to a casino or go online (to gambling sites). What we want to do is open it up, get to some of those neophytes, and make it fun, comfortable and with no intimidation factor.”
While living in Las Vegas and working in the poker industry, it’s easy to develop a skewed perspective of the larger poker scene, Shulman said.
“We tend to think of poker players as high-limit players and people who play all the time,” he said. “That’s how they pay their rent, or maybe that’s how they lose their rent. But that’s the very tip of the iceberg. The average person who plays does not feel like taking any huge risks and isn’t interested in making a living off it. We wanted to make something that would be attractive to that person.”
The project has been in the works for several years at Card Player, which recently marked its 20th anniversary and is known for its magazines and poker information Web site. Plans accelerated with the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in late 2006, which made Americans more nervous about being involved with offshore-based online gaming sites.
SpadeClub will operate only where it’s legal, Shulman said, because he has no plans to challenge the existing sweepstakes laws of any state or country.
The business is wholly owned by Card Player, said Shulman, who tapped the organization’s resources and human expertise in creating SpadeClub. It’s possible he’ll take on some minority investors if SpadeClub takes off, which Shulman expects it will.
“I can tell you if we don’t have 100,000 registrations by the end of the year I’m going to be shocked, dismayed and disappointed in my ability to give a projection,” Shulman said. “But I’m looking for millions of players. Rather than getting a reasonable rate of return over time, this is about hitting a home run.”