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Business Rx: Online gambling without money

Monday, December 20, 2010; 30

THE ENTREPRENEUR

With online poker being so popular, Eric Mintzer saw an opportunity to create a free poker Web site with a twist -- instead of gambling money, poker lovers can stake themselves with credits earned by watching advertisements. They can use those credits to play poker with other users and cash in their virtual winnings for other incentives.

THE PITCH

Mintzer

"Pamble is a free site where users can gamble with Pamble Points instead of money. Pamble users watch a short advertisement prior to playing poker, and then they are able to gamble a percentage of the advertising revenue, their Pamble Points, with other users on the site. Points can be cashed in for prizes such as laptops, MP3 players and video game systems.

"Pamble is unique because we provide the tangible incentives of gambling without costing users any money -- no money can be lost on the site since it costs nothing to play. We also offer a larger convenience to the consumer, compared to that of the competition, by offering our service through the Web browser; the competition often requires a user to download a client.

"The public beta version of Pamble is almost ready to launch. Are my incentives enough to attract my target market of 18- to 24-year-old males interested in poker?"

THE FEEDBACK

Asher Epstein, managing director, the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

"Right now, your pitch is focused on gambling for prizes because users are no longer able to gamble online for money. Instead, you might think about shifting the pitch to focus more on the recreational aspect that your site offers. Users come to Pamble to play recreational poker, but while they are playing poker for free, they can win prizes, too. The people who are good at poker are going to say, 'I'd rather play for money and make money,' so focus on the people who want to play poker because it is fun."

"What if you forget about the prize aspect and allow users to donate to a charity of their choice instead? Select five charities that people can go to and instead of users winning a prize, all of their winnings will go to charity. Users will be playing poker because it's fun; they'll be giving back, which will make them feel good about playing. By involving charitable donations, your business model will help put a positive spin on poker."

ENTREPRENEUR'S REACTION

Mintzer

"The charity angle is one that I hadn't thought about before. It's very different -- people would be playing poker because they love it, but donating to charity because they want to. Right now the site is being tested for functionality -- but I definitely want to explore the charity angle. I think it's a great idea."

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