Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Taxi Drivers 888.com / Angry Reader Blasts My Flush Magazine Article


How ubiquitous have online poker ads become? Well, read this and you’ll see!
LONDON — Taxi drivers here have never been shy about sharing their views. George W. Bush? The royals? Cabbies are sure to have an opinion. But what if they start talking about Texas Hold ’em or a royal flush?

In a promotional campaign for 888.com, an online gambling business, 375 London taxis have been decked out with advertisements for the company’s Web site. Most cabs are simply moving billboards for 888, which provides online poker and other kinds of gambling.

But in 10 cabs, the marketing pitch goes further. The drivers may seek to engage passengers in conversation about poker. If customers take the bait, the drivers try to steer the conversation gently toward 888.com. Those who show particular interest may be given coupons offering free hands of virtual cards — worth as much as $10 — on the poker site.

Taxi Promotions UK, the agency that set up the 888.com campaign, calls its roving pitchmen ambassador drivers. Since the program was set up more than a decade ago, the drivers have served as informal representatives for a variety of tourism destinations and charities.

Now Taxi Promotions is trying to expand the ambassador program, creating a unit called Womad Taxis, short for “word of mouth.” It aims to capitalize on the growing interest in word-of-mouth advertising, which is based on the notion that consumers place more trust in something they hear directly from another person, rather than something they learn through the media.

PQ Media, a research firm in Stamford, Conn., estimates that marketers in the United States alone spent $1.35 billion on word-of-mouth marketing last year, up 38 percent from a year earlier.

The fastest growth in word-of-mouth advertising has been on the Internet, where marketers are working with blogs, social networking sites and other forms of communication to try to get ordinary consumers to spread the word about their products and services. Web-based buzz is easier to track than offline word of mouth.
A taxi ride gives marketers something they find increasingly elusive — a captive audience — at a time when consumers are bombarded with commercial messages and when digital technology gives them the power to skip TV ads.

The average London taxi ride lasts 16 minutes, said Asher Moses, managing director of Taxi Promotions. In a normal day, a driver picks up 40 to 60 fares; multiply that by 10 drivers, for the 888 campaign, and the audience that can be reached is sizable.
Taxi Promotions is training more drivers; Mr. Moses said he wanted to have as many as 300 involved within a year. Already, 888 has signed up for a bigger campaign, involving 20 drivers, for the introduction of a bingo Web site next month.

Matt Robinson, the marketing director of 888, said the company was paying about half a million dollars for the campaign. Online gambling, which is banned in the United States, Germany and other countries, is legal in Britain, as is advertising of such sites.

Mr. Moses said drivers generally had not been given formal training.
Sometimes they have received free trips to destinations promoted on the exteriors of their cabs — to acquaint them with the hotels, restaurants and beaches at tourist hot spots in Thailand, for instance.

“The driver can choose what he wants to point out,” Mr. Moses said. “It’s not a hard-core sales talk; it’s sort of a subliminal talk.”

But now Taxi Promotions is fine-tuning the program, bringing drivers together with advertisers so they can discuss ways to promote the product, service or destination.
Marketing specialists are working with the drivers to explain the best ways to engage different audiences in conversation.

Mr. Robinson said the 888 campaign had been successful, but he acknowledged that it was difficult to measure its effects.

And then there is another problem with relying on taxi drivers: Some people would rather spend their cab rides speaking on their cellphones, reading the newspaper or looking out the window in silence.

“There are two kinds of passengers,” said Mr. Moses, a former cabby who set up Taxi Promotions in 1995. “There are those who interact with the driver and those who don’t.”


Well, when you write the controversial articles that I write, you have to be prepared for the criticism, even when it’s a bit more than called for. Here’s a reader’s attack on my article that’s appeared on several blogs, followed by my rebuttal:
Reader’s critique to magazine editor:

OK, I'm going to have a bit of a rant. Make yourselves a cup of tea and sit down. In case anybody didn't realize, the article that swampster and I were talking about was by Richard Marcus, the self-confessed and unrepentant cheat, who (realizing that nobody's likely to offer him a job in any establishment that doesn't keep the paper clips under lock and key) has rebranded himself as an "expert" on cheating. Now I'm not getting at you personally, Jon. In fact, what really made me see red was an article by him in another magazine, on collusion in the WSOP. This article had a lot in common with his Flush article on players in HSP not really playing for the high stakes that they "pretend". In neither case did he give any evidence for his accusations. In neither case did he even claim that he had any evidence for his accusations. No, in both cases his entire case was that, with a lot of money at stake, it was inconceivable that there wasn't dodgy business going on. Pure speculation.

Now, if Mr. Marcus has something to say about the mechanics of cheating at casino games, he may well have some insight that most of us don't. If he has something to say about detecting cheaters, then I concede that he is probably well-qualified to speak. But when it comes to what people in general will do when faced with a situation where they might gain by cheating, then he's one of the least qualified people to give an opinion. We can probably place Mr. Marcus fairly uncontroversially in the bottom percentile of the population, ranked by integrity. What on earth does he know about how likely people with a normal share of moral fibre are to cheat? If you'll forgive a rather tasteless comparison, it's like getting Harold Shipman's opinion on how doctors in general are likely to deal with vulnerable patients. (Shipman is a doctor convicted of killing hundreds of his trusting patients in the UK.)

Now, I'm not saying that I know there is no collusion in the WSOP (with the large number of players involved, I'm sure there must be some bad apples). I'm not saying that I know that the players on HSP don't reduce their risk behind the scenes (I have no idea). I'm just saying that both of these articles were almost entirely free of content: no information, just baseless accusations.


I am used to these kinds of comments and understand them. When I released my book "Dirty Poker" and gave my opinion about major online poker cheating including hole-card reading, people called me basically the same things as the writer of these comments. And what happened in 2007? We saw the Absolute, Full Tilt and Ultimate Bet scams which only proved me right. When I said that the Fox Sports Net $60 million freezeout (where each of six players was to put up $10 million in a winner-take-all) was bullshit, I was attacked the same way. Funny, though, right after my book, Fox cancelled it. So now that when I say GSN is bullshit, I get the same response.

The problem is that I write about things before they happen, when no one wants to hear about them. Then when they turn out to be true, no one gives me credit because my warnings were long ago forgotten. Naturally my take on GSN's High Stakes Poker IS nothing more than an opinion, but it's based on very deductive analysis of what I see going on. Look, let's face it: if I could prove that the show is a fake and the players have prearranged agreements not to lose any money, then there would be no show and the players wouldn't be interested in doing it.

Remember, scams are only scams once they are caught.

Nobody wants to listen to the warnings in advance because everyone is having so much fun watching the show, especially when these warnings are coming from someone who is an admitted ex-cheater. But this does not mean that I as an ex-cheater can't be believed. Even though this is ONLY my opinion about "High Stakes Poker," I am certainly more qualified that most people (including poker players) to recognize the elements of a poker or gambling scam. So instead of dismissing my comments as ridiculous, try heeding them now, and please, remember to send me an e-mail in a year or two or three, when you can say "Richard, you told me so!"

Again, my article never stated to have evidence. I am just trying to get people to think about things they might not want to believe are going on.

Remember: where there is poker and gambling, there is certainly more deviousness and corruption than in just about every other sector in life. That's not to say anything close to a majority of people playing poker are prone to cheating, simply that more cheating and scams happen in this venue than in practically all others.