The respected publication Las Vegas Review-Journal has branched out into the world of online poker, launching a free-to-play site in collaboration with Zen Gaming which combines social networking and free poker to create advertising and player-base building advantages.
 
Stephens Media Group, which owns the Review-Journal, is one of Zen Gaming's first partners, the company disclosed this week. Readers of the Journal can link to its free poker site from the LVRJ website. 
 
After buying the National League of Poker site at nlop.com Brown set about developing the marketing potential of his idea through his company Zen Gaming, using a a two-pronged business model.
 
The first is a table game model of proprietary games that can be played in poker rooms in Nevada. The company has a pair of patented and proprietary poker games, which are variations of Texas hold 'em, that can be found in poker rooms at Treasure Island, Hard Rock Hotel and O'Sheas.
 
The second prong, and Brown's primary focus now, is called "advergaming," a free online poker platform and software that will be used to sell online advertising.
 
"Advergaming is a new approach to online advertising," Zen Gaming President Vincent Zaldivar said. "It utilizes gaming as the means to generate additional online traffic, which increases impressions, the length of our user sessions and, most importantly, increases revenues."
 
Partners will be able to sell ad space in the poker room, such as on the poker tables, in the background, or across the bottom of the users' screens.
 
Zen Gaming will partner with businesses to develop site-specific content that will link to nlop.com's online poker site.
 
Al Gibes, executive director of Stephens Media Interactive, said the LVRJ will use the poker room to develop a database of customers. "We'll be able to grow this customer," Gibes said. "Their track record [shows that] people spend a lot of time playing this application. So we'll have the opportunity to get our content in front of them during breaks in the game, or if they're waiting for a new game to start."
 
Nearly 275 players registered through the newspaper's Web site in early April, Brown revealed.
 
Brown said players stay in the online poker rooms for just over an hour, on average.
 
One idea that Stephens Media is considering is placing a news ticker in the Internet poker room. Players will be able to link to news stories from the ticker. He added that poker players using the site also could choose to participate in surveys or contests that will earn them more playing points when they're not playing poker.
 
Zen Gaming has reached out to other media and gaming companies to build online partnerships that will link to the National League of Poker Web site.
 
Some of Zen Gaming's other partners include Treasure Island, Hard Rock Hotel and tavern owner Golden Gaming. It also has partnership deals with Lotus Broadcasting, a radio company that owns the local affiliates for ESPN Radio and Fox Sports Radio, and a pair of local rock and Spanish-language stations.
 
Brown said his company is close to announcing national partnerships, one with a national media company and the other with an international sports league.
 
Christopher Abraham, vice president of marketing for Golden Gaming, said his company is using the poker room to market to its customers. The company hosts poker tournaments on the site and gives away three $25 gift certificates each week. Nearly 250 players have registered through Golden Gaming's tavern group Web site since the room launched in February.
 
"It's just another way we can offer (customers) entertainment tied in with our brand," Abraham told Las Vegas Review Journal.
 
Brown said competing free online poker Web sites, such as PurePlay and SpadeClub, don't use the advergaming model adopted by his Zen Gaming.
 
Competing Web sites either make money by selling VIP packages or they use no-cash poker games to try to lure players to their out-of-country, money-to-play poker sites, he claimed.
 
"That's not our model at all," Brown said. "At our site you cannot bet a dime."
 
Zen Gaming's National League of Poker Web site has two levels. Players can register on a basic player site that is free, or they can register on a VIP poker subscription model that charges $19.99 per month and allows players to compete for larger prizes.
 
With a Boston-based staff of 16, Zen Gaming has more than 80 proprietary games as part of its intellectual-property vault, Brown said. The company is exploring relationships with a number of major casino-game developers to bring these games to market.
 
"There's no doubt in my mind, in the next year we'll be the dominate player in the free online poker space," Brown said.