Actor Vince Vaughn sits at the Caesars Sportsbook and Casino dinner party. He’s one of the new US online casino celebrity influencers. Actor JB Smoove is the online sportsbook ambassador, enthroned at the head of the table.
Smoove, as “Caesar,” touts “my app” in the Full Caesar ad.
The commercial begins with Smoove leading a conversation about Caesars Rewards. Vaughn and male members of the NFL’s Manning family listen.
TV personality Cooper Manning demonstrates the entire loyalty program experience by placing a free bet on the app while eating a Caesars Rewards-provided meal at a Caesars retail casino.
The scene is specific to the Caesars app. However, it’s also a metaphor for the evolution of US online casinos and sportsbooks, and the operators’ ensuing celebrity ambassador and social influencer efforts.
Sports Influencers Abound, Casino Influencers Not so Much
Online sports betting is relatively new, but expanding much faster than online casinos. After a US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision paved the way in 2018, states began creating sports betting marketplaces.
Now, online sportsbooks are legal in 22 US jurisdictions.
US online casino marketplaces lag, with laws in seven states allowing the form of gambling. Legal iGaming predates the SCOTUS decision in Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey.
In a similar sequence, Smoove is the Caesars Sportsbook ambassador who Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment enlisted when it rebranded in August 2021.
More than a year later, Vaughn became the newest member of a crop of US online casino celebrity influencers. On Monday, he officially started his “Prince Vaughn” online casino ambassador job with Caesars Sportsbook and Casino.
How Caesars Depicts Casino, Sports
Vaughn is the only online casino representative in the ad proclaiming his online casino reign. Enthusiastic online sportsbook fans surround him.
That mirrors Caesars’ market presence. Nineteen of its mobile sportsbooks and five of its iGaming sites are live in North American jurisdictions. Relevant to Vaughn, Caesars is the only one offering iGaming in Nevada – via the World Series of Poker (WSOP) app.
Returning to the commercial, Smoove’s bling of a Caesars crown, gold glasses, and heavy gold chains are reminiscent of former NBA player Dennis Rodman.
By contrast, Vaughn would fit in at a poker table with his more subdued demeanor and garb. The former WSOP celebrity master of ceremonies’ loudest piece of clothing in the advertisement is his yellow/gold sportcoat bearing small Caesars logos.
Vaughn’s the newcomer – at the table and to Caesars Rewards.
So fittingly, in the Full Caesar commercial, Vaughn needs Smoove’s guidance to understand the Caesars loyalty program.
What’s ‘Full Caesar’?
The focus shifts again to the sports betting experts.
Cooper Manning experiences the bliss of “going Full Caesar,” complete with four small Smooves dancing around his head.
Vaughn lifts his left arm to gesture toward Cooper Manning:
Alright. Now, that’s out of nowhere. A bunch of tiny Caesars?
Former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning says:
Yeah, I think we should eat.
The History of US Online Casino Celebrity Influencers
Vaughn is far from the only celebrity ambassador that US online gambling operators have employed to help persuade consumers to gamble on their apps.
Beginning in September 2020, actor Jamie Foxx appeared in commercials urging viewers to sign up for BetMGM Sportsbook.
BetMGM alone signed up several sports betting celebrity brand ambassadors after that, including:
- NHL legend Wayne Gretzky in June 2021,
- former NBA player Kevin Garnett in October 2021, and
- actor Jerry Ferrara in August 2022.
Smoove joined Caesars in August 2021.
This September, FanDuel started its own cable sports channel, FanDuel TV, filled with celebrities and social media influencers. Athletes are among the shows’ guests.
So perhaps it’s not shocking that Vaughn’s not even the first among US online casino celebrity influencers.
On Sept. 22, BetMGM announced it hired actor Vanessa Hudgens as its “celebrity brand ambassador” for its iGaming “marketing campaigns, promotions, and social media content.”
Online Gambling’s Social Media Influencers
DraftKings Sportsbook went a different route in September 2021 when it partnered with social media influencer Gary Vee.
When brands partner with influencers, they often pick non-celebrities with niche expertise, opinions, and influence over a specific audience. Unlike celebrities consumers know are being paid for their endorsements, influencers need to declare that the content is sponsored. That’s a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requirement.
It appears the partnership is working out. A year later, Vee’s company helped DraftKings produce its Responsible Gaming Education Month ads featuring professional wrestler The Miz and skateboarder Tony Hawk.
However, brands have to be careful about the social influencers they pick. Take GGPoker‘s choice to partner with Dan Bilzerian. The online poker operator ended that partnership last year, perhaps due in part to the unending controversy about Bilzerian’s purported sexism.
After all, US online casino operators generally don’t have the luxury of social media and streaming networks policing their content. That’s true even though last month, video game streaming platform Twitch changed its policy about gambling content.
Sometimes the Two Meet
US online casino celebrity influencers sometimes cross paths with social media influencers employed by the same brand.
iGaming Business published this example on Sept. 21:
One brand ambassador is basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal, who has a partnership with WynnBet in the US and Pointsbet in Australia. In a combination of celebrity and influencer marketing, O’Neal recently danced with “The Inspired Unemployed”, an influencer with 1.5 million Instagram followers. By partnering with The Inspired Unemployed, Pointsbet is able to target a niche audience of mostly young Australian men.
Sometimes the Partnership Seems Like an Afterthought
On Nov. 4, 2022, after this story originally ran, several gambling-oriented publications reported that there was a controversy because of the DraftKings Casino spokesman. What Bonus found about actor John Stamos was the opposite – no one seemed to care that he was promoting online casino gambling.
Perhaps not even DraftKings.
Very little exists about the partnership. On Twitter, DraftKings Casino promotes a crockpot giveaway, but not the Stamos partnership. There’s far more evidence that Stamos is paid to promote Oroweat Bread.
Most tweets from individuals take the form of pity rather than sadness that “America’s Uncle” – from the Full House sitcom ending in 1995 – was promoting gambling.
On Instagram on July 14, Stamos urges fans:
You need to get over to @DraftKings Casino. They have it all! Slots, blackjack, roulette, and exciting promotions for new customers. Deposit $5 and get up to $50 in free credits. So, what are you waiting for? Download the DraftKings Casino app and use promo code JOHNSTAMOS today! #DKPartner
Even Google seems to be in on the disrespect. A search for “DraftKings Stamos” returned this result on Nov. 4:
Showing results for draftkings stamps
Perhaps this treatment of Stamos is more about how DraftKings talks about its online casino arm.
In its Q3 2022 earnings update on Nov. 4, DraftKings reported sports betting, then casino, this way:
• DraftKings is live with mobile sports betting in 18 states that collectively represent approximately 37% of the U.S. population following the launch of its online Sportsbook in Kansas on September 1, 2022.
• DraftKings is also live with iGaming in 5 states, representing approximately 11% of the U.S. population.
US Online Casino Celebrity Influencers Must Create ROI
Beginning on Valentine’s Day 2022, Bonus sent 42 operators, marketers, and influencers email requests for information about the effectiveness of celebrity and social media influencers. Bonus sent some entities several messages. However, none of them responded.
So most of the answers about whether US online casino and sports betting operators are getting a decent return on investment (ROI) are lumped into their overall marketing and advertising spends vs. their gross gaming revenues (GGR) listed in their earnings reports. In other words, it’s impossible to discern whether this marketing method works well for operators.
Perhaps it is for DraftKings. Vee hosted the Oct. 11 episode of DraftKings Props and Drops on YouTube. It had 186,767 views as of yesterday. However, that’s not a dollar figure.
Similarly not ROI, Casinolytics released a study on Nov. 2, 2022, about its reach on streaming platforms. About 40% fewer streamers are playing slots since the Oct. 18 gambling policy update.
Further, Casinolytics said:
Between Oct 1-17, before the Twitch policy update, and Oct 19-Nov 1 we see a decrease of 74% in total reach on Twitch.
Maybe US online casino celebrity influencers will yield a more significant ROI, considering those sites tend to account for 70% of GGR in states with both online casino and sports betting. That statistic is based on May 2021 figures from the former Catena Media site Online Poker Report. (Author’s note: We researched online casino GGR in the full-service online gambling states of Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.)
Will Vaughn Be a Good Online Casino Celebrity Influencer?
In his debut on Monday as the Caesars online casino ambassador, Vaughn appeared in a commercial with six other men and zero women. At 52, he represents the exact average age of the six seated men. (Bonus didn’t include the waiter in the math.)
Therefore, Caesars appears to be attempting to appeal to older men.
As iGaming Business points out, consumers don’t immediately grasp product differentiation between the apps, so marketing fills that void.
If this is how Caesars continues to position Vaughn, it’ll be interesting to watch.
Because in general, US online gambling operators are trying to get more Gen Z gamblers in the door. The oldest member of Gen Z is 26, which is how long ago Vaughn starred in the movie Swingers. WSOP referenced his most memorable line in that 1996 film in its July press release about Vaughn’s celebrity master of ceremonies role.
That line was:
Vegas baby, Vegas!
Not to single out Vaughn as the only non-Gen Zer among US online casino celebrity influencers, Hudgens is 33.
However, BetMGM Casino did employ a woman, perhaps targeting the demographic like another Big Three online casino operator.
FanDuel Casino is explicitly attempting to appeal to women who gamble.
That said, Vaughn does seem to have the respect of at least the poker community.
Despite winning zero dollars, Hendon Mob lists Vaughn in its database. On July 6 at the WSOP, poker pro Phil Hellmuth tweeted about spending time with Vaughn.
In Monday’s announcement about Vaughn’s new role, the actor said:
Working with Caesars is special for me. With my long history of love for Las Vegas and gaming, I am excited to be part of the royal family with Caesar and Cleo.
So time will tell if “Prince Vaughn,” the “Sultan of Slots” and “Ruler of Roulette,” will benefit Caesars. Bonus would also love to know the ROI of “upcoming marketing campaigns, promotions, and social media content.”
Meanwhile, Vaughn will be doing less measurable brand outreach in the form of “experiences and events for Caesars Rewards members.”
Experiential marketing – that’s something that appeals to Gen Z and millennials.