Australian gamblers warned off online racecourse

An Australian website that lets people own, train and race digital horses for prize money is barring Australian participants because of legal fears.

          An Australian website that lets people own, train and race digital horses for prize money is barring Australian participants because of legal fears.

          The website, Unreal Racing, is the brainchild of online marketing specialist Dean Shannon, a web entrepreneur who also owns the pay-per-click search engine

          Soft-launched earlier this month with little publicity, the virtual racing site is signing up one visitor in 90 to a $A30 per month subscription fee, says Shannon. That's at least 10 times better than the rule-of-thumb web conversion rate for paid subscribers of about one in every 1000 visitors, he claims.

          After taking legal advice on the country's new laws against online gaming, however, Shannon is rejecting fellow Australians who want to get in on the action. "The QC's [Queen's Counsel] opinion is we are probably okay but we could be caught by a specific interpretation of the online gaming act. So at the moment we are taking the extra precaution of excluding Australian players from signing up."

          The site currently offers races with prize money of $US400, he says. Its hard launch is planned for next month and will be based on "an extremely aggressive affiliation partner campaign". Shannon believes the marketing push will translate into new members at the rate of 200 per day and visualises staging $US1 million races in the future.

          The marketing will take the form of viral email campaigns and website ads because Shannon has no faith in offline advertising such as print publications, TV and billboards.

          "I spend zero in those areas. It has always been my philosophy that my job is not to get people from their TV screen to the PC screen. My job is to get them from website A to website B once they're onto the PC screen."

          Yet another Shannon initiative, the online trading card games site Battle Trolls, is also attracting a positive early response. Of the 20,000 people who have visited the site since it was launched on August 1, about 1800 have signed up for a free trial, says Shannon.

          Unreal Racing, Battle Trolls and the pay-per-click PageSeeker are all wholly owned subsidiaries of Shannon's Dark Blue Sea, which is heading for a public float.

          The PageSeeker search engine is Dark Blue Sea's oldest division and its most profitable. It commands in excess of one million hits per day, turns over around $A600,000 monthly and has profits of more than $A100,000 a month, Shannon claims.

          His timetable calls for a listing on the Australian Stock Exchange around mid-November to raise between $A2 million and $A2.5 million. The funds will be used to upgrade server and network architecture to handle expected traffic volume increases on the company's US-hosted sites.

          The prospectus for Dark Blue Sea is yet to be finalised but the message to potential investors will be, "we are an Internet company that knows how to make money", says Shannon.

          In July, Shannon exited an earlier online business by selling it for $A12 million in stock and shares to Perth company

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