Table side gambling… Your bill is free!

March 24, 2006

Since July of last year wireless gambling has been legal in Vegas, but here in South Africa I stumbled across a more subtle and insidious version.

Soyan and I had a coffee and a light breakfast at Caffe Magnifico. When I got the bill, the folder was adorned with an ad both inside and out. It read:

Check if this is a free bill.

I like free, but as I well know there is always a catch… I read on:

Sms the code “12396″ to the number 36706 and receive your SMS reply

It went on to say:

Call your waitron now!
Show your winning sms!
Your bill is paid!

R5 [about a 85 cents US] per SMS
Terms and conditions apply
Maximimum value of Free Bill is R500 [About $85 USD]
FBSA may contact you with information via SMS

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Now wait a minute, for a bet of about a buck, I could get a “free bill”. Even at the maximum bill size I had better win at least 1 in 100 times to break even. Given the size of my actual bill I better win more like one in 10 times. Oh yeah, and by the way I have to agree to get “information” via SMS. I wonder what kind of information, ads perhaps?

While this doesn’t seem like a good deal for the consumer, it is an interesting little business idea. I have to admit I was almost taken in. I asked the waitress if anybody ever wins. She said she had not seen anybody win a free bill, but she had seen people get a prize / coupon for free coffee.

This is an interesting little business if you can get the cell phone companies to bill for you, avoid being classified as gambling, and find resturants to play along. I went to the Free Bill web site to investigate.

They bill it as a “zero cost revenue-generating product for restaurants and retailers. FREE BILL is a staff motivational product, business development, marketing, free advertising and publicity tool. FREE BILL is a fun time concept and a database accumulator for restaurants and retailers AND a FREE loyalty program introduced to restaurants and retailers.”

I wonder what the restaurant’s cut is? I like the loyalty program bit. It sounds like it could mesh well with something like Mobile Lime, a US based service that “turns the cell phone you’re carrying right now into a quick and easy way to pay at stores, restaurants and more.” Mobile Lime is really a customer loyalty tool masquerading as a cell phone payment system. Of course, if you can get people to sign up by offering them a “free bill” that could be interesting too.

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