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Howard Stutz

Parallels drawn with Epic Poker League and UFL

12 March 2012

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- There are similarities in the troubles that befell the Epic Poker League and the United Football League, both of which tanked their seasons after running into financial woes.

What is also true is that neither failure had anything to do with the popularity of their particular sport or activity.

Football is America's No. 1 sport. Wagering on college and National Football League games makes or breaks the annual bottom lines for the Las Vegas sports book industry.

But the UFL found football fans weren't interested in a league that played almost alongside the NFL. The UFL lost $100 million in its first two seasons and was expected to lose $28 million in 2011.

As for poker, the collapse of the Epic Poker League doesn't mean the game's meteoric rise in popularity is waning. Quite the opposite; poker continues to reach new heights.

Backers of state or federal legalization of Internet poker gain new supporters daily. The annual World Series of Poker drew 75,672 participants and $192 million in prize money in 2011. Both records should be shattered this summer.

The Epic Poker League failed on several fronts; it tried to grow too quickly and it couldn't attract enough participants. In an effort to spur attendance, the league added $400,000 in prize money to each of three main event final tables. That move only drained resources.

The first Epic Poker main event in August drew 137 players. The field sizes decreased both in the second and third events. The Palms Casino Resort hosted all the events.

When Federated Sports + Entertainment, the company that owns and manages the league, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Feb. 28 in Maryland, creditors were owned more than $5 million. The business had $15,000 in cash and another $115,000 in receivables.

The majority of the debt is owed to two companies, $2 million to regional casino operator Pinnacle Entertainment and $1.966 million to All In Production, a Fargo, N.D., company that sold Federated the minor circuit Heartland Poker Tour last year.

All In sued Federated Sports in North Dakota in October for nonpayment stemming from the acquisition, which was originally almost $3 million.

According to the bankruptcy filing, Las Vegas-based Pinnacle loaned Federated Sports $2 million, of which $1 million was used to pay All In. Meanwhile, Federated agreed to return Pinnacle's money by Feb. 29.

The Epic Poker League had early promise.

Backed by former World Series of Poker Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack, the CEO of Federated Sports, and professional poker standout Annie Duke, who served as commissioner, the league had star power.

The idea was to attract widely known professionals who would earn their player card to compete, similar to players on golf's PGA Tour.

A television deal put some of the action on CBS' weekend sports schedule, but few big poker names participated.

Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi made the final table in the third main event. Poker Hall of Fame member Erik Seidel landed at the final table in the first two events.

David "Chino" Rheem, who made the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event final table, won the $1 million first prize in Epic Poker's first main event.

But Rheem drew unwanted attention when it was revealed he was in debt to several poker players. The league suspended Rheem for "not meeting financial responsibilities on time and honoring contractual agreements."

The biggest problem, however, was timing. The first two events took place at the same time big money poker tournaments drew players to Europe.

Poker blogs and websites have done a good job covering Epic Poker's downfall, especially, which reported in January that Pinnacle was negotiating to buy the league.

Following the bankruptcy filing, Pinnacle executives wouldn't discuss Epic Poker.

In a statement, Pollack said Federated Sports would seek a partner to revive the league, which hopes to reschedule the fourth event and the Season One Championship.

Poker wasn't ready for another league or high profile tournament. The World Poker Tour is in its 10th season. The World Series of Poker will embark on its 43rd season as the game's premier tournament.

Following the federal government crackdown on Internet poker a year ago, which sent players to live poker rooms, the Epic Poker League couldn't catch a buzz.

Much of the credit for the World Series of Poker's growth goes to Pollack. Participation grew during his five years as commissioner through innovations, enhancements and new events.

Pollack turned the individual event championship bracelet into a highly desired trophy.

Sadly, Pollack couldn't work the same magic with the Epic Poker League.
Parallels drawn with Epic Poker League and UFL is republished from