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Howard Stutz

World Poker Tour stays steady in 10th season

28 December 2011

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- In some ways, the World Poker Tour has gotten lost in the hoopla that has surrounded the game over the past 10 years.

But if you ask the folks who have lived and breathed the World Poker Tour since the tournament's first hand was dealt in 2002 at Bellagio, they will tell you the tour is one of the main reasons poker has gone through its renaissance and growth.

The World Poker Tour was the first televised poker event to use a small camera embedded in a table to reveal a player's hole cards to the television audience. The hole camera is now common in televised poker.

Many of the game's top players were given their initial exposure to the poker public by competing on the World Poker Tour. Gus Hansen was an unknown Danish poker player in 2002 but won $556,480 in the tour's first championship event at Bellagio. Today, Hansen has career poker earnings of $9.4 million and is one of the game's best-known players.

"There have been other events that played a part in poker's explosion, but the WPT was the first to put poker on television and give it tremendous exposure," said Mike Sexton, a 2009 inductee into the Poker Hall of Fame who has served as the play-by-play announcer for the World Poker tour since its inception.

"Poker is reality television at its finest," Sexton said. "It's real people, putting up real money and playing for millions of dollars."

The World Poker Tour completed filming its 10th season with a final series of events at Bellagio earlier this month. The highlights will be broadcast next year nationally on the Fox Sports Regional Networks.

Other tournaments, notably the Caesars Entertainment Corp.-owned World Series of Poker, are larger and far more lucrative.

Last summer's six-week-long, 57-event World Series of Poker paid $192 million in prize money and drew 75,672 participants. The $10,000 buy-in no limit hold'em Main Event alone drew 6,865 players and paid a top prize of $8.715 million.

This month's World Poker Tour's Main Event -- the Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic -- had a $10,000 buy in and drew 413 players, paying a top prize of $821,612.

Sexton, who has won more than $3 million in tournament poker in his playing career as well as a World Series of Poker individual event championship bracelet in 1989, said the tournaments are different and don't compete.

"The World Poker Tour is like the (Professional Golf Tour)," Sexton said. "We have different stops not only in the U.S., but also around the world. The World Series of Poker (entering its 43rd year) has the historical aspect. It's where tournament poker began. It's poker's big guru in that aspect."


World Poker Tour President Adam Pliska said the events provide opportunities for all levels of poker players. The tournament is also seeing increased play at its international stops. A recent World Poker Tour sponsored event in Prague, Czech Republic, drew a record 568 players.

"The idea is for all our events to give poker players a World Poker Tour experience," Pliska said.

Professional poker player and casino operator Lyle Berman and television producer Steve Lipscomb created the World Poker Tour. The tournament made its television debut on the Travel Channel in March 2003.

In 2004, budding Canadian poker professional Daniel Negreanu won the World Poker Tour's Main Event and charmed television audiences. That same year, Negreanu won the World Series of Poker's Player of the Year honors, capturing a championship bracelet and cashing in five events.

World Poker Tour commentator Vince Van Patten said personalities such as the talkative Negreanu became stars.

"Characters make this game, but it can't be forced," said Van Patten, an actor and part-time poker player who has been providing color commentary on the World Poker Tour broadcasts with Sexton since the inception.

"A lot of the big names in poker first became recognized through the World Poker Tour," Van Patten said.

Negreanu, who has career poker earnings of almost $14.7 million, is one of the game's best-known personalities who made a breakthrough on the World Poker Tour. Joe Hachem, the 2005 World Series of Poker Main Event champion, won the World Poker Tour's Main Event a year later.

Antonio Esfandiari won the World Poker Tour's Main Event in 2010 and has since gone on to a career a television poker commentator. Esfandiari finished sixth at this year's World Poker Tour Main Event, which was won by James Dempsey of Brighton, England.

Sexton and Van Patten said they have their favorite moments over the past 10 years.

"Give me a Phil Hellmuth meltdown anytime," Van Patten said of the temperamental poker champion.


Berman and Lipscomb took the World Poker Tour public on the Nasdaq National Market in August 2004. Five years later, the company's shareholders agreed to a $12.3 million buyout by Peerless Media Ltd., a division of British-based PartyGaming plc. acquired the World Poker Tour.

Pliska said the World Poker Tour continues to look for new areas of expansion to bring the brand greater exposure. With its parent company a subsidiary of one of the world's largest online gaming businesses in the United Kingdom and Europe, the World Poker Tour could capitalize on its brand if the U.S. were to legalize the activity.

"It's an area we're looking at," Pliska said.

For now, the World Poker Tour operates, an online membership site that is a sweepstakes-based poker club available in 35 states. Players pay a monthly fee and can earn seats at World Poker Tour events.

Sexton said one change in his and Van Patten's broadcasting style over the years is they no longer have to explain to viewers how to play hold'em poker.

"The audience has become much more sophisticated in 10 years," Sexton said. "We gotten much more involved in the thinking process, helping the audience understand why a play made a certain move."
World Poker Tour stays steady in 10th season is republished from