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Harrah's - ESPN Create Series of Poker Tournaments
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Harrah's Entertainment Inc. and ESPN are aiming to capitalize on poker's best-known event by beginning a series of high-profile tournaments across the country next year.

The Las Vegas-based gambling company hopes name recognition will shuffle rival tournaments to the back of the pack in the lucrative and fast-growing poker market.

The World Series of Poker Circuit will include a point system and seven televised tournaments at Harrah's casinos in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Atlantic City, N.J., New Orleans and San Diego, Harrah's Entertainment executives said. The circuit concludes with the Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas with top point earners gaining entry.

While Harrah's wouldn't forecast anticipated revenues, the company is betting the individual events will attract hundreds of poker players, with each participant spending $10,000 for a seat at one of the tournament tables.

Dan Goldman, vice president of marketing for, a popular poker Web site, said anecdotal research shows that from 50 million to 60 million people play poker at least once a month.

Harrah's thinks the World Series of Poker brand will help it tap that market.

"It's so far head of everybody else you can't match up," said Howard Greenbaum, Harrah's vice president of specialty gambling and golf operations. "Everybody wants to play in the World Series of Poker. It's dying and going to heaven for the poker player."

John Mulkey, a Bear Stearns Co. gambling analyst in New York, said Harrah's should generate a solid return on its investment. "It was a natural for a company like Harrah's with its distribution points across the country to own such a popular event," he said.

Harrah's signed an agreement in July to buy Caesars Entertainment Inc. in a deal that if approved by regulators would make it the largest gambling company in the world with more than $8 billion in revenues.

Other cable networks are already capitalizing on the poker craze include Bravo's "Celebrity Poker Showdown" and the "World Poker Tour" on the Travel Channel. Bravo is owned by General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal and the Travel Channel's parent company is Discovery Communications Inc.

Steve Lipscomb, chief executive of the three-year-old World Poker Tour, began airing tournaments to impressive ratings about 18 months ago.

Lipscomb's company, WPT Enterprises Inc., which went public at $8 a share in August and now trades above $10 a share, puts on a series of 15 poker tournaments with about $70 million in prize money. The finals are played at the luxurious Bellagio hotel-casino in Las Vegas.

"When you play in the World Poker Tour championship at the Bellagio, there is no better poker event in the world, including the World Series of Poker," he said. "We've established the sport. The WPT is the NBA."

"If they try to go up against our event, they are going to have to try to take on an established event," he said. Well-known pros such as T.J. Cloutier, Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth Jr. and Howard Lederer can play in both WPT and WSOP events.

While the Harrah's tournaments will carry the World Series of Poker name, the crown jewel will remain the once-a-year poker tournament that has been held at the smoky Binion's Horseshoe hotel-casino in downtown Las Vegas since 1971.

Harrah's bought the World Series of Poker and the Horseshoe name in Nevada for $44.3 million earlier this year from Becky Behnen, the daughter of legendary cowboy Benny Binion, who used high-stakes gambling to raise the profile of his casino and Las Vegas.

MTR Gaming Group Inc. later bought Binion's for $20 million from Harrah's, which manages the property for the West Virginia company.

Harrah's believes more than 5,000 people could enter the 36th annual World Series of Poker in 2005, seeking what ESPN calls "poker immortality," when it will be held at Harrah's Rio hotel-casino off the Las Vegas Strip and at Binion's.

The 2004 world series attracted a field of 2,576 players, far surpassing the 839 in 2003. Next year, the total prize pool in the No-Limit Texas Hold'Em main event could exceed $50 million, with the $5 million first place being increased by several million.

"We had expected to see a substantial increase in the number of players, but didn't anticipate anything of the magnitude of what actually occurred," said Ginny Shanks, Harrah's senior vice president for acquisition marketing.

ESPN, owned by Walt Disney Co., purchased the rights to televise the World Series of Poker from the former owners of Binion's for $55,000 a year, Shanks said. But those low-budget days are over. ESPN's is filming the circuit in 2005 and its contract expires next year.

"We need to see what the ... market will bear," Shanks said.

Terms between Harrah's and ESPN weren't disclosed for the 2005 broadcasts.

Last week's broadcast of the final table of the 2004 World Series of Poker, taped in May, gave the sports network its highest-rated and most-watched poker telecast ever, ESPN said. Patent attorney Greg Raymer of Stonington, Conn., won the Texas Hold'Em title and $5 million in cash.

"The World Series of Poker is it," said Bob Chesterman, coordinating producer for ESPN original entertainment. "It's the pinnacle of poker. The players knows that and the viewers know it."

ESPN said the last hour of the finals posted a hefty 2.8 rating representing more than 2.5 million households. ESPN hopes to draw similar numbers when it airs its first Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas, which will be part of the circuit next year. Tuesday's three-hour poker slugfest was played earlier this month and included 10 of the best players in the world. The winner takes home $2 million.
The World Poker Tour: Poker’s Answer to the PGA?

Back in 1916 a group of professional and amateur golfers from the New York area attended a luncheon hosted by department store magnate Rodman Wanamaker. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss forming a national organization which would promote interest in the game of golf and help elevate the vocation of the golf professional.

Wanamaker viewed the public's growing enthusiasm for golf as the beginning of a national trend and promoted the association's idea to help accelerate the growth of the game.  Two months later the Professional Golfer's Association (PGA) was officially born.

The first PGA Championship was held October 9-14, 1916, at the Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, NY. Wanamaker donated $2,500 to the prize pool and advertised his department stores at the event. The PGA had instant corporate sponsorship.

Today, the PGA is the world's largest working sports organization and each year corporate sponsors pour tens of millions of dollars into its tournament prize pools.

You may be wondering why I am giving a history of the PGA on a poker related web site.  The reason why is because I believe that we, as poker enthusiasts, may have the opportunity to witness first hand the birth of a new sporting giant.

As golf did in the 70's, the game of poker is quickly becoming a television favorite.  While four major networks are consistently airing various poker related shows, the Travel Channel is under contract with the World Poker Tour (WPT), an organization founded by Lyle Berman of Lakes Entertainment that many people feel will become the "PGA of Poker".

In some ways the similarities to the PGA are striking. Both founders made their money in the retail business, Wanamaker with his department stores and Berman getting his start in the leather industry.  Both games have been played for decades by both amateurs and professionals alike.  And unlike other professional sports like baseball or football, both games allow the average person a chance to excel to the point of stardom.

But, in other ways the comparisons are far from similar.

As I mentioned before, Wanamaker added $2,500 to his organization's first tournament, which was quite a chunk of change in the year 1916.  After two seasons of WPT tournaments, neither Berman nor the company that he is chairmen of, has added anything to the prize pools of the poker tournaments that they promote. And while corporate America is pouring millions into the organization by way of television advertising, the poker players who participate in these tournaments have yet to see a penny of it.

Perhaps the differences are explained by the ways that each organization were conceived: the PGA, by a group of actual players who brought the idea to an enthusiast who had money versus the WPT, created by the chairman of an entertainment company whose idea was probably born in a board room.

In no way am I trying to vilify Lyle Berman. Berman is a business man that took an idea that he had and turned it into a hit television series, but that is all that the WPT is... a hit television series... and by no means poker's answer to the PGA.

While the WPT is no PGA, the poker community does owe Berman and company a big thanks.  Berman, along with the other networks that have been airing poker tournaments, have taken professionals that were once only known by other players and turned them into TV celebrities and celebrities can yield power. Hopefully, this new found power will be used to band the poker playing community together and, like that group of New York golfers, will form a new organization... one that puts the money into the pockets of those that deserve it.

World Poker Tour Fuels Growth of Tournament Poker
LOS ANGELES -- (Press Release) -- The phenomenal success of the World Poker Tour, airing Wednesday Nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the Travel Channel, has been a boon for casinos and poker parlors across the nation, but among the biggest winners are those organizations hosting tournaments on the WPT and the players on the Tour.

With a huge influx of new players inspired by the television show streaming into poker tournaments, the total prize pool for the WPT tournaments is expected to triple in one year from $10 to nearly $30 million for the tour's second season. Clearly those numbers are a further impetus for players to enter WPT tournaments, and many of the long-time pros are seeing some of their largest paychecks ever. Players making a WPT Final Table seldom walk away with under $100,000. Prize pools are determined by the number of players "buying in" to a tournament at the casino's established rate to participate -- usually $5,000 to $10,000 -- for a WPT event.

"The World Poker Tour is an unstoppable juggernaut in the poker world," says Steve Lipscomb, founder and CEO. "America's newly discovered passion for tournament poker is escalating tournament numbers and creating monster prize pools never before seen in poker rooms nationally or in other individual sports. The industry is reaping the benefit of our show's success on Travel Channel. Anyone can enter and compete -- you don't have to be a pro -- so, new enthusiasts are flooding into casinos and going online to play poker."

The growth is apparent in the numbers reported by elated WPT tournament sponsors and casinos. Among them are:

-A $900,000 increase in one year in the total prize pool at the Bicycle Casino's "Legends of Poker Tournament" in Los Angeles, from $670,000 to $1.5 million. The tournament leaped from 134 players last year to 309 in the most recent tournament to air during the WPT's second season, starting in February 2004. First prize went from $258,000 to $579,375., which stages the "Ultimate Poker Classic" that just concluded in Aruba, reported entries for the tournament increased from 94 last year to 436 in 2003, increasing the prize pool from $500,000 to $1,774,000. As a result, is scrambling to find enough hotel rooms for next year's influx. For next year's prize pool, UltimateBet is guaranteeing a total prize pool of $4 million and a first place prize of $1 million for the October 2004 tournament.

-Foxwoods in Connecticut, the next stop on the tour Nov. 14-17, estimates a prize pool up to $3 million for its "World Poker Finals," up from $890,000 last year. The buy-in is $10,200 and nearly 300 players are lining up to enter. In 2003, the number of players was only 89, with a first prize of $345,000. The incentive for this upcoming tournament is an expected $1 million first prize. Overall, Foxwoods has seen a 372% increase in tournament participation and a 25% increase in revenue from weekday participation at its poker tables. Comparing September 2002 to September 2003, there was an increase of 132% in patrons and 254% in prize pool in the casino's weekly tournaments.

-Dec. 15-18 the WPT moves on the Bellagio in Las Vegas for the "Five Diamond World Poker Classic." The Bellagio has seen record increases in its poker room. Last year's tournament featured 146 players, a $1.4 million prize pool and a $581,000 first prize. The Bellagio has also seen record increases in its poker room. This season's $10,000-buy-in event is expected to draw 300 players and will feature another huge prize pool estimated in the $3 million range, making a first place pay-out in excess $1 million. which charters a cruise ship for its tournament, "The PartyPoker Million," last year drew 177 players, had a prize pool of $1 million and a first place payout of $263,000. In March, the online poker company estimates reaching maximum ship capacity of more than 500 players. The prize pool is expected to be $3.5 million, with a $1 million payday for the winner.'s Web site has quadrupled the number of players online since the World Poker Tour started airing. The company expects to have to charter a larger vessel for 2004.

-The World Poker Tour Championship in April featured the highest buy-in in history for a poker tournament -- $25,000 -- and drew 111 players, competing for $2.6 million in prize money and a $1 million first prize. Those numbers are expected to increase to 200 players, with a $5 million prize pool and a $2 million first prize.

-Totaling the estimated prize pools for all 14 of the WPT's second season tournaments, the number is close to an astonishing $30 million, three times the prize money in the tour's inaugural year.

Clearly one of the factors spurring the remarkable increase in tournament poker is the World Poker Tour's inclusion of and encouragement of non-professional players to "try their hand" at the game. Unlike other sports, with poker anyone who has the money for a buy-in can potentially end up playing against a poker legend. Furthermore, nearly all of the 14 events on the WPT offer satellite tournaments with very small buy-ins (as low as $10) where players can and have successfully played their way to a televised WPT Final Table. In fact, with four tournaments already filmed for the start of the second season, nearly a half dozen "amateurs" have played their way into WPT final tables.

"For us at the World Poker Tour, it is truly gratifying to see the impact that our innovative show has had on raising the boat for the entire poker world," says Lipscomb. "America's favorite card game has a renewed vigor in poker rooms and living rooms across the nation." 

Is Online Poker A Good Thing?
As Online Poker Rooms enjoy a market boom, are brick and mortar poker rooms becoming a thing of the past? Surely as much as the game itself, poker is all about the sound of chips, the shuffle of cards, the clink of ice in a whiskey glass and the smell of cigars.

But it would seem that the sudden surge in online popularity has not been at the expense of the brick and mortar. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the two compliment each other. Online poker is allowing the game to expand and grow, modernizing poker and attracting a new wave of young players.

For new players, online poker provides a perfect environment in which to hone your skills and is less intimidating than the first trip into the casino rooms. For more experienced players, online tournaments offer the chance to win what may otherwise be an unaffordable entrance fee to brick and mortar tournaments. Just look at Moneymaker who managed to turn a $40 online tournament fee into $2.5 million at the World Series of Poker. It can be done!

Even better, online poker rooms usually offer free bonus money when you start playing on their sites. You may have to surf around for the best deal, but it’s still worth taking advantage of and you’ll also save money not having to tip the dealer. Also if you have ever been frustrated queuing for a seat at a casino, online, people are playing twenty four seven and the level of competition between online poker rooms will mean that you will never have a problem finding a game. And, forget jumping on the bus, you can play online in the comfort of your own home where the quiet atmosphere will most likely better your level of concentration whilst you still enjoy the thrill of the game in a secure environment.

All this sounding good? Well there’s more! Online, experienced players won’t be able to read your expression so if you’re a player who has a few tells that give you away, you’ll suddenly find yourself at an advantage! You may also have heard that one of the key elements to being a successful poker player is keeping accurate records. This is automatically done for you online meaning you know exactly how much you have spent and exactly how much you have cashed in.

There is very little that cheaters can do online. No one can mark the cards, no one can peek at your hole cards, and no one can stack the deck or put a cold deck on the table. Playing poker online is very safe. I know this is a concern for many players but it is easy to put your mind at rest. Most card rooms should have information available about secure play on their websites. Look out for anti-collusion prevention and information on random card generators. This should be monitored by an external source for extra piece of mind.

For these very reasons, millions of people are enjoying the lure of online poker as well as playing their usual home games, or in their local casinos. But watch out for the person in your home game who also plays online. The extra experience they gain will mean they’ll soon be walking off with your hard earned dollars!

Poker: The Game You Should Be Playing
From Steve McQueen in the Cincinnati Kid to Matt Damon in Rounders, poker has always had an air of irresistible cool. But after years in the wilderness with a reputation as a game played purely by dodgy looking blokes with braces in smoky backrooms, something strange has happened. Poker’s gone mainstream. In fact, it’s not so much gone upmarket, as gone trendy.

It’s the game to play and be seen playing.

Kick-started by the high-stakes drama of Late Night Poker, Channel 4 and Sky’s unexpected post-pub TV hit, the poker boom has been further fuelled by the meteoric rise of online poker. This impact of this surge of new blood coming to poker via their modems was highlighted by the victory of the aptly named Chris Moneymaker, a US-based accountant and Internet poker player, at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Having qualified online for $40, Moneymaker went home with $2.5m.

And like any new in-thing, poker has its fair share of celebrity followers. Matt Damon and Rounders co-star, the newly crowned GQ man of the year Ed Norton, are both avid players going so far as to play in the World Series. Other fans include comedians Stephen Fry and Ricky Gervias, Friends star Matthew Perry, writers Vicky Coren, Louise Wener and Martin Amis, not to mention those legends of the green baize Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis and Jimmy White.

So what exactly is the secret behind the rise and rise of poker, and in particular Texas hold’em? Put simply, there’s no card game on earth that’s as exciting. Despite being pretty simple to learn (you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to get to grips with Texas Hold’em), it’s a game that has absolutely everything: skill, nerve and (hopefully) a little bit of luck.

Unlike casino games such as roulette and blackjack where you play against the house, poker is just you, your opponents and a shuffled deck of cards, battling it out on a level playing field. It’s a game of arch-psychology, of bluff and counter-bluff where the best player often wins despite a sometimes fickle input from lady luck. Oh, and it’s pretty good fun, too.

And it’s here where the internet has helped to take poker into the stratosphere. While many people had an interest in poker, they never really got the chance to play. Until very recently, anyone with a penchant for a spot of Hold’em either had to try to get a group of friends together or nip down to a local casino. Now, the growth of the web, and the subsequent internet poker boom, has opened up the game to millions of people who wouldn’t dream of going down to a casino and didn’t have the time or inclination to organise mass get-togethers.

Most web-based poker sites also offer people free money tables, where they can play and learn without losing a penny. And when you are ready to graduate to real money games, some sites offer games that literally cost just a few pence; a far cry from casinos the minimum bets tend to be £1 or £2.

So what are you waiting for? Get online, and shuffle up and deal!