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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Dice nightmare

Now, WPT Enterprises (WPTE ) -- the company its buoyant 43-year-old founder took public last August -- is playing for even higher stakes. The success of the series, which launched its third season on Mar. 2, has spawned numerous competitors at networks such as ESPN (DIS ) and NBC (GE ) that boast greater reach and cachet than the Travel Channel (see BW Online, 3/10/05, "Kings, Queens, and Jokers"). That makes it tougher for WPT to maintain its dominance and puts consumers at risk of poker overload in the face of ubiquitous coverage. No wonder Lipscomb is racing to move beyond WPT's $10 million- to $12 million-a-year TV deal and make money from greater global distribution, online betting, a new Professional Poker Tour series, and licensing deals.

After all, the time appears right to make multiple bets on the game. It's hot with college kids and celebrities, and it's the fastest-growing segment of the $10 billion Internet gambling industry. Many of the country's top casinos, which once treated poker as the poor country cousin to craps and roulette, now report double-digit growth in the number of poker tables. Nielsen Media Research recorded 1.1 million viewers for WPT's Mar. 2 show -- impressive for a channel that reaches only 79 million households and is tough to find on the dial.