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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Money night

LOGGING ON. Meanwhile, the World Series of Poker drew a record 2,576 players last year, vs. about 830 in 2003, each needing $10,000 to participate in the main event. While officials continue to fret over what some see as the sinful nature of poker, and the Justice Dept. continues to crack down on Internet gambling, advertisers seem to be getting comfortable with gambling shows. "Poker has become good fun entertainment," says Peter McLoughlin, a spokesman for Anheuser Busch (BUD ).

Few are more convinced of poker's potential than Lipscomb, an ambitious middle child from Knoxville, Tenn., whose Southern Baptist grandmother taught him the finer points of the game at age 8. He has already sold the show in 57 countries and hopes to see that tally reach 200 in the next few years. His outfit is licensing everything from playing cards and $500 poker sets to slot machines and video poker games.

But the big bet comes in the next few months, when WPT will move into online gaming with offshore partner Wagerworks, in part to work around the crackdown by federal officials on U.S. residents making bets on the Net. WPT Chief Financial Officer Todd Steele says the business "has the potential to be critical to our revenues."

Lipscomb recognizes that 2005 is the year that WPT has to prove it's not just lucky but, as he puts it, "real and long-term." For starters, he needs to keep ramping up revenues. On Mar. 8, WPT posted full-year earnings of $681,000 on sales of $17.6 million, vs. a loss of $351,000 on sales of $4.3 million in 2003.