TV Innovations Give Poker Wide Appeal

11 August 2004

Who would have ever thought that someone could take a mundane, visually neutral recreation like poker and repackage it into one of the hottest, most riveting spectator games to ever hit television?

Steve Lipscomb, the creator and CEO of the World Poker Tour, had the brainstorm back in October of 2001 when he started a company devoted to televising a series of high stakes poker games held in casinos around the country.

The enterprising Lipscomb sold his idea to the Travel Channel, which agreed to televise a 13-week series of episodes. The experiment was a smashing success. The 2003 World Poker Tour attracted 844,000 viewers, nearly triple what the Travel Channel drew during the corresponding period of time the previous year.

The Travel Channel knew it was making a good gamble. Of all the exotic places it takes viewers to, Las Vegas-geared programs were always the most popular. The 2003 WPT proved so successful that the series came back for an encore run during the summer.

Lipscomb's groundbreaking innovation for televised poker games was when he had a tiny camera imbedded in the rails in front of each player's table position, enabling viewers to peak at the player's hands when they tilted the cards up to glance. Expert hand-by-hand commentary, synthesized music, and the creation of "poker superstars" add to the appeal.

It costs Lipscomb between $350,000 and $400,000 to produce each episode, but the investment proves well worth it.

Competitions such as the World Series of Poker, which has been held at the Horseshoe Casino in Downtown Las Vegas since 1970, and the U.S. Poker Championship, which was inaugurated at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1996, were immediate beneficiaries of Lipscomb's brainchild.

The 2004 World Series of Poker began on April 23 and continued through May 23. The tournament, which is the longest continually held poker event in the world, drew 9,000 entrants. The famous championship event, a $10,000 buy-in game of Texas Hold'em, is expected to attract 1,200 players.

ESPN will air 22 one-hour episodes of the World Series of Poker. The package, which will be comprised of highlights of the entire competition, will hit the airwaves later this year.

The popularity of poker on television has created an entirely new demographic of people who play the game according to Henry Funke, poker room manager of the Trump Hotel & Casino at Buffington Harbor in Gary, Indiana.

"I think that's where television really comes into play, Funke said. "It's turning into a much younger crowd. It used to be the World War II generation was predominate in the poker room world. Television has turned that completely around.

"I'd say our weekly no-limit Texas Hold'em tournaments bring in 50 percent players under the age of 30. It's predominately men. My estimate is that roughly 15 percent of our tournament players are women."

The poker craze has hit college campuses and frat houses especially hard. As a matter of fact, the World Poker Tour creative team is said to be working on a televised poker competition among colleges.

Could a Bachelor's Degree program in "bluffing" be far behind?


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This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at fscobe@optonline.net.
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