World Poker Tour

Published: 04/10/2010

The World Poker Tour is a series of poker tournaments united under one banner and televised weekly. It operates under the auspices of a media and entertainment company known as WPT Enterprises, Inc., which has estimated that the number of poker players worldwide exceeds 100 million—more than those who participate in golf, tennis, or billiards.

The tour debuted in 2002, leading up to the first WPT Championship in April 2003. The finals were conducted at the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Thereafter, the tour became a mainstay on cable television’s Travel Channel and was occasionally aired on mainstream stations, such as CBS and NBC. In 2008, Fox Sports Net acquired the rights to air WPT events, a contract that was most recently renewed in 2010 for three more years.

Like other major poker series, the World Poker Tour features the world’s top professionals. Their celebrity is part of the reason the tour has been so successful. But unlike most invitational tournaments, anyone at all may vie for a seat at the championship table by winning the right to compete through a preliminary “satellite” tournament.

A satellite is a form of qualifying event. The buy-ins for these can cost from $2,500 to $25,000. The only requirement, other than paying the participation fee, is for the entrant to be at least 21 years of age. First place earns approximately one third of the prize pool. The remainder of the purse is split among the others who reach the final table or finish in the top 20~30 places. Those who are good enough to reach the podium level are invited to move on to the televised main events where they can match their skills against the top pros.

In order to make poker “ready for the small screen,” WPT invested in new technology that allowed cameras to “peek” at the players cards and share them with the television viewing public. Filming is conducted in a specially prepared “arena” and the taped segments are later broadcast during a regularly scheduled season, not live, although a real studio audience is present for the taping.

The tournaments that are shown on television are selected on the basis of prestige, prize money awarded, geography, and visual appeal. WPT is always seeking to create an upscale, international image for poker. Professional sports announcers are employed to provide the commentary for the events and give insights to the choices made in the course of play.

Since 2004, the World Poker Tour has promoted a “Walk of Fame,” honoring the historic all-stars of poker. The Walk’s first inductees were legendary Texas Hold’Em champion Doyle Brunson and Dutch phenomenon Gus Hansen. Also added at that time was actor James Garner, who played a roving poker player in the television Western called “Maverick” (1958~1962).

In January of 2011, the World Poker Tour will air its 179th episode, kicking off the tour’s 9th season. Kimberly Lansing has been hired in a new role as the anchor for the show, to be paired with a “brash, yet-to-be-named new analyst.” Play-by-play commentary will still be provided by seasoned veterans Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten.

Other innovations planned for the new season include an episode filmed at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida; a recurring segment called “The Raw Deal”; and the introduction of on-set female ambassadors who will be known as the “Royal Flush Girls.”

According to Steve Heller, WPT’s Chief Executive Officer, the show will be “unlike any previous incarnations of the WPT… faster-paced and edgier, featuring the biggest names in poker mixing it up with more up-and-coming stars.” A co-sponsor of the show will be, the company’s legal online entity for subscription and sweepstakes-based poker. Additional un-aired footage and interviews will be made available through the website. The weekly broadcasts are expected to be seen in over 150 countries.

Published on: 04/10/2010

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