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/9/07/2005 No.8
he Guardian Poker Column
Jamie Wilson in Las Vegas writes for the Guardian News Group
Saturday July 9, 2005
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MTV poker firm bid led by 'Texas Dolly'

A septuagenarian poker champion, Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson, is acting as a frontman for an anonymous investor consortium which announced yesterday that it had offered $700m (£400m) for the US television production firm World Poker Tour.

WPT pioneered the under-table camera angle credited with transforming the popularity of televised poker. Its show, broadcast on the Travel channel in the US on Wednesdays, now attracts higher viewing figures than some NBA basketball matches.

The unknown investors are set on heavily promoting the online poker site Doyles through WPT's flagship programme.

The approach is likely to be closely watched by PartyGaming, the Gibraltar-based online poker firm that floated in London last month with a £5bn valuation. For four years WPT's presenter Mike Sexton has been the public face of PartyGaming in the US, where it makes 90% of its revenues.

Television advertising featuring Mr Sexton, who is highly regarded among poker fans, is credited with dramatically raising the profile of PartyGaming's website, The firm says this promotional relationship explains how it overtook Paradise Poker to become the leading US poker website.

Paradise Poker has since been acquired by Sportingbet, the London-listed online bookmaker focused on US sports betting.

Mr Brunson, 71, has won the World Series of Poker a record 10 times, including two consecutive wins. A former basketball professional with the then Minneapolis Lakers, his career was cut short by an accident, in which he broke his leg, at a factory where he worked part-time. In 1978, Mr Brunson wrote the best-selling Super System, a guide to Texas Hold 'em poker play. It still sells 14,000 copies a month.

In contrast to the colourful Mr Brunson, little is known of the investors behind the online business that trades off his name or of the consortium that has approached WPT.

WPT was founded three years ago as a joint venture between the chief executive, Steve Lipscomb, and Lakes Entertainment, a US resort casino operator. The company floated on the New York stock exchange last August and had a market value of $570m before news of the bid approach emerged.

Last week WPT was forced to reveal that Deloitte & Touche had resigned as its auditors. It said Deloitte's decision had been prompted by "risks" associated with WPT's attempts to launch an online gaming business.

The US department of justice (DoJ) has made it clear that it regards online poker and sports bets as an illegal activity under the US Wire Act. Web-based poker businesses, including Party Gaming, claim that their poker concerns do not contravene the act.

The DoJ has sought to clamp down on offshore-based gambling websites through credit card companies and advertising routes. Earlier this year it pressured a string of websites to ditch advertisements for sports betting websites. It has not, as yet, cracked down on online poker publicity campaigns.

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The Editor's WSOP Reports