The worst kept secret in the online gambling industry coming into 2005 was that WPT Enterprises, Inc., which owns and operates the World Poker Tour, is planning to launch an online poker room. Last week they showed their hand.
The WPT and online gaming software developer WagerWorks have released a joint statement announcing that WagerWorks is creating a poker room to be launched at www.WPTOnline. The site is expected to go live in the second quarter of this year.
Major aspects of the deal are being kept private, but the WPT did say the site will not accept wagers from U.S. residents or anyone else logging in from jurisdictions where online gaming is prohibited (a policy that falls in line with that of WagerWorks).
That means the WPT is joining the likes of MGM Mirage and Hard Rock as a major brand launching an online gambling venture that doesn't take U.S. play. MGM and Hard Rock both struggled to attract customers from outside the United States, and both shut down their sites within two years of launching them.
But officials at the WPT, now carried on TV in 57 countries, believe their product has transitioned into a truly international brand, and WPT Enterprises CEO Lyle Berman called the new site "the next step in our global branding initiative."
"We believe the future of online gaming will be driven by strong brands," Berman said. "The WPT is achieving the kind of worldwide recognition that will position us at the forefront of this burgeoning business sector."
Brand recognition is clearly the key for companies moving into the I-gaming space, particularly considered the size and potential of the European market.
Christiansen Capital Advisors, L.L.C., a market research firm that specializes in online gambling, predicts the European market will experience triple-digit growth in online poker over the next two years. The entire online poker industry, according to CCA, will reach $10 billion in 2005.
In addition to focusing on the European market, the WPT has signed deals within the last two months with broadcast partners in Latin America and the Caribbean.
While the WPT has helped itself greatly by making inroads all over the world, WagerWorks CEO Paul Miltenberger believes his company will play a major role in making the new site a successful venture.
"We believe that the World Poker Tour brand and WagerWorks' Internet gaming assets will be key factors in enabling WPTonline.com to get out of the gate quickly," Miltenberger said.
One important asset brought to the table by WagerWorks is its position in Alderney, where it has already secured a license to operate.
Teaming up with WagerWorks will also enable the WPT to offer a wide range of online casino games, including slots and table games. The WPT intends to feature "Monopoly," "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right"--titles to which WagerWorks has the exclusive online rights--at the new site. These games will of course be offered along with a WPT-branded poker room featuring ring games, Sit and Goes, and multi-table tournaments for poker games, including Texas Hold'em, Omaha, 7 card stud, and 7 card hi-lo.
Despite not taking U.S. play, the WPT will utilize Travel Channel--where it has experienced great success in the United States--as its primary marketing engine. Company officials had no comment on whether the advertisements would be placed on U.S. broadcasts or restricted to broadcasts in other countries.
The WPT will start its third TV season on March 2, 2005 with 16 new broadcasts of tournaments filmed at leading casinos all over the world. The WPT is Travel Channel's all-time highest-rated series.
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