Anyone questioning the popularity of online table poker ought to take a look at the quick success of LadbrokesPoker.com.
Ladbrokes, the leading British betting group, is proving the strength of its brand through the rapid growth of the online poker room. Company officials announced yesterday that the site has reached a daily player win average of over $2 million.
To further leverage its powerful brand, Ladbrokes is teaming up with Barry Hearn's Matchroom Sport to produce the Poker Million Masters, a made-for-TV poker tournament that gets underway today.
The event will see 28 of the world's leading poker players take on six wildcards, including European Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance, former snooker World Champion Steve Davis, Jimmy White and Barry Hearn.
Players who have won their place at the table through online tournaments--Alan 'Mudd' Mudster, and Swedish tobacco shop owner Jonny 'Hugo' Akesson--round out the final two spots in the 36-strong field.
Among the heavy hitters are former World Series of Poker champion Noel Furlong, Dave 'Devilfish' Ulliot and London's infamous 'Hendon Mob.' Each player has staked $10,000 to sit at the table. Sam Torrance, who famously bluffed his American rivals by playing his strongest players first in the Ryder Cup singles, will also put his poker skills to the ultimate test.
Although LadbrokesPoker.com doesn't take action from the United States, some of the leading poker players from America are taking part in the tournament via locations outside of the States.
The winner of the tournament will receive $150,000.
Sky Sports will broadcast highlights of the heats in February, with the final round airing March 16. TV stations in Canada, South Africa, Australia, Holland and Scandinavia will also broadcast the tournament. Sky TV viewers will be able to see the players' cards via cameras placed underneath glass panels on the tables.
Ladbrokes and Matchroom Sport formed a joint venture last year to capitalize on the growing public interest in poker.
Ladbrokes e-Gaming Managing Director John O'Reilly said the event would be used to grow the popularity of both poker and the LadbrokesPoker.com Web site.
Hearn, executive chairman of Matchroom Sport, believes poker is bound for success in television.
"In 2000, Poker Million on the Isle of Man achieved a TV Audience on Sky in excess of many leading Premiership football matches," Hearn said. "Poker has all the ingredients for great TV: big personalities playing for big money--a massive test of skill and courage."
Since its launch in May 2002, LadbrokesPoker.com has attracted over 25,000 customers from 75 countries. The site deals up to 50,000 games each day and is growing at a rate of 20 percent a month.
The company claims to be the third-biggest poker operation in the world, relying heavily on its brand strength and recognition
Analyst Dennis Boyko, who has been monitoring the performance of multiplayer poker sites since July, pointed out that $2 million per day in winnings translates into rakes of up to $100,000 per day, assuming the house takes a 5 percent rake.
In early November, Ladbrokes was estimated at $53,000 per day in rake revenue, according to figures produced at PokerPulse.com, Boyko's Internet-based poker room tracker.
Today, he said, the figure probably hovers at around $66,000.
"Given that Ladbrokes has some very high roller action with $1,000 pot tables," Boyko said, "they will not be able to get the full 5 percent rake. So, on a first pass, I believe the greater than $2 million a day in winnings is consistent with my research and a good estimate of the action at Ladbrokes."
Officials with Ladbrokes say the made-for-TV tournaments are part of an effort to expand the group's market share in the poker sector. If they're able to do so, especially considering the auspicious start reported by the company and tracked by Boyko, LadbrokesPoker.com will be among the Internet's elite poker rooms in the very near future.
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