Steve Lipscomb’s Open Letter to the Poker Community

by Lou on December 28, 2005

Over the last week, there’s been a lot of debate in the poker community over a letter written by Steve Lipscomb, the founder of the World Poker Tour.

Lipscomb addressed his letter to the public at large, in order to address addressing several issues of concern, including a boycott of WPT events by Andy Bloch and Chris “Jesus” Ferguson. The letter is printed below. My comments follow the letter.

As I take stock of all the things we have to be thankful for in the holiday season, I find it appropriate and necessary to share some thoughts with the poker community at large. Firmly believing that people will, in the end, be judged by their actions, I have long made it a policy at the World Poker Tour to let our actions speak for themselves. The persistence of widely disseminated misinformation regarding a number of things has prompted me to break with that tradition today.

I want to first state that the relationship between the WPT and our players is one of paramount importance to us. Neither the WPT nor the players would be enjoying the extraordinary success we have seen over the last three years without each other. It is essential that we all respect and appreciate what the players, the WPT casinos and the WPT staff have brought to the table in creating this new world of poker. We truly value the relationship we continue to have with our players and see it as a two-way street. We encourage players to bring their concerns directly to us in the effort to ensure a healthy, positive and fruitful relationship and we will continue to attempt to address those issues as quickly as possible. To help facilitate communication, we are launching a “For Players Only” portion of our website early next year, designed to foster information exchange and dialogue directly with WPT players. Players should make sure we have current email information so we can send them a Players Only password.

That being said, I would like to focus on the issues that have caused unnecessary concern in order to help put them in perspective.

The latest hot button issue seems to be the filming release we require players to sign before they play in World Poker Tour events. The release we utilize is a standard filming release that all production companies must have signed by everyone they film – or the television broadcaster will refuse to air our material. Filming releases are always broadly drafted to protect against frivolous law suits. The language is clear. The production company can use all the footage it shoots and the person’s image in all media.

But, the story does not end there. The World Poker Tour is a business. We value our relationship with WPT players and have always acted with great care and deference when using player images. The few players now trying to stir up controversy around player releases are lost in hypotheticals – not reality.

A perfect example occurred recently. Without my approval, a banner ad featuring three prominent players was used by a WPT affiliate to drive people to our online poker site. Within an hour of hearing about the ad, I had it removed – not because we were legally obligated to, but because the players asked us to-and we take their concerns seriously.
We have always acted this way as a matter of course. But, I am happy to go on record today to promise the poker community that we will always listen to a player who feels that he or she is uncomfortable with how we use their image. If we feel we can or should, we will modify or eliminate that use. And, if not, we will explain, to the best of our ability, why not. What I cannot do is subject WPTE to endless lawsuits by severely restricting the rights we obtain in our filming release. No credible production company could or would do so. And, it is in the interest of all poker players for the WPT to be focusing its efforts and resources on growing poker into one of the largest sports in the world – rather than defending an endless line of frivolous lawsuits.

I challenge the poker community to be very cautious about accepting misinformation without looking further. I am convinced that, if people take the time to investigate how the World Poker Tour has acted, they will agree that we should be commended as a company for the way we have handled this issue-and the way we listen and respond to players in general.

One more thing. The few players trying to make this a wedge issue want people to believe that players may lose endorsement opportunities because of signing WPT or ESPN film releases. Once again, this is not a real concern, but a remote hypothetical. You need to ask if any player has lost an endorsement deal because of WPT, ESPN, FOX, etc. filming releases. The answer is there are none. Players should always let potential sponsors know that they have signed the industry-standard, filming release that makes it possible for them to be on television – and therefore be of value to the sponsor. Sponsors and manufacturers deal with these circumstances all the time – on every television show from Survivor to Seinfeld. If you are lucky enough to have your television poker exposure make you a star worthy of endorsement contracts, the release will not impede that process.

And, finally, players who have played in any WPT events over the last three and a half years have already signed a release. That means that signing a release at the next hundred or a thousand WPT tournaments will have no effect of committing them any more than they are already committed.

Another rampant misunderstanding in the poker community is that the World Poker Tour or WPT Enterprises (WPTE) is making massive profits and is somehow the evil empire that refuses to spread the wealth. Nothing could be further from the truth. WPTE has been in business for four years and has yet to turn a profit. We continue to invest in what we believe will be the bright future of poker and the league that launched poker as a sport. And we, more than any institution in the business, have taken and continue to take steps to grow the poker world in general to benefit players and the broader community. Just a few examples:

  • In our second season, we launched and funded the first player management company in history – not because we thought it would make us money, but because we wanted to foster relationships and build opportunities for players. We passed that organization on to Brian Balsbaugh who has managed to make meaningful sponsorship deals a reality for an ever-growing group of players.
  • In Season III, we fulfilled the dream of many people in the poker community by launching and funding the first professional poker league in the history of the sport, giving $2.5 million dollars away prior to securing a broadcast deal. As many of you know, we have yet to receive any return of that investment.
    In 2004 we invited all poker players and the general public to become investors in the WPT at a very early stage – to give everyone an opportunity to benefit from our future growth.
  • In Season IV, the WPT lobbied the Travel Channel on behalf of players and secured a change in the logo policy to allow pre-approved logos at WPT final tables.

In a broader sense, it is the World Poker Tour, its staff and casino partners that have made this poker boom possible. Every player that commentates on a rival TV show, every player that wins a million dollar first prize, every player that participates in or endorses an online poker room, every player that sits down in a packed poker room full of new players benefits from the World Poker Tour. Some people seem to forget that just three years ago you had to wait a year to get a shot at a million dollar first prize tournament. Poker rooms were being shut dow
n across the country and industry leaders were holding conferences seeking ways to save a dying business. People forget that the biggest five and ten thousand dollar buy-in events had thirty to sixty people in them – not the six to nine hundred players you see today.

A tremendous land of opportunity has been created and opened to the poker community by the World Poker Tour and the other poker shows it has spawned. Poker rooms across the country are making money as they never imagined they could or would. Online poker has exploded from a two hundred million dollar market to a three billion dollar market by associating with the WPT and other television shows. And, whereas no one wanted to put regularly scheduled poker on television in the U.S. in 2001/2002, at least fifteen shows are currently airing in the U.S. – copying the WPT format.

There are a lot of people making money in the poker market today. Most of those opportunities did not exist prior to the World Poker Tour. The three founders of Party Gaming cashed out over a billion dollars from their business this year. Estimates are that Full Tilt Poker, owned and launched by A-list poker players, is making hundreds of thousands of dollars a day, millions of dollars a month. Poker players are being paid for appearances, they are endorsing products and poker sites and they are even beginning to crack the difficult layers of legitimate corporate sponsorship. Free-roll television shows totaling millions of dollars in prize money are being announced monthly and new poker interest shows are being produced as well.

The World Poker Tour is excited by all of this – and no one is happier than Lyle Berman or me when players do well and manage to cash in on the poker boom. But, with all the money being made, the poker community should be aware that the guy who put up millions of dollars to change the poker world – Mr. Lyle Berman – has, to date, not made a cent. He has never drawn a salary and, as of today, he and Lakes Entertainment have not sold one share of World Poker Tour stock. Their investment has appreciated, but I can not imagine that poker players or the poker community begrudge him that – any more than they would expect Party Gaming’s investors or the Full Tilt players to redistribute their profits.
For my own part, all my compensation is a matter of public record. And, to quote the wife of one of our WPT Champions, “I’ve seen what you made to launch this business and no poker player would have done it for that. I wouldn’t have done it.” As to my stock in the company, I have sold less than twenty percent of my ownership and continue to believe and invest in the future growth of poker and the World Poker Tour.

As a public company, all of this information is easily assessable on any search engine: YAHOO! Finance, CNN Business, Motley Fool, MSNBC, etc. I encourage members of the poker community to look at our company information. Under the watchful eye of the Securities and Exchange Commission, we report how much money the company makes, how much it spends, how much executives are paid and even how much stock, if any, those executives sell. Lyle can attest to the fact that we have yet to turn a profit. He made a $10,000 bet with another poker player when the World Poker Tour began that the company would turn a profit sometime in the first five years. To date, he has not been able to collect on that bet.

I guess I would like to ask the poker community in general and the poker player community in particular to help us keep focused on the task at hand – which is to grow poker into the largest global sports phenomenon in history. I ask that you judge us by what we do and look beyond rumor. Seek the truth; don’t just accept misinformation as gospel. While individual players may have their own motivation for spreading misinformation about the WPT or anyone else in our community, keep an open mind and look for the reality. Everyone has his/her own agenda and we are no exception to that rule. But, our incentives tend to align with the growth of poker as a sport that will continue to bring benefit to everyone in the community.
I appreciate your taking time to digest these thoughts. Together we have managed to change the face of poker forever. Together we have managed to dispel the perception that poker could never be a sport. We look forward to working together in 2006 to find new ways that we can grow the poker world together. And, on behalf of Lyle, Robyn and everyone at the World Poker Tour, we wish a safe and joyous holiday season to you and yours. We truly feel blessed to be a part of this exciting time in poker.


Standard Releases: I’m not in the TV business so I don’t know whether there are “standard releases” or not. My gut feel is that those offering the releases would like them to be “standardized,” but like everything else in contractual relationships, they’re negotiable.

The players are operating from the perspective that in a business relationship the WPT and Steve Lipscomb are not one and the same. In the future, Lipscomb might not be associated with the World Poker Tour and there is no guarantee that his successor would attempt to act in the best interests of the players, as Steve claims he is doing now. Someone else in a position of power might interpret the “standard release” in quite a different light, and when one signs his or her name to an agreement, the boycotting players realize that the agreement is with a corporate entity, not an individual.

The World Poker Tour’s Profits: The question of whether the world poker tour has yet to turn a profit is not really the issue here at all. The WPT has risen to a position where it has value that’s quite measurable, and that’s without regard to any profit they may show at the end of a fiscal year.

A Land of Opportunity: Has the WPT led to unprecedented opportunity for poker players? Of course it has. Many of the players who are now household names would be recognizable only within the very insular world of other poker players if the WPT had not come along and turned poker into watchable TV programming. Their creativity and their pioneering use of available technology such as lipstick cameras and significantly upgraded production values, forced others poker programming providers to compete at their quality level or run the risk of falling by the wayside.

Having said that, the fact remains that many players are now media stars and it doesn’t really matter how they achieved their measure of fame. If the WPT “created” their celebrity status, surely the WPT benefitted from this creation too, since people now tune in to watch their favorite players as well as the poker competition itself. Creating a celebrity does not mean that the WPT “owns” them forever.

Should the players be grateful to the WPT for what they have done in helping mainstream poker? I think so. But my view really doesn’t matter. This is a decision each and every WPT player has to make for himself. This is simply the machinations of an economic universe at work, and just like a televised poker event, we get to see it all take place.

Are the players planning to continue their boycott bluffing or not? Will the WPT hold to their position that releases are “standard?”

Quien sabe? What I do know is that this is a poker game on a grand scale, and in some ways it’s much more exciting to watch than the episodes shown on television.

Lou Krieger

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