Players Settle Dispute With World Poker Tour

by Lou on April 21, 2008

Five of the original seven players—Chris Ferguson (pictured right), Andrew Bloch, Annie Duke, Phil Gordon, and Howard Lederer—who brought suit against World Poker Tour Enterprises, operators of the World Poker Tour—announced that the suit was settled. Greg Raymer and Joe Hachem, who were originally parties to the suit, dropped their involvement before the settlement.

Players claimed that the WPTE player release forced them to violate endorsement agreements and rights to images that these players and their sponsors contracted for, and because of that, the players had to forego taking part in WPT events. The action, an antitrust case, alleged that WPTE conspired to eliminate competition and violate the intellectual property rights of these players. WPTE denied that their player release was in “… in violation of antitrust or other laws.”

According to Chris Ferguson, the settlement was fair for all poker players: “We are happy to have come to an agreement that is fair to all players, and to have put in place a new release that clears up ambiguities in how players’ images may be used. We are especially happy that this new release will apply to all poker players who wish to participate in WPT tournaments and events. WPTE has created some of the best poker events in the world, and we are excited to participate in them once again.”

In their statement WPTE said that while it did not constitute any admission of wrongdoing, the company “… continues to deny any liability or wrongdoing, but wants to settle its differences with the players so that the tour can focus on its continued growth rather than litigation.”
WPTE founder and CEO Steve Lipscomb said, “We are glad to put this dispute behind us, and we look forward to working with all players to grow the sport of poker.”

I’m glad to see this unfortunate lawsuit concluded, but I’m still left to wonder about whether this is too little, too late. With the (over) saturation of poker on television, I don’t know how the World Poker Tour will carve out its slice of the economic pie in future years.

The World Series of Poker has history and tradition on its side. In addition, Harrah’s creates revenue streams from room sales, restaurant, souvenir sales, and player entry fees, as well as producing programming for ESPN.
The World Poker Tour is a guest at the sites that host their tournaments, and cannot monetize collateral streams of income as well as Harrah’s can with its WSOP. They are essentially in the business of producing TV programming—initially for the Travel Channel and now for the lower-rated Game Show Network. As they continue to compete with poker on networks that have higher ratings, such as ESPN, and even compete against themselves because it’s sometimes tough for viewers to tell whether the WPT show they’ve tuned in is new or a re-run, they run the risk of losing shelf space.
They’ve made it through six seasons. Time will tell whether there’ll be a seventh season, and if it will be a success going forward.

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