Although many consider the WPT – World Poker Tour – to be the smaller sibling of the WSOP – World Series of Poker, it does have a place within the industry.
Launched in 2002 as opposed to 1970 for the WSOP, the WPT was the idea of Steven Lipscomb, CEO at the time of the World Poker Tour Enterprise. He was also a TV producer and attorney.
He aimed to create high buy-in events and then broadcast the final table allowing players to the hole cards, therefore feeling more involved. The WSOP hadn’t introduced this concept at the time.
With commentary from professional players giving a commentary on what was happening as well as their verdict on the quality of the play, Lipscomb hoped to bring mainstream poker to the masses.
This internationally televised gaming event launched in late 2002 and ran until April 2003.
TV ratings were good and the idea and layout proved popular.
As the final tables were generally 6-handed, there tended to be a lot more action than if there were 9 players. Allay this to the audience being able to view the hole cards for the first time and the popularity of the 2 main commentators, Vince Van Patten and Mike Sexton, the format was a sure-fire winner.
In the 2nd season, there were over 150 countries broadcasting the show which really helped drive the poker boom of the early 2000s.
The event grew every year until 2007 with some of the top names in the poker world realizing that not only could they win a lot of money by taking part, but they could gain cult celebrity status the world over due to the high viewing figures.
Buy-ins ranged from $3,500 right up to $25,000 ensuring that only the crème-de-la-crème of the poker world was able to take part in the big events.
In 2007 the series was at its height giving life-changing prize pools and the largest payout in WPT history of just under $4m to Carlos Mortensen.
It was the 2nd largest poker tournament series in the world after the WSOP but the recession in the US and a change of lawmaking online poker illegal led to a drop in attendances and prize pools, although it did remain a popular series.
In 2008, the owners decided to start an online presence despite the ban on real money online poker in the US, giving prices worth $100k every month for free. The hope was that the law would change back making online poker legal again and giving them a nice share of the market.
Also in 2008, winners started receiving a bracelet on top of the prize money, a move making it more in line with the WSOP. All previous winners received one in recognition of their past performances.
November 2009 saw the sale of the WPT brand to one of the world’s largest online poker sites, Party Poker. They paid $12.3m for the rights and set about changing it from the very US focussed to worldwide.
The series expanded in Europe more than any other area and took in many smaller casinos with smaller buy-ins aimed at the average poker player as opposed to the top-end players it had previously aimed at.
Today, the WPT visits all continents, over 20 countries with events in some 35 casinos with a range of buy-ins.
Regional events to qualify for these bigger events also take place in many more places.
Party Gaming merged with Bwin to form Bwin.party Digital Entertainment in 2011 and in 2014 the WPT announced a partnership with Ourgame, allowing it to expand into many areas across Asia.
In 2015, it was announced that Ourgame had brought the full rights to the WPT from bwin.party for $35m cash.
They remained the owners until recently when it was announced at the back end of 2018 that Black Ridge Acquisition Corp agreed to purchase both WPT Enterprises and Allied Esports International from Ourgame International Holdings with the aim of merging them and creating a new company, Allied Esports Entertainment. The price was reported to be $150 million for both.
“In more than 40 years in the gaming and entertainment business, this is the most exciting opportunity I have seen,” the Chairman of the Board of the new company, Lyle Berman – also a member of the Poker Hall of Fame – said. “The capital from the Black Ridge SPAC will be used to expand AESE’s global property network, accelerating their first-mover advantage as the company continues to build a brand that is synonymous with esports.”
It remains to be seen on how the future of the WPT will unfold.
Player of the Year
During the first 8 seasons of the WPT, the 6 players making the final table of each event, along with the person finishing 7th in each, earned points which went towards crowning the WPT Player of the Year.