What's up with the World Poker Tour?
Please release me
Astute readers will notice I haven't played in the recent World Poker Tour events. I thought I'd fill in some background on what's going on. The bottom line is I no longer think it's a good deal.
I first got into poker when I saw my friend Andy Bloch on season one of the World Poker Tour. It looked like fun, like something I could learn to do well, and a hobby that would make, not consume, money. I taught myself to play, leaned on my smart friends for coaching and tips, and jumped into the shark-infested waters. I've had only moderate success, but no less than could be expected with someone of average or slightly above-average skill. Regardless of how good you are, you have to get lucky to win these things.
The Fox Sports Network decided to join the fray, as did the Ultimate Poker Challenge on WGN and syndicated stations, making for many more opportunities to play televised poker. The unlikely Game Show Network threw in their gauntlet. Suddenly it wasn't imperative to fly to Paris to play poker. There were plenty of events in friendly Las Vegas.
When Harrah's jumped into the picture, adding money to the WSOP Circuit tournaments in the form of a freeroll and allowing players to wear sponsor's logos, their ESPN contract immediately jumped them ahead of WPT in almost every respect. World Poker Tour married itself to the marginal Travel Channel, meaning even if you could get it on your cable TV, it wasn't being aired in bars almost 24 hours a day. Sponsor logos were allowed, meaning regular players could get paid extra for appearing on TV. The WPT was making itself less and less attractive. I won't even mention losing Shana Hiatt.
To counter the perception of the WPT giving nothing back, they created the Professional Poker Tour, a series of freerolls where small logos were allowed. We all loved this, but they have been unable to sell the first five shows and have postponed indefinitely plans for a second season. With the PPT out of the picture, WPT finally relented and allowed small, pre-approved logos at the final table. Financially, this was not very significant to the players as the WPT events are very large and therefore the chance of making a final table is very small.
The straw that broke the camel's back for me, as well as Andy, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, and some others, was the WPT's release form. From the beginning Andy, a lawyer, had complained that it was overly broad. But discussions with Steve Lipscomb, creator of WPT, and other personnel assured me that it was simply a standard release allowing them to air and promote the program. I signed it many times based on that assurance. Then WPT decided to put a banner up on their online poker room with the likenesses of three poker pros without either their permission or compensation. It was quickly removed when they complained, but Lipscomb, in a letter to players, asserted it was removed "not because we were legally obligated to, but because the players asked us to." That was way out of line with the assurances Lipscomb had given me in private. Apparently he believed signing the release allowed him to legally use our names and likenesses for any purpose whatsoever, but in his great benevolence he offered to take our feelings into consideration when making his decision.
He goes on to say in the letter that since we have signed the release in the past, signing it again would have no effect. Legal advisors have told me this is untrue, especially since they have now changed the language in the release, and Lipscomb, an attorney, should know better. Lipscomb's claim that it is a "standard release" is simply untrue. Compare it to the ESPN release for the World Series. Andy Bloch has written a clear article about it.
And so I'm not playing in the World Poker Tour until things change. It's not a boycott. I don't think they'll miss me. It just doesn't seem like a good deal.
But Ultimate Poker Challenge season three—look out!