Monday, December 14, 2009

2009 World Poker Tour Year in Review, by Earl Burton - 14th December 2009

For the World Poker Tour (WPT), 2009 was a year of incredible highs, but the organization was also faced with issues away from the felt that had to be overcome for the company to remain viable in other arenas.

Without a doubt, the biggest news of 2009 for the WPT was the sale of the popular poker tour. In what turned out to be a frenetic bidding war, WPTE, the tour’s parent company, received an offer in August from Gamynia Limited for around $9 million. Officials from the WPT’s parent company accepted the offer from Gamynia, but the battle was just beginning. A second offer from Party Gaming, which upped the ante to $12.3 million, eclipsed Gamynia and made it appear that the former online gaming giant would be the one to take over ownership of the WPT. As a part of this deal, there a $1 million cash advance would allow WPT to opt out of its deal with Gamynia.

As the deal with Party Gaming was moving towards completion, a third bid for the WPT came to light. As stockholders prepared to approve the agreed upon sale to Party Gaming in October, Mandalay Entertainment (not a part of the Mandalay Bay hotel ownership) stunned the poker world by issuing a bid for the WPT to the tune of $36.5 million. After reviewing the respective bids, the stockholders bypassed the Mandalay Entertainment offer and approved the sale of the WPT to Party Gaming. As of the end of 2009, it isn’t known how Party Gaming will utilize its ownership of the WPT.

In news away from the felt, the WPT was looking for an outlet to continue to air its popular tournament schedule. The one-year deal with Fox Sports Net was renegotiated in February and ensured that the WPT would continue to be on television for Season 8. In addition to the deal with Fox Sports Net, the WPT was also able to bring on Full Tilt Poker as a major sponsor of its broadcasts, marking the first time that the tour had aligned itself directly with an online poker room. Previously, sites had been sponsors of individual stops on the WPT, but never the entirety of the tour itself.

At the start of 2009, WPTE was facing a de-listing from the NASDAQ Stock Exchange in New York because its shares were not trading above the required $1 level. WPTE was given an extension due to the travails of the financial world in late 2008 and, by the middle of 2009, it had returned its stock to the required levels to maintain the seat on the NASDAQ. It was officially removed upon the sale to Party Gaming.

On the tables, the WPT continued to provide quality events, albeit with a drop in actual tournament attendance. Numbers for WPT events were down as much as 25%, but this was attributed to the global economic recession for the most part. The smaller numbers ensured that there were quality fields that took part in each stop of the WPT through the end of Season 7 and the beginning of Season 8.

Veterans of the poker world such as Freddy Deeb (WPT Invitational), Steve Brecher (Bay 101 Shooting Star), and Vadim Trincher (Foxwoods Poker Classic), all earned championships as Season 7 began to wind down. In April, the WPT Championship crowned up and coming poker superstar Yevgeniy “Jovial Gent” Timoshenko as its latest winner and also bestowed the title of WPT Player of the Year to Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier.

After taking its traditional summer break, the WPT came back for Season Eight, with players such as Alexandre Gomes (Bellagio Cup) and Prahlad Friedman (Legends of Poker) taking down titles. After a stirring run at the 2009 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event, Tommy Vedes demonstrated why he is considered to be one of the most underrated players in the game when he captured the title at the Festa al Lago in October. In perhaps the best calendar year run on the WPT, Cornel Andrew Cimpan claimed two WPT titles, the L.A. Poker Classic during Season 7 in February and the Foxwoods World Poker Finals during Season 8 in November.

Finally, the WPT put the “World” back into its moniker by hosting several tournaments in Europe. WPT Europe crossed the continent, ranging from such traditional gaming areas as Barcelona and Venice to exotic locales like Cyprus and Marrakech. These tournaments were warmly received, with strong European contingents filling out the fields alongside many of the best in poker from the United States.

With the new ownership of Party Gaming in its pocket, the future for the WPT is definitely bright. (Credit: Poker News Daily)

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