Poker pitfalls!

Dec 20, 2005 3:22 AM

The timing could not have been more dramatic.

Poker legend Doyle Brunson had played his way to another final table in another major tournament, something he’s been doing for years.

There he was fighting for a share of millions in prize money in the World Poker Tour’s Five Diamond Classic at the Bellagio. It had started with 555 players. Now it was down to Brunson and five others.

But let’s back track a little.

Five months earlier Brunson had made a short-lived $700 million bid to buy publicly traded WPT Enterprises, which operates the World Poker Tour, but within a few days the offer had vanished — like it had never existed. Even the New York Times took note of the story.

Where did it go? What happened? WPT stock had climbed sharply on news of the offer but then just as quickly plummeted. Brunson was not talking. Neither were WPT executives.

A poker playing acquaintance of both Brunson and Lyle Berman, the CEO at Lakes Entertainment which owned more than 60 percent of the WPT stock told me, "I regularly sit in the same game with these two and I never heard anything about any of this."

The same player proved to be a prophet, saying, "I’m thinking this is going to be looked at very closely by the SEC and I don’t figure I have anything to gain by being quoted saying anything."

The situation begs the question why the principals in this saga did not pick up the phone and say something profound like, "What’s going on here?"

It wasn’t as though they were strangers. They probably all had each other on their respective speed dialers.

This past Friday as Brunson readied himself for the WPT’s final table at the Bellagio, the SEC filed notice of its intent to ask some questions, investigate the offer and determine whether there may have been possible fraud violations.

The SEC noted that certain documents had been withheld by Brunson’s Las Vegas attorneys at Brunson’s request. Brunson had also asserted his Fifth Amendment rights.

WPT CEO Steve Lipscomb’s only comment was that "Doyle’s part of the foundation of poker as it is today. I’m sure he’ll get through this okay."

Incidentally, Brunson finished third at the Bellagio Classic, taking home more than $560,000 in prize money.

The cash should help with the legal bills.

Now we’ll see what happens as he and his attorneys take on the SEC.

Some observers speculate there’s probably a simple answer here.

"The offer got out front of the financing," a source confided.

Even so, it’s still perplexing why someone simply didn’t say something about it.