Shuffle up and make deals!

Jun 27, 2006 5:52 AM

The World Series of Poker is not just a poker tournament anymore, it is a cascading waterfall of business deals gorging on a diet of steroids.

The impact of the myriad business arrangements associated with it is huge. The supporting evidence is everywhere.

The most recent licensing and sponsorship agreements are probably worth more than $100 million to Harrah’s, which bought all rights to the WSOP about 28 months ago for a figure that now looks like pocket change — less than $30 million.

Harrah’s strategists have labored since then with one goal in mind — adding bulk and polish to this brand via carefully calculated worldwide exposure.

There are the fees paid by companies looking to carve out a piece of the action and put even a momentary spotlight on their respective products as they get up close and personal with all the right demographics.

And this has nothing to do with the spending by thousands of poker buffs who will trek through the Rio and a related five-day lifestyle show (aka souvenir bazaar), gawking and spending and, yes, gambling as they go.

ESPN thinks so much of its association with the World Series that it will be televising the final hours of action at the final table of the $10,000 buy-in main event Aug.10 as a pay per view event.

This is a decision that could put the cable network right up there with the biggest gamblers at the World Series. Hole cards will not be visible as they will be on the segments ESPN will be showing free of charge over a period of months after the World Series.

How eager the people at home will be to plunk down $20-$25 to watch a poker match under such circumstances is anyone’s guess. Which may be why Harrah’s and ESPN will be surrounding the final day of action with as much theater as possible. They’ve promised a full stable of celebrity color commentators.

Online gaming companies and the poker players themselves will be among the other big spenders and winners.

The dot-net companies will pay upwards of a million dollars each just for the space that they will operate as hospitality suites.

All the better to acquaint attendees at the lifestyle show held just before the main event with the merits of their respective products.

The same dot-net operations can be counted on to shell out thousands of dollars to the gamblers willing to display their logo wear on worldwide television.

The most successful poker players at the 37th World Series can count on the opportunity for business deals that may ultimately pay them more than they will ever win at a poker table.

Highly regarded poker pro Howard Lederer has said his business deals make it difficult to find the time to play poker.

When Australian Joe Hachem last year won $7.5 million by outplaying more than 5,100 other people from around the globe, the first thing he did was sign the William Morris Agency to represent him; then he jetted off to LA for an evening of late night small talk with Jay Leno.

A tough job but someone has to do it.

We’ve come a long way from that time when most poker pros shunned the spotlight and could walk down crowded streets with no danger of recognition.

Former patent attorney Greg Raymer and former accountant Chris Moneymaker no longer ply their BWS (before the World Series) trades. They play poker now.

Hachem was a professional gambler and paid his own way into the big game, but Raymer and Moneymaker each played his way to first place via small buy-in satellites.

An event like the World Series offers possibilities for lighting fires in the imaginations of poker players hoping to give their lives an instant overhaul.

The biggest names in poker — Phil Hellmuth, Chris Ferguson, Daniel Negreanu and the list goes on — already have affiliations with online gaming companies that ensure their presence in the biggest of World Series events.

It will be fun to see who becomes the next marketing billboard.