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Lyle Berman plans to put poker on prime time TV

Mar 5, 2002 10:31 AM

Lyle Berman feels the timing is right for poker to make its play.

“We think this is the start for making poker a major entertainment attraction on television,” said the Lakes Gaming CEO when reached in his Minneapolis office Monday.

Berman is looking at poker as a mainstream sport and is prepared to put up the cash needed for a 13-week presentation of the card game. The plan is for the World Poker Tour to be established by the fall of this year.

“The tournaments will be taped in two-hour segments and could be held in London, Tunica (Miss), Atlantic City, Connecticut and Las Vegas,” Berman said. “We are working out plans to show the events over 13 weeks.”

Berman is a world class poker player and an annual participant in the World Series of Poker at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Downtown Las Vegas. Lakes Gaming Inc. (LACO) is a company that was born with the sale a couple of years ago of Grand Casinos Inc. to Park Place Entertainment Corp. (PPE).

Last week, Berman announced that Lakes Gaming would put up $100,000 to form a joint venture with Steven Lipscomb, an experienced producer of televised poker tournaments.

The terms of the investment provide that Lakes Gaming will owe 78 percent of the joint venture. In addition to the investment, Lakes Gaming will lend up to $3.2 million to the project as needed, with a note issued to LACO at 6.2 percent interest per year with principal payable at the end of three years.

“It is estimated that well over 50 million people play poker on a regular basis, either in card rooms and casinos or in their own home games,” Berman said. “We are very excited to be part of the World Poker Tour.”

Berman could not confirm whether the shows would be available on cable or through syndication, but indicated that an announcement should come within three months.

“Our goal now is to sign up card clubs,” he said. “We would love to sell the 13-week package to ESPN, but the first year we may have to buy the cable time and do it ourselves.”

Berman considers the World Poker Tour not only an exciting entertainment venture, but an educational one.

“It will be like watching a golf tournament on television,” he said. “The final round will be a nine-handed table. We want to focus on the hands and how the players decide what to do. This will be the start of making poker a major entertainment vehicle on television.

Berman was quick to reject the idea that poker was associated in any way with video poker.

“Video poker has absolutely nothing to do with us, and isn’t a part of the way we would like to educate the viewer,” he said.

Lakes Gaming has remained in the gambling industry with development and management agreements with four Indian Tribes. However, none as yet has an ongoing operation. The company also owns real estate in Las Vegas, as well as in other jurisdictions.