WPT - World Poker Tour

wpt World Poker Tour (WPT)

Steve Lipscomb had the vision. Lyle Berman had the financial means. Mike Sexton had the knowledge and the voice. Vince Van Patten had the humor. The Travel Channel had the confidence in the idea. Poker players had the desire, poker skills, and money to become the show. And the poker community had the interest to watch it come together on television.

The World Poker Tour is in its seventh season of tournaments and subsequent televised poker programming, having started with a creative idea in 2000 that finally took shape in 2002 and continues to be a staple in the poker industry today. To become a WPT champion is one of the highlights in any poker player's career, and players have lined up at every tour stop for seven seasons for their chance at life-changing prize money and a WPT title.

It all began in 2000 after Lipscomb had directed and produced a documentary on the World Series of Poker, and with a notion that poker could be broadcast and produced as a televised sport, he wrote a business plan in 2001 and brought poker veterans Sexton and Linda Johnson on board to assist. They pitched the plan to Lyle Berman, whose company, Lakes Entertainment, chose to back the project. After convincing casinos to participate and host the tournaments, hiring a crew, and announcing the tournament, they gathered at Bellagio in June of 2002 to film the final table of the Five Diamond World Poker Classic.

The Travel Channel came aboard with an agreement to air the show on Wednesday nights…in prime time. It was a huge step for poker, and it happened on March 30, 2003. With thirteen tournaments airing on television during the WPT's first season, the network received a positive response and stayed with the show for a total of five seasons. And the WPT tournaments grew from 13 in Season 1 to 21 in Season 6, and attendance increased substantially through the years, with some $10,000 buy-in tournaments attracting more than 500 players.

In the process, the WPT took its company public and became WPT Enterprises, Inc., began a foray into the international online gaming industry, entered into numerous international broadcast agreements that took the WPT television program into more than 50 countries outside the U.S., and launched a successful merchandising program that included books, DVDs, and poker paraphernalia.

Hitting a stumbling block with the Travel Channel when negotiating for its sixth season of shows, the WPT went to the network of games and signed a contract with GSN (Game Show Network) for Season 6. Though the placement of the show with High Stakes Poker on Monday nights brought positive ratings, GSN chose not to renew the show for Season 7, prompting a move to Fox Sports Network. Bringing the WPT to a mainstream sports television channel fit with the WPT's contention that poker is a sport, and Season 7 will debut on FSN in early 2009.

Through it all, Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten have remained the voices of the WPT, bringing poker substance - with some humorous commentary - to poker audiences around the world. The hostesses, on the other hand, have changed through the seasons; after Shana Hiatt left three seasons in, Courtney Friel stepped in for one season, followed by Sabina Gadecki, Kimberly Lansing, and current hostess Amanda Leatherman.

The WPT is currently filming its seventh season of shows, consisting of final tables from 14 stops on the tour and culminating in the WPT World Championship at the Bellagio in April of 2009.