Pair take a bet on TV poker tour

Lipscomb, Berman pact for gaming venture

A new Los Angeles-based joint venture its trying its hand at creating a televised sport out of the game of poker.

Producer-filmmaker Steven Lipscomb and billionaire gaming entrepreneur Lyle Berman have teamed up to create the World Poker Tour, which has enlisted about a dozen upscale poker tournaments in the U.S. and abroad as charter members.

The events — most offering prize money north of $1 million — pay a tour membership fee and grant WPT exclusive television rights to their tourney.

Lipscomb, who produced “On the Inside of the World Series of Poker” for Discovery, will be CEO of the World Poker Tour. Lipscomb and Berman — a champion poker player himself — met when Berman played in the 1999 World Series event.

Each event will be covered by cameras and aired in the new TV series, culminating in a grand finale in which the winners play each other and anyone else willing to put up a $25,000 entry fee.

WPT will seek a distribution deal for the series with a broadcast or cable network in the coming weeks, after production on the first seg gets under way. Inaugural event is Bellagio’s Five Diamond Poker Challenge May 27-June 1.

Berman’s Lakes Gaming has put up $3 million to get the project running, with extra coin coming from the membership fees. Production on each episode is budgeted at $150,000-$200,000.

Lipscomb told Daily Variety that his strategy of going into production before selling the series is “part of a new wave of sports programming” that makes his World Poker Tour a safer bet.

“A lot of outlets have taken a bath committing to big sports before they knew exactly what they were getting,” he said. “Plus, we’re in the enviable position to have funds to do it this way. So when we do make a distribution arrangement, we can participate more meaningfully in the backend.”