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WPT Hires Financial Advisor, Looks to Sell or Merge Its Operations

WptlogoApparently, all of the activity surrounding WPT Enterprises Inc. (WPTE) the past few weeks was just a warm-up.

WPTE said on Tuesday that it has hired a financial adviser, Thomas Weisel Partners LLC, to help indentify additional revenue opportunities--including the potential merger or sale of the company.  Says WPTE CEO Steve Lipscomb, "We need to seek opportunities to increase our scale and reach." 

Initially, this news struck investors well, as shares were up 8%.  However, shares have dipped as trading has continued today.   

While the company is making financial strides overseas with its Granada Ventures partnership, as well as the highly anticipated World Poker Tour magazine launch, the United States market is still ripe for mining.  And the most obvious revenue avenue is the online poker market, but the WPTE has not dipped its toe in the U.S. pool yet. 

Steve_lipscombIn a 60 Minutes feature last year, Steve Lipscomb (at left) and MGM/Mirage CEO, Terri Lanni, discussed the U.S. government's regulatory effects on the online gaming industry.  Lipscomb pointed out that, “[The U.S. government] keep[s] the legitimate companies out of the business, and all of that goes to offshore companies that in no way can be regulated…. or taxed.”  Lanni's MGM/Mirage operation had launched an online gaming operation, but had to shut it down because, as a U.S.-based business, they couldn't tap into the U.S. marketplace. 

And this is a major issue, since Internet gambling sites are raking in $10 billion in profit this year, and 80% of this comes from the U.S.

With continued strong earnings from 888, Empire, and PartyGaming, WPTE is missing a major money maker by not having its online site available to U.S. players.  This is a case where a merger or sale of the company to a foreign entity may make sense.  While PartyGaming did see 32% of its new poker sign-ups from outside the U.S. in Q'4 of '05, the U.S. is still where the lion's share of donkeys donating rakes reside. 

TweiselAnd in today's AP report, Steve Lipscomb did say that Thomas Weisel Partners will help WPTE look for ways to expand its presence in the online gaming market.  This statement would give even more credence to those who believe WPTE could/should be sold off to a foreign company.

As a truly global brand, the World Poker Tour has some muscle to go places where, say, a World Series of Poker cannot (i.e. broader/more expansive publishing and poker programming).  But while sales of World Poker Tour DVDs, PSP games, books, and other merch can bring in solid revenue, the company now seems to be marching towards finding a way into the the virtual wallet of U.S. online gamers.

WPTE message boards were buzzing, however, about the exploratory WPTE sale/merger news. Poster "sambohemian" thinks that "the sky is the limit" if a foreign company purchased WPTE

Others were more skeptical. 

As "mikepo714" points out, talk of capitalizing on the U.S. online gaming market could be moot as the current spotlight shining on the WPTE will bring to light that, "ALL ONLINE SATELLITE WINNERS ARE GAMBLING ILLEGALLY. the u.s. considers those entries into the big tourneys as gained illegally. and they also consider it taxable winnings which in most cases is going unreported." 

Doyle_1_1And poster "pokergoon" ponders that, "If someone was really interested in buying this don't you think they would have done so already at these low prices?"

Which raises the question...was this Doyle's plan (at least before the SEC investigation) all along?

Regardless, poker needs a viable, global entity to further secure its status as a mainstream, here-to-stay activity and commodity--and WPTE is best positioned to be that company.   So here's hoping that the end result is a winning session for WPTE. 

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Sammy "Killer" Reid

Nice write up. Time will tell who is holding the winning hand.

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