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Networks Bet on Poker´s Return to TV

Do you miss High Stakes Poker and the semi awkward banter between Gabe Kaplan and A.J. Benza? How about Poker Royale and the cringe worthy conversations during “Battle of Sexes”? Well, you are in luck. Big U.S. Networks think that poker will make a comeback on TV soon.

With the first boom of online poker, poker shows on TV basically proliferated but then faded away one by one after the Black Friday. But now since a few states legalized online poker and several others are on the way, U.S. networks are betting that poker will be back on TV in no time. And it will be better for everyone. First more players will be introduced to the game because of legalization of online poker which will eventually bring poker back to TV. Then even more players will be introduced to the game because of poker shows on TV. It is a winning cycle.

“Online poker will introduce a lot of new people to the game and I think that will bring another big wave to television,” said Jamie Horowitz, vice president original programming and production for Walt Disney’s ESPN which televises the popular World Series of Poker (WSOP) tournament, currently taking place in Las Vegas through July 6. ESPN will air 26 segments on WSOP starting on July 23.

But it won´t be the only thing about poker on TV. A 2009 documentary called “All In – The Poker Movie,” will air for the first time on TV on CBS´s Showtime next Wednesday. The documentary is about how poker has come to be part of the mainstream culture.

There has been a lot going on lately with Hollywood agents, TV executives, poker and gaming executives meeting to discuss and pitch new poker programs, from reality shows about female tournament players, to shows potentially featuring new online gaming companies.

However not everyone is so optimistic about the comeback of poker on TV. Some think that a resurgence in poker TV needs more than the three states, Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey, that have passed online gambling laws to kickstart the game on TV again.

Alec Driscoll, director of gaming development for American Casino and Entertainment Properties LLC. said “Although online gambling may only have momentum in three states right now, it could be a great lead-in for programming,”

There are other obstacles as well. Before black Friday, it was big off-shore poker websites such as PokerStars which supported and sponsored the poker shows on TV. They were the main force behind poker on tv as they bought air time for their own shows. However after Black Friday they don´t have the economical power they once had. Their TV budget isn´t probably as big as it once was.

However the forecast is optimistic. There seem to be sunny days ahead. Casinos and Tv Networks both expect the market to grow rapidly in a relatively short period of time. With Nevada already in action since beginning of May and others like New Jersey and Delaware preparing to start online poker in coming months, both casinos are TV networks are expecting another boom in the upcoming years.

Meanwhile lawmakers in Congress are also working on legislation to allow online poker gambling across the United States, giving casinos and TV networks a bigger market.

Larry Gerbrandt, principal of Media Valuation Partners, said the last poker TV boom helped offshore online poker sites to drive viewers to their sites. Gerbrandt said it will take similar investment by fledgling online gaming companies to fuel television, although he believes poker show ratings are rising.

E! Network is working a new reality show called “Queens are Wild” that follows four top female poker players who room together as they travel the world and compete to win millions. One of the top female poker players featured is Taiwanese-born professional poker player Maria Ho, who has accrued more than $1 million in tournament earnings. She already has some on screen experience as she already appeared on Tv shows “The Amazing Race” and “American Idol”.

“When I got into poker, I didn’t see myself going down the TV path,” Ho said. She gave up plans to go to graduate school to play poker. “It’s been the ride of my life.” She is currently a commentator on the “Heartland Poker Tour” syndicated TV series.

Gary Quinn, vice president, programming, NBC Sports Group, said the unit is in discussions about different poker projects. It airs the “National Heads Up Poker Championship” and brought back “Poker After Dark” in 2012 after withdrawing it a few years earlier.

As pioneers in the industry, Station Casino Inc’s Ultimate Gaming is in talks with networks as well. “We are speaking with NBC and Fox and several other networks to see what the appetite is for the category over the next 24 months,” said Joe Versaci, Ultimate Gaming’s chief marketing officer. They were the the first company to take online bets in the U.S. in Nevada last April 30. However everyone is aware of the fact that it takes more than a couple of states to kickstart the poker madness again.

“What happens in California in late 2014 and 2105 will be key, not only because it’s the epicenter of where TV is produced, but because it’s like a country itself and can support a large poker market,” he said.

I don´t think anyone doubts that California will eventually legalize online gaming. Online gaming is a huge source of tax income. It creates jobs, it creates opportunities and it creates business for everyone. No state can afford to pass on that.

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