The World Poker Tour made some news last month as the tour announced it had been acquired by the Black Ridge Acquisition Corporation under a new company that includes an esports brand as well. What may have been unexpected was the return of Lyle Berman, a co-founder of the WPT and a member of the Poker Hall of Fame.
Chinese gaming company OurGame acquired the WPT in 2015 for $35 million and as part of the new deal, OurGame’s global esports brand Allied Esports International has also been acquired under one new umbrella. The combined company will be renamed Allied Esports Entertainment. Along with combining some synergy between the WPT and Allied Esports, the new company is expected to create a rare stock market offering in the poker world. Allied is expected to trade on the NASDAQ Capital Market under the ticker symbol “AESE.”
Berman serves as Black Ridge director, and is expected to be Allied’s chairman of the board upon officially closing of the transaction. Adam Pliska will continue to serve as CEO of the WPT and become the president of AESE. Along with his Allied/Black Ridge roles, Berman also serves as a director of Golden Entertainment, which manages several casinos mostly in Nevada outside Las Vegas as well as several restaurant and pub chains.
With more than 40 years in the gaming and entertainment business, Berman not only brings experience to his role but also a unique history with the WPT as co-founder of the company along with TV producer, director, and former WPT President Steve Lipscomb. Berman is excited about the new company and what the future holds for the WPT and esports. He spoke with USPoker on Christmas Eve about the deal, the future of the company, the history of the WPT, esports, and even the tour’s possible foray into real-money, legal online poker.
Are you glad to be back working with the WPT again?
Oh absolutely. It’s a funny story, but I’m part of Golden Entertainment and they recently bought Stratosphere, which I started and then left. And now we’re going back to World Poker Tour. I joke and say that ‘I’m now worried about my two ex-wives.
We’re very happy. We think World Poker Tour is a solid company, but more importantly it gives us a roadmap for Allied Esports. Esports has a much bigger audience, and this is basically a way to replicate a little bit of what the World Poker Tour did.
How do you think you can find some synergy between the two audiences and player pools?
Poker is very much a young man’s game and it appears that a lot of young men play esports as well, but I think our synergy is more about the type of business rather than that the players have crossed over. There are so many millions more people that play esports. Crossover’s nice, but we’re more focused just on the esports player.
How long has this been in the works?
I think we’ve been working it out for at least four months. We’ve had this special acquisition corporation and we’ve been looking at a lot of things – primarily in the oil and gas business because that was our original plan but then this came along. We just think this has tremendous upside and therefore we worked on a deal with them. It took a long time to document it perfectly. We just signed the letter two or three days ago. We still have about four months before it’s completed. We have to do all the legalese.
Well, what does it mean for poker and esports for the company to be listed on the Nasdaq?
I think it’s critically important for both because now all of the sudden poker players and esports people can partake in the upside of this by buying the stock. And what’s really interesting about this is that right now the special acquisition corporation is a public company, so they actually don’t even have to wait for it to be completed. It’s like an IPO except the stock is available to buy right now.
I really think it’s a wonderful way for poker players and esports aficionados to partake in the upside by being a part-owner of our company.
What does it mean for you personally looking back at what has happened to poker and the WPT?
I think it really legitimizes our vision, both Steve Lipscomb and myself. We felt that poker has stood the test of time. Back in my teens in the early-60s, I wrote a paper on how popular poker was in the United states and the WPT has proven that. It’s been on the air 16 or 17 years and what’s interesting now is that esports is 10 or 20 times bigger than poker. Both are going to be around for a long time.
Do you think the WPT should be recognized a bit more for the poker boom?
I think the two biggest things that propelled poker were the World Poker Tour and the Internet. Those are the two dominant things. Moneymaker was important, but he wasn’t the dominant factor.
I know you’re focused a lot on the esports side of this deal, but how does this benefit the WPT as well? What do you envision as far as possible changes in the WPT, expansion, or anything like that?
The World Poker Tour have been around for a long time. It’s obviously evolved, and we have many more tournaments today. We have the subscription poker model, which is something we’re going to be copying for esports. Still, with as many tournaments as we have not just in the United States but around the world, I just think the WPT continues to evolve as a bigger and better show. And we recently ran at the Bellagio for the WPT Five Diamond and had 1,001 entrants, which I think is some kind of record.
Since you touched on the subscription poker model, with more states in the U.S. coming onboard online-wise including Pennsylvania, is the WPT consider expansion into real money online poker?
Absolutely, that’s one of the things on our radar. We’d Like to see a few more states legalize it, but clearly as more and more states legalize it, it’s certainly something that we’re going to be doing.