Back in 2003, PartyPoker advertised on an episode of the World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel. After the telecast, PartyPoker’s website had a huge increase in traffic, propelling it to the number one poker room in the USA. PartyPoker’s new lofty status attracted the unwanted attention of the US Department of Justice (DoJ) and things started turning bad fast.
As Steve Lipscomb, founder of World Poker Tour stated, "It showed the power of the television medium and what it was able to provide for the online business."
In June of 2003, the DoJ fired off a warning letter to media companies and the National Association of Broadcasters. In part, the DoJ letter said the companies should "know the illegality of offshore sportsbook and Internet gambling operations since, presumably, they would not run advertisements for illegal narcotics sales, prostitution, child pornography or other prohibited activities" according to a copy of the letter viewed by The Wall Street Journal.
It wasn’t long before the Federal Bureau of Investigation in St. Louis followed suit and started targeting media companies that were accepting advertising from online gambling sites. According to court documents; in 2004 the FBI in St. Louis seized $6 million from then owner of the Travel Channel, Discovery Communications Inc., for World Poker Tour (WPT) ads.
That action prompted all of the big poker rooms to develop .net sites so they could advertise free poker and ‘tutorial poker rooms’ for online players – no money involved, hence no legal problems. Major TV networks embraced the .net poker model as the new standard and the DoJ figured that it would be a no win situation to go after those media outlets as proving guilt in court would be difficult at best.
By the time 2005 rolled around, poker companies started creating their own poker programs. Over the last several years, the top poker sites have paid millions of dollars a year to get their regular programs on major TV networks, including ESPN, News Corp.'s Fox Broadcasting, Fox Sports Net and Comcast Corp.'s NBC. Not only did the poker sites pay for ads but they also used ‘time buys’ to get their shows on the air; essentially paying for their own shows to be aired resulting in the networks getting free programming. After Black Friday however, the whole landscape of Poker TV changed dramatically.
In the wake of the DoJ crackdown, "the companies who were interested in sponsoring many of the poker shows on TV have packed up and left," said Mori Eskandani, owner of Poker Productions, a television production company that has produced shows for the poker websites. "So we are looking for new sponsors." Since poker sites have halted operations in the US, they have also pulled the plug on their televised poker TV shows and stopped sponsoring poker tournaments in the USA.
In the beginning, anytime poker was on TV, logos of the big poker rooms were front and center advertising their dot-com sites. Then they switched to dot-net advertising and after the DoJ indictments of the big three on April 15, 2011, poker site logos have disappeared from televised poker shows in the USA altogether. One huge advertising showcase for poker sites used to be the annual World Series of Poker , but this year, ESPN aired the world’s most prestigious event thanks to sponsors like GoDaddy.com and Jack Link's Beef Jerky. Although ESPN, a unit of the Walt Disney Co., has removed advertising in the USA from the troubled poker sites, an ESPN spokesman stated that ESPN "remains committed to the WSOP."
Previous to Black Friday, PokerStars had a mammoth advertising deal worth between $20 million and $30 million a year with various ESPN properties. Fox Broadcasting aired the "PokerStars.net Big Game," which was also a ‘time buy’ deal which is also now dead. Regarding poker shows, a Fox spokesman said, "We don't have any plans to show poker on the Fox broadcast network."
Defunct former poker giant Full Tilt Poker paid millions of dollars a year using ‘time buy’ for NBC to air "Poker After Dark" through a production company. Since the current season has been paid for, NBC is still running "Poker After Dark," but with Full Tilt being broke, the show has no future. The former Game Show Network, GSN, is also still running their "High Stakes Poker," show which it owns but PokerStars paid for. While it is doubtful poker site sponsored TV shows will return, a spokesman for NBC Sports said the network is "continuing to evaluate" its poker programming, which also includes its own "National Heads-Up Poker Championship."
According to the WSJ, Brian Balsbaugh, an agent who arranges sponsorship deals for poker players, commented that he is confident the "World Series of Poker" will continue and that the older "World Poker Tour," on Fox Sports Net, would likely be able to hang on, but beyond that, he says, "I can't name one single show I would say with certainty will be on next year."
This is just more proof of the financial meltdown which has resulted from the government trying to ban online poker in the USA. From players and poker industry employees to major television networks, the lost income is in the tens of millions of dollars thanks to Black Friday.