LAS VEGAS (AP) — ESPN announced Wednesday plans to boost its coverage of the World Series of Poker, less than one month after backing away from two online poker companies considered heavily influential in the industry and indirectly connected to the event.
The cable network said that in addition to normal weekly coverage starting in July, it planned 34 hours of semi-live television coverage for the series' no-limit Texas Hold 'em main event on ESPN2 and ESPN. The coverage in real time will be on a 30-minute tape delay with hole cards shown.
The announcement comes after the network said it was moving away from deals with PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, online poker companies whose executives face allegations of bank fraud and money laundering. ESPN said previously those moves didn't affect plans for the series, owned by Caesars Entertainment Corp.
After the April 15 indictments in federal court in New York, ESPN said it was moving quickly to remove TV shows and Web content related to the companies. Full Tilt and PokerStars were among its sponsors for poker programming. Episodes of the North American Poker Tour — a live tournament organized by PokerStars — were pulled last month.
The programming move with the World Series of Poker is also significant because poker isn't normally aired live or near-live with hole cards shown.
ESPN and Caesars had to get Nevada gambling regulators to sign off on the plan, which calls for hole cards to only be shown among players in hands where community cards have been dealt. Worries about cheating — along with the logistics of long stretches with little action — have prevented the series and other poker tournaments from airing live.
"This is a historic milestone for ESPN and the WSOP," said Ty Stewart, the series' executive director. "We are extremely proud to be with a company dedicated to realizing the potential of the game."
It's not immediately clear how the indictments will affect the series itself.
In past years, online poker companies, including Full Tilt and PokerStars, paid for many buy-ins to the tournament won through satellites or earned through sponsorships. After a 2006 law made Internet gambling operations in the United States technically illegal, Caesars stopped allowing sites to directly pay for players to enter tournaments. That means it's unclear exactly how many players were entered into tournaments by the companies.
The 2011 series in Las Vegas includes 58 bracelet tournaments that cost at least $1,500 to enter, including the main event, poker's richest tournament. Last year's $10,000 buy-in main event attracted 7,319 players and was won by a previously unknown Canadian professional, Jonathan Duhamel, who took home $8.9 million.
Oskar Garcia can be reached at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia .
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