About Steve Lipscomb

Steve Lipscomb
Steve Lipscomb

He might (rightfully) get charged with taking a little too much credit for the poker revolution. But, seriously, it's tough to downplay how Steve Lipscomb's idea forever changed the industry.

The World Poker Tour founder and CEO has made millionaires of average joes, topped up already-flush bankrolls, revealed how pros play suited connectors and exposed 154 countries to a card game previously sequestered to testosterone-brimming casinos and Saturday nights in suburban basements.

Though his formative years were spent in Knoxville, Tenn., Lipscomb shares a birthplace with WPT favorite, No-Limit Texas Hold'em. He wouldn't stay in the Lone Star state long past his Nov. 1, 1961, birthday though, as his family moved to Knoxville where Lipscomb eventually graduated high school.

His parents' marriage would only last until his college years, however, as the couple separated and later remarried other people. Eventually his university-professor father added two half-siblings to the family, which already included Lipscomb and an older brother and sister.

After collecting his diploma, the brainy teenager headed to Dartmouth for college to complete a philosophy degree and graduate as president of his class in 1984. From there he enrolled in the Doctor of Law program at the University of Chicago; as a strange bedfellow to his legal education, Lipscomb started finding part-time work in improvisational theatre.

Improv comedy was something Lipscomb had enjoyed since his days in Tennessee and found success on the stage. His talents even led to a feature performance gig at Chicago's famed Second City Theatre.

But, before Lipscomb combined his passions for entertainment and business, he graduated from law school and donned a white collar to work as an attorney with the firm Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher in Los Angeles. Motivating the coastal move however, was his brother's HIV diagnosis - which would later prove to be a false positive.

The move served to plant Lipscomb in the lap of the film industry. And, like many before him, Lipscomb heard Hollywood whispering as he pored over anti-trust litigation. Unhappy in the legal world, Lipscomb eventually quit his job and started working as a legal temp while drumming up ideas for scripts and penning screenplays. He also dabbled in some improv comedy on the side.

He couldn't move away from the business entirely though and started his own legal temp agency in 1991.

But filmmaking was his true passion; all he needed was inspiration to get him going. As is the case with the best ideas, Lipscomb wouldn’t have to look far from home.

His mother, a lifelong feminist, had recently made a career shift to attend Baptist seminary school. In the midst of her education, the church was in a heated debate over whether to allow female pastors. Lipscomb decided this was his project and threw himself behind the concept.

He sold his business, gathered the crew he needed and followed his mother around the seminary, filming her experience. The finished project was Battle for the Minds, an award-winning documentary and Lipscomb's first major success in the industry.

From there the television projects piled up, but it wasn't until the World Series of Poker's 30th anniversary that Lipscomb's producing talents would collide with the gambling industry.

The mix was a winning combination, as a record audience materialized to watch the Discovery Channel's On the Inside of the World Series of Poker. From that tournament an idea would start to germinate. But first Lipscomb immersed himself in the poker world, meeting players and visiting casinos.

More televised poker work came in, including a production project with the 2001 Tournament of Champions and Cruisin' to a Million for the Travel Channel.

He saw an interest in poker, not to mention an untapped audience that was anteing up at kitchen tables worldwide. The networks, however, weren't buying Lipscomb's pitch for a jet-setting poker series. But they couldn't convince Lipscomb it was a bad idea.

He consulted industry veterans Linda Johnson and Mike Sexton about the show's approach, drew up a business plan, teamed with current WPT Chairman Lyle Berman, and made poker history.

The World Poker Tour debuted in March 2003, rocking the tournament circuit with its revealing lipstick cameras that showed audiences how top players - and amateurs - strategize at the table. Since its arrival, the tour has parted with more than $300 million in prize money, aired in 154 countries, enjoyed a stint as the Travel Channel's highest ratings grabber, switched homes to the Game Show Network and faced a lawsuit from a group of the game's best players.

As far as his own poker game is concerned, Lipscomb is better off resting his elbows on the boardroom table than the felt. Though it was his interest in poker and experience as a home game regular that led him to producing poker television, he now has no time to actually play.

But given all the leaps of faith Lipscomb has taken in business, there's no denying that this CEO has a gambler’s heart.