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WPT and PartyPoker begin fight for poker supremacy
"That's our stated aim," PartyGaming's chief marketing officer Chris Welch told PokerListings. "And until that time we will leverage both the World Poker Tour and PartyPoker as best we can to take that challenge to our competitors."
Before the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was signed into U.S. law in October 2006 and PartyPoker effectively pulled out of the U.S. market, it was the number one site in poker.
Since that time, PokerStars has emerged as the industry leader with more than 28 million players worldwide.
A major catalyst for PokerStars' growth has been the emergence of the European Poker Tour. While the WPT has always been credited with helping spur on poker's boom, it has since been surpassed by the PokerStars EPT, which boasted a total prize pool in excess of $55 million over 11 events last season, making it the largest poker tour in the world.
However, Welch says PartyGaming subsidiary Peerless Media Ltd's $12.3 million purchase of the WPT, approved by shareholders earlier this month, now has the organization primed to compete in Europe and across the globe.
"We think there is certainly room for two big tours in Europe," said Welch. "And the World Poker Tour, we believe, is a global brand while the European Poker Tour exists only in Europe."
Particularly in Italy and France, the WPT plans on embarking upon an aggressive growth strategy to begin competing with the EPT.
"We're looking forward to more global expansion, more International expansion," added newly appointed WPT president Adam Pliska.
Welch said part of that expansion will include offering more online satellites into WPT events worldwide.
"It's a great opportunity to offer our European players more tournaments and land based events and of course we are going to run satellites on PartyPoker," Welch said. "But we are also going to encourage other online sites to do the same."
While sites other than PokerStars once ran satellites for EPT events, many stopped after PokerStars forced its competitors to use the site's branding.
Welch says the WPT and PartyPoker will be taking a different approach.
"PokerStars have gone down the route of it being the PokerStars EPT and you've got to have that on your site to run satellites or freerolls," he explained. "That's not our strategy. Our strategy initially will be that it's the World Poker Tour and you can come and qualify from any online site or direct buy in.
"What they are trying to do is leverage their brand. They have the biggest tour in Europe and they are trying to get other people to mention their brand name. We have an opportunity here to grow the World Poker Tour by offering other online sites a chance to get in there without necessarily mentioning PartyPoker and that's what we are going to do."
But the battle for online poker supremacy will not just be fought on European soil.
In April of this year, PartyGaming entered into a $105 million settlement with the U.S. Attorney's Office to avoid prosecution for providing Internet gambling services to U.S. customers prior to the enactment of the UIGEA.
Under the terms of the agreement, PartyGaming agreed to stay out of the U.S. Internet gambling market under current legislation and is hoping, should the legislation change, it would be in a prime position to move back in.
Welch said the purchase of the WPT is yet another way PartyGaming is paving its road back into the United States.
"Should the United States open up, it's going to put us in a preeminent position, way ahead of the competition," he said. "We've taken the long view while some of the other players have taken the short view, and should the United States open up, we are going back to being number one again."
However, until U.S. Lawmakers get on board, Welch said the front lines of this fight will remain on the other side of the Atlantic.
"This provides us with a massive platform to bring PartyPoker back into the hands of millions of Americans," he said. "But in Europe, we can do that from day one."
The public face of both brands, 2009 Poker Hall of Fame inductee Mike Sexton, believes with PartyPoker and the WPT coming together, the sky is the limit.
"I think it can be a huge entity and a worldwide brand," he said. "Hopefully when online gaming becomes legalized in the United States, PartyPoker can come in and retain its status as the number one poker site in the world."