Following a six-year ownership stint where the formerly prominent World Poker Tour brand was allowed to languish, Bwin.party Digital Entertainment has sold the WPT and parent entity WPT Enterprises, Inc. to Chinese online-gaming company Ourgame International Holdings Ltd. The selling price of $35 million is described in a WPT press release on the transaction as being done on a “debt-free, cash-free basis.”
Moving the moribund WPT brand off of struggling bwin.party’s books likely represents a net positive for bwin.party, which itself remains the target of takeover moves engineered by prominent industry competitors, including 888 Holdings and GCV (partnering with Amaya Gaming). Bwin.party has lost more than 90% of its market value over the last decade, and has steadily posted operational losses over the past several years. Cost-cutting moves executed over the past 12 quarters have limited but failed to stop the flow of red ink.
As for WPT buyer Ourgame, the little-known company may be eyeing the WPT as a way to increase poker’s visibility and market penetration in the People’s Republic of China (commonly known as mainland China), in addition to marketing the WPT in other Asian-Pacific countries. Ourgame, which is based in Hong Kong, is already an online producer of popular Chinese card and board games. Poker is known and played in mainland China but is not nearly as popular there as in major Western nations, though the game is growing.
Ourgame has also worked with the WPT in one of the brand’s initial Chinese-market forays, last September’s WPT National China at MGM Grand Sanya Resort.
“Having already established an exciting partnership with Ourgame, a high growth company led by an enthusiastic group that is fully invested in the global growth of the sport of poker, we are delighted to now become a fully-integrated member of the Ourgame family,” wrote WPT President and CEO Adam Pliska. “I want to thank bwin.party CEO Norbert Teufelberger and bwin.party CFO Martin Weigold for all of their support over the last six years, and for helping facilitate this agreement.”
Added Pliska, in announcing the sale on Twitter, “My last tweet before Twitter is off in Beijing but happy to announce the acquisition of @WPT by Ourgame. Friends [and] partners, so delighted….”
Ourgame CEO Frank Ng offered his own complimentary quote. “World Poker Tour is unquestionably the global leader in organizing world-class poker events, and we are very proud to acquire one of the world’s greatest brands. WPT, with Ourgame as its new owner, will continue to expand its already impressive global presence, bringing poker and gaming entertainment to cities and homes around the world via television broadcasts, mobile devices, card tables, and more.”
The WPT is indeed a well-recognized veteran of televised poker, though it was created as poker’s version of a traveling circus, criss-crossing first the US and then the entire globe. WPT events have been held at dozens of major casino venues around the world since the tour and the accompanying TV series debuted in 2003. The WPT has been far less successful in translating its brand presence into any form of online profitability or brand presence, with several unsuccessful WPT-related ventures in its past history.
The combination of few real-world assets besides intangible brand recognition, plus the failure of the WPT to establish itself in an online sense, are why the world’s second most prominent poker tour now sells for only $35 million. Nonetheless, the sales price is nearly triple the $12.3 million that PartyGaming (now part of bwin.party) paid for the WPT back in 2009 from the WPT’s original ownership group. In the years since, the WPT under bwin.party’s guidance has introduced several new series concepts in addition to its main WPT tour.
In 2009, according to the sales presser, the WPT included 16 stops. At time of sale to Ourgame, the WPT touring family includes “more than 70 WPT Main Tour, WPT Alpha8, WPT National, and WPTDeepStacks events.”