Mel's Diner: Steve Lipscomb
June 1, 2007 12:20 PM
Who: Steve Lipscomb, founder and president-CEO, WPT Enterprises, the World Poker Tour and the Professional Poker Tour
When: Wednesday, May 2, lunch
Where: Luna Park
The Dish: Steve and I met for what has become an increasingly rare moment—he was actually in town!
The globe-trotter, whose “World Poker Tour” shoots all over the world, was just back from the Bellagio in Las Vegas, where he filmed the 100th episode of the show that launched a thousand poker projects. The Bellagio tournament featured a $16 million prize pool, generated by 639 people plunking down a $25,000 buy-in. It was the largest non-online gaming kitty ever, he said.
He planned to stay in town the whole week, resting for a few weeks, then kicking off production on the sixth season of the show at the Mirage. With the new season, “WPT” is moving to GSN from the Travel Channel.
Steve renegotiated his deal last year to allow him to create non-gaming projects outside of the WPT business he founded, he said. But he’s still so excited about what he does with WPT that “it’s impossible to take time” for different projects, Steve said.
We marveled together at the evolution of this company, which I have followed since its inception. I wrote the first piece about WPT when I was a reporter at Variety, just a few paragraphs about this guy who got funding, formed a poker league and started shooting episodes of a show before making a deal with a network. All this on the belief that poker should be a regularly televised sport.
Before just about single-handedly igniting the televised poker boom, Steve was a lawyer-turned-documentarian who was creating shows with Norman Lear and Al Burton.
“It’s been quite a process of starting a little business at a studio with four people on the lot,” he said. It since has grown into more than a hundred full-time employees, plus dozens more on production days.
From this point, Steve is focused on lining up new business (and of course his TVWeek.com blog “From the Inside Looking In”).
Among the things Steve has percolating:
-He signed a deal with Grup Peralada, the largest casino group in Spain, to put a WPT event in their Barcelona casino; they also will attempt to launch a regional poker tour together.
-PlayWPT.com launches in late June, and Steve said he expects it to be the company’s biggest revenue source. It features online poker, and eventually casino poker, in legal territories.
-He’s also launching a new business in July by “taking layers of the TV brand strength to drive new businesses internationally.” The concept is to “use every consumer touchpoint,” from TV to playing cards, to drive people to the online site. “The strength of the brand we have built extends far and wide, with 150 countries and territories having aired the show,” he told me by e-mail later. “The plan is to leverage that brand awareness to build this business.”
-WPT is getting into the online community that is building around games of chance that don’t involve money changing hands. Steve believes there’s a lucrative business opportunity there, even if Internet gambling is never legalized in the U.S. Steve is exploring subscription models that will allow people to enjoy the online gaming experience within the confines of the sweepstakes laws, he said.
“This will be the tentpole that we will use to build a robust poker community,” Steve said.
Since WPT is a public company, Steve spends a lot of time on legal and reporting stuff. Still, he says it’s never the same day twice. “It’s the exact opposite of Groundhog Day.”
“I have great people working with me,” including a new assistant, he said. “She is great. It feels like ‘The West Wing’ sometimes. I walk in, and she’s got four people lined up and organized and waiting to find out an answer to something different every time.”
Dined On: While Steve’s life is anything but routine, he keeps coming back to Luna Park time and again. In fact, this was at least the third time he and I have met here for lunch in the last couple years.
“It defines great food and a great scene without being a Hollywood scene,” he said.
He brings everyone here, from owners of media congloms and celebrities to my sister, he said.
“Everyone says they’ve got to come back here.”
The menu offers a range of inspired dishes without being pretentious. It’s always well-executed, and the staff is friendly without being annoyingly chummy. Example: Steve said he rarely deviates from his usual, the whitefish sandwich. The waitress subtly nodded when he ordered his favorite, acknowledging without intruding.
For dessert we shared s’mores, capping off what the waitress called “the full Luna Park experience.”
On the books: Comedy Central’s Lauren Corrao