Poker ‘World Series’ to Air in July as Scheduled After Sponsors Indicted

The “World Series of Poker” on ESPN and “World Poker Tour” on Fox Sports Net will air as scheduled following the indictments of gambling websites that spent almost $27 million on TV ads last year.

Walt Disney Co. (DIS)’s ESPN will carry the “World Series of Poker” in July, Chris LaPlaca, a spokesman, said today in an e- mail. The network pre-empted last night’s “North American Poker Tour Presented by PokerStars.net.” News Corp.’s Fox Sports Net has pulled PokerStars.net ads from “World Poker Tour,” said Lou D’Ermilio, a New York-based spokesman.

“There is no direct sponsorship connection between the indicted websites and ‘World Poker Tour,’” D'Ermilio said in an e-mail. “But PokerStars had purchased advertising time, which has been pulled as a result of the indictments. At present we have no plans to change policy as it relates to promotional clothing players choose to wear.”

ESPN, based in Bristol, Connecticut, won’t air the 10 hours of “PokerStars,” the network said. FullTiltPoker.net and PokerStars.net, two sites charged with fraud and money- laundering by the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, spent $26.8 million in 2010 on TV advertising, researcher Kantar Media said. PokerStars spent another $8.3 million on Web and magazine ads.

Many of poker’s best-known players have endorsement agreements with the indicted companies. They don hats and shirts displaying the logos on the programs to promote the websites.

Comcast Corp. (CMCSA)’s NBC airs the “National Heads Up Championship” and “Poker After Dark,” while the Game Show Network, owned by DirecTV (DTV) and Sony Corp. (6758), broadcasts “High Stakes Poker.”

‘High Stakes Poker’

Chris McCloskey, a spokesman for NBC Sports in New York, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Sean Jennings, a spokesman for Santa Monica, California-based Game Show Network, couldn’t comment. The seventh season of “High Stakes Poker,” hosted by comedian Norm MacDonald, started Feb. 26, the channel said on its website.

Disney, based in Burbank, California, gained 15 cents to $41.35 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have climbed 10 percent this year. News Corp. (NWSA), located in New York, fell 11 cents to $16.88 in Nasdaq Stock Market trading and the Class A stock has increased 16 percent this year.

Caesars Entertainment Corp., the closely held casino company, owns the World Series of Poker.

The U.S. froze bank accounts in 14 countries and seized websites, sidelining PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker -- major sponsors of televised tournaments. ESPN, NBC, Fox Sports and the Game Show Network have made poker a TV staple, with 47 programs, including reruns, scheduled this week, Cardplayer.com said.

U.S. Indictments

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan announced on April 15 a revised indictment against the founders of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker. PokerStars, based on the Isle of Man, Ireland’s Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker of Costa Rica are the leading online poker sites doing business with U.S. customers, according to prosecutors. Five sites displayed notices yesterday that the FBI had seized the domain names.

The indictment names two principals from each company and others who allegedly worked with them to illegally process payments. Five domains were seized, according to Carly Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan. They are: Pokerstars.com, Fulltiltpoker.com, Absolutepoker.com, Ultimatebet.com and UB.com.

About 76 bank accounts have been frozen, preventing players from accessing balances held by the online betting companies, said Kelly Langmesser, an FBI spokeswoman in New York.

Out in the Cold

T.C. Sun, 27, who works for Princess Cruises in Valencia, California, was among the players who couldn’t get his money from PokerStars.net last weekend.

“When I first heard about black Friday, I wasn’t too worried about it, and then on Saturday night I tried to withdraw my funds,” Sun said in an interview. “It let me process the withdrawal. Right now it shows I have zero money in my account, but I’m checking my bank account daily to see if it comes through. As of last night, no it has not.”

Players who use the sites can’t be prosecuted under federal law and U.S. states that have laws against making bets rarely use them against “mere customers,” said I. Nelson Rose, an Encino, California-based consultant to governments and industry on gambling laws.

“I’d say there’s probably a better chance that they’ll win the World Series of Poker than that they will be arrested,” Rose, who doesn’t work for any of the companies named in the indictment, said today in a phone interview.

The case is U.S. v. Scheinberg, 10-cr00336, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andy Fixmer in Los Angeles at afixmer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net

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