On Tuesday, fans who tune in to watch the “World Series of Poker” on ESPN won’t see ads from two big sponsors that long bought commercials for the tournament.
That’s because their top executives are under indictment.
In April, the U.S. government indicted executives of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker and another poker site for bank fraud, money laundering and operating illegal gambling operations. The poker sites and the individuals deny the charges but the government crackdown has stopped the sites from doing business in the U.S. and they’ve since halted their poker-tournament sponsorships in the States.
The ripple effects show how crucial a handful of online companies operating at the edge of the law were to a recent boom in televised poker games, which in some cases act as infomercials for the poker-playing industry.
In the past few years, at the height of the boom in televised poker, the top Web poker companies paid tens of millions of dollars a year to support more than six regular programs on major TV networks, including ESPN, News Corp.‘s Fox Broadcasting and Fox Sports Net and Comcast Corp.’s NBC. The support included buying ads but in many cases the poker sites wholly paid for shows, creating tournaments that they aired in arrangements known as “time buys,” say people familiar with the deals.
After the crackdown, “the companies who were interested in sponsoring many of the poker shows on TV have packed up and left,” said Mori Eskandani, owner of Poker Productions, a television production company that has produced shows for the poker websites. “So we are looking for new sponsors.”
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