Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Forward-Looking Statements

CardPlayer and Bluff -- Tweedledum and TweedledeeI’d heard with everyone else a few weeks back the rumor that Bluff Magazine was going to get exclusive rights for live coverage of this year’s WSOP. Saw that initial report over on PokerBiz. Also saw that bit where an anonymous commentor using a computer with a CardPlayer IP address slammed the WSOP and Bluff in a comment to PokerBiz. On Monday finally came the press release from Harrah’s announcing a deal -- or at least a “non-binding letter of intent” -- had been arranged between Harrah’s and Bluff.

To spell it out a bit, this here presser informs its audience that Harrah’s “has executed a non-binding letter of intent to form a digital publishing alliance with Bluff Media LLC for online and radio coverage of all World Series of Poker-branded events on a global basis.” Some folks remembering the various ways CardPlayer came up short with its coverage last summer are suggesting this to be good news, but I’m nonplussed. Kind of like choosing between Tweedledee and Tweedledum, as far as I can tell.

The whole idea of an “exclusive content provider” is lamentable, in my view. I realize the necessity, of course. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been going back through some of the old Beyond the Table podcasts -- good stuff, by the way. Back in early July, Dan Michalski (of Pokerati) was calling in from the Rio and spoke about CardPlayer’s exclusivity deal. On the 7/5/06 episode, Michalski mentioned how in the past (i.e., Before Moneymaker), the WSOP didn’t need to restrict media access because there wasn’t such a demand for information. Today, of course, things have changed considerably.

Michalski’s comments demonstrate the tension that is necessarily produced when the WSOP attempts to enlist a single media outlet as a way to exert control over how the event gets reported to the rest of the world. “I think poker has gotten to a point where it’s big enough now that it can’t keep its clean and pretty image,” says Michalski. “I’m not saying it’s a dirty game, but c’mon . . . if we think that it’s a lily-white, super-family friendly game . . . the negative stories always come out, because [poker] is so big . . . . Poker is just big enough that there’s no way you can keep it all clean the way CardPlayer Media has tried to keep it for the last several years.”

I fully expect we’ll see a similar tension emerge this summer, with Bluff necessarily assuming CardPlayer’s place as the target of criticism on blogs, forums, and other non-“official” media covering the WSOP.

One other thought occurs to me reading through Harrah’s presser, namely, the depressingly litigious atmosphere surrounding poker these days. To be fair, this release isn’t merely announcing the deal between Harrah’s and Bluff, but also serves as an advertisement to those who may be interested in investing in either company. As such, a lengthy disclaimer is appended to the announcement -- a disclaimer about twice as long as the announcement itself -- that denies both parties any liability should any of its optimistic statements about the partnership prove inaccurate.

For example, Jeffrey Pollack, the WSOP commissioner, says in the release that “this alliance will help us connect with our players and fans in new and exciting ways.” Similarly does Eddy Kleid, co-president of Bluff Media, think that “the consolidation of digital-publishing rights under this agreement will lead to a more cohesive, integrative and compelling product for fans around the globe.” Reading further, we learn that both of these quotes are examples of “forward-looking statements” and thus should be understood in a particular way. According to the release, one “can identify these statements by the fact that they do not relate strictly to historical or current facts.” Such statements “contain words such as ‘may,’ ‘will,’ ‘project,’ ‘might,’ ‘expect,’ ‘believe,’ ‘anticipate,’ ‘intend,’ ‘could,’ ‘would,’ ‘estimate,’ ‘continue’ or ‘pursue’” or variations thereof. As such, “Investors are cautioned that forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance or results and involve risks and uncertainties that cannot be predicted or quantified and, consequently, the actual performance of Harrah’s may differ materially from those expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements.” There follows a long, long list of various “risks and uncertainties” that includes just about everything one could imagine might affect how “compelling” their respective “product[s]” turn out to be.

Forgive me if I react with cynicism here. Again, I understand the necessity of such a disclaimer, but it is starting to feel like it has become necessary for every bit of poker news these days to come accompanied with such soul-crushing, legalistic ass-covering. Damned if such a disclaimer doesn’t prove once and for all that there ain’t a thing under the sun that can’t be described as a “game based on chance.”

Speaking of “forward-looking statements,” I think this here release might provide us a clue for why Jamie Gold thought he had a case versus Crispin Leyser. Clearly that voice mail message he left for Leyser a few hours before the final table was incomplete. Gold must’ve continued talking after the tape ran out . . . .

“I promise you -- you can keep this recording on my word -- there’s no possible way you’re not going to get your half . . . after taxes. You’ve trusted me the whole way, you can trust me a little bit more. I promise you there’s no way anybody will go anywhere with your money . . . . [Tape runs out; Gold continues.] Like I said, you can keep this recording, which as you know contains forward-looking statements. You can identify those statements by the fact that they don’t relate strictly to historical or current facts, and they aren’t guarantees of future performance or results and involve risks and uncertainties . . . .”

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7 Comments:

Blogger Haley said...

The whole idea of an “exclusive content provider” is lamentable, in my view. I realize the necessity, of course.

Ah, but there's more. Selling the rights to a "preferred media provider" creates an additional revenue stream, no matter how small. Note that providing for media presence is a cost and space expenditure with little other way to recoup the investment.

Sure, information wants to be free. But like most major events, the WSOP is corporate-owned, and they technically don't have to open the press doors to anyone.

3/21/2007 1:30 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

Are you planning to attend the WSOP and do some unofficial reporting on the events? I'd be more interested in your take than Bluff Magazine's or Cardplayer's.

3/21/2007 4:13 PM  
Anonymous dan m said...

Indeed, Shamus ... come join the party! Should be good, interesting times this year.

With that said, that's why they can't restrict the media coverage. I mean they can make it easier for some than others ... but this is a public event, where technology makes a lot possible.

Frankly, the only way I see them exerting control is by investing in some big technology advances of their own. Live camera feeds ... and computer-chipped chips. Once they get that kinda stuff that lone bloggers or forum posters can't compete with, that's when they will be able to reclaim a supermajority of the poker-minded internet traffic.

getting proactive in offering the readers a valuable service will do much more for them than trying to be a prohibitive media bully.

my $.02

3/21/2007 4:49 PM  
Blogger GaryC said...

Shamus,

I am a bit late with this, but thanks alot for stopping by my little corner and leaving a comment. I appreciate it and will be adding you to my 'roll soon.

Keep up the good work here, looking good!

G

3/21/2007 7:40 PM  
Blogger GaryC said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/21/2007 7:41 PM  
Blogger Cell 1919 said...

So poker's losing its innocence eh? It's the way things go, especially in what seems to be an environment where poker players (in the US) almost have to apologise for their very existence.

Love the Jamie Gold 'unheard' bit as well :)))

3/22/2007 3:46 AM  
Blogger microlimitdonkey said...

I have to agree with Richard. Shamus' reporting from the WSOP would be far more interesting than the guys from Bluff magazine.

3/22/2007 11:00 AM  

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