World Poker Tour Returns to Beginnings via Black Ridge Acquisition

Even China got into the swing of the massive, pre-Christmas-Friday news dump throughout the poker and gambling worlds, that in the form of Ourgame International announcing its sale of World Poker Tour parent WPT Enterprises, Inc. and esports entertainment company Allied Esports International, Inc. to an American firm, Black Ridge Acquisition Corp.

The deal, pegged at about US $150 million, will see the two companies merged into a single company called Allied Esports Entertainment Inc., which will be traded on Nasdaq (as AESE) and have an initial enterprise value of about $214 million.

The interesting part of the acquisition — or divestiture, depending on one’s viewpoint — is in the secondary details, some of which were published, while others weren’t. Leading off the semi-hidden stories is that Black Ridge Acquisition Corp. is a “blank check” capital-investment entity controlled by original World Poker Tour co-founder and Poker Hall of Famer Lyle Berman, meaning that to a certain extent, this is also a “returning home” story for the WPT.

Ourgame first did a branding deal with the WPT in 2014, in hopes of bringing the WPT to a massive Asian audience, and then it acquired the WPT in its entirety a year later, snagging it on the cheap from a struggling and cash-poor bwin.party. Due to its migrant nature, the WPT has never been an exceptional market-worth brand, but its exceptional name recognition made it a great pickup for Ourgame and its plans to make poker that metaphorical next big thing in China.

That was until earlier this year, when executives at Ourgame and a couple of other Chinese e-gaming firms were charged with a number of gambling-related offenses. All those legal problems in China centering on poker took the market steam out of the game in China, and it’s been many months since Ourgame has done anything in a promotional sense regarding the WPT.

Reading between the lines, it’s a fair assumption that Ourgame wanted out of poker and rid of the WPT, and that this presented a chance for Berman and Black Ridge to pick up the company on the cheap. It may also explain why Allied Esports, likely the more valuable of the properties down the road, was bundled into the deal. Overall, Berman’s group almost certainly got a solid buy at the right price, despite some other rumblings about WPT difficulties that have been rumbling under the surface in recent weeks.

Ourgame is still keeping a chunk of the new joint entity, and in what probably deserves more attention, Ourgame CEO Frank Ng (at right) is leaving the company to become Allied Esports’ CEO. Yet the shifting of Allied’s control to an American base buys Ourgame some breathing room as Chinese authorities continue their widespread crackdown against underground poker and gambling activities.

According to news reports, the concept behind the acquisition and merger is to apply the WPT’s floating-tour business model to the growing esports world, and the betting line is that an Allied Esports tour of some sort is in the works. That Bloomberg update states, “The new company plans to operate venues, sell the content generated by those events, and then move viewers onto a new online tournament platform to be launched in 2020.” That’s WPT 2.0, roughly speaking, and it expands upon the stadium-venue concept the WPT is already pursuing.

“There’s a gap in monetization in esports right now,” said Black Ridge Chairman Ken DeCubellis to Bloomberg. DeCubellis becomes the CFO for Allied. “It’s a big buzzword, but the main way companies and investors are approaching esports is by investing in the game publishers or acquiring the teams that compete. We see an opportunity to monetize the viewership right now.”

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