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Betting the World Poker Tour

According to Lakes Entertainment (Nasdaq: LACO  ) , 5 million people tune in to the Travel Channel to watch the World Poker Tour (WPT) every week -- and that's just to watch re-runs. But that first season is already available on DVD, and the second season doesn't begin airing until March 3.

To quench the thirst for new material, the WPT announced yesterday that it will air the four-episode World Poker Tour: Hollywood Home Game -- featuring Ben Affleck and Lou Diamond Phillips, among others -- beginning Jan. 25. Televised poker is hot, as evidenced by the success of the World Poker Tour, the constant re-airing of the 2003 World Series of Poker in Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) ESPN 2, and even the (awful) existence of the Celebrity Poker Showdown on General Electric's (NYSE: GE  ) Bravo on Tuesday nights. But how do you -- the investor -- bet on the World Poker Tour?

You might want to take a look at Lakes Entertainment, which owns 80% of the WPT.

On the ratings success of the WPT, Lakes' stock has more than tripled off its May lows near $5. At $17 per share, Lakes is currently trading at a slight premium to book value. However, even though the WPT (which itself will be profitable this year) will help alleviate Lakes' cash burn, I'm not convinced that by itself it justifies the company's $180 million market cap. This isn't to say that the WPT doesn't have potential, but it's outside of Lakes' core business of developing and managing Indian-owned casinos.

There was also good news about the company's core operations yesterday, however. A court ruling has helped pave the way for Lakes to begin construction of a new casino for the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians near Sacramento, CA. Construction of the planned 80,000 square foot casino, with 2,000 slots and 100 table games could begin as soon as mid-to-late 2004.

For reference, Station Casino's (NYSE: STN  ) construction last year of the Thunder Valley Casino (also near Sacramento) took a mere seven months to complete. Based on that, Lakes' new project could be operational by mid-2005. That casino alone could contribute in the neighborhood of $1 per share in earnings by 2006. Adding to the mix, Lakes also has management contracts with three other tribes in place, awaiting approval.

So while it may be unclear how much the World Poker Tour will contribute to earnings, Lakes' core casino development and management business has the potential to deliver tremendous upside. Given the most recent developments, I am a whole lot more comfortable with my Lakes Entertainment shares at $17.

Got your own take? Visit the Lakes Entertainment discussion board - only at Hwang owns shares of Lakes Entertainment, and can be reached at

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