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Buy the World Poker Tour?

By Jeff Hwang - Updated Nov 16, 2016 at 4:51PM

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The World Poker Tour made its successful IPO, though its market debut was a flop. Buy it or wait-and-see?

Tuesday, World Poker Tour Entertainment (NASDAQ:WPTE), the media company behind the Travel Channel's wildly popular World Poker Tour (see Playing on Poker's Draw), made its market debut. The IPO itself was a success, as the company sold 4 million shares for $32 million, or $8 per share; the company had expected a sale price between $5 and $7 per share. However, those shares were also met with a cold welcome; after opening as high as $11, WPTE shares closed out the day down 14% to $6.86.

Lakes Entertainment (NASDAQ:LACO), which owns a majority of WPTE, saw its own shares fall 4% to $9.35.

We've talked a bit about Lakes Entertainment in the past, and now's a good time to reassess Lakes' value. At $9.35 per share, Lakes carries a market cap of about $208 million, of which its ownership of the WPT accounts for more than a third. Yesterday, Lakes also reported book value of $153.5 million, or just under $7 per share.

If Lakes is trading at a discount, it's because it currently doesn't have much of an actual business beyond its ownership of WPTE. Its core business seeking to develop and manage Native American-owned casinos recently hit a snag when one of its partners -- the Nipmuc Nation of Massachusetts -- was denied federal recognition (see Setbacks for Lakes Entertainment), forcing Lakes to write off $6.4 million related to its investment in the project.

Three other potentially lucrative casino projects remain, though nothing is assured. There's also Lakes' fledgling table games business (see Lakes Goes "All In"), which should be discounted for now.

What about the WPT?
And then, of course, there's the World Poker Tour itself. The WPT -- one of the key drivers of the explosive growth in tournament poker -- is already profitable, and accounted for the bulk of Lakes' $4.7 million in second-quarter revenue. Some detractors say that poker is merely a "fad," that its popularity will die down and the WPT along with it.

I don't think that's the case at all.

Tournament poker has established itself as a mainstream sport. Poker has been commercialized, and everybody's playing it. That said, I do think the WPT's value has been diluted somewhat by spin-off shows such as "Celebrity Poker Showdown" on General Electric's (NYSE:GE) Bravo and a variety of shows on News Corp's (NYSE:NWS) Fox Sports Net, not to mention the weekly showings of Harrah's Entertainment's (NYSE:HET) 2004 World Series of Poker (WSOP) on Disney's (NYSE:DIS) ESPN.

ESPN has capitalized by showing most of the WSOP events -- in addition to more extensive coverage of the championship event -- every Tuesday since July 6. That's a new show every week until September 14, which is far better than watching Chris Moneymaker win the 2003 WSOP championship event every week.

But even with the vast supply of alternative poker options on TV, the World Poker Tour is still responsible for coverage of the world's biggest poker tournaments aside from the World Series, including several large tournaments from MGM Mirage's (NYSE:MGG) Bellagio and Mirage in Las Vegas, as well as the jointly owned Borgata in Atlantic City. That said, World Poker Tour Entertainment is also still a very young company, with the only obvious thing about its business being that it is very popular at the moment.

So do I buy into World Poker Tour Entertainment? I don't think so -- at least not just yet.

How about Lakes Entertainment? Not without a bigger discount. I believe Lakes shares are moderately valued, if not moderately undervalued, but deservedly so. Its management carries question marks (see A Red Flag Over Lakes), and is not known to be shareholder friendly. The company's core business also doesn't exist yet.

But if you do own Lakes shares, I think a reasonable play would be to wait and see how these businesses -- the casino business, the table games business, and the WPT -- play out before taking further action.

More gaming commentary:

Fool contributor Jeff Hwang owns shares of Lakes Entertainment.

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