World Poker series live on the ‘Net
By staff
The 34th annual World Series of Poker at Binion's Horseshoe is expected to draw as many as 8,000 players, hundreds of tourists – and this year, for the first time, live over the Internet.

$14.95 buys a live webcast of the 33 poker finals games that started last week and takes place over the next month. For $29.95, viewers can buy an Internet feed of the final, five-day championship game of hold 'em poker that begins May 19 and ends May 23 with the winner of an estimated $2 million pot.

'This is the first event to use the technology on this scale,' said Mio Babic, president of iStreamPlanet Co. of Las Vegas. 'We will be broadcasting over 34 days from six to 12 hours per day.'

Live Internet feeds – known as “streaming” video has been around for a few years, but the quality has generally been poor. But with new software and high-speed broadband connections, live webcasts are becoming more viable.

Casinos present another untapped market for the technology because they often stage premium events that aren't otherwise available on television, said Babic.

iStreamPlanet is in negotiations with major Vegas Strip casinos to offer other pay-per-view events online, from music concerts to boxing events. Binion's approached the company last year with a plan to broadcast the 2002 poker championship. While the technology to secure payments for the feed wasn't yet in place, iStreamPlanet instead rebroadcast segments of the contest.

More than 56,000 viewers from more than 30 countries logged on to view the games last year, an impressive turnout given that the broadcasts weren't marketed to the public, Babic said.

About 250 people have so far paid to watch the event live on the Internet.

Binion's could collect names from the broadcast to use in their traditional marketing campaigns as well as use them to help introduce a real-money Internet casino someday, she said.

Last year the company launched a 'play for fun' area of its website intended to serve as a first step to introducing a Web casino for non-US bettors.

Two weeks ago, Binions withdrew a contest from its website that would have offered webcast purchasers a chance to win a seat at the $10,000 buy-in championship game for an extra $20. Regulators said the contest could have contravened state law prohibiting lotteries and federal rules that outlaw Internet gambling.

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