In the wake of the April 15 shutdown of online poker in the United States, many poker tournaments — offline and online — underwent some serious last-minute rescheduling, revamping, and even outright cancellation.

It may come as a welcome relief, then, that ESPN’s TV coverage of the granddaddy of all poker tournaments, the World Series of Poker (WSOP), said to be the biggest driver of online gambling traffic, is not only alive and well but will be even bigger than ever before.

In fact, ESPN is so confident of the event’s popularity that it’s doubled coverage, even after canceling much of its other poker programming in the wake of Black Friday (most of it sponsored by the FBI-targeted site PokerStars).

The details
The biggest announcements from ESPN regarding the WSOP are:

1. More coverage.
Starting on July 14, ESPN will begin covering the 2011 World Series of Poker — with more than 34 extra hours of high-definition programming, almost doubling the existing coverage.

This bonus scheduling includes, for the first time ever, daily WSOP coverage; airing of the WSOP Grudge Matches next month; and Tuesday night telecasts with Lon McEachern and Norman Chad beginning on July 26. Get ESPN’s full rundown here.

2. Same-day coverage.
ESPN has “planned 34 hours of semi-live television coverage for the series’ no-limit Texas Hold ‘em main event on ESPN2 and ESPN,” notes BusinessWeek. “The coverage in real time will be on a 30-minute tape delay with hole cards shown.”

That represents a trump card in and of itself: Typically, poker on TV is significantly tape-delayed and edited, the rationale behind that being that actual game play is slow and somewhat dull in a television and entertainment context. Plus, televising players’ hands in play represents a privacy risk that could damage any poker game.

So revolutionary is this change that ESPN and Caesars (WSOP’s owner) “had to get Nevada gambling regulators to sign off on the plan,” BusinessWeek notes, “which calls for hole cards to only be shown among players in hands where community cards have been dealt.

“This is a historic milestone for ESPN and the WSOP,” Ty Stewart, the WSOP’s executive director, told the publication. “We are extremely proud to be with a company dedicated to realizing the potential of the game.”

What do you think?
Is ESPN’s WSOP coverage boost a vote of confidence in the now-struggling poker industry? Or do these changes more likely reflect plans that had been put in place long before April 15?

Whatever the answer to that question, affiliates can take some reassurance from the fact that there will still be lots of poker to watch on ESPN, the WSOP brand is still strong, and those two elements will likely continue to fuel online poker’s popularity in the U.S. and overseas.

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