After just more than a decade in operation Bluff Magazine, one of the poker magazines that was borne from the online poker boom of the 2000s, will effectively shut down over the next few weeks. There are unanswered questions, however, if this is a long-term situation or that the organization will be reborn in some manner.
According to former Bluff owner Eric Morris, Churchill Downs, Inc. – the current ownership of the company – had laid off much of the staff prior to the announcement of the closure. “There were only four people left and I (originally) hired two of them,” Morris recounted over his Facebook feed on Friday in response to questions posed to him.
When it was first published in October 2004, Bluff Magazine was a creature of the booming scene that was poker. Fueled by innovations in online poker and the rapidly growing tournament poker scene that came about following Chris Moneymaker’s stirring run to the World Series of Poker Championship Event title, Morris and co-founder Eddy Kleid had a different idea when it came to the poker world, though. Instead of intense focus on the strategy of the game, Bluff would be a hybrid of sorts in that it would provide more of a focus on the lifestyle of the game while also reporting on the live tournament poker scene and some strategy discussion.
Of a myriad of poker magazines that were birthed during that time, only Bluff was able to garner a foothold, basically reaching the point where they challenged the longtime market leader, CardPlayer Magazine, for supremacy in the literary field. While CardPlayer was recognized for its tournament coverage, especially at the WSOP, Bluff was the first to take that event live in broadcasting the tournament on Sirius satellite radio (now Sirius XM) in 2005. While CardPlayer had venerable tacticians breaking down the game strategically, Bluff had contributors such as Antonio Esfandiari writing about a night on the town in whatever city he was in for a poker tournament.
As they continued to battle CardPlayer for supremacy in the eyes of poker fans (and as both stayed alive through the passage of the UIGEA and then “Black Friday”), Bluff’s success drew the attention of outside companies as a potential acquisition. Morris and Kleid sold Bluff to Churchill Downs in 2012 when the fever regarding online gaming and poker regulation was running at its highest. Although there were no terms of the deal announced at that time, it is generally known that the sale was for the mid-seven figures.
Churchill Downs, with its ownership of casinos and horse racing tracks across the United States, its online horse betting operation TwinSpires.com and the social gaming company Big Fish Games, may have eyed Bluff Media as a nice fit for both their online gaming and gambling portfolio. Churchill Downs also might have taken a flier in their purchase of Bluff, in essence gambling that online gaming and poker regulation would be ripe for quick passage in the United States, Churchill Downs may have been looking to grab a well-established company to be at the forefront when it became a regulated industry and attempt to reap the benefits of that ownership. Instead, over the past three years, Churchill Downs has seen national regulation of the industry virtually shut down and state-by-state regulation creeping at a molasses-like pace.
Those effects may have put the eventual death knell in Bluff. Morris stated that times had been difficult over the past year for the organization, including the move by Churchill Downs in January of this year to remove the magazine from print and switch it to an entirely digital production. The closure date that has been announced is August 15 but, as Morris has stated, the end of Bluff has essentially come now.
There is slim potential that Churchill Downs might revive Bluff in the future. Although they are ceasing operations at this moment, Churchill Downs will retain all the intellectual property of Bluff and could, in the future, revive operations. That isn’t going to come without major changes in the United States regarding online gaming and poker regulation, however.