- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Luck is running out for those still searching for the perfect poker paraphernalia. Poker chips, cards, books, tables and clothing have topped wish lists this year but the season’s hottest trend is hard to find on some store shelves this close to Christmas.

“I don’t think we could have predicted the extent of this,” said Scott Kling, vice president of sales and marketing for the United States Playing Card Co., which manufactures the official World Poker Tour merchandise. “We can’t meet demand. As much as we prepared, it has been a marathon to keep up with it.”

The Cincinnati-based company, known for its Bicycle and Bee brand playing cards, reported a 100 percent increase in poker chip sales this season.

Sam’s Club, which has been selling the Official World Poker Tour Poker Set, said it can’t keep the $200 item in stock. It includes 400 chips, two decks of cards, an official rule book and a wood case.

“It has been an extremely hot item,” said Sam’s Club spokeswoman Jolanda Stewart.

Fueling the trend are the numerous televised poker tournaments.

The Travel Channel, part of Discovery Communications, debuted the World Poker Tour in March 2003. The Wednesday two-hour show, which airs two other times during the week, attracts 3 million to 5 million viewers.

“Poker is the great American card game,” said James Ashurst, a spokesman for the Travel Channel. “The consistency of the World Poker Tour has brought the game, once in the backroom, to the forefront.”

ESPN’s “World Series of Poker” and Bravo’s “Celebrity Poker Showdown” have also had a hand in building the game’s popularity.

Poker aced the list of most-searched popular toys for 2004, according to search engine Lycos.

“Unlike previous years, the big video gaming systems are no longer the top searched toys on Lycos,” said Dean Tsouvalas, who writes the Lycos 50, a list of the most popular items searched for online. “This year, poker and poker-related items like poker chips, poker books and poker tables top the list.”

Overall poker is the No. 10 top-searched term on Lycos this year.

Poker’s growth is also a result of its appeal to a wide demographic ranging from preteens and teens to college students and older adults, said Jim Silver, co-publisher of Toy Wishes magazine.

World Poker Tour officials estimate that 100 million people at least occasionally play poker in the United States. That’s up from 50 million about 18 months ago.

Stores are betting on the poker frenzy to help boost sales this season.

Poker-related merchandise may be hard to find but it’s still out there.

“Shoppers have to hunt,” Mr. Kling said. “This is one of those items where you really have to look.”

Even unlikely retailers like drugstores and department stores have been selling the merchandise.

Bed, Bath & Beyond is carrying items like the “World Series of Poker” Premium Poker Chip Set for $29.99 and the Deluxe Poker Set for Dummies for $24.99.

“Poker has been a really popular gift item,” said Lisa Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the retailer, who would not disclose sales.

Sharper Image carries a Texas Hold ‘Em electronic talking game for $39.95 and a 300-piece poker chip set in an aluminum case for $89.95.

Sports Authority sells a Spartan Sports Poker/Card Table for $149.99, Pit Boss Texas Hold ‘Em Ultimate Dealer Kit for $79.99 and even poker sunglasses from $44.99 to $123.99.

Mr. Kling expects the poker trend to last.

“We see this craze continuing well beyond Christmas,” he said.

His company is already taking orders for Christmas 2005.

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