5/15/10 – Steve Lipscomb is an instantly recognisable name in the gambling industry, associated for many years with the World Poker Tour and its globally televised tourneys, but now branching out into an equally exciting sector of the economy – the wildcat oil business.
 
Lipscomb’s new venture caught the eye of the LA Business Journal this week, which reported that the ex-poker executive may well have drawn aces with his new energy company, where share prices have doubled in the past month.
 
In November last year Lipscomb’s WPT Enterprises sold its assets to Party Gaming plc, leaving Lipscomb’s original WPT as a paper company with $28 million in cash.
 
Lipscomb changed its branding to Ante4 Inc. and told stockholders he was planning to use the money to enter a new type of business. Good to his word, the former poker chief announced on April 16 this year that he had merged Ante4 Inc. with an oil leasing firm in Billings, Montana to form Voyager Oil & Gas.
 
Filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission show Lyle Berman, a former professional poker player who served as chairman of WPT, holds the same position at Voyager. He said if the company had distributed the $28 million from the Party Gaming deal in divestiture profits to shareholders, it would have equaled about $1.40 per share.
 
“We thought if we could find a company with a great business model that needed cash, the stock would trade significantly above $1.40,” Berman told the Business Journal. “We have fulfilled that mission.”
 
Voyager shares went from $1.40 at the time of the merger to about $3.20 last week. The stock trades on the over-the-counter bulletin board under the symbol ANTF, although the company plans to change the ticker to reflect the Voyager name.
 
The three original founders of World Poker Tour – Lipscomb; Berman; and Berman’s son, Bradley Berman – have no experience in the oil business, but they hired investment banks, one in Los Angeles and one in Minneapolis, to find merger opportunities, and settled on the Montana energy company, then called Plains Energy Acquisition.
 
Lipscomb and the Bermans will serve on the board of Voyager but will have no day-to-day responsibility for running the company. Those duties will fall to J.R. Reger and Mitchell Thompson, respectively the chief executive and chief financial officer of Voyager, who formerly worked at Plains.
 
Through the merger with Plains, Ante4/Voyager got ownership of oil and gas leases on about 98 000 acres in the Bakken formation on the Montana-North Dakota border and the Tiger Ridge region of Montana.
 
As such, the three original founders own about 19 percent of the new company, compared with the 31 percent they owned at WPT. Reger in Billings owns 6.5 percent.
 
Berman said that WTP investors can now decide if they want to stay in the game or cash in their chips.
 
“They have a company with good management and a stock trading over $3 per share,” he said. “So I don’t think we have many unhappy shareholders.”
 
Reger and Thompson are the only employees of Voyager. Reger has agreed to work for no compensation until the end of 2011, and said in a press release that the Ant4-Voyager company  starts operations with $28 million in cash and no debt, and plans to devote all its resources to developing its oil and gas properties.
 
The company estimates the drilling costs for a typical Bakken well at $4.5 million. With $28 million to gamble, Voyager has money to fund drilling at five or six sites before it needs more capital.
 
Robert Michael, an energy consultant, said that should be enough to find oil if the geologists have done their job properly.
 
“Nothing is guaranteed in this business, but you have an overwhelming chance of success in the Bakken with five or six strategic holes,” he said.