How to Win at Poker and Never Play a Hand

Shaun C. Clark takes a gamble on the World Poker Tour

Published in 2007 Southern California Rising Stars — July 2007

Entertainment lawyer Shaun C. Clark is not a poker player, but in 2002 he took a gamble on an entrepreneur who wanted to bring poker “from the backroom to the living room.” The idea for a “World Poker Tour” grabbed Clark, even though the media group at his firm, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, rarely takes on startup businesses as clients. “We saw the opportunity, we saw the passion, we saw a well-thought-out plan,” he says of his early meetings with the tour’s creator, Steven Lipscomb.

On Lipscomb’s behalf, Clark worked out the licensing deal with the Travel Channel, which first put World Poker Tour on the air. “We wanted to use the TV deal as the platform for leveraging the brand,” he says. The plan has worked nicely. Lipscomb’s World Poker Tour Enterprises (WPTE) is now a publicly traded company with a market cap in excess of $100 million and a merchandising phenomenon—and the Travel Channel deal alone generates about $6 million annually.

“I’m a dealmaker,” says Clark, who closed his first deals working a Kool-Aid stand as a 5-year-old at his grandparents’ house in New York. “I enjoy the challenge of structuring the deal and getting it done.”

A partner in Sheppard Mullin’s entertainment and media practice in Century City, Clark, 37, got an insider’s view of show business while a student at the University of Texas at Arlington. To help pay tuition, he photographed heavy-metal bands for magazines. One highlight of his photographic career came when Rolling Stone published his shot of Van Halen. “I looked at the music business and realized that all the people making decisions in the industry were lawyers,” he says.

So after graduating with a business administration degree, Clark put down his camera and headed west to Los Angeles to study law at Loyola Law School. “I knew I wanted to be in the hub of the entertainment industry, to practice entertainment law,” he says. In his first job, at Buchalter, Nemer, Fields & Younger, he learned the tools of the deal-making trade. After spells at Hill, Wynne, Troop & Meisinger and Katten, Muchin, Zavis, Rosenman, he joined some former Hill Wynne colleagues in launching his current practice at Sheppard Mullin.

In four years, the practice has grown from 15 to 52 lawyers, and Clark, a broad-shouldered man with jet-black hair and a slight Texan accent, is at the hub of its activities. His many showbiz clients include Playboy Enterprises, for which he negotiated the sale of Hugh Hefner’s life story rights to Imagine Entertainment and Universal Pictures. “When Mr. Hefner calls, there is an adrenaline rush,” he admits. Another client, Rainforest Films, produced the recent hit movie Stomp the Yard; he also does pro bono work for Children of the Night, a charity that rescues children from prostitution.

In his office, Clark proudly displays photos he took of Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper and Ronnie James Dio. But he’s just as proud of his work for such clients as WPTE. “There are now groupies at poker tournaments,” he says with a laugh. “Isn’t that the true measure of success?”

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