Churchill Downs Shuts Down Bluff Media 

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Bluff Magazine
An early issue of Bluff Magazine, featuring actor James Caan on the cover. Parent company Churchill Downs will close down Bluff Media with immediate effect. (

Bluff Media, the company behind, and, until February this year, publisher of Bluff Magazine, will cease all operations, it has been announced.

Buff Media was a company that rode the shirttails of the poker boom, and documented the game throughout its true glory years.

The magazine was founded by Eric Morris, Eddy Kleid, Jeff Markely and Michael Caselli in 2004, in Morris’ basement.

Established as an antidote to the dry, strategy-focused publications of the time, which were heavy on tournament reports and rewritten press releases and light on design and ideas, Bluff, with its “Thrill of Poker” tagline, soon became the number one consumer focused poker publication in the US.

With a circulation upwards of 250,000 at its height, it spawned franchises around the world, and soon the company was branching out into other arenas, with the launch of mixed martial arts mag FIGHT! In late 2007.

Eye on Regulation

In 2011, however, the print poker industry was rocked by Black Friday, and the pool of potential advertisers in the US dried up, but Bluff was able to keep the wolf from the door when it was bought the year after by Churchill Downs racetrack, for $10 million.

It was no secret that Churchill Downs, home to the Kentucky Derby, had its eye on a potential US online poker market and wanted to acquire a recognized brand name in preparation for regulation, and therefore running a poker magazine may not have been highest on its list of priorities.

At the beginning of this year, it was announced that the print magazine would fold, printing its last copy in February, but would remain in operation as a news and content portal. 

However last week it was announced that this, too, was no longer part of Churchill Downs’ long-term plans. The racetrack will, however, hang onto the Bluff brand name.

“A very sad day to see the company I founded basically cease operations,” said Eric Morris on Facebook. ”Lots of great memories and extremely proud to once be part of such a successful company.”

Glory Days

Bluff Europe, meanwhile, is a distinct company owned solely by Bluff Media co-founder Michael Caselli, and will remain in operation in operation for the foreseeable future.

At Bluff’s height, there were literally hundreds of online poker sites, jostling for prominence in the same space. Today, there are just a few, and the winners have monopolized the market, which translates into scant advertising dollars for media companies. The heyday of poker media, it seems, is long gone.

Churchill Downs, meanwhile, was in court last week, hoping to have a case against its Big Fish social casino network dismissed. A lawsuit filed in US District Court in Seattle earlier this year by a Michigan resident who spent $1,000 playing the casino style games is demanding reimbursement, because, she claims, the games amount to illegal casino gambling.

Lawyers for the racetrack maintain they aren’t gambling because users can’t win money or tangible prizes.

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