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PokerTek, Inc. (NASDAQ:PTEK)

Q4 2008 Earnings Call

February 19, 2009 5:00 pm ET

Executives

Mark Roberson - CFO

Chris Halligan - CEO

Analysts

Mark Smith - Feltl & Company

Warren Fulbright

Walter Ramsley - Walrus Partners

Operator

Good day ladies and gentlemen and welcome to fourth quarter 2008 PokerTek Earnings Call. My name is LaManu, and I will be your operator for today.

(Operator Instructions).

We will conduct a question-and-answer session towards the end of this conference. As a reminder this conference is being recorded for replay purposes.

I would now like to turn the call over to your host for today, Mr. Mark Roberson, Chief Financial Officer. Please proceed sir.

Mark Roberson

Thank you. We would like to welcome all of you to the PokerTek earnings call for the fourth quarter and full year ended December 31, 2008. Before we begin, please note that we will make forward-looking statements on today's call, which are made pursuant to the Safe Harbor Provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements are not a guarantee to the future performance and are subject to risks and uncertainties that may impact our business.

We undertake no obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statements. We also strongly encourage you to read the information contained in our public fillings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

I will start off today's call by reviewing our financial performance after which our CEO, Chris Halligan will provide commentary and then we will take your questions.

We’re pleased to report that 2008 was an excellent year for the company. We increased our lead in automated poker and successfully launched Heads-Up Challenge in the amusement space, while streamlining our operations and reducing our expenses.

As a result, revenues increased 260% on an annual basis and 117% on a quarterly basis. Operating expenses declined $1.1 million for the year and $600,000 for the quarter. EBITDAS improved greater than 60% and EPS improved greater than 40% both quarterly and year-to-date.

One of the strategies we’ve employed over the past year has been to continuously streamline our operations and reduce expenses as we have expanded market share in growing the top line.

This strategy served us well in 2008 and our plan for 2009 calls for additional expense reductions as we continue on the path to profitability. Revenues of PokerTek are comprised of three primary drivers; One: license fees earned on PokerPro games leased to North American casinos and cruise ships; Two: sales of PokerPro to Aristocrat for placement with international casino customers; Three: sales of Heads-Up Challenge to operators and distributors for placement in bars and restaurants in the US and abroad.

For the fourth quarter total consolidated revenues came in at $3.1 million, an increase of 117% from $1.4 million in the prior year. On an annual basis, revenues were $14.4 million up 260% from $4 million a year ago.

Casino licensing was $1.9 million for the quarter, up 148% from prior year and $6.4 million for the year, up a 155%. The increase in casino licensing is directly attributable to the increase in domestic table count as we entered new gaming jurisdictions and opened additional PokerPro rooms.

The fourth quarter also included approximately $200,000 of revenue, which has been deferred from prior period. Sales of casino products were $400,000 for the quarter, a decrease of $100,000 from prior year.

For the year, revenue from sales of casino product was $3.3 million, an increase of 150% on an annual basis. During the quarter, we shifted six PokerPro systems to Aristocrat, bringing the total to 64 for the year.

Product sales tended to be lumpy and we saw a significant temporary dip in sales to Aristocrat for the fourth quarter. We anticipate that this low could continue into Q1, but depends upon timing of regulatory approvals in several key European jurisdictions.

Our PokerPro table count increased by 86 tables, or 46%, for the year, bringing the total to 275 at year end. Of those 275 tables, 177 were on lease in North American casinos and cruise ships and 98 have been sold to Aristocrat for lease internationally.

Of the 177 domestic tables under lease, 61 are on cruise ships and the remaining 117 were deployed in North American land based casinos. On a sequential basis, our domestic count decreased slightly from Q3, as new installations were offset by removals at certain customer locations, including Ludoplex Québec in Canada, where an agreement with our dealers union included the removal of some automated games. As other casino suppliers would attest, turnover is a normal part of the gaming business and should be expected.

In addition, just after the end of the year, we closed our poker room at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. These 12 tables remain in the year end table count, as they were still on lease at December 31st and will be reflected as reductions in Q1.

As those of you who follow the industry probably know, Trump Plaza filed for bankruptcy protection this week. We're certainly not happy about the turn of events, but Trump was truly an excellent partner over the past six months. We collected all outstanding receivables and retrieved our leased property prior to bankruptcy, so we will not have any write-off associated with that situation.

The Heads-Up Challenge sales came in at $800,000 for the quarter and $4.8 million for the year. On a unit basis, we sold 190 units during Q4 bringing the total to a 1061 for the year. We saw some softening in demand approaching the holidays and continuing into January, which we're learning is a normal seasonal phenomenon in the business. In addition, the appreciation of the US dollar relative to other currencies in the second half of the year, particularly against the British pound and the euro, impacted demand from our international customers.

On the expense side I'd like to point out, that we reclassified certain expenses from the prior year presentation to show direct cost, including depreciation of PokerPro assets separately, and have also broken out non-cash share based compensation separately from other operating expenses on the face of the P&L.

Direct cost including cost to product sales, and depreciation of leased assets increased to $1.7 million for the quarter and to $8.7 million for the year. The increases are attributable to increased volume that improved significantly on a percentage basis on favorable Heads-Up Challenge margins and improved utilization of our depreciable leased asset base.

Operating expenses came in at $3 million for the quarter, a decrease of $600,000 from the prior year period. For the year, operating expenses decreased $1.1 million to $13 million. As a percent of total revenue, operating expenses improved to 98% and 90% for the quarter and the year. This compares to 255% and 354% last year respectively.

Our goal continues to be to leverage our resources, and reduce operating expenses as we grow the top line. We trimmed our headcount substantially and reduced other operating expenses over the course of the year.

After year end, in January, we took additional steps to reduce our headcount and further streamline our operations, eliminating over $1 million in additional operating expenses on a annualized basis. Those savings will begin to show up in the first quarter of 2009.

Interest expense was $94,000 and income tax expense was $263,000 for the year. The income tax provision is primarily attributable to taxes incurred in Canada which cannot be recovered; we’re offsetting its domestic annual growth. Interest expense is primarily attributable to Founders loan and borrowings under the UBS line of credit and also includes a small amount of loan origination costs and unused line fees from the Silicon Valley Bank line of credit.

Due to the combination of revenue growth and expense reductions, EBITDAS improved 75% to negative $643,000 for the quarter, and 69% to negative $3.3 million for the year. We reported a loss of $1.8 million or $0.16 per share for the quarter, an improvement of 47% from $0.30 last year.

For the year reported, a net loss of $7.6 million or $0.70 per share, is an improvement of 43% from a $1.23 in the prior year. On a sequential basis, we have EPS flat at 16% for the quarter, as the margin impact of reduced product sales was offset by growth in license fees and expense reductions.

Turning to the balance sheet and cash flow; we closed the quarter with cash equivalents of $1.5 million and our investment and auction rate securities was $3.9 million. After year end on January 5, we closed our auction rate securities position with UBS, resulting in net cash proceeds of $1 million, after paying off the $2.9 million in advances we’ve taken throughout the year.

As we were able to liquidate those investments at par, there was no gain or loss realized on this disposition. Cash used in operating activities improved $7.9 million or 45% to $6.5 million for the year as compared to $14.4 million in 2007.

The significant improvement in operating cash flows came as a result of improved earnings and lower working capital investments as we did a better job utilizing our assets and managing our inventory spend. I would also note that we've not drawn on our credit line of Silicon Valley Bank and that facility remains available to us as we enter 2009.

Overall, 2008 was a solid year and we believe we're well positioned to build upon that record of success going forward.

Thank you. And I'll now turn the call over to Chris for his commentary.

Chris Halligan

Thank you, Mark, and thank you, everyone, for spending some time with us. 2008 was indeed a good year for PokerTek and I'm pleased to have the chance to discuss what we've done and more important, what lies ahead.

Among our significant accomplishments last year: Number one, we grew substantially in all three of our revenue lines. Number two, we showed discipline in managing cost, while we grew the business. Number three, our casino products continue to gain meaningful acceptance around the world and number four, we successfully launched Heads-Up Challenge.

As Mark mentioned, revenues grew from $4 million to $14.4 million, including 150% growth in both casino licensing and casino sales. In addition, we successfully launched our amusement business which contributed just under $5 million in revenue from a standing start and we did all that while reducing costs more than 10% across the board.

We've also kept an eye on the big opportunities for the future and made several important investments that will benefit the company as we grow in 2009 and beyond. With all that I'd be remissive if I didn't say that despite a good 2008, Q4 didn't meet our internal expectations.

Our two product sales lines were in kind of regulatory and currency-based headwinds, but we've adjusted our model to faster growth where it’s necessary in the short-term and believe that neither obstacle is a long-term impediment to continued growth.

We also had de-installations of our casino products. De-install was an unfortunate fact of life for us and other gaming equipment suppliers, but we keep in mind that we're evangelizing a new technology and that our industry is under going significant change. We have many games that are now entering their fourth year of successful generation for our customers and we continue to be committed to making all of our games as successful as possible for all our partners.

We've built the solid franchise of PokerTek and they're off to a good start in 2009. We remain committed to the vision of the company and have several reasons for optimism going forward. I'd like to focus a bit on those and discuss them with you.

To begin, we entered the year with enough product supply that inventory spending should decline for the first half of 2009. We've also developed new lower cost versions of our products that we anticipate rolling out later this year.

As Mark mentioned, we've undertaken the last part of a multi-phase cost reduction program, which positions us well for lower operating cost in Q1 and a stable operating environment for 2009. A key goal for our management continues to be cash flow and EBITDAS positive financial performance.

With regard to our products, PokerPro is the world's leading automated poker product and it gained significant acceptance in 2008. More and more players know of our game and many express a preference for it; add to that the cost savings and efficiencies that our products offered operators, and we believe that we are at the beginning of a long growth curve in the casinos space.

We hope to be able to expand our casino footprint in Nevada soon. As a reminder, there are almost 1000 poker tables in the Silver State alone and our field trials are continuing nicely. Beyond that, we have several new 100% PokerPro rooms in North America, they are on verge of opening and we will announce them when the time is right.

I'd also add that many of the new locations where you're seeing PokerPro installed are venues that have not historically hosted poker. Thanks to the economics of our games, we are able to support operators that want poker for their patrons that can't afford overhead labor associated with the traditional manual poker room. Made simple, we are not just gaining market share by converting existing rooms, our technology is also growing the overall poker market.

Looking internationally, we believe we will enter new markets in Europe in the coming months. As you know, we experienced a nice mini boom in Bulgarian placements in 2008, and hope to replicate that model in additional countries working with Aristocrat in 2009.

I'd also like to note that in total, Aristocrat performed very well for us in 2008, and we anticipate they will continue to do so going forward. They are an excellent partner for PokerTek and we are delighted to have renewed our distribution agreement with them.

Our revenue performance in the casino sales line was lumpy in 2008, as exemplified in Q4, and will likely be that way going forward. That's probably how our international business will grow as we continue to develop and enter new markets.

The casino products themselves continue to evolve and improve. For much of the past year, we elected to focus the majority of our software development efforts on meeting regulatory requirements. Doing this was both necessary and wise in that it helped to expand our addressable markets, but much of that investment is now behind us. We can increase our focus on improving the earning power of our markets leading games.

For example, in 2009 we expect that we'll be able to commercialize some of the features that we demonstrated at November's G2E Show in Las Vegas; features such as PokerPro Plus; which allows players to play side games of poker, blackjack or even slots; are waiting their turn into poker game in-house bank side offerings, such as Rave Running and Flop a Lock, which will allow our operators to deliver a better gaming experience to their players, while improving the economics for themselves.

We also plan to expand on world leading multi-table tournament functionality by offering additional features to make daily tournaments, which are traditionally a loss leader in the poker room, into a source of not just customer acquisition, but also incremental profit.

Features such as these deliver on the key promise of PokerPro. Our games can do things that manual poker games cannot and never will. This is in distinct contrast to other automated table games which offer improved speed and efficiency that too often is a little low.

With automated Poker, it’s not a matter of whether it’s going to have a huge market presence; it's merely a question of when. With regard to Heads-Up Challenge, we’ve built a solid business in our first year.

Our games are doing well for operators and for bar owners, and that’s the key to success. To extend that success, we’re continuing our innovations on several fronts. We've delivered new games for Heads-Up Challenge, including multiplayer poker tournaments, single-player mode and even a new game, Bocce.

We are continuing to expand our distribution models for the game, thanks to regular ongoing increases from both new and existing industry distributors. And we have several new features and plans that will decreased the cost of games, while adding to their earning power.

In closing, I would say that, it’s not easy to pioneer new categories, today’s economic storms don’t make it any easier. But, we've got a team that’s committed to our vision. We’ve got a big lead in a growing market, and we believe we're poised to be successful over the long-term.

It’s challenging to grow substantially while cutting costs, but that’s exactly what we have done. There is a lot of work left for us to do and we are confident in the future and enthusiastic about 2009. At this point, we welcome any questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions).

And our first question will come from the line of Mark Smith with Feltl & Company. Please proceed.

Mark Smith - Feltl & Company

Hi guys. Just a couple of questions for you. Can you talk a little bit more about Heads-Up Challenge sales, especially internationally? And if there is anything that you can do to kind of get those back on track, realizing that the dollars kind of been an impediment here?

Chris Halligan

Yeah. It's a great question. At last months ICE and ATEI show in London, Mark, we exhibited at the stand of our great partner, Cosmic Video Amusements, and experienced great success with them and took lots of orders on the floor. We have made some selective adjustments with volume partners to help them manage new currency issues and continuously grow interest in the product.

I think that for a brief period of time, in the fall and in the early winter, there was a bit of shock around currencies, but now, people sort of adjusted to the new reality. So we're seeing orders flow at a reasonable level. So we've taken some steps and we're pleased with the results.

Mark Smith - Feltl & Company

Okay. So, is the issue really just to the dollar? Have you seen any problems with just the pure demand for the game?

Chris Halligan

No. I think demand is there, we just have to make sure the economic proposition is right for the distributor, for the operator, and we've taken a few adjustments to deliver that and it's working out well.

Mark Smith - Feltl & Company

Okay. Thanks a lot. Next can you talk about, there's been a theory that, you know in these tough economic times, as casinos are struggling, that they would look towards your product as an opportunity to increase their profitability? And, you know, you've had some new poker rooms, people that haven’t offered that in the past, but you're starting to see this opportunity come to flourish, with people changing out and going to automated poker?

Chris Halligan

Yeah. I'd like to answer that in a segmented fashion. Certainly today, as those casinos that don't have existing poker rooms, that they evaluate implementing poker. We're extremely attractive to those folks, and so, we see really good take up among that segment of the market. In the conversion segment of the market, the amount of increase that we receive today, I would say, are near or at an all time high.

There are two factors that are influencing that. One, is people definitely understand that our games can reduce the cost of running the poker room; but given the economic turmoil in the market today, there is some reserve by operators themselves about making changes or taking chances.

So those two things balance out a little bit, but I definitely think you'll see convergence from manual rooms to automated rooms featuring PokerPro throughout the first half of this year and the economic situation in the world will certainly contribute to that.

Mark Smith - Feltl & Company

Okay. And Mark you guys talked a little bit about the Canada de-installs with Loto-Quebec, will they have some implications on the taxes as well.

Mark Roberson

Yeah. Well Mark, I mean, the taxes that we're incurring are directly attributable to the revenues that we're receiving from Canada, so the tax will come down in Q1 because we'll be making less revenue on these Canadian tables.

Mark Smith - Feltl & Company

Okay. Can you guys quantify the size of the Canadian de-installs?

Mark Roberson

Yeah. In the fourth quarter we took out 11 tables up in Canada.

Chris Halligan

I think our customers in Canada are still very satisfied with our products. They have some challenges with their labor relations. The negotiations contributed to their decision to have a mixed room.

Mark Roberson

Okay. And just to be completely transparent on that question, we'll have more tables from Canada come out in Q1. Our expectation is for the same reason, it’s just a matter of scheduling. So, we had 11 come out, that came out in Q4. We'll have several more come out in Q1 as they complete the process with their labor union.

Mark Smith - Feltl & Company

Okay. And then, outside of Trump this quarter, has there been any other de-installs or any thing else where you've seen any problems?

Mark Roberson

No, nothing. I mean, de-installations are part of the gaming equipment supplier. We wanted to address those two because they were large and there was a story attached to it

Mark Smith - Feltl & Company

Okay, excellent. And then in your comments you talked about some more cost cutting in headcount. And just to clarify, you said $1 million, kind of annualized run-rate on some savings in that?

Mark Roberson

Yeah, that's right. After the close of the year and earlier mid-January, we took another cost reduction, headcount reduction and as a result of that reduction we'll save in payroll expenses and related expenses about 250 a quarter.

Mark Smith - Feltl & Company

Okay. So, has that really put us at a run rate, just a little over $2 million per quarter, I guess including your stock options expense in there?

Mark Roberson

Yeah, that's about $2 million a quarter. Maybe a little north.

Mark Smith - Feltl & Company

Little north of that?

Mark Roberson

A little north of that. We were in $3 million of operating expenses in Q4 and what I'm telling you, is we've taken out 250 a quarter in payroll expenses. It will be $1 million on an annualized basis, not $1 million on a quarterly basis.

Mark Smith - Feltl & Company

Okay. That does it for me. Thanks.

Mark Roberson

Okay, thanks Mark.

Operator

And our next question will come from the line of [Warren Fulbright]. Please proceed.

Warren Fulbright

Hello, gentlemen.

Chris Halligan

Hi, Warren.

Warren Fulbright

I have a question on Trump, and your field trial for the state of New Jersey, what affect?

Chris Halligan

So, that put a pause on our field transfer in New Jersey and we've not recommenced that yet. We are in discussions with several perspective partners there and we want to find the right fit. We will announce something there when there is news to announce.

Warren Fulbright

Okay. What about Scottrade? They've put a restriction on trading. Have you determined what this is all about? Whether it’s going to be changed or altered?

Chris Halligan

No, we're really not sure yet. We asked Scottrade about that and they really won' tell companies when they happen to put you on that list and they can't explain why we are on there, so we have no visibility into that and really can't explain it to you. It's really something that you would have to go to Scottrade and see if they can explain it to you because we are not a customer of Scottrade, so they won't share that information with us as a company.

Warren Fulbright

Okay. They also had something on insider trading, indicating that they felt, that the insiders felt, that there was going to be a continued price decline. And there is much, as there has been no insider buying activity for the last year. Any comment on that?

Chris Halligan

Yeah. I've purchased shares this year. That's the first I heard of that comment from Scottrade, I mean there has been some insider buying early in the year, but it's really not something that we know about to comment on. We're honest with you.

Warren Fulbright

Okay and what about continued results in the State of Nevada?

Chris Halligan

They were still in the middle of our field trial and I would say we're pleased with the results so far, however, we haven't completed every milestone that the Nevada Gaming Control Board has laid out for us and we're hopeful that we will be able to expand there soon, but we are waiting on approvals from them.

Warren Fulbright

Very good. Thank you very much.

Chris Halligan

Yeah, thank you.

Operator

And our next question will come from the line of Walter Ramsley with Walrus Partners. Please proceed.

Walter Ramsley - Walrus Partners

Thanks. Congratulations. I got a couple of questions. Cruise ship business, do you have any data on that? Like, maybe, sort of, a same-store sales performance, how the tables are doing?

Mark Roberson

Yeah. I mean, I don't have a specific number to share with you right now, or metric to share with you. What I can tell you is that the cruise ships have been performing very well over the last quarter and cruise ships have been one of our best areas and continue to be and the revenues from the cruise ship segment was strong in Q4.

Chris Halligan

And Walter, I'd add to that by saying, one of our very best partners in the cruise ship space is Carnival Cruise Lines and we have worked with them to implement a technology pilot which is called sail-n-sign. Sail-n-sign permits guests of carnival and other brands in the carnival family to use their room key to play at the PokerPro table.

This integration has had a significant impact on revenue and other games on the casino floor like slot machines and that's been a very successful pilot and we are expanding that to all the Carnival ships in the first half of 2009. So, we expect that that will improve revenue performance and patron satisfaction for all the PokerPro tables in the carnival fleet this year.

Walter Ramsley - Walrus Partners

Okay. Well, that sounds good then.

Chris Halligan

Yeah. And we anticipate rolling that out. I’ll have that done in cruise lines as well as our relationship develops with those folks.

Walter Ramsley - Walrus Partners

Okay. The machines that Trump returned, what kind of shape were they in and do you have to.

Chris Halligan

Yeah, they were in great shape, anytime we bring tables back from anywhere we get the complete refurbishment and cleaning and retrofitting, its kind of a normal process, but they were in good shape, they were taking care of them.

Mark Roberson

Non-smoking environment?

Chris Halligan

Yes, we like non-smoking casinos.

Walter Ramsley - Walrus Partners

Okay. The newer technologies that you're working on for both product lines, anything special going on there? Just kind of ploughing away or?

Chris Halligan

Yeah. I think the biggest thing is that they are just, there is some real opportunities to reduce cost and increase reliability in the games. Not really needing to change the core factor or the core functionality; more just a focus on reducing the cost and increasing reliability. These games were, the PokerPro game was, originally designed in 2004 and so, there is some opportunity to just update a little bit and make it perform better. Actually, the main focus is on cost reduction.

Walter Ramsley - Walrus Partners

Okay. And then just in general, what’s the marketing plan, in short term anyway, and I was assuming nothing in Nevada nothing in New Jersey, I mean where are you really going at this point?

Chris Halligan

As I mentioned, we have several rooms that I can't announce yet, but are sort of dotted across the United States, and we're very excited about that, that they will open as 100% PokerPro per rooms. The other caller asked about too, so expect some news from us over the next few months about some exciting new installs. The earlier caller asked about Nevada. I am optimistic about Nevada, once we execute trial, of course, that's under NGCBs guidelines, so we'll wait to give them, and by the way, working with NGCB has been very good for our company. That made the products better. But, I think there are a lot of markets where there is some real up sides for us, both domestically and internationally.

Walter Ramsley - Walrus Partners

Okay. And any other applications that you might be looking at like Dog Tracks or Wall Street brokerage offices?

Chris Halligan

It's funny that you ask that. We actually, there are couple of casinos that have approached us recently, about taking our game and trying to make them approve that, which is pretty exciting. And we've also, this kind of came up recently at the ICE Show, our game has gotten enough traction and has enough placements that we are starting to be approached by independent software vendors, who have games, that have talked to us about licensing their products for use in our games. So we haven’t commercialized anything like that yet. That looks like in the long-term of the company, it could be an opportunity.

Walter Ramsley - Walrus Partners

Just in general, what do you think the breakeven point is now, at least for cash flow?

Mark Roberson

Yeah, we really don’t give straight guidance, and it's always dangerous to try to put an exact quarter around that. We took some cost reductions in Q4, and throughout last year. We took another whack at it in Q1, based on having a fairly stable revenue base. We're still targeting to be EBIDTA positive in the first half of '09. It could be Q2, it could be Q3 and that’s our internal goal. I certainly wouldn’t sign and blurt that we will be EBIDTA positive in Q2, but internally we're working for Q2 - Q3.

Chris Halligan

And a lot of that has to do with the regulatory time line.

Mark Roberson

Yeah, it's timing,

Chris Halligan

Overseas, I think those are hard to forecast.

Walter Ramsley - Walrus Partners

Okay.

Chris Halligan

The other reason not to forecast is that it's hard to get it right.

Walter Ramsley - Walrus Partners

Right. Okay, all right. Thanks a lot guys. See you.

Operator

(Operator Instructions).

And at this time, I show no more questions in queue, I'd like to turn the call back over to management.

Chris Halligan

We appreciate the continued support of our shareholders. We got a dedicated team working for you, and we look forward to interacting with you again in the future. Thank you everyone.

Operator

And, thank you for your participation in today's conference. This concludes the presentation. You may now disconnect. Good day.

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Source: PokerTek, Inc. Q4 2008 Earnings Call Transcript
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