Speculation has been rampant through poker industry circles for some time that Harrah’s Entertainment, specifically with regard to the World Series of Poker, had an interest in legal online poker in the United States. Participating in the online gaming business with a name like the WSOP to back it up might be a smart move. So when news down the wire of Mitch Garber, the former chief executive of PartyGaming, taking a position with Harrah’s to run its new internet division, the pieces of the puzzle seemed to come together. But the absence of confirmation by Harrah’s has kept many further assumptions at bay.
It came across the news wires in mid-April that Harrah’s Entertainment hired Garber to head up its new subsidiary company that would focus on online operations. The connection made a great deal of sense, first and foremost because Garber had been one of the chief executives at PartyGaming after its post-UIGEA withdrawal from the U.S. market. Not only did he keep the company afloat after losing a sizable portion of its revenue, but his experience with the online gaming industry on a global level was extremely valuable, especially to a company like Harrah’s, who has not yet ventured into that arena.
The Garber-Harrah’s partnership also made sense with regard to its timing, as PartyGaming had just settled with the U.S. Department of Justice, admitting that it illegally provided online gaming services to American citizens and agreeing to pay a $105 million fine. With PartyGaming in somewhat good graces with the U.S. government, if Rep. Barney Frank is successful in his bid to push pro-gaming legislation through Congress in 2009 or 2010, Garber will be in an ideal position to work with the government to secure a solid, legal, well-respected online gaming company bearing the Harrah’s name.
It has been no secret that Harrah’s CEO and Chairman Gary Loveman has been interested in seeing online gaming legalized and regulated in the United States, as he has spoken publicly on the issue more than once. But when the news of Garber taking a position with Harrah’s hit the news wires, Harrah’s did not exactly embrace the news. Whether it was because the information was leaked prior to the company’s planned release of it or the deal had not yet been solidified, is hard to tell. Just after the poker industry picked up the news, a spokesperson for Harrah’s would only comment to the press that the company “did not have anything to share.” He added, “We haven’t announced anything, and we don’t have any plans to announce anything.”
Garber has also not made any statements confirming or denying his employment status.
What is known is that the news has been well-received by many in the poker industry, and the idea of Harrah’s entering the online gaming market is an interesting one, to say the least. With the ability to use the World Series of Poker name and its worldwide familiarity and respect, Harrah’s could have a gem on its hands. Even if the company plans to hold off on any online gaming designs until after the U.S. government repeals the UIGEA, having the people in place to prepare for that time is a smart move.