Global Gaming Business Magazine: Gaming’s 10 Most Influential People

4887755221_df04043dc7_oSometimes the most important figures in any industry aren’t the visible leaders. Often, the most influential people lurk behind the scenes, making things happen, swaying opinion, moving the pieces around so the people and businesses they influence can prosper and develop in the most sensible way.

The list of the Global Gaming Business 10 Most Influential People may not dazzle casual observers of the gaming industry. Most of the people mentioned within are hardly household names.

But for those who are true students of the industry, the 10 people profiled here are very familiar. They are the people who others consider when planning moves, taking steps or considering the future.

No, these are not the most powerful people in the business. These are not the most visible folks. But these are clearly people that other people listen to, take counsel from, and respect at such a level that their influence spreads far beyond their limited scope of operations. And these are people you need to know, whatever your role in the gaming industry.



Ace in the Hole | Mitch GarberCEO, Harrah’s Interactive Entertainment

Within days of the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in September 2006, PartyGaming announced that it would withdraw from the U.S. market. The company saw a huge drop in revenue the following year after losing a huge chunk of its customer base, of which more than 50 percent were U.S. residents. But under the direction of Mitch Garber, then CEO of the company, PartyGaming took to an aggressive strategy of mergers and acquisitions that saw the company recover its lost revenue by expanding in other jurisdictions that were more friendly to online gaming operators.

Garber has since left PartyGaming, but he remains a pivotal figure in the online gaming world. He was pegged to head up Harrah’s Entertainment’s newly formed subsidiary, Harrah’s Interactive Entertainment, charged with the task of growing the World Series of Poker and Harrah’s overall online presence. The approach will be similar to what Garber did with PartyGaming, with a strong emphasis on international growth in regulated and open markets.

“The focus with the World Series of Poker is quite simply to maintain and increase its leadership position as the de facto championships of poker and the leading brand globally in poker,” Garber explains. “Today, we have essentially all of the bracelet events taking place in Las Vegas or in London, and I think in order to become a truly global event we want to expand that reach simply beyond Las Vegas and London.”

The WSOP will be modeled after other successful sporting ventures in the U.S. like the United States Golf Association and the Professional Golf Association, where there are a number of different tournaments, some of more importance overall than others, held in jurisdictions throughout the world.

Additionally, the WSOP, along with other brands like Harrah’s and Caesars, will gain international exposure through online gaming. Garber plans to draw on his experience with PartyGaming to help guide the efforts of Harrah’s. The biggest challenge, he says, is to avoid damaging the brands. Everything the company does online has to be up to the level of the company’s land-based operations.

The move toward online gaming, and the man who was pegged to lead it, shows that Harrah’s knows that “legalized and regulated online gaming is going to be a very important stream of revenue in the future,” says Garber.

And while international growth will help the company-especially as it labors under the debt incurred to go private in 2007 and reduced revenues at its Las Vegas and Atlantic City properties caused by the ongoing recession-Garber also believes that the future of online gaming definitely includes the U.S. There is legislation now in both the House and Senate that would create a system for regulating and taxing online operations in the U.S., and while it may still take several years before the market fully opens up, Garber believes that it ultimately will.

“The trends are for open, regulated, taxed and licensed online gaming in the E.U., and I just believe that North America, the U.S. and Canada in particular, are destined to follow suit and to enact a regulatory framework that alleviates the concerns about responsible gaming, minors gaming, and shows that this activity can be run fairly and securely and that it can be regulated and taxed effectively,” Garber says.

The opportunity to grow the company while also perfecting its online presence could  give Harrah’s a distinct advantage if and when the U.S. market opens up. Either way, it opens up an additional revenue stream and expands the company’s brand awareness.

And while it remains to be seen just how the online gaming landscape will look in the future, it’s a good bet that with Garber heading up the online operations, Harrah’s will be primed to fully exploit any and all opportunities the online world provides.

-Greg Jones