The worst-kept secret in the world of online gaming is now official.
Harrah’s Entertainment announced Friday the hiring of former online gaming executive Mitch Garber as chief executive officer of Harrah’s Interactive Entertainment, a new subsidiary that will oversee the company’s efforts to expand its World Series of Poker brand internationally and online.
“Harrah’s is taking a proactive approach toward international and interactive expansion,” Harrah’s Entertainment Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Gary Loveman said in a statement. “It is important we position ourselves to explore new markets as well as new technologies with our best in class brands.”
The announcement comes as the 2009 World Series of Poker is scheduled to start next week at the Rio. The multiweek event attracted 58,720 entrants from 124 countries last year and awarded more than $180 million in prize money.
The hiring of Garber, who was not made available for interviews, was widely rumored in early April on poker Web sites around the world.
Garber left Gibraltar-based PartyGaming, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange and owns the PartyCasino and popular PartyPoker Web sites, last year. He had been CEO there.
In his new job with Harrah’s, Garber is expected to help the gaming company launch a World Series of Poker-branded site, beginning in European countries such as Italy and the United Kingdom where online poker is legal. Harrah’s wants to expand the online poker site into other countries as online gaming is legalized in new jurisdictions, Loveman said in an interview earlier this week.
The casino company earlier this month announced its support for legislation that was introduced in Congress to allow Americans to play casino games for money online.
The proposed Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act of 2009, which was introduced this month by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., would establish regulations to allow licensed gambling operators to accept wagers from inside the United States.
Loveman said getting the legislation passed is an uphill push, but he believes online poker is better positioned than other casino games to be legalized soon.
“I do think the time has come, particularly for online poker,” Loveman said. “It is a very exciting and very lucrative business and we are going to work hard to convince elected officials that this is something American adults should be able to do.”
Harrah’s Entertainment spent $405,087 in the first quarter and registered as a lobbyist to support the legislation.
In the meantime, Harrah’s is planning to develop a free World Series of Poker-branded online poker site that could operate in the United States and other countries that ban online gambling.
Loveman said the free site would position the company so it could quickly capitalize on the market if online poker is legalized.
The free site could be integrated with the Total Rewards program and with the large tournament at the Rio, Loveman said.
“There are lots of ways to make it meaningful even though it wouldn’t be a rake (real money) poker game,” he said. “Then in the event that others are successful in liberalizing online poker here, then we’d have an infrastructure ready to go.”
Garber will work with current World Series of Poker Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack, who will retain that position and as president of the new interactive subsidiary.
Garber, a former gaming lawyer, joined PartyGaming in April 2006 and helped rebuild the company’s business after the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act was signed into law in October 2006. That law cut access to players in the United States, PartyGaming’s biggest market.
Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at email@example.com or 702-477-3893.