The Gazette: Bringing Vegas to Montreal

Montreal has been dealt a hand by Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., the gambling empire that operates the wildly popular World Series of Poker.

At the insistence of Montreal native and gaming executive Mitch Garber, Harrah’s has agreed that its newest subsidiary – Harrah’s Interactive Entertainment – will be based in Montreal. Its mandate is to take the World Series of Poker brand online and to look for new partnerships with brick-and-mortar casinos around the world.

“I’m really happy to bring Harrah’s to Montreal,” said Garber, who made headlines in early 2006 when he was named to head the world’s largest online gaming company for a pay package then worth almost $17 million US.

When he left the Gibraltar-based PartyGaming PLC last year, Garber said he received employment offers in the US and Europe, but wanted an “opportunity” that would return his family to his home town.

Harrah’s agreed that he could manage the World Series of Poker teams already in Las Vegas and England out of a Montreal office and still focus on growing the 40-year-old Vegas-based competition.

“There is a hunger for World Series of Poker events, like PGA gold, with events taking place everywhere, whether it is Moscow, Montreal, Rome. Our intent is to deal with government and licensing authorities in every jurisdiction to grow the World Series of Poker,” he said yesterday.

The business plan has two main goals, said Garber, who has invested “substantially” in the privately held Harrah’s.

The first is “to offer online gaming in the UK and potentially elsewhere in Europe where its is legal and government-licensed.”

Harrah’s already has an interactive gaming license issued in Alderney, a British Channel Island, he said. But no decisions or commitments have been made in that or any other jurisdiction, he said.

In the US, a bill was introduced this month to overturn a 3-year-old ban on Internet gambling. Harrah’s is amongst the entities supporting the legislation that would allow Americans to gamble online for money, instead of playing the current “for fun only” games.

The second part of Garber’s game plan is “to explore partnerships with govermnets that will offer online poker in their lotteries or… would invite the World Series of Poker and Harrah’s to their poker operations.

This could, for instance, translate into a World Series of Poker tournament managed by Harrah’s but run out of a Loto-Quebec casino.

Garber and Loto-Quebec officials have yet to exchange even courtesy telephone calls, but Loto spokesman Jean-Pierre Roy said that the government agency would be interested in listening to what Garber has to say on the subject of poker.

Loto-Quebec, which is to open its fourth casino in Mont Tremblant next month, has introduced Texas Hold ‘Em games in electronic versions and as table games at its three casinos. It does not offer Internet gambling.

The World Series of Poker competition launched its 2009 season this week at one of Harrah’s many casinos in Las Vegas.

Last year, the multi-week event attracted more than 58,000 participants from 125 countries and awarded more than $180 million US in prize money. Fifty-seven tournaments were held in Vegas, and for the first time, the competition went international, with one tournament held in London.

The competition, which began as a small invitational event, mushroomed in popularity after television coverage of it was expanded, especially coverage of the Texas Hold ‘Em events and the introduction of a camera that allowed viewers to see the players’ hole cards.

- By Lynn Moore |

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette