MITCH GARBER

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The Gazette Montreal: Gambling exec hits the jackpot

Montreal businessman Mitchell (Mitch) Garber drew a royal flush yesterday when he was appointed to head the world’s largest online gaming company for a pay package worth almost $17 million US in the first year.

Garber, who was once a sports talk show host on Montreal radio and TV stations, will become one of highest-paid executives officer of fast-growing PartyGaming PLC on April 19.

In an interview, Garber, 41, called his appointment a “crowning achievement” in his 14-year involvement in the gambling industry both as a lawyer and an entrepreneur. He and his family will be moving from Montreal to Gibraltar, where PartyGaming is relocating from Britain.

Associates say Garber is blessed with boundless energy and has built up a huge network of gambling contracts, especially in the US industry.

He developed those contracts as well as knowledge about the legal, financial and technological aspects of gambling while working as a lawyer specializing in the area and then managing companies that process payments for online gambling sites.

Most recently he was executive chairman of FireOne Group Pic, a unit of Montreal’s Optimal Group Inc. Garber left Optimal this month after overseeing FireOne’s initial offering of shares to the public on the London Stock Exchange’s AIM Market last year.

Garber was chosen to replace departing PartyGaming CEO Richard Segal after an international recruitment search.

In an interview, Garber said one of his top priorities in his new job will be growing the company outside the US, where it now earns about 80 per cent of its revenues. The company, which went public in London last year, has more than 1,500 employees, almost $1 billion US in revenue last year and a stock market value of $10 billion US.

“It all sounds very exciting, but at the same time I’m already focused on the challenge ahead,” Garber said from Gibraltar before heading back to Montreal to prepare for his move. “Being No. 1 is one thing; staying No. 1 is quite another. Growing the company globally – in Europe and Asia – is a very big priority.”

Garber, who besides his sideline as a broadcaster in the ’90s also wrote a freelance sports column for The Gazette, will get a salary of $1 million and 7 million shares in the first year, said John Shepherd, PartyGaming’s director of communication.

At yesterday’s stock price, the stock options were worth about $15.6 million US, according to Bloomberg News. He will receive another $6 million US to cover relocation expenses and his outstanding Optimal options, Shepherd said.

In addition to his salary, Garber stands to receive a total of 20 million stock options over his second, third and fourth years as CEO if the company’s stock performs better than the stock market and its peers in the gambling industry.

“I know the numbers sound obviously very high,” he said. “It’s quite humbling actually to hear them spoken, so I don’t take them for granted.”

Garber is married with two children and is a triathlete. He grew up in Hampstead and did his undergraduate degree at McGill in industrial relations. He studied law at the University of Ottawa and then joined the law firm of Lazarus, Charbonneau, where he worked with long-time family friend Morden (Cookie) Lazarus.

With Lazarus, he developed a booming gambling law practice, advising suppliers of gambling equipment to Loto-Quebec as well as large US casino operators. Over the years, he has also advised US government agencies about online gambling issues, including money laundering.

In 1999, he joined Montreal’s SureFire Commerce Inc., a publicly listed payment-processing company whose clients included every major licensed online gambling site in the world. Garber became president of Surefire in 2002 and, in 2004, merged the company, renamed as Terra Payments Inc., with Montreal’s Optimal Group. There, he continued to head the payment processing operation, known as Optimal Payments, Inc. Last April, he oversaw the spinoff of FireOne on to the London Stock Exchange – with Ben Dalfen, who replaced him as chief executive of FireOne. That business does payment processing for 300 online gambling operators around the world, including PartyGaming.

“He has the knowledge of the industry, the contacts and the success story in terms of his past experience within the gaming industry that a company of (PartyGaming’s) stature needs.” Lazarus said. “You need a guy who’s a builder, and Mitch is a builder.”

In the 1990s, Garber found time to combine two passions when he wrote a freelance column for The Gazette on sports on the Internet. He also hosted a sports talk show on community access TV with Mitch Melnick and hosted his own sports talk radio show on what was then known as CIQC.

Melnick, who hosts an afternoon show on Team 990, still marvels at Garber’s energy, talent, and drive.

“He’s just very smart but also has a level of street smarts that a lot of people as successful as he is don’t necessarily have,” Melnick said. “He’s a hustler and he’s got a ton of energy… and the ability to relate to all kinds of people.”

- By Don MacDonald | dmacdonald@thegazzette.canwest.com

© The Gazette (Montreal) 2006