On Sunday, the London Times sent shockwaves through the land based casino industry as well as the internet gaming world with a small article regarding the recent actions of one of the largest casino operations in the world and a former online gaming CEO.

It was announced in the Sunday Times Online that Harrah’s Entertainment – responsible for much of the casino action in not only Las Vegas but the United States as a whole and the owner of the World Series of Poker – and former PartyGaming PLC CEO Mitch Garber have entered into an agreement for Garber to join the organization. What isn’t known is what capacity Garber will have within Harrah’s or what effects it will have on the World Series itself.

Garber, who resigned as the CEO of PartyGaming in early 2008, is thought to be taking a leading role in a reorganization of Harrah’s online operations into a stand alone company that will also encompass the WSOP. After several recent developments in the online gaming world, it is believed that Harrah’s is envisioning that the legalization and regulation in the United States will happen soon and wants a qualified leader to be able to run the resulting operation. With Garber, Harrah’s has landed such a leader.

Garber led PartyGaming through much of its tumultuous last few years after the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) and the resulting move of PartyGaming to pull out of the American market. While with PartyGaming he focused on international expansion through product diversification and a series of mergers and acquisitions. These efforts helped PartyGaming to absorb the losses of the American market with little effect on PartyGaming’s bottom line.

There are different theories as to if, and/or when the legislative mood regarding online gaming in the United States will be changing. In a recent interview with The Hill, Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, the chairman of the powerful House Financial Services Committee, stated that he plans to introduce internet gambling legislation after the Easter recess. The Hill noted that the week of April 20th is a likely time frame for the bill’s introduction and that it would create a complete licensing and regulatory framework for the internet gambling industry.

This line of thought is tempered by the current economic and political climate in the United States, though. With the ongoing financial crisis affecting not only the U. S. economy but the situations of most nations worldwide, many believe that the legalization and regulation of online poker and gaming is far down the list of priorities of the U. S. Congress and the Obama Administration. Although the taxation dollars from the online gaming industry – which garners an estimated $12 billion yearly – would be helpful to the American government, other more lucrative financial moves are expected to be implemented first.

Gary Loveman, CEO of Harrah’s Entertainment, has said online poker’s legalization is a strong possibility in the United States and recent activities regarding online poker operators have demonstrated that the winds may be changing. In December, former PartyGaming founder Anurag Dikshit pled guilty to violations of the 1961 Wire Act and paid a $300 million fine. Just last week, Garber’s former company PartyGaming also settled their grievances with the U. S. Department of Justice, agreeing to a non-prosecution arrangement and payment of a $105 million fine over the next three years.

With the hiring of Garber to run the online operations of a newly created branch of Harrah’s and – if online poker is a part of that operation – the WSOP, it does appear that Harrah’s is preparing for the day when online poker and gaming will be legal in the United States. Whenever that day may be.

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