New Harrahs Internet Operations Led by Former PartyGaming Exec

Harrah’s Entertainment recently leaked details of some changes that raised more than a few eyebrows, though on the surface it seems like a relatively simple business decision. The massive entertainment company has formed a subsidiary company to concentrate on internet operations for Harrah’s, and more specifically, the World Series of Poker. And Harrah’s chose Mitch Garber, former chief executive of PartyGaming, to head up the company.

While there is nothing odd about a company like Harrah’s expanding to the internet in a way that focuses more resources on it, it is curious that someone deeply familiar with the online gaming industry has been picked to oversee it. Gerber’s experience with PartyGaming, a company that supported sites like PartyPoker and PartyCasino, came after its post-UIGEA withdrawal from the U.S. market and would make him the ideal person to be solidly in place if Harrah’s ever chose to institute its own online gaming website. Currently, that option is available in the global market should Harrah’s opt to pursue it.

Even more interesting is that the disclosure of Gerber’s new job with Harrah’s came only a week after PartyGaming announced its settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The plea agreement consisted of an admission of guilt on the part of PartyGaming to providing illegal online gaming services to U.S. customers, as well as a $105 million fine, all of which may have cleared the company name (and those associated therein) with the U.S. government. And it has been no secret that Harrah’s has investigated the possibility of launching an online gaming site in places like the Caribbean and countries within the European Union. The company’s own CEO and Chairman Gary Loveman even contended in November of 2007 that online poker would be legalized in the United States in 2009.

The timing of Gerber’s hire is ideal, in fact, for several reasons. Most notably, U.S. Congressman Barney Frank has made no secret of his intention to repeal the UIGEA and introduce his own legislation to authorize and regulate online gaming in the United States, and he announced recently that the bill will be introduced this month. Though there will need to be committee hearings and much debate on the subject, some are predicting that passage of the bill could happen as early as the fall of 2009. In addition, the World Series of Poker is preparing to kick off its 40th year of tournaments in less than two months and the WSOP Europe will head into its third year of events in September. And if the Rep. Frank and the forces behind the Poker Players Alliance have their way, legislation to legalize online poker is closer than ever before for U.S. players.

What is certain is that the poker media will have its eyes and ears open for the time that Gerber decides to announce some plans for the Harrah’s internet division going forward.

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