The poker world continues to evolve and develop as regulation becomes the norm not just here in the United States but around the world as well. Even with that constant change, it seems that the most powerful people in the industry haven’t changed much in the past 12 months.
As with every year, BLUFF polled industry insiders – a total of 60 this year – from around the world to gauge who’s really controlling the direction of poker. Included in the group of voters were journalists, online and land-based operators, players as well as members of previous Power 20s. Now in its ninth year, the BLUFF Power 20 has become one of the most anticipated stories of the year.
This is the second group of five names to be released. On Monday BLUFF released the names of those ranked between 16 and 20. During the course of this week BLUFF will release the names of the 2014 Power 20, five each day, Monday thru Thursday. This group includes two Power 20 debuts as well as one of the two names to have appeared on this list each year.
NOTE: Voters were given the following instructions “Vote on who you believe has the most positive impact on poker and rank them from 1 – 20.” The ballots were then compiled by BLUFF staff and run through a scoring system that takes into account total number of votes, average placement and frequency of votes.
#15 – Gary Loveman
Chief Executive Officer and President, Caesars Entertainment
2013 Rank: 7
A big drop from his 2013 Power 20 ranking (No. 7) for Caesars CEO and President Gary Loveman, but, as with the shifting of votes for other U.S-facing online operators, it seems voters gave more credence to those directly involved with day-to-day operations. Yes, Loveman is still the top man at the company that owns the most important American brand in poker, the WSOP, and the online poker site attached to it, WSOP.com but in terms of direct influence on poker itself, Ty Stewart and Mitch Garber are more focused on poker and may have more of an immediate impact.
Still, Loveman carries clout outside of Las Vegas, and as a longstanding executive of one of the world’s most reputable gaming companies, acts as a voice of reason in regulation discussions as Sheldon Adelson plays the role of crazy old neighbor who hates technology. With Caesars properties scattered across the United States, Loveman could be an important cog in the state-by-state regulation process.
#14 – Adam Pliska
President, World Poker Tour
2013 Rank: NR
Taking over the top spot at World Poker Tour from CEO Steve Heller (2013 Power 20 No. 18), Adam Pliska manages one of the longest standing brands in poker. That’s somewhat fitting since Pliska has been with WPT for 12 years, and has managed to survive multiple ownership changes as well as a public offering. Before Heller was shown the door last year Pliska had been serving as his right-hand man.
Not long after taking the reins, Pliska oversaw the creation and launch of Alpha8, the WPT’s new high roller tournament series. That, along with the accompanying broadcast partnership with Fox Sports 1, puts the WPT in millions of American homes each week. That type of exposure has already helped attract headphone maker Monster as an official, non-endemic sponsor in what could be the first of many for WPT under Pliska.
#13 – John Pappas
Executive Director, Poker Players Alliance
2013 Rank: NR
Back on the Power 20 for the first time since 2011, Poker Players Alliance Executive Director John Pappas has had himself a busy year. While the Garden City Group, the company hired to handle Full Tilt Poker remissions payments for U.S. players, has been tight-lipped about a lot of the process, it has been Pappas who has been able to get information out to players while campaigning on behalf of players who may have been initially left out of the process (affiliates, red Full Tilt pros, etc.).
As Sheldon Adelson continues his fight to ban online gaming in the United States, Pappas finds himself afforded a bigger stage and another opportunity to use the PPA pulpit to be one of the voices of reason. Adelson may not realize it but his campaign could actually be helping the PPA cause by rallying the troops a little bit and putting Pappas at the top of the discussion again.
#12 – Brian Balsbaugh
2013 Rank: 14
Joining Daniel Negreanu as the only other person to have appeared on every Power 20 since its inception, Brian Balsbaugh continues to be a force to be reckoned with. As the founding father of the “poker agent” business, Balsbaugh has seen it all since he founded PokerRoyalty just more than 10 years ago. He still represents some of the biggest names in poker: Doyle Brunson, Antonio Esfandiari and, of course, Negreanu.
While player sponsorship dollars aren’t as lucrative as they once were, Balsbaugh continues to find ways for poker players to use their public profile to earn income. Some of his clients are hotly sought after as speakers and guest and conventions and conferences and can earn a pretty penny simply for showing up. He is also greatly positioned to take full advantage of the “new age” of online poker in the United States as more and more sites begin to look for ways to promote their product.
#11 -Tom Breitling
Chairman, Ultimate Gaming
2013 Rank: NR
The last two years have seen Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta on the Power 20, representing Station Casinos and Ultimate Gaming as that company prepared to get into online gaming. Now live in two states, voters shifted their attention to Ultimate Gaming’s Chairman Tom Breitling. When the company announced their real money launch in Nevada, it was Breitling who was front and center for the media blitz that followed and was a champion not only for his fledgling company but for regulated online poker in the United States.
Breitling has great experience in the online business world, having created and sold Travelscape to Expedia for $100 million, and the gaming industry as a one-time owner of the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. He’s smart enough to surround himself with talented, experienced people at Ultimate Gaming. He has Tobin Prior, who previously oversaw international gaming for Kerzner International, as CEO, Chris DeRossi, former CEO of CyberArts, as CTO and Joe Versaci, a former PokerStars marketing executive, as CMO.
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