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.
Over the next four days BLUFF will release the names of the 2014 Power 20, five each day. Monday we begin with those ranked #16 – #20. This first group includes two people making their first appearance in the Power 20 while the other three names have all seen their positioning on this list fall in the last 12 months.
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.
#20 – Matt Savage
Executive Tour Director, World Poker Tour
2013 Rank: 19
Matt Savage is easily the most visible tournament director in the world. While his colleagues Jack Effel and Neil Johnson are heading up the WSOP and EPT respectively, Savage is the executive tour director of the World Poker Tour, but that’s just a fraction of Savage’s reach. He also serves as the tournament director at Bay 101 in San Jose, California, the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles, California, and Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida. Those events are some of the longest running and most well attended events outside of the World Series of Poker.
Savage also co-founded the Poker Tournament Directors Association in 2001. In the last year, he found himself navigating some controversy after the first card off the deck rule was implemented by the TDA. In the weeks and months that followed Savage made himself readily available to players and media to defend the somewhat controversial rule and the TDA itself.
#19 – Tony Guoga
2013 Rank: 13
As the owner of PokerNews.com, Tony Guoga — you know him better as Tony G. — is responsible for backing the world’s most trafficked poker portal. However, in the last year Guoga has shifted his focus to running for office in his native Lithuania and has let Robbie Davies and Jon Squires, the managing director and CEO at iBus Media, PokerNews’ parent company, handle more of the day-to-day operations.
The last two years in particular have seen the poker media landscape shift dramatically but strong relationships with the WSOP, PokerStars-backed live events and online poker sites around the world have kept PokerNews strong. Guoga’s fall from No. 13 is probably representative of shifts amongst the voters as to how much involvement he has with PokerNews given his other pursuits.
#18 – John Caldwell
Director of Pro and Celebrity Marketing, PokerStars
2013 Rank: NR
If it seems like PokerStars Team Pros are literally everywhere in poker, you can thank John Caldwell for that. As the director of Pro and Celebrity Marketing for the online poker behemoth, Caldwell oversees a stable of players that includes Daniel Negreanu, Chris Moneymaker, Jason Mercier, Jonathan Duhamel and Vanessa Selbst. Picking the right type of player to represent the company — media savvy, presentable and capable of actually playing poker — is part of Caldwell’s job.
Team Pros are just part of his job though. He also oversees the celebrities and athletes the company works with including soccer star Ronaldo and tennis superstars Rafael Nadal. While some observers might think those two athletes represent nothing but a money-losing publicity stunt, the reality is that they’re great at capturing the attention of new poker players, something online operators struggle to perfect.
#17 – Edgar Stuchly
President, European Poker Tour
2013 Rank: 16
Undoubtedly the World Series of Poker is the most respected tournament series in the world but the battle for No. 2 on that list comes down to the World Poker Tour and the European Poker Tour, of which Edgar Stuchly is president. Now in its 10th season, the EPT is a major part of PokerStars’ distribution strategy and players continue to turn to the online poker giant to qualify in hopes of turning a satellite buy-in into millions of dollars and poker fame.
Stuchly joined EPT in 2011 and quickly made a name for himself by working with smaller, regional tours to make EPT stops more than a one or two tournament event. The Season 10 schedule includes eight stops, the same as Season 9, with one event shifting from Berlin to Vienna. The Season 10 schedule, which Stuchly is ultimately responsible for, also includes the controversial San Remo-Monte Carlo double leg which essentially conflicts with the World Poker Tour Championship.
#16 – Geoff Freeman
President and CEO, American Gaming Association
2013 Rank: NR
While the PPA lays claim to the voice of the players in the fight for regulation, the American Gaming Association is the top advocate for commercial gaming interests and Geoff Freeman is their leader. As president and CEO of the AGA Freeman is another one of the top voices fighting for regulation of online poker in the United States and one of the more well-spoken opponents of Sheldon Adelson and his anti-online lobby.
The AGA’s interests are largely with U.S.-based operators (including BLUFF parent Churchill Downs Inc.) and thus they have worked against the inclusion of PokerStars in New Jersey and will most likely do so in California and other battleground states moving forward. Freeman is new to gaming but not to the lobbying movement. Prior to AGA, he worked with American travel and pharmaceutical companies in a lobbying role.
On Tuesday BLUFF will release the next five names, including two more Power 20 debuts.
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