After weeks of speculation surrounding the rumored hiring of former PartyPoker CEO Mitch Garber, casino conglomerate Harrah’s Entertainment has finally confirmed what insiders and members of the media have been suspecting since early April when the London Times first reported on the potential new business partnership.
On Friday Harrah’s officially announced Garber’s hiring and offered some more details about his new position and the company’s plans to expand their World Series of Poker (WSOP) brand online. Garber’s new official title is Chief Executive Officer of Harrah’s Interactive Entertainment (HIE). The subsidiary of Harrah’s will focus on expanding the companies existing brands, including the WSOP, both online and overseas. Jeffrey Pollack, the current Commissioner of the WSOP, will take on the duties of President of HIE in addition to his current role with the World Series.
In a statement announcing the new venture Harrah’s Entertainment Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Gary Loveman explained the rationale behind the development of HIE.  “Harrah’s is taking a proactive approach toward international and interactive expansion”, Loveman said. “It is important we position ourselves to explore new markets as well as new technologies with our best in class brands.”
What one of these proactive steps may be is the creation of WSOP-branded online poker rooms in European countries where internet gambling is legal and regulated. The United Kingdom, which already plays host to the World Series of Poker Europe, appears to be the most likely place to begin this brand expansion. According to the press release from Harrah’s, the Total Rewards program (the company’s customer loyalty program) would also play a role in the new European sites.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal is also reporting Harrah’s has tentative plans to launch a free play WSOP poker site in the United States that may also offer players a chance to earn Total Rewards points that could be used in their brick and mortar casinos. Within the same article Loveman offered his thoughts about the future of online poker in the US, expressing optimism at the possibility of legalized and regulated online poker in the States as opposed to other popular casino games rooted more in chance rather than skill.
Harrah’s has recently spent several hundred thousand dollars lobbying for pro-online poker legislation in the States, including the newly announced Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass) which aims to establish a system to license and regulate online casinos in the United States. Poker News Daily reported that as of May 25th the bill had a total of 23 co-sponsors. Should the legislation be passed into law, the free play site will likely help Harrah’s make a smooth transition into the real money online poker market in the US.
While none of these plans have been made official as of yet, the appointment of former PartyPoker CEO and gaming lawyer Garber indicates that Harrah’s is serious about taking their brand into the virtual realm. With the 2009 WSOP only days away, it won’t be too long before we find out exactly what Harrah’s has in store for Garber, the WSOP and its new HIE venture.

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