Friday, 29 March 2013

Time, once again, for the endlessly-debated, always controversial annual Bluff Power 20, in which we ask people from across the global poker industry to vote for the most influential people in the game. We polled a group of 60 people, including players, journalists, operators to come up with the real movers and the shakers in poker.

Mark and Isai Scheinberg — Founders, PokerStars/The Rational Group

It’s been an extraordinary year for PokerStars. At the beginning of the year, in accordance with their settlement with the Department of Justice, chief technology officer and head of poker, Isai Scheinberg was forced to resign, leaving Mark, CEO of the company since early 2012, as top dog.

In July PokerStars acquired Full Tilt Poker, agreeing to repay all players outside of the United States who saw their funds frozen in the wake of Black Friday. Full Tilt relaunched in November and The Rational Group now operated the largest and the second largest real-money online poker rooms in the world.

But they weren’t done yet. In December, news broke that the Rational Group was in talks with an Atlantic City Casino to acquire the property and a New Jersey Gambling license. At statement of intent that PokerStars will reenter the US market should expected online poker regulations be passed in New Jersey as anticipated.

Isai’s resignation could have been a setback for the company, but they dusted themselves off and went into overdrive. Expect PokerStars to just keep on growing.


Mitch Garber — CEO, Caesars Interactive Entertainment

As CEO of Caesars Interactive Entertainment, it’s Mitch Garber’s job to oversee the online gaming branch of the brand and pave the way for regulation in the US when the market opens up. Because of the strength of the WSOP brand, many in the industry see Caesars as natural market leaders when that happens.

Garber was CEO of Party Gaming when the UGIEA was passed and took the decision prescient decision to pull out of the US; instead choosing to strengthen the brand in Europe and take it to new, emerging markets across the globe.

Garber was also, with Guy Laliberte, responsible for the Big One for One Drop tournament at this year’s WSOP, the richest poker tournament ever staged, which raised millions for Laliberte’s One Drop charity. One Drop seeks to promote healthy drinking water in the Third World.

Norbert Teufelberger — CEO, Bwin.Party

Norbert Teufelberger became top dog at Bwin.Party following the resignation of Jim Ryan, with whom he had shared CEO spot since Teufelberger’s Bwin and Ryan’s PartyGaming merged in 2011. Now, as Teufelberger eyes up the US market, Party looks to be in an enviable position, with the World Poker Tour as an acquisition tool and strong relationships with Zynga and MGM.

His first few months in charge did not pass without incident, however; he was arrested by Belgian authorities when visiting Brussels for a gaming conference on the charge of operating inside the country without a license. A month later a deal was struck with Belcasinos and the problem was solved.

Teufelberger’s inclusion so high up the list is a testament to the tireless work that Party has done to strengthen the brand since pulling out of the US market back in 2006.


Harry Reid — Senator (D-Nevada)

Nevada Democratic senator Harry Reid has been championing the cause of federal online poker regulation for many years now. He came close to pushing a bill through Congress in 2010 and 2012 but ultimately couldn’t quite muster up enough support. Reid’s term isn’t up till 2007 and he vows to continue to fight for online poker regulation on a federal level. We wish him luck.


Ty Stewart — Executive Director, WSOP/Senior Vice President, Caesars Interactive Entertainment

As executive director of the WSOP, it’s Ty Stewart’s job to ensure that the gargantuan poker festival runs smoothly – a mammoth logistical undertaking – and his approachability and willingness to listen to poker players’ concerns has made him a popular figure. Stewart has been tireless in expanding the global reach of the WSOP, attracting mainstream corporate sponsorship from the likes of Electronic Arts, Microsoft Red Bull, Mountain Dew and MillerCoors. He’s also been instrumental in developing the new WSOP Asia-Pacific and successfully revamping the WSOP Circuit in the US.


Daniel Negreanu — Professional Poker Player

Daniel Negreanu is the highest-ranking player in the Power 20 for the second year running; in fact, he’s been somewhere on the list since we started it in 2008 – a testament to his ability to make himself relevant when many of so his generation have faded. Negreanu is a walking, talking brand; always media savvy, he was quick to adopt social media as a means to getting his voice heard, and his forthright, sometimes controversial blog has the poker world hanging off his every word. He resigned to PokerStars in 2012, and they respect his opinion so highly that they frequently consult him on product and marketing initiatives.

Gary Loveman — President & CEO, Caesars Entertainment Corporation

Under Gary Loveman’s stewardship Harrahs has grown into the world’s largest gaming corporation and the company will no doubt be a huge player should the US decide to regulate online poker. As President and CEO of Caesars Entertainment, Loveman will have the WSOP brand on to leverage which will give him a huge head start over the competition and allow him to dictate how is competitors will operate. And Loveman chomping at the bit – recently he stated that analysts underestimate just how big the US market will be. Come regulation, it will be his ambition to dominate that market.

Mark Pincus — Founder and CEO, Zynga

It’s long been clear to the poker industry that Zynga’s Mark Pincus is sitting on a potential goldmine. Zynga, Facebook’s play-money poker offering, has 56 million registered users. Should Zynga move into real-money gaming, it would only take a small percentage of this pool to convert from play-money to ignite a new poker boom. Pincus repeatedly stressed that Zynga was only interested in social gaming and mobile platforms – right up until December when Zynga applied for a Nevada digital gaming license and lunched a partnership with Bwin.Party for poker, sports betting and bingo platforms, a move that saw shares in Zynga climb. Zynga, with its gargantuan player-base has the potential to be bigger than PokerStars. The poker world watches and waits.


Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta — Co-Founders, Fertitta Interactive

In October 2012 Fertitta Interactive LLC was one of three companies to receive an online poker license from the Nevada Gaming Board and many speculate that Fertitta will be first to offer real-money internet poker in the state of Nevada. The company, which was founded by Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, who not only own Station Casinos, but also the hugely popular Ultimate Fighting Championship, recently launched The site is currently a social media poker platform but it’s clear that they will be ready and willing to launch real-money poker as soon as the opportunity arises. With their land-based casino, not to mention the UFC as an enviable marketing partner, Fertitta has the opportunity to be an industry big hitter.

AG Burnett — Chairman, Nevada Gaming Control Board

Burnett took over the reins of the Nevada Gaming Control Board in September 2012. Over the last year the board has made strides towards regulating online poker within its borders and over the coming months more hopeful potential operators will find themselves pleading their case in front of Burnett. Burnett has had previous experience working in other regulated jurisdictions, notably Macau, and since joining the Nevada board in 2011 has had a hands-on roll in preparing Nevada for regulation.


Raymond Lezniak — Senator, New Jersey

Senator Lezniak has been leading the push for regulation in New Jersey and was the lead sponsor of bill A-2578, which permits land-based casinos to offer intrastate online gaming and poker. The bill arrived on the governor’s desk having been voted through the Assembly with a 48-25 majority, and, pending a few revisions, is expected to be signed into law imminently. Without Lezniak’s hard work, PokerStars would not be currently looking at launching online poker in New Jersey.



Chris Christie — Governor, New Jersey

While Senator Lezniak did all the work campaigning for online poker in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie is the man who signs on the dotted line, making it law. In February, he almost did it. In fact, he vetoed the bill, but promised he would sign it into law if the legislature made some revisions that would ease his fears about problem gambling and increase revenue for the state. With these modifications underway, it’s a toss-up between Nevada and New Jersey as to who gets there first.

Tony G — Owner,

Tony G’s theatrically brash, crazy persona is just for the poker table. Off the felt he’s a courteous and shrewd businessman and, as the owner of, is head of a media giant and one of the most heavily-trafficked poker sites in the world. Every big tournament, from the WSOP to the EPT to the Latin American Poker Tour, relies on live updates from Tony’s extensive team of bloggers. PokerNews is also one of the biggest affiliate marketers in the industry, converting its huge stream of traffic into sign-ups with its online poker affiliates.

Brian Balsbaugh — Founder, PokerRoyalty

Balsbaugh may not be a name that’s known to poker fans across the world, but, along with Daniel Negreanu, he’s made the list every since its inception eight years ago. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that Negreanu is also his client. As founder over Poker Royalty, ten years ago, Balsbaugh was the first ever “poker agent” and has been at the forefront of player representation since the start of the poker boom. As well as Negreanu, his client-base includes Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson and Antonio Esfandiari.

Dominik Kofert — CEO, is the biggest affiliate marketer in the poker industry. Launched in 2007, the site uses free tuition as a medium to drive traffic to online poker sites. We got a glimpse into the success of the business model when Kofert successfully sued the previous owners of Full Tilt for $1.2 million. During the court case it was revealed the site was sending Full Tilt an extraordinary 30,000 players each month.


PokerStrategy has since launched a news and editorial wing to compliment its strategy offering. More recently, Kofert launched, a site that advised people on how to trade on financial markets using the same business model as

Edgar Stuchly — President, European Poker Tour

While PokerStars operates a series of global live tournaments, none has matched the success of the EPT. The man in charge is Edgar Stuchly, previously with Casinos Austria, where he founded the Casinos Austria Poker Tour. Now in its ninth season the EPT continues to go from strength to strength as Stuchly looks to build the brand further and develop the tour, which now offers players fewer stops in favour of more side events.


Guy Laliberte — Founder, One Drop

Billionaire founder of Cirque Du Soleil became the focus of the poker world in the summer as organiser and creator of The Big One for One Drop the $1 million buy-in tournament that became the most-talked-about event at the WSOP. Laliberte procured a sell-out field of 48 playersraising $5.3 million for charity in the process, while increasing poker’s profile in the mainstream media. He’s also the only poker player (we know of) who has been into space.


Steve Heller — CEO, World Poker Tour

The WPT is still one of the biggest global brands in poker and Steve Heller runs its day-to-day operations. Heller has increased the reach of the brand throughout Europe while building new partners within the US. He has been with the WPT’s parent company Bwin.Party for eight years, and, as Bwin.Party greedily eyes the American market, Heller’s ability to leverage the WPT brand puts him in a unique position.


Matt Savage — Executive Tour Director, World Poker Tour/Tournament Director, Various

In his eight years as a tournament director, Matt Savage has been a poker pioneer. The former WSOP TD now looks after the WPT and is one of the most visible figures in the game. He’s a co-founder of the Tournament Directors Association and has long been a champion of the standardization of the rules of poker. He works tirelessly on Twitter answering questions from the poker community about tournament rulings and protocol and thoroughly deserves his fourth consecutive year on the Power 20.

Antonio Esfandiari — Professional Poker Player

Antonio’s victory in the One Drop put him top of the All-time money list. One of the original poker boomers Antonio had a few lean years in the late noughties and found himself without a sponsor. A new reinvigorated Antonio appeared on the scene in 2012, however – as well as winning $18m in the richest tournament of all time, he cashed seven times at the WSOP. With regulation looming in the US Esfandiari is surely the most marketable player in poker currently without a sponsorship deal.


Tags: Poker Power 20