Harrah’s to reap online rewards?

Jun 2, 2009 5:03 PM
Gaming Insider by Phil Hevener |

Poker may just be tip of iceberg

We may arrive at a time when Harrah’s Entertainment will be remembered as a multibillion-dollar Internet poker colossus that also operates hotels and casinos.

Don’t laugh … this shifting of emphasis could occur. The first steps in that direction are already a matter of record although few people outside the upper levels of the company have been paying close attention.

But the early days of another World Series of Poker that will probably set yet another batch of records before we reach the main event in mid-July seems like a good time for a glimpse of what might occur as the world of gaming and entertainment continues to evolve.

Don’t expect American-based analysts and news media outlets to pay close attention until legislation that limits the ability of Americans to enjoy Internet poker is repealed. This may take a year or two or three but momentum in this direction is picking up speed.

And in the meantime, as the big thinkers at Harrah’s know, there is a lot of Internet poker in the rest of the world. The roster of World Series attendees from Europe, Asia and South America offers all the proof anyone needs of that.

Harrah’s executives and their lawyers have spent months researching the legal situation around the world and now appear confident that they can move ahead with plans for a European-based subsidiary carrying the World Series of Poker brand.

The company’s recent hiring of former PartyGamng CEO Mitch Garber seemed to signal an intention to increase the pace of the planning. Garber joined the company months ago although it was only within the last few weeks that the press release announcing his arrival was distributed.

The mainstream news media sometimes needs to be pointed toward a story with big, lighted signs and arrows.

In the meantime, Harrah’s will be closely monitoring the progress of U.S. efforts to create legislation that will re-ignite the fire under Internet poker among Americans.

How big could the Internet thing become?

I remember a conversation with former MGM Chairman CEO Terry Lanni during the early years of this decade when he pointed out that the capitalization of the biggest publicly traded Internet companies exceeded that of MGM.

Stock prices and the blaze of interest in these companies subsided as U.S. lawmakers moved to restrict Internet gaming. But well-connected sources familiar with thinking at the highest level of Harrah’s think the profits and stock prices associated with those good old days could be part of the company’s future.

So much hinges on the progress of U.S. legislative efforts but the potential revenue streams in countries that are already friendly to Internet poker is sufficient to keep the Harrah’s efforts moving forward.

The World Series of Poker subsidiary could be the first element of the new and improved Harrah’s to go public again.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Phil Hevener