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MITCH GARBER: MAN ON TOP OF THE WSOP

By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper

The WSOP remains a singular sensation in its 43rd year. Entrepreneurs, lawyers, government agencies, and players at felt tables, wrap themselves around their connections to the poker world, trying to make big news during the course of this six week-long annual event.  Behind the scenes stands Mitch Garber, the CEO of Caesars Interactive Entertainment (CIE), a subsidiary of Caesars Entertainment Corp (Caesars).

Before stepping into Mitch Garber’s world, some special notes are in order:

Caesars Entertainment Corporation (Caesars) was formerly Harrah’s Entertainment (Harrrah’s): from 1995-2010.  In 2010, Harrah’s changed its name to Caesars, which it had acquired in 2005.  In 2009, it also formed a subsidiary that is now Caesars Interactive Entertainment.

In February 2012, Caesars came out of its private shell of the past few years with a small initial public offering that made a big splash.  It followed up with a second offering of $500 million in additional stock.  So, Caesars now operates under the rules of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Author Disclosures:  

My interview with Garber for this story took place on March 30, 2012, but it was not my first encounter with him. I have been familiar with his career through my legal consultancy for more than 20 years, as both a lawyer, and as a businessman.

During the summer of 2008, following Garber’s resignation as CEO of PartyGaming, Eolis International Group was retained by a client to provide a due diligence report concerning Garber. Questions were raised about him, for which we were unable, at that time, to provide useful answers.

Since his arrival at Harrah’s/Caesars, I have gotten to know Garber, and I have learned much more about his years in the E-commerce and I-gaming business. I regret that earlier, I was personally under-informed, both as to his commitment to corporate loyalty, and the soundness of his judgment calls in the role of a senior manager for companies he has served. I should have pushed our client to make a beeline to Garber’s door!

Garber, PartyGaming, and the U.S. Department of Justice

Garber served as CEO of PartyGaming for two years, beginning in 2006 and ending in 2008. He led the decision by the company’s Board of Directors to enter into negotiations with the United States Department of Justice after the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, and becoming aware that the Government was investigating pre-UIGEA activities of public companies in the online gambling space, including Party.

Attorney Behnam Dayanim, a specialist in commercial and online gaming matters, and an expert litigator, has served as counsel to several companies at which Garber has been employed. Dayanim pulled no punches when queried about Garber’s role in what ultimately concluded a non-prosecution agreement for Party with the DOJ.  With respect to prior chatter on the internet, and among some online poker competitors, a material portion of Dayanim’s response follows:

“In the first instance, it was the decision of the PartyGaming board, not of Mitch alone, although Mitch certainly led the way in advocating for it. By the time the NPA was actually executed, Mitch had left the company. The assertion that PartyGaming was somehow trying to gain competitive advantage in negotiating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office is completely baseless.  It makes no sense.  Party had suffered a devastating blow when it voluntarily withdrew from the U.S. market after the enactment of the UIGEA.

Nothing about that agreement harmed Party’s competitors, nor did the agreement somehow spur the USAO to investigate others in the sector.  As a public company, Party could not, and would not, hide from the United States authorities in the way its privately held counterparts did – and, in some cases, continue to do.”

Garber Has a Good Story to tell  

This past February, Garber and I arranged to meet in Las Vegas, just to shoot the breeze. It was a personal get together without an agenda.  In talking about his life, his work, his philanthropic initiatives, his role at CIE, and his growing imprint, I came to realize that the poker world knows little about this powerful Caesars executive who significantly influences their WSOP experience.  I suggested a future in-depth interview for a story to be published during the 2012 WSOP.  After telling me he rarely gives personal interviews, he smiled, and announced he was game, for this one. Garber was so forthcoming and generous with his time, that the interview warrants two stories during the WSOP.

Administrator, Strategist, and Policymaker

Garber is the man at the top of the Caesars Interactive Entertainment subsidiary, with responsibility for growing the fabled WSOP brand in tandem with expansion of the company’s footprint in internet-based and social gaming initiatives. The company is primed for legalized online poker in the United States.

Garber notes, “The key factor in taking the job was the chance to work with Gary Loveman.”  He observes, “Gary has essentially done with interactive gaming what he did with loyalty.  He architected the establishment of a subsidiary that would focus on interactive gaming, hired me, and allowed me to hire a team that were experts in different areas of interactivity.”

He describes his strategic plan: “Our goals are to remain at the forefront of all forms of interactive and digital gaming entertainment, whether real money or casual virtual currency games, across all platforms. We were the first land-based company to establish an interactive company, to partner with online poker software providers, and to enter the mobile and social games space, and we expect to maintain that leadership spirit.”

Garber’s Big Deal!

Garber’s team is split between Las Vegas (WSOP), Montreal (Technology), and Israel (Playtika).  He is especially proud of the Playtika acquisition, noting that Caesars’ application, Slotomania, is among the top apps on both Facebook and the iPhone/iPad.
CIE has also forged a licensing deal with 888 Holdings Plc, and the video game development company, Electronic Arts, is working with CIE as the mobile app game developer for the World Series of Poker.

WSOP Team Cheers Garber’s Leadership  

Since his arrival on the scene, Garber has generally remained out of the limelight of the WSOP, but  according to Ty Stewart, WSOP Executive Director, “Garber’s lack of visibility at events isn’t due to lack of interest.  He’s the first guy to send a text at 2am from half a world away, commenting on event reporting or a player’s twitter feed.”  Stewart adds, “His energy borders on scary. He is going to work longer than you, work out harder than you, and have more fun than anyone else while doing it.” Caesars employees close to him agree with Stewart, who says, “He will challenge you behind closed doors and has high expectations.  But he is fiercely loyal and incredibly generous.”

Garber Predicts Legislation Favorable to Online Poker

Garber is also willing to stick his neck out.  He supports and expresses high hopes for federal online poker legislation, and he has confidence it will come to pass.  For starters, he emphasizes, “The legalization of online poker in the United States remains a key pillar of our strategy.”  He sees on the horizon a reversal of the UIGEA legislative action taken against online poker. Garber claims there is at least as much momentum toward making online poker lawful now as he saw in 2006 toward making it unlawful.  (He insured, as part of his deal with Party, that his employment contract would be subject to renegotiation, in the event of legislation adverse to online gaming in the United States).

Garber suggests that the right people are beginning to see the merit in having a regulated, taxed environment for something that is already being practiced in an unregulated manner. If licensed, regulated and taxed online gaming comes to the United States, knowledgeable observers of the scene suggest that there is no company better positioned to take advantage of it than Caesars.

Personal Background

Born in 1964 in Montreal, Garber attended a private Hebrew school through high school, adding Hebrew to French and English at his fluent command.

He earned an undergraduate degree in Industrial Relations from McGill University, and a law degree from the University of Ottawa in 1989. He says he appreciates his law school experience, but knew early on that he was best cut out for business.

Garber has roots, important connections, and commitments to significant philanthropic causes based in Israel. While he is not religious, he espouses Zionism.

In September, 2009, Global Gaming Business Magazine named him one of the 10 most influential people in the gaming industry. His accomplishments and clout in the industry have grown exponentially since then.

The day after our March 30th interview, Garber revealed he is a poker player, and that he had slipped into New York the day before to play in a 10K buy-in event for the Bill Clinton Foundation.  He acknowledged he “had a good finish.”  One of our mutual friends tipped me off about his modesty, reporting that Garber had placed a very respectable tenth in the competition.

Garber currently lives in Montreal with his wife, Anne-Marie Boucher, a tax attorney, and their two sons.

More Garber News Coming: In our online edition, pokerplayernewspaper.com, learn more about Garber’s management of CIE, and the impact of it in the new hotsy-totsy world of internet-based and social gaming. In the next print edition of Poker Player Newspaper, look for a further report on Garber’s complex relationships in the poker industry; the departure of Jeffrey Pollack from the WSOP, the deal with French casino company Barriere (that relocated WSOP Europe), the unplanned meeting with Isai Scheinberg during a PokerStars tournament, and the trip that clinched the deal for the “One Drop” million dollar buy- in tournament that will take place and be televised at the 2012 World Series of Poker.