January 18, 2012
Special Note: This article updates the author’s breaking news and follow-up story about PokerStars CEO Gabi Campos’ departure plans, taking into account relevant communications–not marked confidential–between Poker Stars and the reporter.
The Parade of Unsung Departures
In a personal email to this reporter one day after publication of the breaking news, PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg confirmed “Gabi’s (Campos) departure.” Hours after Poker Player Newspaper broke the story, Poker Stars gave an exclusive statement to Poker News, attributed to “top officials” of the Company :
“Poker Stars announced today that Gabi Campos has decided to step down from his position as Chief Executive Officer, effective February 1, 2012, to pursue other opportunities. The company thanks Gabi for his hard work and commitment and wishes him the best in all his future endeavors. A search for Gabi’s replacement is under way.”
PokerStars’ Public Relations Strategy
Now that the cat is officially out of the bag, it is worth noting that Poker Stars was provided more than a reasonable opportunity to get out in front on this story. The Company was provided substantial notice prior to publication of the breaking news by PPN; initially by a call, then by a bullet point outline of the subject matter with invitation to discuss/comment and— one more time, with a draft copy for last-minute fact checking, comments, or any quotes it might wish to present. Poker Stars remained silent until after the PPN report of January 17th.
Gabi Campos in Transit
Last Friday, Poker Stars apparently presumed that the impending separation could be kept under wraps until the Company would decide otherwise. Gabi Campos, as he is known throughout the Poker Stars family, was keeping himself scarce; his whereabouts were unclear. Mr. Campos—an enigmatic figure with an eclectic personal and professional resume—had crossed the Rubicon to ‘splitsville’ with his bosses— before last Friday. And the buzz of Campos’ anticipated departure which emanated from the Isle of Man offices of Poker Stars was a function of more than three people in the know! The buzz quickly became loud and clear.
Campos bears a family name that might be Polish and a surname popular in Portuguese speaking countries. He talks happily about his Argentine connections and speaks fluent Spanish. His LinkedIn account indicates strong ties in Israel, and at one point in his career he worked for a telecommunications company in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. He settled into his role in Poker Stars in 2010, a stone’s throw from Isai Scheinberg’s office in the Isle of Man. His next office address is not known.
Management Under Campos
Over the course of his tenure at Poker Stars, Mr. Campos has been known to work long hours, holding conferences and conference calls well into the wee hours of the morning. Colleagues and business partners say he dealt timely with matters he considered crises in the making or immediately consequential. However, from time to time they have also called him disorganized, dismissive, or unresponsive in matters of lesser interest to him.
In the crunch, Mr. Campos was known to assert his acumen and charm and a gutsy determination to get to the finish line of a deal. Although he seemed to treat offline tournament fare as a distraction to his global responsibilities, Campos never hesitated to get into the trenches when the going got tough.
For example, he moved stalled negotiations between Poker Stars and Casino Gran Madrid off the dime and onward to a completed deal in a matter of hours. He graciously offered to revise the contract in Spanish and sealed the deal with Poker Stars business partners for EPT’s Season 7 championship—in the nick of time to assure smooth sailing for the grand finale.
Mr. Campos’ absence at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure earlier this month was shirked off by Poker Stars event management. However, recalling his presence both at the PCA and at the Casino Gran Madrid last year this reporter was puzzled by Campos’ absence at this recent crown jewel event.
During the PCA festival last January, the rarely exuberant Mr. Campos crowed about his plans to model more Poker Stars live events in the image of the PCA – at fun resorts, with increased profitability as much as overall marketing value part of the agenda for these events. It was incongruous that Campos would choose to be a no-show at this venue.
As the early buzz turned to a persistent hum on both sides of the Atlantic, Campos’ rumored exit plans grew legs. Expanded reporting brought more certainty of the story’s validity. Campos’ reign at Poker Stars has lasted less than two years.
Keeping an Eye on the Ball – Not the Flak
Yesterday some poker media took note of Campos’ LinkedIn profile which suggests his current employer is Dragon-fish, the 888 subsidiary where he turned in a sterling performance while employed there prior to joining Poker Stars. Needless to say, his LinkedIn employment profile may simply be dated and should not be read as gospel.
Recap of Earlier Campos Report
The initial report of Campos making a beeline to the exit door was provided Friday, January 13, by a highly reliable insider during the PCA festivities, and corroborated later the same day by an additional proven source; both said the departure was a fait accompli.
The handwriting was on the wall for months, both parties reaffirmed during a fact –checking exercise. Speculation among several generally informed sources is divided as to whose handwriting surfaced first in the exit talks, but shortly after publication of the Poker Player Newspaper story, Poker Stars was reportedly pressed by senior executives for guidance as to what should be said to their minions. The Company turned away from rapt attention on the leaks to face the error of leaving others to announce departure decisions.
Poker Stars PR Issue
Now that Poker Stars has acknowledged Campos’ departure plans are a reality, media and players alike are curious as to the nature of the adios conversations . There has been a parade of recent personnel changes involving four high profile executives – notably, three associated with live event management and the fourth – Campos, who had responsibility to oversee that management. To be clear, there is no evidence of linkage among these parties in the parade except to the extent that they reflect the significant tumult in the management of live events during the past year, and longer.
Thomas Kremser’s Departure
In recent months, Poker Stars live event management has become a fast-paced band playing musical chairs with increasing visibility to live tournament players. First there was Thomas Kremser, EPT’s longtime Tournament Director. He issued a press release noting his decision to leave for greener pastures after deciding to walk away from contract talks for an eighth season. His departure had nothing to do with rumors that were posted on a website affiliated with Poker Stars—and Poker Stars quickly thereafter made clear, publicly, that Kremser left in good standing. Along with the departure of Kremser came an end to a seasoned, professional, and cohesive PS tournament personnel team under the umbrella of Kremser’s company, TK Poker Events. Some dealers and floor persons previously associated with TK Poker Events now work for Poker Stars’ Global Poker Tours Limited, which has taken over the staffing of PS live tournaments since Kremser’s departure. For their part, several dealers are reporting that Poker Stars has reduced tournament personnel costs at their considerable expense.
John Duthie’s Resignation
Moving along in the parade of departures is John Duthie. He was a Poker Stars team pro and founder of the EPT. At the end of 2011, he also parted ways with Poker Stars. A well respected player, Duthie is even better known as the man who created the most prestigious poker tour in Europe.
Before he cut his deal with Poker Stars, Duthie consulted with Thomas Kremser and considered five online companies that were chomping at the bit to jump on the Duthie bandwagon. The concept of branding a gaming company with televised live poker events was started by the World Poker Tour in the US and refined by Duthie for European consumption. Broad distribution agreements for the televised coverage has given Poker Stars massive exposure to new customers and opportunities to enter new countries.
Duthie resigned last month. Poker Stars treated his decision as a non-event–sans grand public thank you. Mr. Duthie insured that news of his resignation would spread like wildfire. Shortly after notifying the company, he posted on a popular poker forum his decision not to renew his contract.
Two weeks later PokerStars stepped up with a press release announcing that Duthie and Poker Stars had “parted ways” and offered up a solid thank you.
Jeffrey Haas’ Transfer
During the PCA there was proof of yet another seismic shift in the management of live tournament fare. Jeffrey Haas, the managing director of Global Poker Tours Limited since its beginnings, welcomed the huge crowd of players who knew nothing of his status change. Mr. Haas’ welcome message in the PCA magazine ended with his name and the GPTL company name, but without any title associated with him.
According to two members of the Poker Stars personnel team at the PCA, Haas enjoyed a last hurrah at the PCA as part of GPTL. They noted that Campos had revised Haas’ responsibilities months earlier by taking him away from GPTL to concentrate on developing social media initiatives in a job that the company has called “new and important.”
Campos Departure Caps a Parade
As for Gabi Campos, his reign at Poker Stars is virtually over, whilst the proverbial fat lady is singing her song. But Isai Scheinberg and Gabi Campos, the almost X-CEO, have yet to complete their final dance.
PokerStars Remains Stand Out Success
While Gabi Campos fades in the PokerStars sky, the Company has its eye out for a replacement and pushes ahead as the largest online poker room in the world.
In the next edition of Poker Player Newspaper, look for a story that expands on the informative history provided in the polished PCA Magazine, that was provided to PokerStars customers at the recent PCA event.