The 2012 BLUFF Power 20: Poker’s Most Influential People

BLUFF Staff | March 1, 2012

The last year has seen the poker industry undergo a massive shift. When the United States government stepped in and shut down the three largest poker sites it sent shockwaves through the poker world, the effects of which are still being felt today. The Power 20, BLUFF’s annual list of the most powerful and influential people wasn’t left untouched by the events of April 15, 2011 and this year’s Power 20 list shows the massive changes the industry has undergone and possibly provides a hint of a brighter future. 

This year BLUFF canvassed 51 poker industry insiders ranging from online operators, casino executives, media, players, agents and other influencers. Voters were asked to consider individuals whose influence on the industry and the game is mostly positive. The panel included the largest number of non-North American voters in the seven year history of the Power 20. Still, the votes cast strongly reflected the transition that the industry is seeing in North America.

#20 – Virginia Seitz
Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel

The first of 11 newcomers on this year’s list, Virginia Seitz might have given the poker industry an incredible Christmas gift on December 23. That was the day the United States Department of Justice released an update legal opinion on Wire Act, 18U.S.C. § 1084. Opponents of online gaming in the United States, in particular the DOJ, had long used the 50-year-old law to say that online gaming was illegal. Seitz changed that forever.

#19 – Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta
Fertitta Interactive

If the names of these two brothers are familiar than you’re probably a fan of the UFC. The Fertitta’s are most famous for owning the UFC but they’ve been in the gaming business since they were in diapers. Their father, Frank Fertitta Jr., founded Station Casinos Inc. back in 1976 and the Frank and Lorenzo have worked in the family business since the mid-80s. Now they’re taking steps to ensure when online poker is regulated they’re in position to be a big player.

#18 – Annie Duke
Commissioner, Epic Poker League

It might be a bit of a shock to learn that this is Annie Duke’s first time on the Power 20 but it was just over one year ago that Duke put her pro poker career aside to assume the role of commissioner of the newly founded Epic Poker League. Since then Duke has taken her media smarts to earn the fledgling poker league mainstream media coverage and been responsible for a player-friendly atmosphere.

(Editor’s Note: Voting for the 2012 Power 20 was conducted in late January, early February 2012 – prior to Epic Poker League’s parent company, Federated Sports + Gaming declaring bankruptcy)

#17 – Sen. Jon Kyl
United States Senator (R-Arizona)
Senate Minority Whip

Flashback to as recently as 2010 and you’ll see Sen. Jon Kyl described as “anti-gaming” largely due to his role in seeing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act pushed into law in 2006. The Senator however has changed his tune as of late and is now considered by some to be the key to getting federal online poker legislation passed in 2012.

#16 – Rep. Joe Barton
United States Congressman (Texas)

Last June Rep. Joe Barton walked into the World Series of Poker and was given the “Shuffle Up and Deal” honors. That same day Barton introduced a bill that would give each state the opportunity to opt-in or out of allowing online poker to be available to their citizens.

#15 – Matt Savage
Executive Tour Director, World Poker Tour
Tournament Director, Epic Poker League

Matt Savage is a very busy man and in 2011 he was even busier than usual. Already serving as the Executive Tour Director for the World Poker Tour and Tournament Director for TD for the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles, CA and Bay 101 in San Jose, CA, Savage added the Epic Poker League and Partouche Poker Tour to his already busy schedule.

#14 – Brian Balsbaugh
Founder, Poker Royalty

When nobody believed that poker players needed agents Brian Balsbaugh left his job as a golf agent to found Poker Royalty, the first agency dedicated to representing poker players. That was 2003 and since then Balsbaugh has seen competitors come and go but Balsbaugh and his company have stayed strong – even following April 15, 2011.

#13 – Bernard Tapie
Groupe Bernard Tapie

Bernard Tapie has been attempting to broker a deal that would make him the new owner of Full Tilt Poker, see non-U.S. players able to play on the site again and get American players their money back. GBT’s negotiations with the DOJ seem to have gone well enough but clouding things is the former shareholders of Full Tilt Poker, some of whom allegedly owe millions of dollars to the company and Tapie isn’t ready or willing to let those debts slide.

#12 – Dominik Kofert
CEO, PokerStrategy.com

Another first-timer on this list, Dominik Kofert is the man behind the affiliate-driven PokerStrategy.com. In 2011 the site became one of the leaders in not only poker strategy articles and videos but poker news and continues to be the world’s most popular poker content site – even more popular than PokerNews.com.

#11 – Tony G
Owner, PokerNews.com

Casual poker fans know Tony G as the poker pro who turned himself into a bit of a lovable villain on poker TV shows like The Big Game, but the industry knows a very different person; Tony Guoga. The man behind PokerNews.com and its monster affiliate revenues, Guoga knows his site, which is available in multiple languages, is capable of driving a lot of traffic to any advertiser.

#10 – Mark Pincus
CEO & Co-founder, Zynga

Thirteen months ago Zynga CEO Mark Pincus was telling anybody that would listen that his company had no intentions to ever abandon their social media gaming business model to offer real money gaming for any of their titles including Zynga Poker. Fast forward to early 2012 and there are suddenly rumblings that Zynga would be willing to at least entertain the idea of turning the real money tap on.

#9 – Daniel Negreanu

Traditionally the Power 20 has included numerous pro poker players. In 2011 and 2010 there were five of them on the list each time. In 2012 there’s only one: Daniel Negreanu. Being the only one standing is a testament to just how much Negreanu continues to resonate with poker fans and players alike.

#8 – Mark Lipparelli
Chairman, Nevada State Gaming Control Board

Mark Lipparelli wasn’t on anybody’s radar in 2011 – he didn’t get a single Power 20 vote last year – but when the Nevada Gaming Commission drew up regulations for intrastate online poker in late 2011 it things changed significantly. For those wanting to offer online poker in the state of Nevada, like the Fertitta Brothers (#19) or Caesars Interactive or MGM they’re going to need a license and therefore the approval of Lipparelli.

#7 – Gary Loveman
CEO and President, Caesars Entertainment Corporation

Arguably the biggest brand name in poker is the World Series of Poker. That brand, that entity, is owned by Caesars and that, combined with partnerships already in place with online operators, is set to make the WSOP brand even bigger and make Caesars even more money.

#6 – Ty Stewart
Executive Director, World Series of Poker
Vice President, Caesars Interactive Entertainment

Black Friday was supposed to kill the WSOP. Attendance was supposed to drop and some pundits were predicting less than 2,000 players in the Main Event. None of that came true as poker’s most prestigious series of tournaments saw growth in 2011 and the Main Event, which usually saw upwards of 50% of its players comes from online satellites, posted the second biggest turnout of the last five years.

#5 – Preet Bharara
U.S. Attorney, Southern District of New York

The inclusion of Preet Bharara might be the most controversial on the list this year. Voters were asked to include people whose influence on the game or industry were mostly positive. Considering that Bharara is the person leading the DOJ shutdown of online poker in the U.S. it’s hard to believe he got votes, let alone enough to make him #5 overall.

#4 – Mitch Garber
CEO, Caesars Interactive Entertainment

Mitch Garber is a patient man. As the head of one of the world’s largest gaming companies digital platforms he’s been waiting for the opportunity to turn WSOP.com into an online poker site that can take advantage of the market where the brand has the most penetration: the U.S.

#3 – Sen. Harry Reid
United States Senator (D-NV)
Senate Majority Leader

Backed by Nevada gaming companies Harry Reid has been hustling since November 2010, when he was re-elected, to get federal legislation passed to regulate online poker. His first attempt, in December 2010, failed but given the public’s appetite for regulation and the financial support of almost every casino executive in Las Vegas it’s no surprise that Reid is again pushing to make things happen.

#2 – Jim Ryan
Co-CEO, bwin.Party

As co-CEO, along with Norbert Teufelberger, of the company behind one of the largest online poker rooms, PartyPoker.com, Jim Ryan already has his hands full. That hasn’t stopped him from working to get the Party brand, which owns the World Poker Tour, back in the United States.

#1 Isai Scheinberg (photo)
Founder, PokerStars

This time last year Isai Scheinberg was #2 on the Power 20 behind Howard Lederer. In 2010 he was #1. The founder of PokerStars.com, the world’s leading online poker site, is back in top spot this year despite the fact that he’s been indicted by the DOJ and is unable to open his business to American players.

To read the complete 2012 BLUFF Power 20 article pick up the March issue of BLUFF Magazine. Available on newsstands and in your local casino this week.

Leave a Reply