Former PartyGaming Chief to Head Harrah's Online Spinoff?

14 April 2009
Mitchell A. Garber, former chief executive of PartyGaming, will reportedly join Harrah's Entertainment Inc. as head of its new online operation after Lucky Me, the casino giant's ill-fated Internet endeavor in the United Kingdom, flopped in 2004.

News of Mr. Garber's appointment was first reported by The Sunday Times of London. Harrah's has yet to release a statement, and a company spokeswoman did not return a phone call by press time Tuesday.

Mr. Garber, who hails from Canada, succeeded Richard Segal as chief of PartyGaming in April 2006 but left that post in May 2008 to return to North America for family reasons.

It is not known whether Mr. Garber, like PartyGaming and, separately, one of its founders, settled with the United States Department of Justice. For a brief time under his watch -- between April 2006 and October 2006 -- PartyGaming offered online casino and poker services to American residents.

Before joining the Gibraltar operator, Mr. Garber served as executive chairman of FireOne Group, a London-listed money-transfer company for the online gambling industry, and, at the same time, as executive vice president of Optimal Group Inc., FireOne's then majority shareholder.

Optimal Group -- which later acquired FireOne -- has remained in discussions with the Justice Department since March 2007 over FireOne's role in processing online-gambling-related payments, in America, before October 2006, when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act took effect.

On Optimal Group's 2008 annual results, released last month, the company said it "is not in a position to determine when these discussions will conclude, nor the likely outcome of these discussions."

Harrah's reported move to appoint Mr. Garber, meanwhile, signals the company's interest in resuscitating its Internet gambling business, though that business's ambitions -- specifically, its target markets -- remain unclear.

A launch in Europe would come as little surprise. Since November 2007, the company has openly declared an Interest in taking its popular World Series of Poker brand online there.

And with regard to the United States, Gary W. Loveman, the company's chief executive, has been bullish on the prospect of federally regulated Internet poker.

"I think we have a reasonable shot at poker online in the relatively near future in the United States," Mr. Loveman told IGamingNews last May. "On the other hand, I believe we have a relatively poor shot at anything else."

In Washington, D.C., Harrah's has for many years lobbied Internet gambling.

According to the company's most recent government filings, it spent $50,000 with US Strategies Corporation, a government relations firm in Alexandria, Va.

An undisclosed portion of that sum was used to support several Internet-gambling-related bills, including Barney Frank's Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act of 2007.

Chris Krafcik is the editor of IGamingNews. He lives in St. Louis, Mo.