The BLUFF Power 20 appears in the March issue of BLUFF available for download now in the iTunes Store and Google Play. The full list will be revealed throughout the day Thursday via @bluffmagazine and updates to this story.
Each year BLUFF polls a select group of people from across the poker industry on who they believe are the most influential people in the game today. Over the past eight years, the BLUFF Power 20 has become one of BLUFF’s most highly anticipated and hotly debated stories each year.
This year BLUFF polled a group of 60 people comprised of poker journalists, online and land-based operators, players and members of previous Power 20s in an attempt to accurately gauge who the real movers and shakers are.
Voters were given the following instructions “Vote on who you believe has the most positive impact on poker and rank them from 1 – 20.” The ballots were then compiled by BLUFF staff and run through a scoring system that takes into account total number of votes, average placement and frequency of votes.
#20 – Antonio Esfandiari
Professional Poker Player
Antonio Esfandiari had quite a year in 2012. He won over $18 million in the Big One for One Drop, the biggest poker tournament ever held, and followed it up with another bracelet win in Cannes, narrowly missing out on WSOP Player of the Year. As if that wasn’t enough, Esfandiari was an integral part of the ESPN broadcast of the Main Event as one of the commentators and finished the year by making the final table of the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic for the third consecutive year.
#19 – Matt Savage
Executive Tour Director, World Poker Tour; Tournament Director, Various Tours/Events
Matt Savage’s impact on poker can be felt on an almost daily basis. When he’s not answering questions about tournament rulings on Twitter, he’s the Executive Tour Director for the WPT. He also runs things at the Commerce Casino, establishing the L.A. Poker Classic, which has become one of the largest and innovative tournament series’ in the world. Savage’s biggest contribution might be his role as one of the co-founders of the Tournament Directors Association, which helped standardized rules, structures and protocol around the world.
#18 – Steve Heller
CEO, World Poker Tour
The WPT is one of the most well-established brands in poker, especially in the United States where online poker is virtually non-existent at the moment. As the company’s CEO, Steve Heller has helped the tour adapt and change under these circumstances, with expansion into more and more new markets on a yearly basis. As online poker slowly comes back in the US, WPT’s parent company bwin.party will likely utilize the brand to appeal to players who are familiar with the tour, as it re-enters the fray.
#17 – Guy Laliberte
Founder, One Drop
Guy Laliberte, the founder of Cirque du Soleil and number 464 on Forbes list of richest people in the world, stole the spotlight for a few days during the 2012 WSOP. After announcing the $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop tournament at the 2011 Main Event final table, Laliberte’s idea was executed incredibly well. The 48 player field sold out, with at least a half-dozen other players getting shut out as $5.3 million was raised for charity, poker got its best mainstream press in ages, and the event concluded with an entertaining TV broadcast on ESPN.
#16 – Edgar Stuchly
President, European Poker Tour
While PokerStars has a tour for almost much every region in the world, the European Poker Tour has risen to a status rivaled only by the WSOP and WPT. Edgar Stuchly joined the tour as its president in August 2011 after previously working for Casinos Austria and founding their poker tour. The EPT is in its ninth season, and while the stops were reduced from 13 to eight, each of the stops has more side events and is affiliated with a regional tour that also runs events leading up to the main tour. Stuchly has streamlined the series and made each stop a destination players will want to attend.
#15 – Dominik Kofert
While most of the players in the online poker affiliate business in its heyday tried to use news or live reporting to drive traffic to their site, Dominik Kofert and PokerStrategy.com tried to do things a little bit differently. By using player education as the content to pick up players, Kofert found a successful and lucrative model to drive business. Kofert is now the CEO of PokerStrategy’s parent company, the etruvian group, which is now attempting to use a similar model to PokerStrategy’s by educating people on the world’s financial markets.
#14 – Brian Balsbaugh
Brian Balsbaugh founded PokerRoyalty almost 10 years ago, and Balsbaugh has been the go-to guy in poker player representation ever since. Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson and Antonio Esfandiari are just a few of the players who enlist Balsbaugh’s services. After Black Friday, Balsbaugh began to shift his focus to working with companies hoping to be involved in a regulated US online poker market, which could pay off in a big way for both the agency and the players he represents once legalization begins, no matter what form it takes.
#13 – Tony G
While live streaming is becoming a more common way for fans to keep up with poker action around the world, live updates are the way that almost everybody stays up to date with major tournaments. That’s why Tony G, who owns PokerNews, is on this list, with PokerNews providing official live update coverage from the WSOP, EPT, APPT, LAPT and more. The traffic from those updates and the vast multimedia content they produce allows PokerNews to drive sign-ups at online poker sites and generate a ton of revenue worldwide.
#12 – Chris Christie
New Jersey Governor
Since April 15, 2011, Americans have been looking for a viable way to play online poker. In early February, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appeared to clear the way towards the first signs of life in online poker in the United States in quite some time. While he conditionally vetoed an interstate online gaming bill, Christie said he would sign the bill if minor changes were made by the state legislature. If it is finalized, New Jersey could become the first state to offer legal online poker and start a chain reaction around the country with others not wanting to fall too far behind.
#11 – Raymond Lesniak
New Jersey State Senator
Raymond Lesniak is leading the charge that Governor Christie seems ready to join in New Jersey. The Democratic senator was the lead sponsor of bill A-2578, which would allow New Jersey-licensed casinos to offer intrastate online gaming, including poker. The bill passed with little trouble in the Assembly and Senate, and pending the minor changes requested by Christie, it’s expected to be signed into law sometime in March. This legislation also led PokerStars to purchase the Atlantic Club Casino in an effort to be a part of a new online poker industry in the United States.
#10 – A.G. Burnett
Chairman, Nevada Gaming Control Board
As the gatekeeper in one of the states that hopes to be on the forefront of online poker in the United States, A.G. Burnett has a lot of power and responsibility. The Chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board replaced Mark Lipparelli (who was eighth on this last last year) in September, but Burnett has been on the board since January 2011. Burnett was also the chief of the Corporate Securities Division on the GCB before joining the board, and those experiences along with work he did in Macau made him a logical replacement in the mind of Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval.
#9 – Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta
Co-Founders, Fertitta Interactive
Fertitta Interactive was one of three operators to receive approval for an online poker license from the Nevada Gaming Control Board back in October, and many industry observers believe it will be the first to offer real money online poker in Nevada. Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, the co-founders of Fertitta Interactive and owners of the UFC, have positioned themselves to be serious players in the coming months and years, They debuted a year ago on this list at number 20, but if things continue to progress as such they could continue to climb as their influence on the industry grows.
#8 – Mark Pincus
Founder and CEO, Zynga
While Mark Pincus and Zynga tried to fight the pull of real money gaming, it was likely just a matter of time before the potential became too much. Zynga has the largest pool of active daily users with 56 million, more than PokerStars or any other site. The company has never offered real money gaming and that might have been seen as a disadvantage, but Zynga has already applied for a digital gaming license in Nevada and signed a partnership deal with bwin.party for poker, sports betting and bingo.
#7 – Gary Loveman
President & CEO, Caesars Entertainment Corporation
Regardless of how the online gaming market shapes up as regulatory efforts continue, there’s no denying the power of brand recognition. That leaves Caesars in the driver’s seat, as the WSOP is far and away the most recognizable name in the game of poker. With WSOP.com already catering to players in the United Kingdom, France and Italy, they already have the groundwork laid, and Loveman is on record saying that industry analysts are underestimating how big the US market will eventually be.
#6 – Daniel Negreanu
Professional Poker Player
Daniel Negreanu is the highest-ranked player on this list, and it should be pretty clear why that is. He continues to be one of the most recognizable players in the world, engages his fans openly and honestly, and is never afraid to speak his mind, building his personal brand while his counterparts struggle to stay relevant. Negreanu’s opinions are almost universally valued throughout the game of poker, and his influence can be seen in everything from improved WSOP structures and formats to his popular video blog.
#5 – Ty Stewart
Executive Director, WSOP/Senior Vice President, Caesars Interactive Entertainment
Ty Stewart is one of the faces you see the most during seven weeks at the WSOP, but it’s rarely for very long. Stewart is constantly moving, working hard to ensure that everything down to the smallest detail is in place for a successful event. Outside of the poker itself, Stewart has attracted corporate sponsors for the WSOP with Red Bull, Klipsch, Mountain Dew and MillerCoors among those brought on board. You can also see Stewart’s fingerprints on WSOP APAC and an overhauled WSOP Circuit, which brought in non-Caesars casinos as partners to allow more players a chance at WSOP glory.
#4 – Harry Reid
Nevada Senator, Senate Majority Leader
The driving force behind federal online poker legislation over the last few years has been Senator Harry Reid, who has introduced bills several times in an effort to legalize the game nationwide. Despite falling short of that goal in 2010 and again in 2012, Reid was re-elected to the Senate and his term will run until January of 2017, giving him four additional years to try again. While state-by-state legislation is gaining traction, the tax dollars will likely become too attractive to ignore at a federal level in the coming years, keeping Reid as a potential power player in that fight for years to come.
#3 – Norbert Teufelberger
After Jim Ryan resigned from bwin.party as its CEO in December, Norbert Teufelberger stepped in as co-CEO and took over those duties completely. Teufelberger had shared the position with Ryan since the merger of PartyGaming and Bwin in 2011, but with Ryan’s exit it only made sense for Teufelberger to get the gig. With agreements already in place with the likes of Zynga and MGM, bwin.party is in position to re-enter the US market with the added bonus of the WPT brand at their disposal.
#2 – Mitch Garber
CEO, Caesars Interactive Entertainment
Mitch Garber left PartyGaming to join Caesars (then Harrahs) in 2009 to create an Interactive Entertainment branch of the company. This would allow them to offer online poker where it was legal and position them to be ready for the day when online poker would return to the United States. Garber’s work with PartyGaming came at a time in the immediate aftermath of the UIGEA, with Garber leading the company into new markets in order to remain relevant, and his approach to the industry is one of many reasons Caesars should be one of, if not the biggest entity when legal online poker comes to the United States.
#1 – Mark and Isai Scheinberg
Founding Family, PokerStars/Rational Group
PokerStars has been the most influential company in poker for some time, and that’s thanks in large part to the Scheinbergs. Founder Isai Scheinberg was forced out as chief technology officer and head of poker as part of the settlement with the DOJ, but his son Mark, the CEO of the company since early 2012, is now the man at the top of the ladder. After purchasing the assets of Full Tilt Poker from the DOJ, they relaunched the site and now own the two largest real money online poker rooms in the world. Add in the fact that they’re in the process of purchasing a casino in New Jersey to get back into the online poker market in the United States, and it’s easy to see why this family sits at the top of the Power 20.
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