- Andrew Feldman, ESPN.com
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The team at Bluff tackles a tough task every year as it polls a group of 60 industry insiders in an effort to determine the 20 most powerful people in the poker industry. After Black Friday, the names on the list shifted from the biggest poker stars in the world to those who operate behind the scenes. This year's list is intriguing. With politicians, players and innovators of the game, the Power 20 includes individuals who make an impact on the status of the poker world each day.
"You can put 60 individuals from any industry in a room and not be able to come up with a consensus, but I think the list reflects the way the industry thinks as a whole, rather than those 60 individuals," said Bluff editor-in-chief Lance Bradley. "I think the surprise is the way that the industry has grown up over the years. We aren't seeing as many players listed, and that's a sign of maturity."
While much of this list can be debated, I'm not surprised by who sits on top. The Scheinbergs, Isai and Mark, have led PokerStars to become an industry-leading brand, and with their acquisition of Full Tilt last year, their empire has gotten bigger. Add in their online establishment of live poker rooms and the recent acquisition of a casino in Atlantic City and expansion is on the horizon. When PokerStars makes a move, the industry notices. That's why the Scheinbergs are No. 1.
The next two individuals are competitors to PokerStars: Mitch Garber from Caesars Interactive Entertainment and Norbert Teufelberger of Bwin.party. The top three displayed that the panel weighed the online sites as the entities with the biggest voices. Similarly, Zynga's Mark Pincus (No. 8) and Station Casino owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta (No. 9) made the top 10, as they are poised to enter the online poker market when allowed in Nevada. A.G. Burnett, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, ranked 10th, as he is constantly determining the landscape of the Nevada online poker scene.
Joining Garber from the Caesars contingent is executive director of the World Series of Poker Ty Stewart (No. 5) and CEO and president of Caesars Entertainment Gary Loveman (No. 7). How the leaders of the biggest poker festival in the world -- the single tournament series that defines the poker calendar -- aren't higher is confusing. Without the buy-in of either of those individuals over the past decade, the WSOP doesn't exist in its current form. The counterargument is that online play is available 24/7 365, but there's nothing bigger each year than the WSOP.
Politics will define the future of the online industry, and No. 4 Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, No. 11 New Jersey State Sen. Raymond Lesniak and No. 12 New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are three individuals who hold the key to legalization. It's pretty shocking that the panel ranked Lesniak over Christie, considering Christie has the final say, but Lesniak was the one who has pushed for this legislation over the past few years. In any case, Reid's efforts in Washington have been without reward to date, but in order to get a federal bill passed, he would be one of the main drivers. Christie is poised to sign the online gambling bill in New Jersey next week, and that one action will probably have more impact on the game's future than the total amount of the rest of the names on this list combined.
According to the panel, the most influential poker players in the world are Daniel Negreanu (No. 6) and Antonio Esfandiari (No. 20). I'd argue that Phil Hellmuth has more clout than Esfandiari. Guy Laliberte's charitable efforts behind One Drop earned him a spot at No. 17, and poker agent Brian Balsbaugh is No. 14 for the second consecutive year. Poker endorsements aren't easy to come by these days, especially in the U.S., but his clients seem to be doing the best in the industry. For those wondering about Tony Guoga, who checks in at No. 13, his rank comes mostly as his role as owner of PokerNews, not from his playing exploits.
I do believe the panelists did a strong job, but there were a couple of misses. At No. 16 is EPT president Edgar Stuchly. When he took over the reins of the European Poker Tour in 2011, he had economic challenges staring him right in the face. That said, he has continued to make the tour a strong entity and should be higher.
I could basically say the same thing for No. 18 Steve Heller, CEO of the World Poker Tour. I was concerned about the tour's future when the WPT was all about maintaining the prestige of the $10,000 buy-in main event despite dwindling numbers. When the tour realized that wasn't the right direction, Heller, along with president Adam Pliska, made some smart decisions to keep the tour as one of the most prized in the game. The WPT held a leading position in the U.S. for years, and despite rising competition from the smaller tours (HPT, WSOP Circuit, Deepstacks), it has managed to continue to find new destinations poised for success. Keeping these two tours strong is pivotal for industry growth, and their efforts definitely validated higher spots than what they were awarded in 2013.
My last disagreement with the Power 20 is a personal one. No, I'm definitely not saying I should be on this list, but someone from ESPN should be. Without the group of talented individuals in Bristol who work on every tiny detail to get the WSOP aired on TV, the game wouldn't be elevated on a public stage. Similarly, Poker PROduction's efforts in putting the WSOP and the National Heads-Up Championship on TV should have earned it consideration as well. Its efforts are distributed around the world, and poker fans can get a glimpse at the best in the game with its contributions.
Here is the 2013 BLUFF Power 20:
1. Mark and Isai Scheinberg
2. Mitch Garber
3. Norbert Teufelberger
4. Harry Reid
5. Ty Stewart
6. Daniel Negreanu
7. Gary Loveman
8. Mark Pincus
9. The Fertittas
10. A.G. Burnett
11. Raymond Lesniak
12. Chris Christie
13. Tony Guoga
14. Brian Balsbaugh
15. Dominik Kofert
16. Edgar Stuchly
17. Guy Laliberte
18. Steve Heller
19. Matt Savage
20. Antonio Esfandiari
Small blinds:: Police officer Robert Boyko and Patrick Halter chopped the Parx Big Stax main event for $134,269 apiece. ... Former November Niner John Dolan captured the Bounty event title at the LAPC for $19,200. ... Chris Ferguson has reached a civil forfeiture settlement regarding Black Friday. ... The WPT announced two new stops in Montreal in 2013: May 3-9 (CA$3,300) and Nov. 29-Dec. 5 (CA$3,850). ... David Tuthill won the WSOP Circuit main event at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. You can watch a replay of the final table here. ... The WSOP released to TMZ that it will name a seven-card stud event after Jerry Buss, who had a major impact on the game and was found at the WSOP felt each year. Out of his four career cashes, his best result was a third-place finish in a seven-card stud event in 1991. ... PokerStars announced it will open Macau's largest branded poker room at City of Dreams. ... The opening event at the WSOP Circuit stop in West Palm Beach, Fla., had a $580 buy-in and a $1 million guarantee. Final numbers: 2,529 entries created a $1.26 million prize pool and handed Lou Cheffy a nice top prize of $183,983.
The team at Bluff tackles a tough task every year as it polls a group of 60 industry insiders in an effort to determine the 20 most powerful people in the poker industry.