Phil Hellmuth Fires First Shot at Harrah’s

Threatens WSOP secession

by , Sep 23, 2009 | 9:00 pm

“Mark my words,” he says.

Phil Hellmuth — fresh off the announcement of his coaching relationship with Harrah’s-hater Jeff Shulman and apparently still on tilt about having to pay for his own room at the WSOP this summer — appeared on the Hardcore Poker Show today (on the internet and Sirius 98) to reveal a Glenn-Beckish unease amongst some big-time pros about the WSOP’s intent to launch its own online poker site … and hints that Full Tilt, PokerStars, and Ultimate Bet might be talking about colluding cooperating to start their own WSOP alternative … a move he suggests could make the WSOP “worth nothing”.

Phil Hellmuth on Hardcore Sports Radio – excerpts
Sep 23 2009

“There’s a huge battle brewing …”


Find the whole interview here.

In addition to the warning, Hellmuth calls out Harrah’s for “not giving any of [money] back to the players” and takes a pop at Jeffrey Pollack for not reassuring him that everything is gonna to be alright; but it seems, without naming names, that his fear and vitriol is really directed at Mitch Garber — FTP, Stars, and UB’s old rival at PartyPoker, who’s never really played nice with any of them before.

My question: How did UB outplay Doyle’s Room for third position in the unofficial alliance of American-friendly online poker rooms?

48 Comments to “Phil Hellmuth Fires First Shot at Harrah’s”

  1. Kevin Mathers

    Time for Stars to fire up the NAPT idea:

  2. DanM

    Wow. There ya go … Las Vegas = Monte Carlo. Theoretically.

    Would see going up against the WSOP as near-impossible. But if anyone could do it …

    (But would Full Tilt be willing to let Stars take the lead on it?)

  3. Kevin Mathers

    The NAPT is Stars alone (for now). It’s odd that someone who’s been so rah-rah for the WSOP at Harrah’s is taking this tack. I don’t get this talk that online sites aren’t allowed, you can have all the .net logos you like, it’s Harrah’s protecting their interests.

    It would have been interesting to see how far Hellmuth would have gone on HPS, too bad they ran out of time.

  4. California Jen

    Nice going, Hellmuth. You really want to jump on the oh-so-popular Jeff Shulman bandwagon?

    The only people who cater to Phil’s inflated, outrageous ego are Harrah’s and UltimateBet, and he’s burning one of those bridges by slamming the WSOP. He will be left in the dust with his handful of fans if he doesn’t get himself in check.

  5. Kevin Mathers

    Those who listened to The Circuit (back in the CardPlayer days) would know that Matusow would go on and on about the NAPT.

    Maybe he and Shulman are trying to angle their way onto the PAC? There’s plenty of dead weight that could easily be cast aside to make that a reality.

  6. Haley

    Quite a few old-guard poker people have connections to UB. Not so many to Doyle’s Room besides Doyle himself and Mike Caro and Hoyt Corkins.

  7. Haley

    Jen, you forgot ESPN. Hellmuth’s Q numbers are easily the tops among all players, which is why ESPN never fails to point a camera his way. I’d think Annie Duke has the top Q rank among women players, too.

  8. spcrdplyr

    Phil has TWO (no Three) talents, one is as a player in NL Turnies, one is as a Jackass who berates anyone (player, dealer, floor) that doesn’t act in a manner which meets his approval and three (perhaps the best talent he has) is promoting Phil Hellmuth. It would not surprise me one iota if his antics end up with a split between him and Jeff before November. Seems like Phil is taking a lesson from the likes of Vince McMahan(sp) and making himself over as a villan.

    The less attention he gets the better off we will all be and “we” includes the entire poker industry!

  9. Mean Gene

    But he raises a valid point, does he not? One I hadn’t really considered before–what if Harrah’s starts a poker site and only allows players to qualify through them? And bans players from wearing logos for other sites? How would those sites respond? How would the players sponsored by those sites respond? If Stars or Tilt or UB or whoever is paying players’ buy-ins and travel expenses so their logos appear on television, and suddenly those logos ain’t appearing on television because Harrah’s banned them, what’s the next move? Will the sites order their players to boycott the World Series of Poker? And will those players agree to stay away?

    Many well-known poker players are so closely tied to on online room that it’s hard to believe they’d bow to a demand like that. Especially as Harrah’s would now be a direct competitor who might be taking money out of their pockets. It could get ugly, fast. This scenario would turn the current poker economic paradigm upside down. Obviously we’re a long, long, LONG way from something like this coming to fruition, but if online poker becomes legal and Harrah’s decides to flex, we might find ourselves in some interesting times indeed.

  10. DanM

    I agree with Gene … at least the second part. But I also think there is simply some fear of the unknown here, with the Big American Three saying, “hey, don’t fuck with us, Garber!” In the end I gotta think they’ll all find it in their interest to find a way to get along … but you never know.

    @Haley, yeah … I see it now: PH + AD > DB.

  11. California Jen

    Haley, you’re right about ESPN, but there are plenty of pricks in poker that are ready and willing to take Hellmuth’s place. My feeling, though, is that Hellmuth will tone down his rhetoric once he realizes what’s at stake with ESPN coverage. It’ll be the same as the “talking to” he received after being such an ass to players at the 2008 WSOP.

    Gene, your points are well-taken, but you’re also correct that this is a long way down the road. I just don’t think it’s wise for Hellmuth and Shulman to burn these bridges this early in the game when all of those questions remain unanswered – even unaddressed.

  12. Tom Schneider

    Hey, I might finally get a lasting deal with a poker site…cool.

    Is he assuming that they would have main event qualifiers through only the WSOP site? Is he assuming that the WSOP would only allow WSOP logos? If so, I think these are crazy assumptions. If not, I would like to see where he got this info.

    However, if the WSOP could create a poker site that rivals the current sites, they could use the WSOP profits as toilet paper.

    Finally, would like to make a bet that no one in my lifetime ever competes anywhere close to the WSOP; however, I think Augusta and the Masters will die soon. Who wants a Green Jacket?

  13. DanM

    ***Haley, you’re right about ESPN, but there are plenty of pricks in poker that are ready and willing to take Hellmuth’s place.***

    LOL, how do you really feel, Jen!

    true, there are plenty of pricks in poker … but not with 11 bracelets, let alone a well-practiced celebrity shtick.

    i suppose Men the Master could eventually take Hellmuth’s place.

  14. California Jen

    Dan, I love poker. 🙂

  15. DanM

    Tom, everything you say (shockingly) makes a lot of sense. Except the part about you getting a lasting deal with a poker site.

  16. F-Train

    I can’t see Harrah’s being so short-sighted as to ban players from online sites like FTP / PS / UB from wearing logos. While Mitch Garber may not have played nice in the past and may have the reins at Harrah’s online arm, Jeffrey Pollack seems pretty savvy and he’s also involved on the online side as its president. Pollack has to know what the online sites have contributed to the growth of the WSOP. The price for that growth is allowing the logos. If you stop that, the numbers at the WSOP drop considerably — and given how the WSOP constantly trumpets its year-on-year growth I doubt that would be an acceptable outcome for Harrah’s.

    The NAPT, should it come to fruition, would be missing two key pieces that Harrah’s has in place for the next seven years: a television contract with ESPN for a poker show that is firmly established place near the top of the pantheon of such shows; and the rich tradition of the WSOP. Without either of those I don’t see the NAPT as a true competitor to the WSOP and I’m not so sure that PokerStars would even try to position it as such (at least not at present). Jeffrey Haas has proven that he likes challenges but he’s also a level-headed guy.

  17. Bob

    Doyle’s is just a skin on a smaller network, not much clout

  18. Bill Rini

    Wow, do none of you read my blog anymore? :tears:


    I wrote about this exact situation several weeks ago:

    And this is completely in-line with everything else I’ve written about what Garber going to Harrah’s meant for everyone else in the industry.

    If the US legalizes and regulates online poker none of the rooms everybody has mentioned will be allowed to operate in the US. ESPECIALLY UB!! Two major cheating scandals in its past? What US regulator is going to give them a license to operate in the US?

    Stars? Tilt? You can bet that Garber is going to use all of Harrah’s muscle to get licensing requirements passed that neither company can meet.

    Stars and Tilt might eventually be allowed into the US but it won’t be without a fight and while they’re fighting Harrah’s will be gearing up.

  19. DanM

    I still read you bill. Like at least monthly or something! 😛

    But thanks for the link, as I hadn’t seen that post yet. And indeed, I think a lot of us saw something like this — I first heard murmurs of the alt-WSOP a couple weeks ago — but hearing things so directly from Phil Hellmuth’s mouth … that’s quite the confirmation and salvo.

    Perhaps the UB-FT-Stars alliance realized it was all coming to boiling point, so let’s bet into it early?

    The only thing I don’t agree with you on is that Tilt-Stars-UB will could be license-blocked. OK, well maybe UB … but the other two … c’mon, there’s a reason they’re spending as much time (and money) with the politicos as possible.

    However, at the same time, you do point out one key difference … Garber et al have already paid the US Feds hundreds of millions and put their paperwork on file, no one from UB-FT-Stars has yet (as far as we know). Surely UIGEA dot-net nose-thumbers are not gonna be let in for free in a post-UIGEA world.

    And likewise, Harrah’s woudn’t even want to give off the perception of hanging with any Jeremiah Wright’s of Poker.

    (OK, I’ll workshop that metaphor. But you obviously get the point.)

  20. Bill Rini

    haha, this same moron Varun just spammed my comments too.

    Well, that’s something I was saving for a post myself, Dan. What happens when the US says “Okay boys, it’s legal. Now we just need 12 – 18 months to put together a regulatory commission, licensing requirements, and such. Oh, and if you open your doors to US players while we’re getting all sorted out, no license for you. Bad poker room.”

    Would Stars and Tilt pull out of the market for 12 – 18 months? Wouldn’t that all but negate any huge lead they had? Players would simply go where the traffic was going. And if Harrah’s could shut Tilt and Stars out of the market for a year they very well could use that time to market the shit out of and basically be even with Tilt and Stars on opening day.

  21. DanM

    yeah, i deleted. sent him a review (site sux) for free.

    I’ll look forward to reading that post of yours, Bill. Just be sure to tweet about it. And likewise, not to give away the farm, but similar forward-thinking hedline thoughts: “Goodbye UIGEA! Now What?”

    I really can’t imagine a 12-18 month pullout … maybe. But I think we might be getting a little ahead of ourselves with that. So many intangibles, which will continue to change as the law does or does not. But in the immediate future — with Harrah’s ready to run Euro-sats presumably for the 2010 WSOP, and sponsor-signage issues in play theoretically as early as November … yeah, it’s gonna be a super-interesting ongoing battle to watch.

    Though I still predict eventual compromise, I see Phil Hellmuth having just officially started the fight. And the only real certainty is that the poker industry will look a lot different three or four years from now.

    I’m so gonna hoard all Full Tilt-UB-PokerStars swag to someday sell on eBay.

  22. Mean Gene

    Duh me, I was away when Bill wrote that prescient post and I’ll bet I just glossed it when I was slogging through my Bloglines queue. Bill raises an even more ominous possibility–that Harrah’s could be the one going to whatever new gov’t regulatory commission that comes into existence and saying, “Hey, we played by the rules, but THOSE GUYS…” and here they’d point at Stars, Tilt, UB, et al, “broke the law. Broke YOUR law. You’re not gonna just sit there, are you…?” How might that poison the relationship between the WSOP and players like Hellmuth, Lederer, Brunson, etc? And as Hellmuth said, chances are it won’t be Jeffrey Pollack or Ty Stewart or any of the WSOP executives raising a stink, it’ll come from the top of Harrah’s org chart.

    I’m curious about the possibility that a regulatory agency would block the currently exisiting sites…when it’s the sites themselves who are leading the charge for regulation. I’d like to think that the brain trusts at the major online sites have considered that ironic possibility and have received assurances that they would be eligible for licensing…and that they wouldn’t be blackballed for their interpretation of a murky legal situation. Then again, this is government we’re talking about here.

    If Harrah’s IS able to use their muscle to destroy the existing online sites, again, that’s not going to sit well with the players affiliated with those sites. And, I’d expect, not well with online players in general, who would still have options (Party Poker, anyone?).

    Of course these arguments will all be rendered somewhat moot when the proposed new laws to legalize and license online poker go down to defeat, something I still think is the far more likely outcome.

  23. Haley

    @Haley, yeah … I see it now: PH + AD > DB.

    I hope you’re not confusing notoriety and likeability. Phil has the former, and Doyle (now, at this stage of his career) the latter. Villains and antiheroes stick in the memory first for those with little exposure to any given human situation.

  24. scott diamond

    i suppose Men the Master could eventually take Hellmuth’s place.

    Dan PLEASE if you only knew what I know about Men from his court appearences!

    On-Line sites as we all know are way to important to the B&M casino’s success.

    I do not think there would be a 12-18 month hiatus but I do see the federal Government asking for a certain amount of cash for “back taxes” to help with our financial woes.

    I mean seriously though if PS and FT had to pay a 10 milliom or a 100 million tax would that really help the USA and it’s budget crisis ?

    These politicians will not give unless they receive something!

    Pollack being a old Nascar guy also would not be happy about a one patch player in my opinion but again, money talks.

    As to Phil I am so tired of seeing him on ESPN year in and year out, whats the difference between the 2005, 2007 2008 WSOP broadcasts other than his STUPID entrances to the RIO!

    I have had the opportunity to play at the same table with him and what he does for Law Enforcement is very commendable, However this Poker boom has created several monster ego’s and Mrs. Hellmuth should sit down with Phil and have a nice talk because (Hoping I do not get finally banned from Pokerati) Phil ,,,I kinda like him!

  25. Andrew

    “On-Line sites as we all know are way to important to the B&M casino’s success.” — Scott

    While we all might assume the worst based on Hellmuth’s comments, I think Scott nails it here. While Harrah’s might want to make some major changes in this arena, I think they’d realize that they can’t push the extremes at this point. They can flex their muscles, and they will, but in our current environment, I can’t see it being 100% successful.

    That said, I’m commenting from my POV and in no relation to ESPN’s business with Harrah’s.

  26. Fifth Street Journal

    If regulation of online poker gets through Harrah’s and others will be pushing for protectionist regulation. And they have the lobbying clout, money, employment, etc. Plus Harry Reid of Nevada is the Senate majority leader. I believe it’s likely that Harrah’s would win that battle and that the current US-friendly sites wouldn’t have any place in a US regulatory regime.

    I also believe everyone overrates the chances of regulation getting through, and the timing. Though Harrahs getting into the business clearly increases the probability.

  27. Bill Rini

    I’m with FSJ. Anybody who thinks Harrah’s doesn’t have the clout to pull this off is living in a dream world. Like FSJ says, the Senate Majority Leader is from Nevada. How long do you think he’s been sucking at the tit of land based casinos?

    Let’s put it this way, if Harrah’s went to Harry Reid and said “Harry, your next re-election depends on you making sure that online gambling isn’t legalized without a clause that prohibits offshore operators who were previously illegally operating in the US from getting a license” how much of a freakin chance do you really think FTP and PS stand?

  28. scott diamond

    I am POSITIVE if OnLine gets approved here in the USA Harrah’s will have a competitive site. However there are laws against Monopolies in this country and there is no way they will be the only game in town.

    Thank You Andrew….for your support…

    God I love this site too!

  29. Bill Rini

    Of course not, MGM will be allowed to play too 🙂

    But Stars or Tilt? hahaha. If you had the power why would you not drive them out of the market?

    Quit thinking about this from a player’s preservative an start thinking about what you would do if you were Mitch Garber.

  30. scott diamond

    “But Stars or Tilt? hahaha. If you had the power why would you not drive them out of the market?”

    Do you really think Harrah’s or any other entity will have the power to keep PS or FT or Doyles Room etc. from being in the USA Market?

    I am not sure they can or will even publicly state they will try as this will create another scandal of sorts in the On Line Poker Community in my opinion.

  31. Fifth Street Journal

    The threat of scandals in the online poker community isn’t going to sway congress.

  32. Harris

    Just a thought, but if Garber and Party Poker essentially partnered with Harrahs to create a site that is ready to go the moment the legislation is in place and there is a possibility of UB, Tilt, and Stars (the big three I’ll call them) being shut out; Why wouldn’t the big three try and allign themselves with someone like MGM, Boyd Gaming, Sands Corp, or even Steve Wynn to compete? Seems like the logical step to me.

    I realize that Harrahs has the all important WSOP but the Venetian has 2,000,000 sqft of convention space and treats their players a lot better than Harrahs. If the big three went to Adelson and said look, we will do everything in our power to bring you all our players next summer, you just expand the Deep Stack Extravaganza to give us the space and tournaments compairable to the WSOP. Oh, and by the way we’re going to bring along Fox Sports Net for TV coverage and give you a cut (already affiliated with Tilt I believe). All you have to do is let us design and impliment an online gaming site in partnership with you to let us compete with Harrahs once the legislation is in place. You get a BIG cut of that too. I think they would have Harrahs all in and drawing dead.

  33. Anonymous

    Well, I’m officially terrified.

  34. scott diamond

    Great Post Harris!!

  35. Poker Shrink

    How many Harrah’s employees were there on the grassy knoll?

  36. DanM

    Shrink, didn’t you retire? I was about to write your (poker media) obituary …

  37. Kevin Mathers

    Time to insert a Godfather III reference?

  38. Bill Rini

    @diamond: Yes, I do. What “power” do Tilt are Stars have in the US? None. Meanwhile Harrah’s is an $11 billion a year corporation with decades of lobbying pull behind them.

    @harris: Why partner with someone who is defenseless? What would the Venetian hope to accomplish? Get their customer list? If Tilt and Stars cannot operate in the US their customer list is about as valuable as a phone book.

    Bottom line is you have to follow the fish. If a big US land based casino gets a leg up on the online guys the fish will flow to the land based casino’s online room. Think about it, if the fish have a choice between a legal, licensed, and regulated casino vs. playing at some overseas casino where are they going to go? Especially if Harrah’s or MGM can take credit cards, do direct bank debits, etc. while the overseas guys still have payment processor issues. It’s a no-brainer at the point.

  39. scott diamond

    Well Bill as long as ON Line gets legalized and is regulated properly I would be happy because they are so important to us B&M players.

    If you have ever read any of my post in the forums you would know I am not a big fan of some of the On Line sites, so your post makes a TON of sense and hopefully things will change for the better soon, take care.

    Oh Dan if you are reading this, can you change my website info to…Ty sir

  40. Johnny Hughes

    Did they select Phil Hellmuth as a spokesperson because Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan turned them down???

  41. DanM

    Really, Johnny? That’s all you got? PH = CM or SS in an implausible sitch? I expect better from you …

  42. Kevin Mathers

    Speaking of Charles Manson:

  43. Aaron

    I know it’s weird, but as a poker fan who plays in lame free tournaments and 50 cent cash games (sometimes)… I still LOVE watching Phil on ESPN. I know there’s better players and what-not, but Phil is solely for entertainment in my eyes. He talks about his hands, gives players information, and can’t play much else than No-limit, but damn he is fun to watch.

  44. Dinosaur

    The WSOP is a historical institution that is immune from the threats of the online community. It existed before the online community, and it will exist regardless of the outcome of legislation in the U.S. relative to online poker or any alliances formed by the online community.

    Phil is right about one thing, though, the WSOP should have picked up his RFB at the WSOP.

  45. Tom Schneider

    I have a hint for Phil. If you want the Rio to pick up RFB, have your wife play video poker and slots for about 10 days.

    Why should the Rio pay for his RFB? Hasn’t the WSOP done enough for Phil? His ridiculous entrances are staged by UB to promote that site. Allowing that display and providing the camera time is all he should need from the Rio. Have UB pay his RFB.

  46. Kevin Mathers

    Listening to an interview with Phil on the Poker Show Live in the UK, he mentioned he, Chan and Brunson couldn’t be on the PAC because they’ve won the most WSOP bracelets. Apparently, if they were on the PAC, they’d set the rules to shut out the lower end players or something (in his mind). He was also talking about how he needs to cut back on his ego until he wins something again. That appeared to last until the end of the interview.

  47. DanM

    Dinosaur, I agree with you about the staying power of the WSOP — it’s an organic being with a life of its own, that will survive regardless of who owns it or competes with it so long as people are still playing poker.

    But I gotta think you are wrong about Harrah’s comping Phil Hellmuth’s stay in Las Vegas. If they put him up, then they’ve gotta offer the same courtesy to Doyle, and maybe Negreanu … and what about the Players Advisory Council (Committee?) who actually do work for Harrah’s. Greg Raymer … Chris Moneymaker … and what about the old-timers in town for a special event?

    Phil may be an important part of the WSOP … and really, he does a lot for it. But the WSOP is still way bigger than that — and it doesn’t need ANY one pro or superstar. If Phil Hellmuth didn’t show up, it would still go on. Likewise for Doyle. It’s what some of them I don’t think realize — the event is bigger than any one of them, or any three of them for that matter. After all, it seems to do fine even without much use of Johnny Chan and his 10 bracelets.

    If they’re going to spend the money — because the Rio presumably would bill the WSOP — I’d rather have them put that into prize pools … or better yet, media food/booze comps.

  48. Poker Shrink

    …. and yes Dan, I did retire but you know how cantankerous old guys hang around and harass folks about the good olde days.