Revisiting The BLUFF Power 20: Who’s Number 1?

Bwin.party CEO Jim Ryan many believe is the most powerful man in poker today.

Bwin.party CEO Jim Ryan many believe is the most powerful man in poker today.

We’re now seven months after The Events of 4/15TM. Each month, we like to examine how elements within the industry have changed or been impacted. This month, we’re focusing on the industry power players.

Each year, BLUFF Magazine polls about 100 media members, industry insiders, and players to compile their Poker Power 20 list. In 2011, Howard Lederer was #1, gracing the cover (here) front-and-center practically with his balls dangling out of his pants.

Oh, have times have changed.

In 2012, if they do the poll again, Lederer wouldn’t even chart.

With that in mind, we re-polled some industry insiders (some who typically vote, some who don’t) for their take on what the list would look like seven months after Black Friday.

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We expect the list to look even differently in four-to-five months, when BLUFF does their real Power 20 rankings. But for now, here’s how some insiders see it…and why.

1. Jim Ryan (previous rank: 19) – As CEO of bwin.party, Jim Ryan was already managing a complex, far-reaching, profitable and public entity. After pulling off a massive alliance with MGM and Boyd Gaming , Ryan and bwin.party have a chance to eventually dominate the U.S. (industry analysts estimate they’ll control 20% U.S. market-share) and be the largest online gaming company in the world. On top of that, while PokerStars and Wynn established a 50-50 revenue split, Ryan steered bwin.party to a 65% cut in their alliance with MGM-Boyd. For those reasons–he tops the post-Black Friday list.

2. Isai Scheinberg (previous rank: 2) – Yeah, he’s indicted by the Fed. And yeah, he’ll eventually have to turn over the reigns at Stars once the company settles with the DoJ. But for now, Isai is still the big swinging schwanz at the largest real money poker room in the world. The PokerStars brand, despite the Black Friday indictments, is still tops in the industry. And the company continues to expand its tentacles, running successful global tours and operating the largest licensed sites in every major European market.

3. Mitch Garber (previous rank: 8 ) – The former Party CEO got dinged in the March 2011 BLUFF poll (ranking 8th) because he’s mostly out-of-sight, out-of-mind. As one of our pollers put it, “He may be doing great things, but if nobody hears about it, and nobody sees it, then how do we really know?” However, Garber heads Caesars Interactive Entertainment, who everyone agrees will be a big winner when the U.S. laws flip (likely helping pen the legislation). He has been instrumental, if under-the-radar, in establishing CIE’s partnership with 888 and paving the way for U.S. entry.

4. Dominik Kofert (previous rank: NR) – As we profiled in Insider, Kofert is one of the least-talked-about-but-most-successful individuals in the industry. His company, PokerStrategy.com, has a virtual card room bigger than Full Tilt Poker and is rumored to do more in revenue than even Zynga Poker (which clears $86M annually). PokerStrategy is the unquestioned largest affiliate in the world as well as largest virtual training site.

5. Preet Bharara (previous rank: NR) – The U.S. Attorney, Southern District of New York represents what one of our pollers called “the DoJ vote.” Preet will oversee the fines that Stars, Tilt, and AP/UB end up paying. He’ll likely negotiate whether or not–and under what terms–Stars and Tilt (if the Tapie deal still happens) can re-enter the U.S. And he’ll decide whether or not to expand criminal charges to the likes of Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, Rafe Furst, and other Tilt executives. That’s some serious power and influence.

6. Ty Stewart (previous rank: 3) – The man who runs the WSOP and has overseen its massive growth since 2004 gets moved down a few spots in our revised poll. But that’s no knock on the work he’s done. The WSOP set record attendance and prize pool numbers this year, while greatly expanding its TV presence and continuing to secure more mainstream advertisers. Stewart is responsible for overseeing all of that.

7. Mark Lipparelli (previous rank: NR) – Mark is the primary online poker influencer on the Nevada Gaming Control Board. As one poller put it, “[The NGCB] is the only organization in U.S. that I’m aware of that are writing online poker regulations right now. They’re positioning themselves to be the regulatory arm once the laws open up and will almost certainly be the ones in charge.”

8. Mark Pincus (previous rank: NR) – This is pretty simple. Pincus is CEO of Zynga. With over 8M DAILY users, Zynga Poker is the by far the largest poker room in the world. Everyone we spoke with agrees that Zynga is the 800lb sleeping gorilla in the industry, and if they ever figure out what specifically they want to do with their poker product in a real money environment, watch out. We assume they’ll eventually hire someone to fill and lead a poker-focused role, but until that happens, Pincus occupies “the Zynga spot” on the list.

9. Gabi Campos (previous rank: NR) – Campos is the highly-respected CEO of PokerStars who, along with Mark Scheinberg, leads day-to-day operations.

10. Daniel Negreanu (previous rank: 7) – As Phil Ivey‘s “star has lost its luster” (as one poller put it) and Phil Hellmuth remains without a deal (and thus off omnipresent commercials and programs globally), Negreanu is inarguably now the most marketable and visible player in the industry.

11. The Fertitta Brothers (previous rank: NR) – Our pollers were all over the map on where–or if–the owners of Station Casinos should fall on the list. We think that given their pre-Black Friday alliance with Full Tilt (through Fertitta Interactive), and their recent acquisition of Cyberarts, the Fertittas are on a mission to crack the online poker nut in the U.S. and have made more power plays than anyone over the past year. With the ability to leverage the UFC brand and tap into a highly desirable online poker demo, they’ll be a force for years.

12. Brian Balsbaugh (previous rank: 5) – Balsbaugh’s Poker Royalty represents dozens of the most high-profile poker players in the world. The agency will greatly impact where those pros go in the future U.S. and expanding global market.

13. Tony G (previous rank: 13) – One poller told us, “Poker News isn’t going anywhere. They’re just going to get bigger.” G, along with Matt Parvis and other PN leadership, has steered the company into profitability post-Black Friday by finding new revenue streams as a “service provider” and, frankly, dominating online poker traffic.

14. Groupe Bernard Tapie (previous rank: NR) – Until we learn more about the operations of GBT, we’re lumping the company as an “individual” for now. If GBT pulls off the Full Tilt deal, not only will they be the most popular Frenchmen since…well…ever…but someone from the company likely gets bumped into the top 5. If not, they won’t even appear on the BLUFF list next year. For now, just by keeping hope alive at Tilt, they rank #14.

15. Adam Pliska (previous rank: NR) – The WPT’s President, who made the list over CEO Steve Heller, has overseen continued viability and growth of the WPT when many thought the brand would be dead a few years ago.

16. Michael Brodsky (previous rank: NR) - While Jeffrey Pollack and Annie Duke are the more visible faces of Federated Sports+Gaming/Epic, it’s the Co-CEO, Michael Brodsky, who many internally say really wears the pants. Nobody is sure how Epic will survive long-term, but for now, they’re the biggest spender in the U.S. poker market.

17. Doyle Brunson (previous rank: 10) – One poller said that the Godfather of Poker probably has more “juice” than any other player. EVERYONE listens to Brunson, and if there’s one player who can pick up the phone and make something happen, it’s him.

18. James Bord (previous rank: NR) – As a manager of Matchbook and Poker Farm, Bord’s presence is rapidly expanding. Matchbook is actively promoting poker wagering. Poker Farm is becoming a content powerhouse. And with Full Tilt Poker money gone, Bord has stepped in to fill the money void, backing many high-stakers from Tom ‘durrrr’ Dwan to Sam Trickett.

19. John Pappas (previous rank: 11) – The PPA clearly took a hit when Stars and Tilt were booted from the U.S., as the two companies were big backers of Pappas’ lobby group. As one poller said, “The PPA was very relevant pre-Black Friday due to the money they spent from online operator backers. But they’ve done a good job remaining active even if they don’t have the budget they once did.” Most notably, the PPA has made it unbelievably easy for poker players to reach out to their representatives and affect change post-Black Friday.

20. Dave Brannan (previous rank: NR) – The Managing Director at Living it Loving it Ltd was described to us as “Matt Savage on steroids.” His company manages many of the major events in Europe and is expanding its presence to the U.S.

Dropping off the list: Howard Lederer (1), Harry Reid (4), Phil Ivey (6), Mori Eskandani (9), Tom Dwan (12), Matt Savage (14), Ray Bitar (15), Phil Hellmuth (16), Lance Bradley (17), Chops (18), Eric Sheets and Johnny Bax (20).

And there you have it. Only nine individuals who made the March 2011 BLUFF list charted in our revised look seven months after Black Friday.

We’ll see how the list shakes out in a few months when BLUFF conducts their official poll. Given all of the industry activity, we expect it to look different than what you’ve just read.

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