Phil Hellmuth has never been one to avoid confrontation. His brash table talk and cocksure demeanor have earned him the nickname ‘The Poker Brat’. This week he may have picked his biggest fight ever, calling out Harrah’s and the WSOP over their plans to launch an online poker site. In an interview with the Hardcore Poker Show he also made veiled threats that a breakaway series could be formed by the big online poker sites. “There’s a huge battle brewing,” he ominously informed his hosts.
His major issue was with the immanent WSOP online poker client. It was recently revealed that Harrah’s had contracted 888 Holdings to build them an online poker platform, expected to launch early next year. Little is known about their specific plans, but the possibility of other sites being shut out from the World Series has made the industry uneasy. Harrah’s clearly intend to throw their full weight behind the venture. Intent was signaled earlier this year when they hired former PartyPoker CEO Mitch Garber to spearhead the operation.
The worst case for scenario for the likes of PokerStars, Full Tilt, and Ultimate Bet is if Harrah’s decide to only allow online satellites through their client. WSOP satellites are a big draw for the current crop of industry leaders, particularly for PokerStars, who have made a habit of singing up former WSOP champions to their Team PokerStars Pro. Worse still, would be if Harrah’s elect to ban all other sites from advertising at their tournaments.
Hellmuth claimed that he was voicing concerns shared by a number of other top pros, naming Full Tilt co-founder Howard Lederer, among others. He was pessimistic about the future of the WSOP, stating that he had been increasingly unhappy with the direction the series had been headed in. A particular sticking point appears to be the fact that Harrah’s refused to pay for Phil’s hotel room at the 2009 WSOP. Hellmuth noted that they make millions by using his image in TV coverage and that he therefore expected better treatment. This thrifty behavior is an endemic problem with Harrah’s method of operation, he claimed. Phil feels that more money should be passed back to the players who have helped make the series such a success.
After discussions with WSOP Commissioner Jeffery Pollack, Hellmuth chose to break his silence. He went so far as to suggest that if they were locked out of the World Series, the big online sites could form their own breakaway competition. Without the backing of the online industry, Hellmuth feels that the WSOP would, “become worth nothing.”
As a new poker site with an American foundation, Harrah’s are well placed to take advantage of any new regulations that are enforced post-UIGEA. There have already been suggestions that any new licensing laws would shut out companies not based in the US – which would include practically all of today’s biggest sites. However, skeptics point out that Full Tilt and PokerStars have been spearheading legislative efforts in Washington for the past year. They would be unlikely to commit such time and expense if there were a real likelihood of being shut out of the market.
Phil has aligned himself even further in opposition of the WSOP by agreeing to become the coach of November Nine member Jeff Shulman. The CardPlayer editor has his own issues with Harrah’s and infamously stated that he would throw away his championship bracelet were he to win in November. Jeff is not short of WSOP experience, with 4 final tables throughout his career. Fourth in chips and with Phil in his corner, Shulman has to be in with a real chance of going all the way.