WSOP edges closer to online poker with 888 deal

WSOP entry sign
Coming soon to an online poker room?

The WSOP took one more step to becoming a player in the online gaming world on Friday.

Harrah's Interactive Entertainment and 888 Holdings reached an agreement where 888's Dragonfish division will provide online poker and casino software to Harrah's as it attempts to enter the online gaming market.

"The intent is to be in the online gaming space, wherever it's legal," said WSOP Communications Director Seth Palansky. "We've partnered with 888 to develop a platform."

No timeline was given for Harrah's online launch, but it was confirmed that both the WSOP and Caesars Casino brands will have an online presence. In addition, Dragonfish will also provide ePayments, VIP services and Customer Service to help develop both brands.

888 Holdings is a major player in the online gaming market in Europe, but not as well-known in the U.S. after pulling out of the market when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was passed in 2006.

Although the website offers no games, it acts as a portal to popular gaming sites like Pacific Poker, 888sport (sports betting) and Reef Club Casino.

"This is a ground breaking deal for and demonstrates our ability to provide real value to globally renowned, land-based casinos and their leading brands," said Gigi Levy, CEO of 888.

It remains to be seen if the WSOP having an online presence would be a conflict of interest with live event sponsors like Everest Poker and Betfair Poker.

Palansky didn't see it becoming an issue.

"I really don't think there's anything for anybody to worry about," he said. "The WSOP will remain a premier live poker destination. Our offline events are great opportunities for our sponsors.

"If all this goes through and we do develop an online gaming site then we would be competing in some of the same markets. We would still have relationships with the other sites, however."

Mitch Garber, the CEO of Harrah's Interactive Entertainment, went into more detail about why they decided to go with 888.

"As we develop and roll out our interactive strategy, we have chosen to work with 888, primarily for their world-class technology, scalability and strong commitment to compliance and responsible gaming," said Garber.

The announcement of the joint effort between Harrah's and 888 comes just as the U.S. appears to be warming up to the idea of legalizing and regulating online poker.

An article by conservative columnist George Will appeared in the Washington Post calling for the legalization and Barney Frank's pro-online poker bill HR 2267 is scheduled for a hearing in September.

Palansky said it wasn't a factor in the deal, however.

"Harrah's has been looking into this for years," he said. "We just felt the timing was right for us to start exploring our options.

"Obviously we are hopeful the U.S. government will recognize that - like our brick and mortar gaming establishments - online poker can be regulated, taxed and run with the utmost confidence.

"If that happens, great, if not we'll focus on other markets."

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