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Harrah’s Entertainment puts money on online ace Garber

|Written By Mike King

Mitch Garber has become a safe bet when it comes to looking for someone to handle the fast-growing online gaming industry. Las Vegas-based casino giant Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., whose properties include the Caesars and Horseshoe brand names, hand-picked Garber in May to be the chief executive officer of its new Harrah’s Interactive Entertainment Inc. subsidiary.

The high-profile appointment puts him in charge of managing the expansion of Harrah’s existing brands worldwide, in particular its wildly popular World Series of Poker already operating in Nevada and the United Kingdom. “I wanted to come back [to Montreal] because this is where home is,” Garber tells Canadian Lawyer, pointing out the city is conveniently located between Vegas and London. “It’s also a very exciting opportunity with a Fortune 500 company.”

The 44-year-old and his family — wife Anne-Marie Boucher, a tax lawyer, and their two sons — had been living in Europe until May of last year. In April 2006, he was made CEO of PartyGaming PLC of Gibraltar, the world’s largest online gaming company. That position paid him almost US$17 million in the first year. But two years later, PartyGaming announced Garber was leaving after a law passed in the U.S. banning foreign betting web sites resulted in the company’s profit plummeting 67 per cent in 2007.

After fielding offers from south of the border and in Europe, Garber decided to join Harrah’s. He is now a substantial investor in the privately held firm. His job now is “to try and bring the World Series of Poker to major international cities”  —  including Montreal, naturally, and also hopefully Toronto and Vancouver.

Garber’s other main task will be to develop partnerships with governments that will offer online poker in their lotteries or that will invite the World Series of Poker to their existing poker operations.

He has the background to carry out the job. After completing his law degree at the University of Ottawa in 1989 (he also has a degree in industrial relations from McGill University), Garber joined the Montreal firm of Lazarus Charbonneau the following year. There he worked for long-time family friend Morden (Cookie) Lazarus, with whom he developed a successful corporate gambling law practice. In addition to advising suppliers of gambling equipment to Loto-Québec and large U.S. casino operators, Garber also advised U.S. government agencies about online gambling issues.

He left Lazarus in 1999 (but continues paying his dues to the Barreau du Québec and is also a member of the International Association of Gaming Attorneys) to join Montreal’s SureFire Commerce Inc., a NASDAQ-listed payment-processing company whose clients included all major licensed online gambling sites around the globe. Garber became president of SureFire in 2002 and two years later merged the renamed Terra Payments Inc. with the Optimal Group Inc. to form Optimal Payments Inc.

Then in June 2005, he took the spin off FireOne Group PLC public on the London Stock Exchange. FireOne processed payments for about 300 online gambling operations worldwide, including PartyGaming.

Lazarus has said Garber has the knowledge of the industry, the contacts, and the success stories in terms of past experience within the gaming industry. “You need a guy who’s a builder and Mitch is a builder,” Lazarus told The Montreal Gazette following Garber’s headline-making move to PartyGaming in 2006.