When poker fans think of those who have contributed the most to the game, they often think of specific players. While that is the case in many ways, there are some people who have significantly changed the game but were not known for their poker play. In fact, most on this list were simply casual players who used their other strengths to make the game better.
These seven people have changed the game in one way or another.
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A poker enthusiast at heart, Henry Orenstein was a businessman and entrepreneur by trade. He created and patented numerous toys and gadgets, but one of his most famous was the hole card camera. The small camera was implanted in poker tables and connected to cameras in order to show poker players’ hole cards. It transformed the way poker was shown on television and became an integral part of the game as it is watched on TV and online today.
Once a programmer for IBM, Isai Scheinberg eventually founded PokerStars, a company that quickly grew to become the largest online poker site in the world. He built an online poker empire that dominated the industry based on the ability to accommodate players, offer substantial bonuses and rewards, and link the site to land-based tournaments around the world. Eventually, he was indicted by the United States Department of Justice on charges related to online gambling on Black Friday, but he sold PokerStars to Amaya in 2014 and walked away from the industry.
The businessman was never a poker fan, but David Baazov had a flair for technology and business. His background in a computer business led him to found Amaya, a gaming software company based in Canada that eventually bought Rational Group, complete with the rights to PokerStars and Full Tilt. While Baazov recently resigned from the company and is currently trying to buy it back to take it private again, he is credited with taking PokerStars in a new direction. While the company remained the largest online poker site in the world, it also forged into the online casino and sports betting businesses.
A television producer and former attorney, Steve Lipscomb started in the film industry with several documentaries, some related to the budding poker industry. After consulting with Linda Johnson and Mike Sexton, he launched the World Poker Tour and began hosting and filming poker tournaments in 2002. He grew the company into one that went public and became one of the staples of televised poker, first on the Travel Channel and then to FOX where it still airs and is in its 15th season. He left the WPT in 2009 but is widely credited with changing the poker industry.
A longtime fan and poker player, Mori Eskandani took his love of the game to a new level when working with Henry Orenstein on a poker television show in 2004. His work on Poker Superstars gave him experience in directing and other aspects of the industry, which he then used to create Poker PROductions. His vision led that company to produce shows that transformed poker on TV with Poker After Dark, High Stakes Poker, and NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship. He was then tapped to produce the World Series of Poker Europe, which led to his current work producing the WSOP for ESPN broadcasts.
As the person on this list with the most experience as a poker player, Matt Savage was drawn to the management side of the game. He started his career doing jobs such as chip runner and floorman in various poker rooms, but he was drawn to poker tournaments. In the late 1990s, he began running tournaments and became a tournament director. Not long after, he worked with Linda Johnson and other industry leaders to create the Tournament Directors Association to bring consistency and formality to tournament rules. He is now the best known tournament director in the world, serving at numerous casinos and as the Executive Tour Director for the World Poker Tour. He continues to promote the TDA and interact with poker players in person and on social media.
While he is not an avid poker player, John Pappas has greatly influenced the game. His background is in public policy and political consulting, and his years of work in Washington, D.C. eventually led him to take a job representing the Poker Players Alliance, a lobbying group for poker players. Now the Executive Director of the PPA, he has represented the game of poker in political circles for more than a decade. His priorities include lobbying for legal and regulated online poker and forming relationships with those who can wield positive influence over the game as it pertains to a growing industry with a positive image. He has increased the visibility of online and live poker through his work with the PPA.