If and when online poker is legalized and regulated in the United States, there’s are few poker pros better poised to take advantage of the game’s almost-certain explosive growth than Phil Hellmuth.
The Poker Brat would be in excellent position to become the online face of the World Series of Poker. Few players in its history have been as successful at the WSOP as Hellmuth; his $7,808,281 in winnings there ranks ahead of everyone but the last seven winners of the Main Event, whose individual prizes are the seven largest in the game’s history. He has 11 WSOP bracelets and 84 cashes – both records – plus 45 final tables and the 1989 Main Event championship to his credit. It’s a resume that might even be enough to convince you that at least some of those grandiose Main Event entrances he’s made over the years were justified (though if you’re like me you’re still trying to forget him wearing that General Patton get-up).
Even away from the WSOP, consistency has been the hallmark of Hellmuth’s poker career. His first tournament cash came way back in 1987. In every year since then he’s tallied winnings worth at least five figures, with all but three of them worth six figures or more. Add them all up and he’s taken home more than $13.1 million from tournaments, good for more than anyone else in the game aside from Erik Seidel, Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu. Put all of that together and you have an obvious choice for selling an online WSOP-branded poker room to the masses.
Of course, Hellmuth has been the face of someone else’s poker room before. It’s certainly possible that he could have an opportunity to start up his own brand instead, and his marketing potential would seem to be a perfect fit for such a venture. He’s been a regular on TV poker programming since the early boom, having cultivated a larger-than-life image that goes over well with producers looking to spice up what can sometimes be a dull game on the small screen. If there comes a resurgence in cable channels catering to poker fans, it’s likely Hellmuth will continue to be such a presence since his antics are the kind that audiences either love or love to hate. Throw in his penchant for self-promotion – he has his own branded clothing, his own type of Oakley sunglasses, and a gift for always knowing where the nearest camera and microphone are – and it’s hard to imagine him not resuming his old place as a TV poker fixture.
Hellmuth is also a lot more likely than most of the game’s older players to continue to be a force in open tournaments that get TV air-time, given that his single most successful year ever in terms of winnings came just last year. He finished 2nd in three different WSOP events – the $50K Poker Players Championship, the $10K Seven-Card Stud Hi-Lo, and the $10K Deuce-to-Seven Lowball – on his way to winning $1,652,521, nearly $400,000 more than his previous high back in 2006. If he were to have his own branded online poker room, getting face time on ESPN at WSOP events like those would essentially be free advertising for that room.
While Hellmuth’s winnings in 2011 were impressive, they were still relatively small compared to what some far less accomplished players have taken home in a single year over the last decade. That’s not to take anything away from him – his career has obviously been one of the game’s greatest and it’s highly likely that he’ll continue to win for the foreseeable future, probably even surpassing his 2011 winnings at some point. It’s just to say that for Phil Hellmuth, the real money in a legalized and regulated US poker market is going to be in the rake, not on the tables.