Banter With the Brat: Phil Hellmuth Talks Rush Street Online Poker, State of the Industry, Ambassador Deal, Stock Portfolio, & More

March 21, 2022
Banter With the Brat: Phil Hellmuth Talks Rush Street Online Poker, State of the Industry, Ambassador Deal, Stock Portfolio, & More

The US online poker market received some big news in early March. Online gaming operator Rush Street Interactive (RSI) announced a purchase of Run It Once Poker.

The poker site was founded by poker pro Phil Galfond, who also announced that RSI planned to offer an online poker product in the US. One interesting note is that 16-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth predicted RSI would embrace online poker in 2020.

Hellmuth is a shareholder in the company and played a role in an acquisition of the company in 2020.  He also believed poker would eventually be a part of RSI in some capacity.

“I believe that Rush Street will have online poker up-and-running soon,” said at the time.

Hellmuth spoke with USPoker again this week about the more recent developments and where he sees Rush Street headed.

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Entering the online poker market

Originally, Hellmuth’s role in the RSI saga began by owning shares in dMY Technology Group, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) founded by Niccolo de Masi and Harry You. SPACs seek out investors to help fund asset acquisition and major stock purchases.

Hellmuth helped put the company in contact with Rush Street thanks to a relationship with RSI CEO Greg Carlin. The poker pro earned a nice bonus for his efforts.

RSI runs the BetRivers and SugarHouse online casino brands in several states. Now with RSI purchasing Run It Once, poker seems on the agenda at least for some degree with the company. Hellmuth was pleased to see the move.

“I’m very happy for Phil Galfond,” he said. “First of all, I think Phil Galfond has been an upstanding member of the poker community for a long time. And he’s shown a lot of class. And I’m very happy for him to have a nice exit.”

Run It Once would offer American poker players another platform option. Galfond and Hellmuth both see big things ahead for US online poker with the move.

“RIO Poker created a platform that people loved, with features and innovations that the poker world was excited about, but we also heard things like ‘if only they could iterate on their software faster’ or ‘I’d move all my volume to RIO if they were bigger,’” Galfond noted on Twitter.

“Well, now we are bigger – much bigger. And now we add to our existing tech team the expertise and experience of those who have built huge poker platforms in the past. I’m extremely excited about what we’ll be able to accomplish together.”

Keeping the faith in US online poker

Online poker in the US remains a  state-by-state proposition. Legalized states include Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Delaware. West Virginia and Delaware have also legalized, but no operators have launched yet in those states.

Like many players, Hellmuth is hoping interstate compacts propel the industry further, coaxing legislators in other states to get on board. He remains an optimist on the industry.

“I’m bullish, as soon as we get interstate cooperation,” he says of the industry. “I saw what the numbers used to look like in the day. And they were massive numbers. And I think that there’s a lot of potential. It seems like a lot of the 19-, 20-, and 21-year-olds are back into poker, which is weird because we had a while where that wasn’t the case. So that’s interesting.

“So I’m very bullish on poker. And I hope that we can get to shared liquidity between states. And then things can really take off.”

Phil Hellmuth at the table for PokerGO’s High Stakes Duel. (Photo courtesy PokerGO)

Rush Street stock falling, Hellmuth remains confident

As an RSI shareholder, Hellmuth is pleased with the shift into online poker. As Galfond has noted, the move allows Run It Once to grow and expand.

The company plans to add poker to its seamless gaming platform, according to Galfond. Hellmuth believes big things are ahead for the company despite some recent slides in the stock price.

“On the Rush Street Interactive side, I’m really happy,” he said. “I still have a lot of shares. I think I went public and said I have 165,000 shares of Rush Street.

“And it hasn’t been fun watching them fall from $20 down to $8 to $12 at 165,000 shares. And so yeah, that’s been kind of tough. I never sold a share, because I had a lot of faith.”

That faith may be warranted. On Monday, the company was named to the shortlist of nominees in four operator categories for the EGR North America Awards. That includes “Operator of the Year,” one of the most prestigious honors in the online gaming industry.

The awards are regarded as the premier honors for operators in the North American market. In 2021, RSI earned Casino Operator of the Year as well as awards for customer services and social gaming Operator of the Year.

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Ambassador deal in the works for the Poker Brat?

Considering his heavy involvement with RSI, one might believe Hellmuth would be a perfect fit as an ambassador for a future Rush Street/Run It Once US product.

That appears not to be the case however. Hellmuth has numerous deals with companies as a spokesman. As one of the biggest names in poker, it may seem odd Hellmuth doesn’t represent a poker site. He now says an online poker deal may be right around the corner however.

“As far as online poker in the US, you’ll probably see me get involved in a huge deal with somebody in the next few months,” he says. “Not Rush Street. I’m kind of surprised myself. I thought it would have been a good fit. But what I’m going to announce is going to be massive.

“I was hoping to announce it last year. So it’s just been things have been moving slowly.”

* Lead image courtesy WPT

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