Several respected poker media members and poker insiders—most notably F-Train and Katkin—have engaged in a bit of informed speculation about why Hellmuth and Duke left UB, and where they'll likely sign their next deals. The consensus opinion seems to be that Hellmuth is a natural fit for the WSOP.com site, operated by Caesars Entertainment (f/k/a Harrah's Entertainment). Given Hellmuth's current record of WSOP bracelets and his visible presence in the poker media, it's hard to argue for a better landing spot for the Poker Brat. Whether a WSOP.com signing of Hellmuth portends optimism by Caesars for near-term online poker leglaization is a tougher nut to crack, but as F-Train points out, one rarely goes astray when following the money.
But what about Annie Duke? F-Train thinks Caesars / WSOP is a natural fit for Duke as well:
Duke also has significant ties to WSOP through her work for WSOP Academy. Her standing as one of the top female tournament players in history, along with her "celebrity tv" cross-over appeal, are good fits for WSOP. She would bring to the table what Hellmuth lacks in terms of corporate spokespersonship.
Katkin has similar thoughts about Duke, though a bit more guarded:
As for Annie — well that’s a little more complicated. I personally wouldn’t be surprised to see Annie end up joining the Caesar’s team alongside Phil as she too has a long-standing relationship with them as their lead WSOP Academy instructor. The thing is, I don’t know that Annie needs the spotlight as much as Phil does. In recent tournaments, she’s looked a little burned out while sitting at the table and, honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if she just takes a year off from the game to regroup and to work on one of her pet non-poker related projects.
Although I have great respect for F-Train and Katkin, personally, I can't see Annie Duke ever signing on to be a Caesars / WSOP representative. Why not? Two words: Ladies Event.
Although the longstanding WSOP Ladies Event has become controversial over the past several years, during the 2010 WSOP a small number of men decided to protest the event by playing in the event (and in some cases, being rather rude about it). During the ensuing firestorm of controversy, Annie Duke came out as strongly opposed to the Ladies Event being a WSOP bracelet event, a position she has long held. Although I may not completely agree with Duke's position, there is no question I respect her for holding a reasoned, principled position on the issue.
The problem with Duke's anti-Ladies Event position is that there really is no way to reconcile her position with a possible paid position as an endorser and spokesperson for WSOP.com. The WSOP is the crown jewel in the Caesars poker empire, and the Ladies Event is an historic and popular event in the WSOP. As WSOP.com builds its presence in the United States poker market (whether through play money marketing or eventual real money play), there will almost certainly be marketing and promotions related to the WSOP Ladies Event. Ads and offers directed to known Caesars women live action poker players as well as freerolls or satellites feeding the Ladies Event are inevitable.** There is no question that Caesars would expect their paid spokesperson for women's poker to be an integral part of the marketing of the Ladies Event, and likely even require her to play in the event.
Say what you will about Annie Duke, she has always struck me as a person who stands firm on what she views as core principles. If Duke in fact signs on to be a spokesperson for Caesars / WSOP.com, she will have repudiated her entire argument against the Ladies Event for a few pieces of silver. I don't see Duke selling out like that, but maybe Caesars will find the right price for Duke's integrity. Only time will tell.
* Now UB, of course, is the successor site to the scandal-ridden Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker sites, where high-profile cheating occurred via "superuser" accounts which enabled certain players—who were company insiders—to view their opponents' hole cards during live play (background on the Absolute Poker "PotRipper" scandal and the Ultimate Bet "Russ Hamilton" scandal for those of my readers who aren't in the online poker loop). So, Hellmuth and Duke have certain credibility issues within the poker community for their continued association with UB post-scandals, particularly since they were long-time paid company representatives who may even have held an ownership stake at some point in time.
** Trust me, Caesars is quite good at leveraging its Total Rewards data for micro-marketing. I get plenty of gay-oriented email ads, as well as offers and promos related to poker and Midwestern residents. I may, in fact, be targeted as the sole professional, Midwestern, gay poker player in the Total Rewards database. Big Brother for degenerates ...