Peter Carlino has doubts about Internet gaming

Apr 26, 2011 6:00 AM

Gaming company CEOs continue to throw their support behind plans for a thoughtful regulation of Internet poker.

Penn National Chairman Peter Carlino has doubts about whether Internet gaming is a good idea but it is inevitable, he says. And, the expected new owner of Las Vegas’ M Resort is talking to Internet operators with whom Penn expects to eventually strike a deal.

Current plans call for Penn to take over ownership of the beleaguered M Resort once gaming regulators sign off on the transfer of control this summer, probably in June. Penn acquired control of the hotel and casino last year when it bought up the M’s bank debt.

As for Internet gambling, Carlino cites his personal reservations about whether encouraging people to gamble from home is a good idea.

But there is probably also another factor at work in his thinking. Most of the company’s nearly two dozen casinos in about 16 jurisdictions – companies based on the success of slot machine marketing – are no more than about 30 miles from the bulk of each property’s customer base.

Penn sent a mailing to selected names in its database early this year, a move designed to point those players toward the M and appears to be satisfied with the initial results of that mailing.

Because of its investment at this point in the M, Carlino says the company does not have any interest in the sort of cross-marketing agreement Pinnacle Entertainment recently negotiated with Wynn Resorts, Pinnacle being another gaming company without a Las Vegas casino.

Penn remains interested in another Las Vegas property, "if the price is right," but only as an owner.

Steve Wynn is not retreating from his support for Internet poker despite the federal indictment against the company with whom Wynn signed a partnership.

"Poker is as American as apple pie," Wynn said. "It screams for regulation and action that will most likely come at the federal level as lawmakers in Nevada and Washington line up their priorities."

That’s what Wynn told financial analysts as he reacted to federal indictments that shut down the U.S. operations of three Internet poker sites – Full Tilt, Ultimate Bet and PokerStars. The latter had announced a marketing agreement with Wynn Resorts just days earlier. The three are allegedly involved in acts that violate provisions of federal laws prohibiting the handling of financial transactions generated by Internet gaming.

This is the same Steve Wynn who was saying not so long ago that he had little interest in Internet gamblers. They were not his kind customers because he would rather have them in his building spending at a variety of outlets.

But times have changed as the potential size of the Internet market combined with the globalization of U.S.-based casino companies make it apparent poker is not to be ignored. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget it will continue to be business as usual for poker sites outside U.S. borders.

Whatever the fate of PokerStars, Wynn appeared to suggest his company might sign an agreement with one of the Internet companies that remains (at this point) untouched by the federal grand jury’s action. Companies claiming to be in compliance with the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act of 2006 have approached Wynn about a partnership.

The action was controversial even then, not because there was a loud cry for a restrictive law, but because former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee was working on behalf of the conservative interests opposed to any expansion of gaming when he tied the prohibition to a port security bill, an action that made it difficult for pro-poker lawmakers to oppose the proposal.