Online gambling delay helps Vegas Station casinos

Jul 23, 2013 3:08 AM

They’ll be turning up the heat under speculation and wishful thinking about Internet gaming – it’s just poker in Nevada – as the second quarter round of corporate reporting begins this week.

The issue continues to be a big item on corporate agendas, a fact that has been fueled by ongoing speculation about the revenues to be harvested once the myriad systems in the hands of more than two-dozen licensed suppliers and operators are up and running.

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But when will the action begin? The players are all over the place.

Station Casinos is off and running, Sheldon Adelson acts like he is not interested, others continue mapping strategy behind closed doors.

Officials at Station and its Ultimate Gaming subsidiary are as surprised as anyone that they still have the Nevada Internet poker spotlight to themselves nearly three months after they began their now-completed field trial. Despite a glitch or two, they have obviously satisfied Gaming Control Board regulators.

But where is everyone else?

South Point owner Michael Gaughan told me a month ago he expected to have his pay-to-play Internet poker operation running by the end of July.

OK, so maybe he changed his mind. It’s always better to do things right than screw up a grand entrance.

Caesars World officials told the poker world back in late May that its Internet poker system would be launched sometime during the World Series of Poker. The WSOP adjourns for four months until early November when the final table will be played down to the winner at the Rio.

A November Internet launch might work out nicely for Caesars since that is when New Jersey officials hope to begin Internet gaming at the city’s 12 casinos, and as luck would have it Caesars controls a healthy slice of the Atlantic City market.

Wynn, MGM and the Las Vegas Sands may have bigger fish to fry, what with their ongoing multibillion dollar spending in Macau and other Pacific Rim locales, but even these companies cannot afford to ignore Internet gaming, though Adelson appears to be doing his best to do exactly that.

I suppose he sees bigger profits in hotel rooms, conventions, retail space and, oh yes, let’s not forget those high-rolling Asian baccarat players.

An interesting development during recent weeks is the evidence of a renewed glimmer of hope (wishful thinking?) that Congress might get its act together and approve what would be a unified 50-state approach to regulating Internet action.

Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX) insisted last week he is serious about getting an Internet poker bill approved – he prefers to keep the focus on poker. But almost nothing happens quickly when Congress gets involved, and frenzied partisanship deadens thinking.

The lottery and tribal forces anxious to keep Internet gaming regulation at the state level have gained a lot of ground over the last couple years and it does not take a big effort to sabotage a proposal.

The alternative to federal action is a series of compacts linking participating states in a fashion that would be acceptable to all involved, but the passage of a little bit of time has some observers telling each other it might be more difficult than most people imagined to forge these agreements.

Atlantic City operators might also have their own issues with delays. When did a bureaucratic freight train ever leave the station on schedule? But one at a time the adjustments will be made as business forces, regulators and lawmakers deal with the politics of Internet gaming.

There’s no question the politics and personal preferences of strong-minded business people and politicians will add an interesting, uh, flavor to the process.

Financial analysts must back away from their love of numbers and consider the power of intangible drivers wired into human nature.

Numbers tell an important story but it is the quality of the experience and skillful marketing that produces the numbers.

The magical X-factor is imagination. But there is also the politics of gaming, a significant factor in the Internet revolution that became clear to me one recent day as a longtime gaming regulator wondered, “Why should New Jersey want to compact with Nevada? It’s closer to bigger markets than Nevada is. Why should its leaders want to help Nevada tap into its business?”

I did not pretend to have an answer he would find acceptable, but I know that others are working on such issues.

Questions such as this have helped to keep alive the glimmer of hope that Congress will eventually find a unified 50-state approach to the regulation of Internet gaming.

Somewhere down the road the big thinkers working on Internet-related concepts will stitch together the elements of a plan that turns Internet gaming into a global and totally legal happening.

That’s why the hope of Washington action has not been abandoned.

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. He can be reached at [email protected].

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