Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta may entertain buy offers

Sep 3, 2013 3:08 AM

Internet gaming’s domestic picture continues taking shape as elements in that picture fall into place.

It’s all a matter of who will do what, where will they try to do it and, of course, when. From Las Vegas to Atlantic City, the expected players in this new corner of the gaming industry are looking for good positions in what will be crowded fields.

The Ultimate Gaming operation that is mostly owned by Station Casinos still has the Nevada spotlight to itself more than four months after the first hands were dealt April 30, to players hunched over their computers somewhere within the state’s borders.

That’s probably as big a surprise to the people at Ultimate as it is to the many interests monitoring the development of this picture-in-the-making. Momentum has been slow to develop.

This will change soon as more systems are added to the mix, according to Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett.

Give it a couple of weeks, he told me. This was about a week ago. He was thinking about the laboratory approval of Internet systems that are necessary before operators get the green light to fire up their pay-to-play programs.

He may also have been thinking about the ongoing Nevada effort to develop interstate agreements that will create player pools large enough to make the final picture interesting for everyone. More players mean more revenue, which creates the sense of action that keeps everyone interested.

Speaking of revenue, non-traditional approaches for funding customer accounts are evolving. This is important since Internet gaming customers have to get their money to the casino before they can play. Most credit card companies and banks remain reluctant to get involved in transactions that federal law still says are illegal.

Burnett agrees this is an issue and says getting wide recognition for what is now legal and regulated in Nevada will be an “education process.”

New Jersey sources say one of these alternatives is a California company known as PayNearMe, Inc. It’s designed for those individuals who prefer to pay their bills in cash, according to various Internet descriptions and is aimed at people who use cash as opposed to checking accounts or credit or debit cards. You can fund your Internet account at any of their 335 New Jersey 7-Eleven locations. The money is wired to the casino electronically, a receipt is issued and the Internet casino player can immediately sit down at his computer.

In the meantime, Nevada officials, including the Board and its staff, are pushing the development of compacts. This work includes consultations with gaming companies.

MGM CEO Jim Murren confirmed MGM’s involvement in this effort. “We’ve been working with the state of Nevada on their efforts to compact with other states. Internet poker becomes more interesting once Nevada has compacts.”

MGM’s interest in Internet gaming will probably heat up in a hurry once it is recertified next year in New Jersey as co-owner of the Borgata operated by Boyd Gaming.

And that brings us to Steve Wynn who has been in and out of New Jersey’s casino scene several times over the years. His recent filing for a New Jersey Internet license comes as he remains busy with efforts to get approvals to build “urban Wynn” resorts in the Philadelphia and Boston areas.

Wynn has not had anything to say on the subject, possibly because he’s not certain what he wants to do and figures it is good strategy to have all his possibilities covered. Also, Wynn will have to buy an existing resort or partner with a casino owner since the state’s Internet gaming program will have to be run by one of the 12 casino owners.

The proximity of New Jersey’s state lines to major urban areas in Pennsylvania and New York and the fact that the New Jersey approach will include all kinds of gaming explains the recent surge of interest by groups that appear intent on buying one or more of the 12 properties.

Atlantic City has definitely been a buyer’s market over the last several years as prices have plunged to lows once hard to imagine.

Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta’s Landry’s Inc., chain of restaurants paid $38 million for the former Trump Marina two years ago and spent $150 million giving it a new look. He also gave it a new name – the Golden Nugget. He conceded recently that results have not been what he anticipated and he now appears willing to consider purchase offers. Not that he will necessarily sell to anyone. But what the heck, it never hurts to talk and you never know what talk can lead to.

And then there is the Revel whose disillusioned investors would probably leap at the opportunity to hear from groups that see the arrival of Internet gaming late this year as a big money opportunity.

Would any of these possibilities appeal to Steve Wynn?

He’s not volunteering useful insights but longtime Wynn watchers note he has seldom bought and operated existing casinos. True, he did buy the Desert Inn in 2000, but he only waited a couple of months before deciding to tear it down and build the Wynn.

It is also useful to remember Wynn can change his mind on a dime. He’s done it before. Wynn was the last of the major Las Vegas owners to embrace the nightclub business in a big way.

But look at his attitude toward it now. You’d think he invented the sexy, over-the-top club business.

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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