In search of fresh ideas

Mar 15, 2005 3:47 AM

Larry Woolf hopes to have a hand in taking gaming industry technology to a much higher level. The founder and chairman of the Las Vegas-based Navegante Group says there’s no shortage of ideas, but bankrolling new concepts is another story.

That’s where Woolf believes Navegante Group can help. The former senior executive with Caesars and MGM — he opened the MGM Grand in 1993 — says he wants to "try and create an equity fund with perhaps a couple hundred million in it, so that when a guy comes to me with what sounds like a good idea, we’ll be able to fund the idea if it meets certain criteria.

"All these ideas need is the kind of financial backing that is not always available from the most traditional sources of money," Woolf continued. "There are probably a hundred funds out there that have been set up to help someone trying to grow a business. Right now, there is nothing like that in gaming. The available help is either coming from the banks or from private equity."

Currently, Woolf says, Navegante simply provides management expertise in a variety of areas. But he is working on establishing a discretionary fund.

"We’re structuring it as we speak, but we have not done all of our filings yet," he said. "We’ll be out trying to raise money for the fund shortly."

Once the fund is in place, Woolf says his company will be in a position to help people with emerging technology "take it to the next level, where they’re making good money or perhaps becoming a take-over candidate."

Woolf says the Navegante fund won’t involve banks or traditional institutions.

"It will involve us going to private individuals," he said. "We’ll build out the fund and in about three years shut it down and pay dividends to the investors.

"The idea is, if a person with this great idea cannot get money from Wells Fargo, they might get money from us," Woolf said.

Woolf said the kind of ideas and concepts his company would bankroll is wide open.

"There are so many things going on out there in the technology world that are going to improve the business," he said. "When I was at MGM Grand, I had originally bought from a private individual all of the technology for ticket-in, ticket-out slots.

"But when we opened in 1993 with about 400 ticket-in, ticket-out games, the time was not right for such an advanced technology and MGM eventually sold that technology to IGT."

The rest is history. Today, most of the slot floors in the state of Nevada have moved toward ticket-in, ticket out, and virtually all the new machines sold are coinless games.

"You can imagine how I would like to have the chance to buy that kind of idea today," Woolf said. "You can bet I would not be selling it to IGT."

Woolf added that MGM was also "very close" to the technology that Wynn Las Vegas will use, enabling customers to use one card as both a room key and a slot club card.

"That sort of thing," Woolf says, "is very doable now . . . It is too expensive to convert some of the older properties, but anything that is new in the future should definitely use this kind of thing."

Woolf said there are "thousands of ideas" floating around that could have an equal impact on the gaming industry, but they just need "a little creativity and engineering to work.

"There are just so many possibilities, and we’d like to see them become part of tomorrow’s casinos," he said.