Plot thickens in the tale of two Nuggets

May 31, 2005 1:39 AM

Some casino deals play out like Alfred Hitchcock movies. There’s a lot of the unexpected and usually a surprise ending.

Golden Nugget owners Tim Poster and Tom Breitling are almost certainly headed to court as they shepherd the sale of their two Nugget casinos toward final approval.

What we’ve got here is the kind of apparent conflicts that make lawyers and spin doctors rich.

Barrick Gaming proposed buying the Laughlin Golden Nugget last fall, but had not been able to get a spot on the Gaming Control Board agenda by the end of May.

Earlier this year, Landry’s Restaurants and its Houston-based chairman Tilman Fertitta announced a deal for the Fremont Street Nugget. The cousin of Station Casino’s Frank Fertitta III would love to also own the Laughlin Nugget. Just ask him, he’ll tell you. The Nugget brand has a lot of luster, but the place was already sold, right?

Perhaps Poster had some doubts about whether the Barrick deal was going to make it to the finish. Perhaps this is just the way the lawyers do things.

But when Landry’s bought the original Golden Nugget, the language defining the deal said that it was purchasing the "Poster Financial Group," which happens to own both Nuggets.

Barrick had hoped to have the deal locked up by now, but the Board won’t sign off until it knows something about the source of the purchase money. So the Nugget owners approved a one-month extension.

As of the end of May, this was a deal that had still not made it to the courthouse. Barrick wants its million-dollar deposit back. Poster is saying that isn’t going to happen.

Barrick officials have said that the deal is off because the Nugget’s revenue fell below certain pre-tax cash levels.

"That’s ridiculous," counters a source familiar with the other side of the table. EBITDA (earnings before interested, taxes, depreciation and amortization) levels had nothing to do with the terms of the sale arrangement.

But if the Laughlin Nugget reverts to the Poster Group and Landry’s gets it because it is buying the "Poster Group," does this mean that Fertitta is getting the Laughlin property for nothing?

"Get real," says a source close to the principals. "You don’t get casinos for nothing."

Oh, really? If everything had proceeded as expected, Barrick would have closed on the Laughlin property and there would be $31 million credited to Poster Financial Group from that deal. As things appear now, Landry’s will get Poster’s two casinos without the other $31 million.

That seems simple enough.

But let’s wait until the smoke clears and the lawyers have packed up and left the building.

In the meantime, people in Laughlin are betting that what Barrick really wants is the 2,000-room Flamingo Laughlin.

Whatever happens, get ready for a surprise, Hitchcock-like denoument.

TV spices up
poker tourneys

Television coverage of poker tournaments is making big strides that must have resort marketing executives licking their collective chops.

It’s not because spreading the gospel of poker itself is so important, but consider this: How often does the casino business get quality national exposure without having to share screen time with some representative from Gamblers Anonymous?

Not very often.

When’s the last time you saw a blackjack or craps player profiled in a front page New York Times feature?

Poker players, on the other hand, are becoming instant celebrities. Whether this recognition lasts longer than 15 minutes remains to be seen.

But the fact is poker has been very, very hot for a couple of years and it continues to sizzle. It’s a wonder Wynn Las Vegas cardroom ambassador Danny Negreanu has time for his usual big cash games or an occasional six-figure freeze-out, what with the demands on his time by media outlets.

Negreanu is a multiple winner on the World Poker Tour and considered one of the top cash players in the world.

All of this is occurring on the eve of another World Series of Poker, which over the course of more than three decades has become the world’s best known and longest running casino promotion.

Some six million people watched all or part of the National Heads-Up Poker Championships held at the Golden Nugget and broadcast by NBC.

That has got to have the people at Harrah’s Entertainment, owners of the World Series, feeling pretty much on top of things as they will soon be renegotiating the television contract that is now held by ESPN.

Could NBC or one of the other networks be tempted to go after the World Series TV deal? Or will ESPN simply dig down a lot deeper, knowing it has a hot product?

Jon Miller, NBC’s man in charge of sports programming, is not saying anything about the possibility, which by itself seems to be an interesting "no comment."

Whoever gets the TV rights will be sitting in a nice spot — control of a red-hot brand that whets the appetite of a lot of potential sponsors and partners.