Insiders selling; cash registers ka-ching!

Mar 27, 2001 6:38 AM

KA-CHING! KA-CHING! That’s the sound of the cash register ringing following the sale of stock by insiders in two gaming companies.

Usually, when corporate executives sell their company stock, it is considered negative — and vice versa when they are buyers.

Not so for Joe Lahti, chairman and CEO of ShuffleMaster Inc. (SHFL) and John Acres, founder of Acres Gaming (AGAM).

I’ve been giving bows to Lahti for some time now for the sensational job he’s doing in turning his company into a winner. He sold 150,000 shares of SHFL Jan. 19 at prices ranging from $16.12 to $17.87 per share.

On Monday, after another day of surging sales, SHFL closed at 26.38. That’s up $3 a pop. And — even more amazing — is the volume of shares traded, 861,000 on Monday. The normal volume is 65,200.

Now take a look at Acres Gaming. On Feb. 28, John and Jo Ann Acres unloaded 20,000 shares at $2.58 each. On Monday, AGAM closed at $6.22.

Three weeks ago, I told readers in this space that Acres was lining up customers at a record pace. The suggestion: it might be a GOOD BUY. At that time, the stock was trading for $2.81, up from a 52-week low of 87 cents.

What goes? Telephones are ringing at both companies. At press time, there was no response.

All I can say is, if insider selling has this kind of effect, please, Mister Insiders, keep on selling.

TWO ROADS DIVERGE! One is in Nevada; the other, New Jersey. Forget the yellow wood. These roads have to do with online gaming.

A bill is expected to be heard Friday in Carson City that would enable the Nevada Gaming Commission to put the OK on Internet gambling operated by Nevada casinos and played only by Nevada residents.

At the same time, across the country in Trenton, N.J., a similar online-gaming bill appears not only to have run out of gas, but it may be dead in the water.

Nevada Bill 296 is sponsored by 35 of 42 members of the House and five of 21 members of the Senate. It also has the blessings of the powerful Nevada Resort Association.

In New Jersey, State Bill 3150 would legalize Internet gaming that is operated by Atlantic City casinos strictly for residents of New Jersey.

The New Jersey bill has only two sponsors in the House. It is bitterly opposed by Sen. Bill Gormley (R-Atlantic County). Gormely is not only the casino industry’s pal; he is also chairman of the Judiciary Committee. As for the New Jersey Casino Association? No way, Jose. It opposes the bill with all its might.

No one likes to get caught in the middle, but that could very well be the position of three gaming companies that operate casinos in both Nevada and New Jersey.

Merle Berman, the assemblywoman who wrote the Nevada bill, is in favor of opening up betting not only to Silver State residents, but also gamblers anywhere Internet gambling is permitted.

WAS IT ALL A "MIRAGE"? That’s the question being asked by a New Jersey bankruptcy judge about disgraced penny stock manipulator Robert Brennan. Government investigators allege that Brennan was hiding millions of dollars when he filed for bankruptcy in 1995. And part of the money came from successful gambling jaunts to The Mirage Hotel/Casino in Las Vegas.

Craps was his game and prosecutors produced seven casino slips indicating that Brennan was averaging $18,000 a throw. Yet Mirage employees of that period say such wagers would have placed Brennan in a group that would have "stood out like a sore thumb." Yet no one could remember Brennan playing that high or winning any large amounts of money.

It was even suggested that Brennan had won $500,000 by betting on sports. The idea could not be supported by casino personnel.

To many, it sounded like a mirage at The Mirage.

SOMETIMES EVEN THE HOUSE LOSES! It’s well known in Las Vegas that a lucky high roller — a so-called whale — can take home enough of the house’s bank to influence the public company’s quarterly financial report.

It’s happened in Las Vegas in the past. It happened more recently in England.

Famed Crockford’s casino in Mayfair announced recently that a couple of whales took the exclusive casino for 4.5 million English pounds, the equivalent of about $6.3 million. The hit would reduce the parent company’s quarterly profits by 15.6%.

Not to worry, the company told its investors. The loss was only temporary, it said. After all, the odds were in the house’s favor. So, with time, the loss would be recovered.

The casino makes it a practice not to divulge the identities of its high rollers, but did indicate that in this case the winners were "from the Middle East and Far East."

PLAYING ONLINE WITH PLAYBOY! Hugh Hefner, the 75-year-old founder of Playboy magazine, has something new to peep at: his flashy new online casino. It will be launched in Great Britain. And because of the stringent gaming laws in the USA, Hef will make sure no bets will be accepted here.

According to one insider, Hef’s online casino operation will be the biggest to date. The man who stretched American morality to the limits in the 1950s with his magazine is closing the door on Yankee dollars from inside the United States.

"But," said an insider, "Hugh Hefner has his fingers crossed that it won’t be long before online gaming becomes legal."