MGM shuffles the executive deck

August 28, 2007 6:09 AM
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What’s happening with Bobby Baldwin, the world-class poker champ who was the president of Mirage Resorts until last week, when the company announced a reshuffling of top executives?

The question could be the title of a still-developing story, something we might call "The Anatomy of a Rumor."

Important hints of the shape of things to come are sometimes found between the lines and there is a lot to look at between the lines of recent happenings.

Consider last week’s official list of changes and it might appear Baldwin’s professional life has never been better, but look again. There are suggestions of a high stakes chess game in progress here.

And few gaming executives play boardroom chess with any more skill than MGM Chairman Terry Lanni.

But getting back to Baldwin, whose status within MGM Mirage appears festooned with question marks. The 1978 World Series of Poker champion was "named to serve in a new position ”¦ the Chief Design and Construction Officer."

There’s no reference to a promotion as in the case of other "promotions."

He does continue as president of CityCenter, a job that includes supervision of the adjacent Bellagio and Monte Carlo resorts.

Keep in mind that half of CityCenter is being sold to Dubai World, MGM’s soon-to-be partner on the $7.4 billion project. All the other hotels and casinos from Las Vegas to Detroit, Mississippi and elsewhere are now in the hands of MGM Mirage’s new Chief Operating Officer Jim Murren who looks very much like Lanni’s heir apparent.

This is believed to be the job Baldwin wanted, perhaps expected, or so sources say.

A day after the announcement, a respected veteran of the gaming industry, a man outside MGM who nonetheless maintains a good line of sight into the company and its CityCenter project, called to say, "Bobby is resigning."

He did not ponder the possibilities. He simply said it. Baldwin’s leaving.

Since this was not an official announcement of anything, some checking of facts was in order.

"Makes sense to me," came from a second non-MGM executive, who added that Baldwin and his top assistants had spent the last week or so before the reshuffle announcement "congratulating or consoling" supposed winners and losers only to discover their facts were a bit off target.

Which left me thinking, you’ve got to be careful about playing chess with Terry Lanni.

"Sounds like Bobby is being down-sized, moved up and out," mused a gaming industry veteran.

Neither Baldwin nor Lanni has been available for comment, but a company spokesman insisted there is nothing to such speculation. "Bobby just got a nice promotion and he has a contract for another several years," I was told.

Except that, unlike other "promotions," Baldwin’s appointment to a "new position" did not involve use of the word promotion.

A variety of sources agree that for a long time there have been what amounts to "two armies" within MGM Mirage — John Redmond’s army and Bobby Baldwin’s army. What Lanni has done with the recent announcement is clean up all that and put Murren in charge of operations for most of the company.

Last week’s changes also had Redmond, the president of the MGM Resorts side of the company, announcing his "retirement," but in this case there was no apparent controversy as Redmond had been talking about leaving for a number of months

Anyway, Redmond has never generated the level of controversy attached to Baldwin’s years at the top of Mirage Resorts. It has been Baldwin who seemed determined to test Lanni with past actions that couldn’t have been expected to accomplish more than to assert his, uh, sense of self.

None of what’s been said about the re-shuffle’s impact on Baldwin by people in a good position to have a strong sense of what’s happening suggests a "business as usual" approach to life at MGM Mirage.

Baldwin went to work for Steve Wynn at the Golden Nugget in 1982 as a poker room host. Six or seven months later he was in charge of casino marketing. When The Mirage opened in 1989 he was its president, the same title he took to Bellagio when that resort opened in 1999.

Has the run finally ended? We’ll have to see.