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Harrah’s eyes online poker business

Nov 27, 2007 4:47 AM

Harrah’s is researching Internet poker with an eye to getting into it as soon as possible.

There may be none of this waiting for U.S. lawmakers to legalize, tax and regulate it. That’s because it is a big, big world and U.S. restrictions are only one part of the big picture.

So the company has hired experts to put the separate elements of the picture together, telling Harrah’s where in the world Internet poker is clearly legal, where it clearly is illegal and where there is a lot of gray.

No major gambling company has a better feel for the nuances of the poker business than Harrah’s. That kind of understanding is a byproduct of its successful marketing of the World Series of Poker around the world.

In the big, big world of poker, whether it is played in a bricks-and-mortar casino or on a laptop, there is not a better known brand than the World Series.

Whatever the global survey shows, it will probably be complete by the end of the year. Just in time for Harrah’s execs to show the results to the new company owners for their take on a plan for increasing value.

The idea of the moment appears to be that Harrah’s will create an Internet operation to take advantage of opportunities in countries of the world where Internet gambling is definitely legal. Other jurisdictions will be added at the right time.

The forces intent on winning the eventual backing of U.S. lawmakers and the Justice Department have been slogging forward toward the time when Internet gambling will be legal, taxed and regulated.

But in the meantime, there is the rest of the world and unlike MGM Mirage, which appears content to wait for favorable U.S. action, Harrah’s may act now.

Harrah’s benefits from something other company’s lack — that’s the wholly owned subsidiary known as London Clubs Casinos, which hosted a recent big poker event.

Harrah’s executives give every sign of being satisfied with results of the World Series of Poker Europe, which was held in London. The next big effort to exploit the brand outside of Las Vegas will probably involve something in Asia, although Harrah’s is probably months away from making an announcement.

The company has been reluctant to quantify the value of its World Series brand. Spokesmen have instead put the spotlight on features such as the sale of sponsorships and so forth. They have never spoken of the ancillary revenue generated by poker players and the crowds that stream through the Rio, drawn by the prospects of getting close to all that action.

From the ashes ...

Pinnacle has completed design concepts for its Atlantic City resort on the former site of the Sands but is not yet ready to put them on display.

Site preparation work will continue for perhaps the next year because imploding the Sands and cleaning up that mess is just part of what needs to be done.

"There are six other large buildings that we have to take down," said Pinnacle’s Dan Lee and much of that work will not lend itself to anything resembling the fireworks of the Sands implosion.

Star system working

There’s an important message in those stars — yes, the Michelin and AAA stars, not to mention all those Mobil diamonds.

Las Vegas has outgrown much of its old personality as a dusty, desert gambling town. Strategic planners at the biggest companies are anteing billions in development money, betting that the road to the future will be paved with profits earned from projects that require a lot of non-gaming excellence.

And in the pursuit of globe-trotting big spenders, nothing promises satisfaction like a hotel or restaurant that has earned top marks from the most respected of the rating agencies.

What does it mean to have one of Joel Robuchon’s Michelin three-star restaurants in a hotel brand that may be an integral element in a joint venture in China, Singapore or the Middle East?

MGM executives are betting it makes a big difference.

Steve Wynn says in a tone that leaves no room for argument that he designed Wynn Las Vegas to satisfy the Mobil, AAA and Michelin people, "because this kind of rating makes a difference."