Cantor seeks to expand scope of games; MGM shuffling deck?

Nov 25, 2008 5:11 PM

Gaming Insider by Phil Hevener |

Cantor Gaming’s Lee Amaitis believes his company has found a significant opportunity in the economic storm that is forcing other gaming companies to bring their capital spending down to almost nothing.

It’s not merely a matter of being reluctant to spend $12,000 to $25,000 for new slot products. Cash-strapped gambling halls cannot afford the new products that in another time they might have been quick to buy.

Have we got something for you, Cantor is saying now as it moves forward with a plan to pay installation costs and then split the revenues as gamblers – hopefully – line up to try all the company has to offer.

Whether the Cantor strategy works will become evident as the company begins some serious selling of the wireless gaming technology that was tested for months at The Venetian before getting its final approval last week from the Nevada Gaming Commission.

This is where the fun begins is the attitude Cantor strategists are projecting.

Rather than put a lid on its spending during recent months, Cantor has been looking to buy games and intellectual property rights that strengthen the appeal of its wireless technology. Amaitis sees all this as lining up an assortment of "tools" that add value to the Cantor technology.

The result: At a time when casinos are curbing their tendency to invest in new games, Cantor expects to win friends and find new business with offers to wire casinos at Cantor’s expense for expanded gaming opportunities that will mean increased revenues at participating casinos. The two sides of this business equation will share the revenues.

More shuffling of MGM deck?

Terry Lanni is not officially leaving his post as CEO and chairman at MGM Mirage until the end of November, but he appears to have completed many of his most high profile duties there.

Lanni was noticeably absent last week as representatives of Dubai World, the Arab emirate’s investment arm, were approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission to buy up to 20 percent of MGM’s stock and invest in CityCenter.

Lanni’s successor in the top job, Jim Murren, was there to handle the formal introductions and explanations about the details of a deal that is already well known.

There’s one other possible duty that may still be ahead for Lanni before the end of November – a possible revised role for Bobby Baldwin, the company’s chief design and construction officer who formerly headed the Mirage Resorts half of the company.

Industry followers who claim to have a hand on the pulse of intra-company politics at MGM argue that with design and construction down to just about nothing for the foreseeable future, the company does not really need an executive with Baldwin’s title.

The same people also note that Baldwin has been accustomed to high profile positions in operations. Maybe, the thinking goes, Baldwin will get the chief operating officer title. He knows how to get the job done. Under his presence, the Bellagio has been the most profitable resort in Nevada.

Baldwin was reportedly out of town the last week or so as controversy swirled around Lanni’s surprise retirement and the Commission was confirming Dubai’s suitability as an MGM investor. He was not making statements but neither was there any sign that he was acting to discourage speculation.

Whatever the shape of Baldwin’s future with the company, I’m guessing Lanni will turn to Murren, if he has not already done so, and say, "It’s your call Jim . . . I’m outa here."

A former World Series of Poker champ, Baldwin plays big hands in business with the same shrewd steadiness that he still shows in the big cash games where he can occasionally be found.

On the other side of the table, so to speak, Murren has demonstrated an ability to find his way through complicated business deals with the best of them.

Lanni supporters continue to surface

The man who headed the company that gave Terry Lanni his first job in the casino industry showed no interest in speculative chatter.

I asked Clifford Perlman if he was aware of the news reports that told of Lanni’s resignation from MGM Mirage, reports that tried to link his departure to questions about his long ago academic credentials. The Wall Street Journal has hinted at a conspiracy to paint a picture that did not exist: Did or didn’t Lanni have an MBA from USC?

Yes, Perlman said, he was aware of these stories.

So what did he think?

"Total bull_ _ _ _," was the swift reaction from the man who ruled the Caesars empire during its best years. The company hired Lanni to fill a corporate level post in 1977. Lanni had been hired to run Caesars Atlantic City and was quickly elevated to a corporate post.

The way Perlman put it: "Terry knew people and he knew relationships. He was a professional at a time when there were not a lot of professionals in the business. He got things done."

It would not have mattered, Perlman said, what (educational) degree Lanni had or did not have. But no, he does not recall ever having any conversation about Lanni’s educational credentials and whether they were accurately listed.