MGM Mirage going online

March 19, 2002 8:00 AM
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Las Vegas has put Internet gaming on the back burner. Congress threatens to tighten laws against online wagering. But Las Vegas casinos are forging ahead with new interactive ventures.

MGM Mirage’s latest hook-up with WagerWorks and Orbis will launch a new site featuring e-gaming and live sports book action. President Jim Murren said the yet-to-be-named website should be up and running by yearend.

 “We think it will have the most compelling content because it’s fully integrated into one casino,’’ said WagerWorks exec Paul Mathews. “It will be like being on the casino floor.’

Though cash betting online is illegal in the United States, MGM Mirage is pressing forward with a global strategy. “We’re focusing on cash opportunities and taking real wagers, though not in the United States,’’ Mathews explained.

Meantime, MGM Mirage’s current prize site ­­”” {www.playmgmmirage.com} ””  will undergo some changes. Effective May 1, players will no longer earn points at the site. The phase-out of the points program will allow MGM Mirage to “concentrate on the international expansion of its online gaming initiative,’’ a spokesman said.

The moves come as another big Las Vegas gamer heads up the second annual World Internet Gaming Summit this week in Miami. Tony Fontaine, vice president of interactive gaming for Station Casinos, will chair the conference and demonstrate live casino gaming applications from the company’s GameCast Live.

Station, the first Las Vegas casino to go online, recently purchased a 50 percent stake in SunOnline, which was awarded one of the first three Internet gaming licenses granted by the Isle of Man.

MGM Mirage, which holds another of those Isle of Man permits, believes that its WagerWorks-Orbis connection gives it an inside track in developing full-scale online gaming and sports betting. Headed by Bill Hornbuckle, MGM Mirage Online has a multimillion-dollar budget for research and development.

Marc Falcone of Bear Stearns says the company is smart to pursue offshore venues. “The international marketplace offers the greatest opportunities for gaming in a cash environment,’’ he said. “WagerWorks’ content, technology and strategic relationships with established brands like MGM Mirage make them unquestionably well-positioned to capture a significant share of the market.’’

MGM Mirage has a small equity stake in the San Francisco-based WagerWorks, founded two years ago by Andrew Pascal and Silicon Gaming Inc. London-based Orbis’ software powers the betting sites of dozens of the world’s major bookmakers, including Ladbrokes and Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB.

In another tech development, VirtGame, a San Diego-based provider of gaming software, opened a business development office in Las Vegas last week.

CEO Scott Walker said, “By beginning our expansion in Las Vegas, VirtGame reinforces its continuing commitment to the worldwide gaming and lottery industries and, in particular, to the Nevada market.’’