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Gaming Guru

Jeff Simpson

Horseshoe May Be Shopping Series

31 December 2003

LAS VEGAS -- Binion's Horseshoe's financial problems are apparently driving the 52-year-old downtown gambling hall to try to sell the property's most valuable assets, including the rights to the granddaddy of poker tournaments, the World Series of Poker, sources said.

"They've been cold-calling, asking if there was interest in buying the World Series of Poker," one casino industry executive said. "It's their best asset, and they're trying to sell it."

And there's definite interest in buying the World Series of Poker brand because of, in large part, the recent ratings success of the World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour telecasts on ESPN and the Travel Channel, respectively, Las Vegas Advisor publisher Anthony Curtis said.

Binion's owner Becky Binion Behnen did not return phone messages seeking comment.

But the downtown casino's financial problems are well-documented, and Harrah's Entertainment lawyers have already met with Binion's Horseshoe officials in an effort to acquire Nevada rights to the Horseshoe brand name, a name Harrah's would own everywhere else once its $1.45 billion deal to buy Jack Binion's Horseshoe Gaming Holdings receives needed regulatory approval, Harrah's executives said recently.

The Horseshoe brand name in Nevada and the property's World Series of Poker franchise are likely Binion's Horseshoe's most valuable assets, Curtis said.

Harrah's is believed to be interested in the Horseshoe brand but not the downtown hotel-casino.

Harrah's has leverage on the Horseshoe owner by virtue of a note that Harrah's is slated to obtain as part of the Horseshoe Gaming Holdings purchase. Jack Binion originally accepted the note from Becky Behnen when he sold her his share in the property in 1998. The note's original face value of $16 million is now worth about $20 million.

Despite the Horseshoe's reported interest in selling the World Series of Poker, three of the likeliest potential buyers said that, to the best of their knowledge, Behnen has made no effort to sell the World Series of Poker to their hotel-casinos.

MGM Mirage Director of Poker Operations Doug Dalton said he knows of no such offer to his company or to Bellagio, and Foxwoods Director of Poker Operations Kathy Raymond said the Connecticut tribal casino has not fielded a solicitation from Binion's.

Nor has World Poker Tour boss Steve Lipscomb, Dalton said after consulting the Hollywood producer.

Meanwhile, Nevada gaming regulators are looking into television commercials and a Web site operated by an Internet casino that refer to Binion's Horseshoe and the World Series of Poker.

The ads feature the 2004 World Series of Poker logo, promoting a contest offering a chance to win a seat in a "super satellite" tournament at Binion's at the World Series.

Super satellite winners earn seats in the $10,000 buy-in World Series championship event, which paid the 2003 winner $2.5 million.

"True Poker is giving away seats to the 2004 WSOP in Las Vegas and all new players are eligible to win," the Web site says. "It couldn't be easier to get your chance to play for the $3 million payday in Las Vegas."

Nevada regulators consider Web sites that take bets from Nevada and other U.S. residents to be breaking federal and state laws. The regulators forbid Nevada casino operators from doing business with the Internet casino sites.

Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said the control board would investigate the logo's placement on the site.

"We'll take a look at it," Neilander said Monday. "This could be a situation where, unbeknownst to them, their logo and trademark are being used."

In that case, the control board would advise the property about the unauthorized use, and would expect Binion's to do its best to have the logo removed from the Web site, Neilander said.

Lionel, Sawyer & Collins lawyer Greg Gemingani, who has represented Binion's Horseshoe on other Internet gaming matters, said the property has actively tried to prevent online casino sites from using its logo and World Series of Poker trademark.