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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

So sorry, Mr. Poster, your plug's been pulled

9 December 2013

LAS VEGAS -- If Tim Poster’s suitability hearing in front of Nevada gaming regulators had been filmed for reality television, it might have saved that awful “The Casino” series he and business partner Tom Breitling had when they owned the Golden Nugget in 2004.

Low ratings caused the show’s cancellation after a half-dozen episodes.

Poster’s 4½-hour meeting with the Nevada Gaming Control Board in Carson City on Wednesday had everything “The Casino” lacked: drama, compelling dialogue, guest appearances, and several plot twists.

The only aspect missing at the hearing was the surprise ending.

It was clear from the outset that Poster, 45, was doomed in his quest to gain a preliminary finding of suitability, which is one step removed from obtaining a full-fledged Nevada gaming license.

Too many issues weighed down the application, including his relationship with Rick Rizzolo, a former strip club owner with ties to mob figures; hiding evidence from gaming investigators; illegal sports wagering on the Internet; and allegations that he acted as an agent for an off-shore Internet sports book.

Control board member Terry Johnson said Poster wasn’t even questioned about possible income-tax evasion issues.

The regulators didn’t pull their punches.

“I’m not in favor of this application,” board member Shawn Reid said toward the end of the hearing. “A withdrawal or a referral back to staff doesn’t do it for me.”

The rejection allows him to continue working in the gaming industry in a position that doesn’t require licensing, such as consulting. An outright denial would have ended Poster’s gaming career.

He can appeal the board’s recommendation to the Nevada Gaming Commission on Dec. 19, but that seems unlikely. Poster needs a unanimous vote to overturn the ruling. It’s more likely his lawyers will simply show up to say they accept the board’s decision.

It’s also doubtful Poster’s cheering section will be back. For moral support in Carson City he brought Breitling, who is chairman of Ultimate Gaming, Station Casinos board member and Ultimate Fighting Championship owner Lorenzo Fertitta, former Wynn Resorts Ltd. executive Marc Schorr, and Las Vegas advertising executive Sig Rogich.

As the meeting progressed, some watching the live feed in Las Vegas wondered whether Poster’s buddies had slipped out the back door.

This wasn’t a regulatory hearing. It was a bloodbath akin a fight between Mike Tyson and Richard Simmons. In boxing, the referee would have stopped the action on cuts.

The hearing became a lesson on illegal offshore sports wagering.

Poster buried himself, not simply by admitting he wagered illegally with unregulated online sports books, but by saying he didn’t realize the activity was wrong. Also, Poster said he wagered heavily on websites associated with Pinnacle Sports. The site’s owners are among 25 individuals indicted by New York state prosecutors more than a year ago for illegal Internet wagering activities.

Several people named in the indictment were customers of Wynn Las Vegas and Encore while Poster was an executive there, a job he was hoping to regain with a suitability finding. At least one of the individuals placed wagers with Poster.

Poster said he continued to wager on the offshore websites, even after he knew the activity was illegal. Regulators were incensed, saying illegal wagering hurts Nevada sports books.

This led to a surreal exchange with Johnson, who asked Poster if he had a gambling problem.

“I haven’t stopped gambling since this happened,” Poster said. “I enjoy it. It’s something I do for recreation. Am I a problem gambler? No. Does it cause problems in my life? No.”

Eventually, Poster acknowledged that his online sports wagering got of hand. He would bet $100,000 a pop on a football weekend. He estimated Pinnacle still owes him about $800,000.

Poster booked bets for friends and created spreadsheets on his home computer showing wagers, who was in on the action and for how much — like an agent for the websites.

Poster told the control board he received rebates from the sports books for his losses, but he didn’t pass along the savings to his friends. He denied the money was actually a kickback or commission, and he rejected claims that he was an agent for the websites.

“At some point, you should have said to yourself, ‘I shouldn’t be doing this,’?” Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett told Poster.

His lawyers tried to save him.

“Tim has made a mistake, a mistake he admitted to and never shied away from,” lead attorney Mark Clayton said. “Tim has learned, and this is never going to be repeated.”

Clayton crafted a compromise that allowed Poster return to a his role at Wynn while applying for a full gaming license. That idea fell on deaf ears.

Poster’s other attorney, J.T. Moran III, after standing quietly at his client’s side for more than four hours, made an eleventh-hour suggestion. Moran, whose father is Gaming Commissioner John Moran Jr., might have best served his client by keeping his mouth shut.

After insulting gaming agents by saying the investigative report relied on “circumstantial evidence,” Moran suggested Poster be given a suitability finding with a one-year limitation.

“There is nothing circumstantial,” an obviously perturbed Burnett told Moran.

The chairman also suggested other agencies might not be done with Poster.

“We know a lot that you don’t know right now,” Burnett told Moran.

Johnson said Moran’s only legitimate point was that “reasonable minds can disagree.”

When Poster was licensed for the Golden Nugget in 2004, he was given a four-year limitation and admonished to stay away from Rizzolo.

On Wednesday, Poster said he hadn’t seen Rizzolo in nine years. But the other allegations made that old relationship appear tame.

Once again, Poster has seen his show canceled.