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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Union Gaming Group, successful at home, looks to Japan as global gambling's possible next frontier

3 September 2013

When Bill Lerner and Rich Moriarty penciled out their ideas for Union Gaming Group over dinner at the Sparks Steak House in New York City in 2008, the original concept was to create a boutique investment bank and securities firm focused on the global casino industry.

Five years later, the Las Vegas-based business has far exceeded their initial plan.

Later this month, Union Gaming Group will host a three-day conference at the Conrad Hotel in Tokyo that focuses on Japan’s potential expansion into legalized casino gaming.

Japan is considered uncharted territory for gaming, with many in the industry believing returns on investment could rival Macau, the world’s largest gaming market.

The potential passage of casino legislation by the Japanese government has the best chance out of previous tries, Union Gaming Group believes.

The company’s event will place Japanese government officials, representatives of the leading gaming companies and the investment community into one room.

“We’re creating a platform that is bringing together all parties for communication and education,” said Lerner, who spent 16 years on Wall Street as an equity research analyst. “There is a huge education gap and we believe this conference will help an industry improve from a structural perspective.”

Scheduled speakers include George Tanasijevich, CEO of Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands; MGM Resorts International President Bill Hornbuckle; Wynn Resorts Development President Gamel Aziz; and several Japanese government advisers.

“From a regulatory and geographical perspective, we’re putting all the pieces together in one place,” Lerner said.

That same out-of-the-box thinking created Union Gaming.

Lerner, who was working for Deutsche Bank, came to Las Vegas in 2006 as the first Wall Street gaming analyst to set up shop just a few miles from the Strip. His belief was he could provide more important and timely information to investors by being on the ground at the heart of the gaming industry.

Three years later, Lerner, Moriarty and fellow gaming analyst Grant Govertsen broke off from Deutsche Bank to launch Union Gaming.

A year later, Govertsen moved to Macau and became the first Wall Street analyst on the ground in the Chinese gaming market, which produced $38 billion in revenues in 2012. It was a similar move to Lerner’s a few years earlier, leaving Wall Street for the desert.

“Grant’s competition is in Hong Kong or New York,” Lerner said.

Today, Union Gaming employs 20 people between Las Vegas and Macau. The business has also branched into three divisions.

Equity research analyzes almost two dozen publicly traded gaming companies. Union Gaming Advisors specializes in equity and debt offerings, mergers and acquisitions, private placements and equity trading. Union Gaming Analytics conducts economic impact, feasibility and market analyses for companies and governments.

Lerner said Union Gaming’s growth “happened more quickly and to a much greater magnitude” than the partners anticipated.

Moriarty, who specialized in institutional equity sales on Wall Street, said the idea mapped out in the restaurant was to create something different, a global gaming investment bank focused on one industry.

“We wanted to be true to the sector, because we love the business,” Moriarty said.
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