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Gaming Guru

Jeff Simpson

Golden Nugget Buyers Face First License Vote Wednesday

5 January 2004

The Golden Nugget will likely change hands in about three weeks, as Nevada gaming regulators are slated to consider the prospective buyers' license applications at meetings in Las Vegas on Wednesday and Jan. 22.

Poster Financial Group's $215 million deal to buy the Golden Nugget -- downtown's most profitable casino, by far -- and the Golden Nugget Laughlin from current owner MGM Mirage is contingent on the buyers receiving state regulators' OK.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board is scheduled to consider the Golden Nugget buyers' license applications Wednesday.

If the control board recommends Poster Financial Group for licensure, the Nevada Gaming Commission would then consider the license request at its Jan. 22 meeting.

If the applicants receive approval from the five-member commission, the ownership transfer would likely take place within a few days of the meeting, control board Chairman Dennis Neilander said Friday.

Dot-com millionaires Tim Poster and Tom Breitling together own 75 percent of the new venture; former International Game Technology Chairman Chuck Matthewson and tennis champion Andre Agassi each own 10 percent stakes; and former Expedia executive Rich Barton owns a 5 percent piece.

"We are beyond excited to share our plans for the properties with the board," Poster said Friday in a statement. "We recognize that (gaming regulators) have a very big job to do in that they are responsible for safeguarding our state's most vital business interest. For us, this is among the most important first actions we can take as we begin a lifelong dream of owning and operating a casino. We can't wait to get into the Golden Nugget and begin working with an exceptional team, and make our mark on the best brand in gaming."

The Golden Nugget garners the state's best per-machine slot win, at about $190 per device, per day; on New Year's Eve the property's gaming tables were filled with green and black chip bettors, by far the biggest betting crowd downtown.

"This can be something special if done right," said Huntington Press and Las Vegas Advisor publisher Anthony Curtis, a casino industry expert. "I'm very excited about the Golden Nugget. This is an incredible property, absolutely the class of downtown. Downtown may never be able to compete with the Strip megaresorts, but (Poster and Breitling's) plan to return the Nugget to old-time Vegas may work."

University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor and casino industry expert Bill Thompson said the prospective owners could turn out to be an improvement over MGM Mirage.

"If the new owners have deep enough pockets and care about the property, they'd be better than MGM Mirage," Thompson said. "It's a fight downtown just to stay even, and the market just doesn't interest MGM Mirage anymore."

Poster and Breitling maintain that the property's employees are one of its strongest assets; they've said they plan to retain the entire work force at both Golden Nuggets.

Golden Nugget Las Vegas employs 2,670 and the Laughlin hotel-casino employs 800.

Casino ownership changes typically take place around midnight, with control board officials and accountants for buyer and seller working together to accurately tabulate the casino's cash before the transfer of control is completed.

If Poster Financial gets its gaming license, a Fox television network series on the property would get its final green light also.

"The Casino," a 13-episode series, is expected to provide the Golden Nugget and its new owners with unparalleled positive publicity, casino and media industry experts believe.

Fox announced the deal to produce the reality show about the Golden Nugget and its new owners in December; the TV show's production is set to begin in the spring and the 13 episode-season is slated to begin in the summer.

"These guys seem to understand the power of publicity," Curtis said.