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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Looking in on: Gaming

4 July 2007

Station Casinos isn't discussing how its business strategy may change after, as expected, the company goes private by year's end in a management-led buyout. But executives are offering some hints in the company's latest proxy statement, which was mailed to shareholders who soon will vote on the deal.

The theory that Station will be able to develop casinos more quickly or as quickly as it has done in the past, but without quarterly pressure from Wall Street to meet earnings benchmarks, appears to mesh with the development activity forecasted in the preliminary proxy.

The document estimates what the company could earn in future years if certain casinos are built - earnings that shareholders presumably wouldn't receive if they choose to cash out now for $90 per share.

The company's operating cash flow - profit before deducting interest, taxes, depreciation, development expenses and certain nonrecurring costs - is expected to nearly double, to more than $1 billion, by 2010, the proxy said.

That assumes that Station opens its $650 million Aliante Station in early 2009, a Michigan tribal casino by the first half of 2009, the $700 million Durango Station at the beginning of 2010, a tribal casino in California's Sonoma County in the second half of 2010 and a $700 million Reno casino - one of two the company expects to build in Reno - in 2012.

Officials wouldn't confirm or discuss this timeline.

• • •

The closing of the Pokerdome game show at Neonopolis and the shutdown of Internet broadcasts of poker tournaments at Binion's are just two local casualties of last year's Unlawful Internet Gambling Prohibition Act. Because of the law, several Internet gambling Web sites pulled out of the U.S. market and yanked advertising sponsorships that helped support venues such as the Pokerdome and Binion's.

And yet, the legislation doesn't appear to have made a dent in this year's World Series of Poker at the Rio, which has already hosted 38,210 players competing in the first 44 events. That compares with 31,784 players over the same period last year. This year's tournament, even before the main event, has paid out a record prize and attracted a record number of players.

Some had predicted a lower turnout from players discouraged or prevented from playing online satellite tournaments awarding seats at the World Series of Poker. The best barometer, Harrah's Entertainment tournament officials say, will come in the next few days as the final numbers come in for the main event, the $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold 'Em World Championship beginning Friday .

Harrah's has made it easier for players to wire registration money to the Rio and revamped the prize structure so more players will receive a cut of the pool. The company, with partner ESPN, is also broadcasting events live on the Internet this year, hole cards and all.

Harrah's is also looking abroad to grow the World Series of Poker brand. After a Eurocentric tournament in London in September, Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack said , Harrah's will explore potential tournaments in other regions, such as Asia and Latin America, in the next three years.

• • •

Film and television producers may hire their own casino consultants, but don't generally tap the folks at the state Gaming Control Board for information in the crafting of plots involving Nevada gaming violations. After all, why let facts get in the way of a good story?

But that changed recently when producers of the NBC show "Las Vegas" called the board's enforcement division for some particulars that may end up in a coming episode about a gambler in trouble with the law.

That the latest George Clooney-Brad Pitt movie spectacular, "Ocean's Thirteen," featured the FBI , rather than the Gaming Control Board, nabbing a casino cheat didn't dampen that film's entertainment value. It did generate some extra laughs from the board, though.

Looking in on: Gaming is republished from