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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Looking in on: Gaming

3 October 2007

Nevada -- Last month the Nevada Gaming Commission approved another private equity stake in a casino.

But this deal, involving Reno's Silver Legacy, invited a brief lecture from Commission Chairman Pete Bernhard over the potential perils of allowing portfolio wizards to profit from Nevada's gaming riches.

"I've seen a lot of investment advisers interested in making money ... and getting out," Bernhard said. "Are you looking at this investment as something that can be flipped?"

Long-term investors such as the Carano family, he said, are more likely than short-timers to follow Nevada regulations and look out for their employees.

Newport Global Advisors of Woodlands, Texas, received approval for a 17 percent interest in Eldorado Resorts, which owns half of the Silver Legacy and is controlled by the Carano family.

Bernhard also expressed concerns about the particular Newport fund investing in the casino, saying the fund lacked gaming management experience and had a short track record overall.

In its defense, the firm is run by former American International Group executives with more than a decade of experience lending to casinos. The fund also has invested in a Shreveport, La., casino and plans to renovate and improve both properties.

But some regulators, at least privately, haven't been entirely comfortable with the idea that funds based outside the state are increasingly managing Nevada casinos rather than simply making passive investments in them.

• • •

During the past three months the new management team at the Casino MonteLago has been busy bringing the upscale but money-losing casino into the black by trimming costs, which helped improve operating profit by more than 80 percent.

The next step: spending money on new slot machines and amenities such as a high-limit area, more restaurants, a gift shop and maybe even an events center. And look for more aggressive marketing and comping with nearby amenities such as restaurants and golf courses, executives told the Nevada Gaming Commission last month.

The commission approved the transfer of the casino's operating license from previous owners who had not successfully tapped the locals market.

The resort population of Lake Las Vegas is expected to double during the next couple of years, boosting the property's fortunes, bosses said.

• • •

The poker players are coming.

In advance of the most promising year yet for the passage of legislation to legalize Internet gambling, the Poker Players Alliance has organized its most aggressive meet-and-greet with members of Congress since the group burst on the national stage in 2005.

The grass-roots lobbying group hopes to round up a few hundred members for a two-day policy conference on Capitol Hill this month that will include discussions of regulatory issues and receptions for lawmakers.

The alliance began in Las Vegas, then moved to San Francisco under the leadership of a tech industry lobbyist and recently moved again, to Washington, D.C., to be closer to the action.

It has amassed an impressive virtual army of 800,000 members. But don't expect any rallies like you've seen from medical marijuana patients pushing the legalizing of pot.

The policy conference, spurred by effective one-on-one meetings with lawmakers during the August recess, will emphasize quality time over public statements, Executive Director John Pappas said.

"We could have drawn thousands of people to Washington to stage a protest for a day," he said. "But we want to be more strategic about it."