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Murren: Sky won’t fall on MGM if online gambling banned


WASHINGTON — The sky won’t fall on MGM Resorts International if a ban on legalized gambling over the Internet is reinstated, company CEO Jim Murren said Wednesday.

Likewise, Murren said it might not be a disaster for Nevada to lose its virtual monopoly on legal sports wagering if it is approved for other states.

Murren acknowledged some casino owners in Las Vegas feel that way, but “I’m not one of them, and we (MGM Resorts) are the largest one there.”

“I think people are going to go to Las Vegas for March Madness, they are going to go to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl. They are going to go, even if there is sports betting in New Jersey and other states,” Murren said, drawn by hotel, entertainment and dining attractions.

“That is the Las Vegas experience that we create,” Murren told a group of reporters. “Maybe I’m sounding overconfident, but when you invest the billions of dollars that we invest to create these experiences that we create, I am all for consumer choice.”

Regarding the Internet, Murren did not say how much money MGM Resorts has invested to explore online gambling. MGM Resorts, once a supporter of federally regulated Internet poker, now advocates states deciding individually whether to host legal online wagering on poker or broader suites of games.

But while saying “the Internet is here to stay,” Murren maintained the company won’t miss a beat if Congress passes legislation that would effectively ban legal gambling online. Such a bill advocated by Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson is awaiting votes in the House.

MGM Resorts, which operates many major hotel-casinos on the Strip and nongaming properties Vdara, Signature and Delano Las Vegas, “are in the resort-based business, we are not in the convenience gambling business,” Murren said.

“People will go to our resorts because we provide a form of hospitality and entertainment they cannot get at home and they certainly can’t get on the Internet,” he said. “Our business model is not based on the Internet driving business to us. So getting the growth of Internet gaming in and of itself is not required for us to meet our growth projections.”

Murren said the gaming industry only had itself to blame when Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other supporters were unable to win passage of an Internet gambling bill in 2012.

Since then, pro-Web gaming segments of the industry have been thrown on the defensive by the influential Adelson, who has vowed to reinstate a federal law restricting Internet gambling.

“The industry has as much to blame for the lack of success there as anyone because we could not agree as to what day it was as an industry,” Murren said. “Everyone had a different point of view on how best to craft a bill, and it failed.”

Murren spoke on a variety of topics in an hourlong meeting with reporters. He was wearing the dual hats of MGM Resorts chairman and also chairman of the American Gaming Association, the industry’s government relations arm.

On Tuesday night, Murren was at the White House attending the state dinner for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. By Saturday he expected to be back in Las Vegas, where the MGM Grand is hosting the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao fight.

Murren said he’ll be at the MGM that night — but not on the fight floor.

“That’s for the customers,” he said, some of whom reportedly are paying up to $350,000 for a ticket.

“I’m hoping for a competitive fight because I want a rematch,” he joked. Presumably also to be held at the MGM Grand.

In Washington, Murren with American Gaming Association CEO and President Geoff Freeman sought to emphasize the gaming industry’s efforts to build its political clout in the 2016 elections by leveraging its presence in 40 states and its casino and equipment manufacturing workforce of more than 360,000.

“I feel our industry has been for many years either poorly understood or unappreciated,” Murren said. “As it turns out, you look at any battleground state, and it is more than likely they have gaming there, with thousands and thousands of employees.”

The gaming association is stocking its political action committee and has launched a Gaming Votes campaign to showcase itself to presidential candidates.

On other topics:

■ Murren said he remains bullish on Macau despite a recent slump in gaming revenue there. The company operates a resort in the administrative region of China and is opening another next year.

The Chinese central government has invested heavily in Macau infrastructure, and the industry sees plenty of potential customer growth among middle-class city dwellers who have never been to the peninsula, he said.

And Murren said a Macau “slump” must be viewed relatively. Even with a double-digit-percentage drop in revenue to $30 billion, the single market matches the entire U.S. gaming industry.

■ Murren said the gaming association is studying whether or how to involve its members in daily fantasy sports that have mushroomed unregulated into multimillion-dollar commerce.

“Clearly this cannot be ignored, and it is gambling,” he said. “We have not engaged in it as a commercial enterprise because we haven’t gotten comfort by our regulators that we should.”

Murren said sports officials who argue daily fantasy games are not gambling are “absolutely, utterly wrong.

“I don’t know how to run a football team, but I do know how to run a casino, and this is gambling,” he said.

■ Murren said the 20,000-seat arena MGM is building on the Strip will allow the company to take advantage of the acceptance of Las Vegas for team sports that once shunned the gambling city.

Las Vegas hopes to lure a National Hockey League team in 2017, and Murren asked, “Is it hard to believe the NBA down the road wouldn’t consider Las Vegas as a site, or even the NFL or (Major League Baseball)?”

 

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