Cantor takes its time to file suit

If Cantor Gaming really thought Joe Asher was stealing company secrets, why did it take four years to file a lawsuit against its former executive?

Maybe the mobile gaming innovator and sports book operator needed time to gather 15.7 million reasons.

Asher is chief executive officer of Brandywine Bookmaking LLC, the parent company of the Lucky’s Race and Sports Book chain, a rival of Cantor.

Asher, an attorney who grew up in Delaware, came to Nevada in 2005 to help Cantor Gaming — an affiliate of the global financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald — push for the legalization of mobile gaming.

Asher was part of the team that spearheaded legislation and the writing of regulations covering the activity. Later, he helped Cantor sign up its first casinos to use the mobile gaming products.

After leaving Cantor in 2007, Asher started Brandywine. The company now operates the race and sports books in 16 casinos statewide.

During those same four years, Cantor grew its presence in the bookmaking industry. The company currently operates the race and sports wagering facilities at four Las Vegas casinos and will soon have six when state gaming regulators approve Cantor’s takeover of the race and sports books at The Venetian and Palazzo.

So what’s the issue?

In May, Asher agreed to sell Brandywine for $15.7 million to British bookmaking giant William Hill PLC, a move that obviously worries and rankles the executives at Cantor Gaming.

William Hill is about to gain a significant footprint in Nevada’s race and sports book industry. In addition to Brandywine, William Hill is paying $18 million for American Wagering Inc.’s 72 Leroy’s Horse and Sports Place locations, and $21 million to buy the Northern Nevada-based Cal Neva Sports Book Division.

William Hill CEO Ralph Topping told the Financial Times of London that Asher would head the company’s North American operations.

Cantor may be feeling the pinch.

Suing Asher, who the company claims was privy to information when Cantor tried to buy American Wagering more than four years ago, may be one way of slowing William Hill’s move into the Nevada.

Asher wouldn’t comment on Cantor’s lawsuit, which was filed Aug. 2 in Clark County District Court, beyond a statement that hinted Brandywine’s impending sale was at the heart of the matter.

“Cantor didn’t file its complaint until after we signed the deal to sell the company to William Hill,” Asher said. “The timing says a lot.”

Asher, 44, developed a passion for wagering as a teenager, when he would follow his gambler father to racetracks. At 18, Asher was the youngest track announcer in North America, calling races at several New England-area tracks.

He poured his heart and soul into developing Brandywine, hiring respected gaming industry veterans for the operation including, Joe Bertolone, Jimmy Vaccaro and Tony DiTommaso.

In 2009 Brandywine won the contract to offer single-game sports wagering on the National Football League at three Delaware racetracks. But a ruling by the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals shelved the opportunity. Brandywine still provides Delaware customers parlay card wagering on professional football games.

Cantor can’t really view Brandywine, which had revenues of $7.7 million in 2010, as a major threat.

Brandywine’s sports books include the Fitzgeralds and Plaza casinos downtown, the off-Strip Terrible’s, the Primm properties and the Grand Sierra in Reno. Following regulatory approval, Asher’s company could take over sports wagering operations at the Riviera by Sept 1.

As for Cantor, the company currently operates race and sports books at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Hard Rock, M Resort and the Tropicana (The Venetian and Palazzo should be on board sometime this fall).

Several gaming blogs and websites reported that Cantor Gaming is in discussions to take over operation of the Caesars Entertainment sports and race books, which would give the company 10 additional facilities on the Strip.

If Cantor joins forces with Caesars, the move would leave MGM Resorts International as the largest casino company still operating its own race and sports books.

The race and sports book industry, which began as smoky stand-alone betting parlors with names like the Del Mar and Rose Bowl, evolved into large wager facilities inside casinos.

Cantor, with is mobile-wagering products, helped spur additional change to the business.

The company now may need to accept that more change is inevitable.

Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Sundays. He can be reached at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. He blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/stutz. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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