New title, same Street sensibility

You can take Jim Murren out of Wall Street, but can you take Wall Street out of Jim Murren? Perhaps not.

The president of MGM Mirage added a title to his business card last week — chief operating officer. In the process he relinquished his duties as the casino company’s chief financial officer and treasurer.

MGM Mirage’s new corporate structure gave Murren operational oversight of all company resorts except for Bellagio, Monte Carlo and CityCenter, the $7.4 billion project being built in between the two hotel-casinos. Bobby Baldwin, who is overseeing CityCenter’s development, has responsibilities for those properties.

Moving into an operational role is appealing to Murren, who spent 14 years as an investment banker on Wall Street and nine years directing MGM Mirage’s corporate finances. However, Murren figures he’ll still keep his hands in the company’s deal-making process. Plus, he doesn’t believe he’ll completely sever his ties to the financial markets.

“I can’t shake that,” Murren said. “It’s part of what I’ve done to help the company grow.”

Slot machine maker Bally Technologies told investors last week that it was going to reverse a net loss from 2006 when it reports its 2007 earnings next month. And the stock market answered back.

Shares of Bally jumped almost 20 percent in value on the news Wednesday, hitting a 52-week high of $33.45 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Bally’s financial recovery — company shares were at $14 a year ago — has been lauded by analysts.

“We think this was a generally positive update from Bally and believe that the story of continued margin expansion and revenue growth could continue to push the stock higher,” Goldman Sachs gaming analyst Stephen Kent said.

Stifel Nicolaus Capital Markets gaming analyst Steven Wieczynski was more cautious.

“Going into the next replacement cycle, we would favor International Game Technology over Bally,” Wieczynski said. “We continue to believe that Bally’s slot product, while improving, is still behind IGT and WMS.”

The Culinary union’s parent organization, UNITE HERE, a racetrack and two tribes are trying to derail expansion plans by four of California’s American Indian casinos. The region’s largest Indian gaming trade association, however, is backing the expansion.

The California Nations Indian Gaming Association announced last week it was supporting the recently ratified Indian gaming compacts the could add 17,000 slot machines.

The group opposing expansion wants state voters to overturn the compacts and is trying to gather 434,000 signatures by Oct. 8 to place an initiative on the February ballot.

The Inside Gaming column is compiled by Review-Journal gaming and tourism writers Howard Stutz, Benjamin Spillman and Arnold M. Knightly. Send your tips about the gaming and tourism industry to insidegaming@reviewjournal.com.

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