PokerStars, ex-regulator believe in each other

Former Gaming Control Board member Randall Sayre wasn’t at the Sawyer Building last week to critique his former employer.

He was there to learn.

Sayre watched intently from a corner of the packed hearing room as regulators said a deal between Caesars Entertainment Corp. and online gaming provider 888 Holdings was suitable by Nevada standards.

In 26 years as a state gaming agent and division chief, and four years as a member of the control board, Sayre earned a reputation as an aggressive regulator who wasn’t shy about his opinions.

One wonders what Sayre’s line of questioning toward executives from Caesars and 888 might have been like if he had been sitting in the control board chairman’s seat. He sought the position from incoming Gov. Brian Sandoval before he was told wasn’t going to be reappointed.

Instead, Sayre viewed the proceedings from a different point of view.

Internet gaming behemoth PokerStars recently hired Sayre as a consultant.

The move shouldn’t be surprising.

PokerStars wants to get ahead of the competition if legalized Internet gaming happens in the U.S.

What better way of showing a commitment to the gaming regulatory process than bringing on as a consultant the person that The International Masters of Gaming Law named Gaming Regulator of the Year in 2009?

Sayre did his homework on PokerStars. He believes in the company.

An Internet gaming bill backed by PokerStars was introduced in the Nevada Legislature last week. If it is approved, the Gaming Commission would have to adopt regulations allowing for Internet poker.

PokerStars also hired former Nevada Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins as its legislative lobbyist.

It’s not just influence the online gambling company is paying for with Sayre and Perkins. It’s experience.

In his last few years on the control board, Sayre forcefully told the industry it needed to clean up its tawdry nightclubs and adult pools.

He had hoped to guide Nevada to the top of the Internet gaming mountain by crafting regulations the state would adopt if the activity was legalized in the United States.

Sayre said last week that Internet gaming’s emergence is only a matter of time. Nevada, he said, would benefit since the state has the history and capabilities to regulate the online casino industry.

Sayre said the arrival of online gaming in the United States is inevitable.

"We can stand on the beach and let it wash over us, or we can recognize the potential economic opportunity for the state," he said.

Perkins said companies like PokerStars are technology centers. The software just happens to be used for gambling.

In the Isle of Man, a British Crown dependency where PokerStars is licensed, Perkins said a booming technology center was created.

"I see Internet gaming as the next extension of how Nevada reinvents itself," Perkins said. "This is the growth vehicle for the gaming industry worldwide."

Online gaming revenues are expected to top $24 billion this year. PokerStars is estimated to control almost 50 percent of the online poker segment.

PokerStars sponsors more than 100 professional players and Internet poker prodigies. The last two World Series of Poker Main Event champions — Joe Cada and Jonathan Duhamel — are sponsored by PokerStars. Celebrity poker players, such as actor Jason Alexander and former Major League Baseball pitcher Orel Hershiser, are part of the website’s team.

In Sayre and Perkins, the company found guides to steer it through regulatory and legislative minefields.

"PokerStars is a significant company that is looking to advance its agenda," Sayre said.

Other companies are in the mix.

Caesars Entertainment, which owns the World Series of Poker, wants to develop a legal U.S. website based on the tournament. The company, along with MGM Resorts International, favors federal Internet gaming legalization, rather than a state-by-state approach.

PokerStars sees the value in all avenues.

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.

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