Gaming regulators suggest OK for Cavs’ owner, also question ex-UNLV standout’s showing

State gaming regulators on Wednesday peppered Rock Gaming founder Dan Gilbert, who also owns the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, with questions about former UNLV standout Anthony Bennett, in addition to his ownership acquisition of Caesars Interactive Entertainment.

This year’s No. 1 overall draft pick by the Cavaliers, who hasn’t scored a basket in his first four regular season games, has more troubles than Gilbert’s latest gaming deal, in which he personally will own 5.45 percent of Caesars Interactive while Rock Gaming will control 9.9 percent.

“He’s a great kid who’s off to a challenging start,” Gilbert said after the 20-minute hearing in which the Gaming Control Board unanimously recommended his licensing as an investor in Caesars Interactive.

Gilbert was headed to Milwaukee after the meeting to see the Cavaliers play the Bucks on Wednesday night.

“It’s early in the season,” Gilbert said. “We believe in him. He’ll do great things.”

As for the Caesars Interactive purchase, Gilbert said he and Rock Gaming are basically just investors in the business, which operates the World Series of Poker, the real-money WSOP.com in Nevada and social gaming giant Playtika.

Rock Gaming and Gilbert paid Caesars Interactive $60.8 million in April 2012 for a stake in the company. Rock loaned Caesars Interactive another $19 million in November 2012. The payment will be converted to equity in the company once Gilbert and Rock Gaming are licensed in Nevada.

The Nevada Gaming Commission will take up the matter Nov. 21.

Control board members questioned Gilbert, who is the founder of Detroit-based Quicken Loans, about his gaming business.

Rock Gaming is the majority owner of two Ohio casinos with Caesars, the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland and the Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati. The companies also operate a Cleveland-area racetrack and casino. Rock Gaming and Caesars are also partners in the $400 million Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, which is under construction. Individually, Rock Gaming owns the Greektown Casino in Detroit.

“I’m very comfortable with your suitability,” control board member Terry Johnson told Gilbert. “You have an impeccable business background.”

Gilbert was questioned about two blemishes to his record; a questionable loan to the former mayor of Detroit and his arrest while more than 30 years in connection with an illegal sports betting operation while enrolled as a student at Michigan State University.

Gilbert said the case was dismissed and his record expunged after taking part in a court-ordered program. Control board members chalked up the matter to a “youthful indiscretion.”

Caesars Interactive is applying for a gaming license in New Jersey to operate a World Series of Poker website in the state. Gilbert said his experience with Quicken Loans, which has to be licensed in every state where it does business, could provide Caesars Interactive with some background on the state-by-state approval process under way for Internet gaming.

“I believe that over time, most of the states are going to come around to this concept,” Gilbert said of the potential expansion for Internet gaming. “They are thirsty for the tax revenues.”

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