Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn recently appeared on Ralston Live, a Nevada TV show hosted by veteran journalist Jon Ralston. The two covered a number of topics, including a brief, potentially exciting, segment on online gambling.

Wynn, who unlike Sheldon Adelson is careful to couch his comments on the topic, told Ralston he agrees with Sheldon [Adelson] that online gambling is bad for the gaming industry. However, Wynn’s concerns remain rooted in what he believes are poor financial expectations, as well as courting potential negative public perception should something go wrong.

“I believe Internet gaming is not going to happen in any way that is meaningful to Las Vegas,” Wynn stated – an indication he continues to see the industry as not worth the hassle from a fiscal standpoint.

He also said, “We’ll get blamed if anything goes wrong.”

When asked if he was going to get involved in online gaming by Ralston, Wynn quickly replied, “I’m not going to get into it…for sure.”

The reason why Wynn no longer has an interest in online expansion (he once did, but more on that below) may have to do with the rationale behind an unprompted comment he made concerning potential federal legislation during the interview:

“I don’t think it has any chance of getting through the House of Representatives and even if it did it would be at the behest, at the encouragement of the state lottery boards, who want to go in that business.”

Precisely what “it” is, is unclear.

Based on the context, it doesn’t appear Wynn was talking about RAWA, but then again maybe he was, as there are many ways to parse this nonspecific statement.

  1. Is Wynn speaking of RAWA and a potential carveout for state lotteries in the Sheldon Adelson-backed piece of legislation?
  2. Is Wynn speaking of Joe Barton’s proposed online poker legalization bill resurfacing?
  3. Is Wynn referencing an as yet unknown proposal to legalize online gambling at the federal level spearheaded by state lottery boards?

However his comment is dissected, it appears Steve Wynn may very well believe the future of online gaming in the U.S. will not be in the hands of the brick and mortar casino industry, and will instead be driven by state lottery boards, much as it is in Delaware, with brick and mortar casinos in the passenger seat.

This could explain his current opposition to online gaming.

In the end, the comment could mean little, or it could signify a dynamic change is about to take place regarding online gaming talk at the federal level.

Wynn’s evolved online gambling position

What makes Wynn’s current feelings about online gaming perplexing is his seemingly inherent fear of the unknown, something the gaming mogul isn’t well known for.

As Wynn himself stated to Ralston, “Most of the money has been made by the best, the newest, and the most competitive properties, and I suspect it will stay that way.”

Online gaming would seem to be precisely the type of cutting edge revenue stream that Steve Wynn would want to get out in front of.

In fact, he has in the past.

Wynn and PokerStars pre-Black Friday

In 2011 Nevada was making strides towards legalizing online gambling, and talk of a federal bill was all the rage.

In this environment several casinos started pairing up with online gaming operators. One of those partnerships was Wynn Resorts and PokerStars, which was announced in late March of 2011.

At the time of the deal Wynn was pro-regulation, telling Forbes:

“We are convinced that the lack of regulation of Internet gaming within the US must change. We must recognize that this activity is occurring and that law enforcement does not have the tools to stop it.”

The deal was nixed just a few weeks later following the Department of Justice crackdown on offshore online poker operators in what became known as Black Friday.

Wynn Resorts issued the following press release the very same day the indictments came down, on April 15, 2011:

“LAS VEGAS, April 15, 2011—Wynn Resorts, Limited announced today that it terminated its alliance with PokerStars, the online poker company. The decision was reached as a result of the indictment unsealed by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.”

Wynn looks to regulated markets

The untimely end of Wynn’s deal with PokerStars was not the casino mogul’s last attempt at getting involved in online gaming in the U.S.

In 2012 Wynn Resorts applied for an online poker license in Nevada, and following the passage of an online gambling bill in New Jersey, the company applied for a license there in 2013.

Wynn Resorts allied with 888 Holdings as its online gaming platform provider in both states. And since the company doesn’t operate a land-based casino in New Jersey, it also struck a deal with longtime competitor Caesars Entertainment to house its online gaming servers.

In both cases Wynn was approved for licensure, but this coincided with Steve Wynn’s change of heart on the issue, and the licenses were never acted upon.

Image by WynnLasVegas / CC BY-SA 3.0