A Good Sign For iGaming Supporters: New Wynn CFO Has Deep Online Gambling Roots

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Wynn online gambling CFO
Sheldon Adelson is certainly the most vocal opponent of online gambling in the US, but the Las Vegas Sands chairman is far from the only casino mogul fighting legalization efforts.

After applying for and receiving a New Jersey online gaming license, Steve Wynn, one of Adelson’s chief competitors, decided online gambling wasn’t for him or his company, Wynn Resorts.

He expressed some serious misgivings about online gambling in a 2014 interview with Nevada journalist Jon Ralston.

Wynn’s concerns (more on those in a moment) didn’t match up with Adelson’s, but they were concerns nonetheless.

However, in appointing a new CFO with solid online gaming ties, the company’s position may be shifting back to the positive.

New CFO with online gambling connections

Last week, Wynn Resorts announced it had hired Craig Billings as its new chief financial officer. Billings took over for outgoing CFO Stephen Cootey on March 1.

The press release announcing Billings’ hiring called him a “key executive in the gaming industry,” and someone who, among other things, specializes in digital innovation.

Billings’ most recent stops were with NYX Gaming and Aristocrat, where he served as chief digital officer and managing director of strategy and business development. Billings was the president and CEO of ZEN Gaming when it was acquired by NYX; Billings became a board member.

Both companies are heavily involved in online gaming. Along with Billings’ own history in the digital arena, this bodes well for Wynn having another change of heart when it comes to online gaming in the US.

Wynn’s opposition never fully aligned with Adelson’s

Adelson’s publicly-stated opposition to online gambling centers on concerns with problem and underage gambling. However, plenty of observers believe his opposition has more to do with limiting competition than moral concerns.

Wynn’s current opposition to online gambling (more accurately, his non-support for it) was first expressed in early 2014. It was framed strictly as a business decision.

It should be noted that his views regarding online gaming have become somewhat more negative in the ensuing years, but they still center on the potential for profit, or lack thereof.

At the time, it was noted that Wynn’s enmity was not immutable, which should come as no surprise considering his oft-changing views on online gambling.

Wynn’s position has evolved several times

In 2009, Wynn’s views were more similar to Adelson’s.

He told the Las Vegas Sun, “Internet gambling can’t be adequately policed and could embarrass the industry.”

But in a 2011 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Wynn’s stance had softened a great deal. He called for legalization and regulation to tame the unregulated industry:

“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…. It is time that the thousands of jobs created by this business and the potentially significant tax dollars come home to the US.”

Wynn would go on to forge a short-lived partnership with PokerStars in 2011, which was brought to an abrupt end on April 15, 2011 when the US government indicted PokerStars and several other US-facing online poker sites.

Undeterred, Wynn continued to explore online gaming opportunities, even applying for and receiving a New Jersey online gambling license in early 2014.

As noted above, soon after being approved in New Jersey, Wynn did his most recent about-face when he told Ralston online gambling wasn’t a “good entrepreneurial opportunity.”

Wynn also rehashed his 2009 stance, mentioning the possibility of an online scandal that he believed could harm the industry.

Wynn’s change of heart at that time, however, didn’t see him joining Adelson to stop online gaming.

According to Las Vegas journalist Howard Stutz, “Sources said Wynn does not plan to financially back the effort by Adelson to halt online gaming legalization in Washington, D.C., or state by state.”

By and large, Wynn has focused on the dollars and cents of online gambling.

“Where is the business opportunity?” he rhetorically asked in his 2014 interview with Ralston. “The big problem I see is I don’t see the government letting us keep the money.”

Bottom line

Will the hiring of Billings move the needle when it comes to Wynn and online gambling?

That remains to be seen, but considering his on-again-off-again history, and with a casino project set to open in Massachusetts (one of the frontrunners to legalize online gambling) in 2019, it’s something that will need to be on the company’s radar.

Image credit: drserg / Shutterstock.cosn

Steve Ruddock

About

Steve Ruddock is an avid poker player and a veteran member of the gaming media. His primary focus is on the regulated US online casino and poker markets. He writes for numerous online and print publications, including OnlinePokerReport.com, USPoker.com, and USA Today.

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