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Sands and Cantor team on cross-pond online casino

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The announcement last week of a partnership between Las Vegas Sands, Inc., and British-based Cantor Gaming to start an online casino in the first quarter of 2007 is only adding fuel to the allegations on the part of European competitors that the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act is primarily protectionist in nature.

The Sands operates premier real-world properties such as The Venetian hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, and is one of the largest gambling and resort companies in the world, although it trails both Harrah’s and MGM Mirage in overall size. It has moved aggressively into Macau, the new gambling hotspot, and the announcement indicates an intention to pursue the European online market equally aggressively.

For its part, Cantor Gaming is a part of the Cantor Fitzgerald financial services group. The upscale clientele Cantor can bring to the table had to be an attractive target to the Sands, and the partnership is something of a coup in light of MGM’s apparent inability to get a deal done for Ladbrokes.

In the week since the announcement, however, comments on gambling gossip sites have been less than enthusiastic about American expansion into foreign gaming markets. No one is quite sure if the Sands is simply testing the waters by buying a little expertise for the future, or serious about promoting its brands in Europe. In light of the Sands’ strong moves in Asia (the company’s second major casino in Macau will open in 2007, and it has another on the way for Singapore opening in 2009) here at the Reg we’d be inclined to take the threat seriously. Others have been more sanguine, expressing hope that a successful online casino run by an established American outfit might pacify US authorities.

The partnership does make sense. Cantor has only been in the gaming industry since 2005, and the Sands people have oodles of experience in the gaming side. Cantor would bring access to large amounts of investment banking- generated cash, as well as a ritzy client base. It could well turn out to be a solid partnership.

It also makes sense in light of the continuing consolidation in the online gaming sector. Bet365.com this week announced a merger with Bowman’s, a well established British gaming company. Size matters to those in for the long haul.

The gaming gossips may fume about American expansion at the same time as they bash foreign attempts to penetrate its own gaming market, but the future of online gaming looks increasingly American. Not that Americans will get to play, of course. ®

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