Caesars CEO cites online gaming opportunity
* Loveman notes online games legal worldwide
* Caesars bets on its World Series of Poker franchise
By Ross Kerber
BOSTON, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Caesars Entertainment Corp stands to benefit from the rise of social media gaming, Chief Executive Gary Loveman said in a speech on Tuesday.
Loveman described what he called "the continued remarkable growth of online social games" in remarks at a luncheon in downtown Boston. Although the Las Vegas company's resort plans are often tied up in local proceedings, online games like those Caesars offers through its Playtika business face fewer rules.
"These games are legal for anyone to play anywhere in the world," Loveman said.
Shares in the casino operator have fallen after an initial public offering last week. Investors have worried about Caesars' debt and lack of a presence in fast-growing Asian markets. Loveman gave few financial details during his speech, sponsored by the Boston College Chief Executives' Club of Boston.
But in a document filed to the Securities and Exchange Commission Caesars made clear its ambitions for online gaming, such as through its World Series of Poker franchise. Prior to restrictions in 2006, online poker in the U.S. generated roughly $1.5 billion in revenue, the document states.
"We are not aware of another U.S. landbased casino company that owns an online gaming business," the filing states. Though many online players spend money mostly for fun and not for wagers, as at casinos, Loveman reminded journalists after his talk of the IPO of gamemaker Zynga Inc in December best known for games like Farmville.
Caesars Entertainment runs resorts under the Caesars, Harrah's and Horseshoe names. Loveman remains a Boston local, commuting from his home in the suburbs.
Before he joined the casino company in 1998 he had been a professor at Harvard Business School. Loveman had written then-CEO Phil Satre a letter with ideas for the company; Satre responded with a job offer and later made Loveman CEO of the company then known as Harrah's Entertainment.
In its IPO on Feb. 8 Caesars sold about 1.4 percent of its shares outstanding. The offering was widely viewed as a way for the debt-laden company to make up some losses for its private-equity backers. Minority investors have included Goldman Sachs and hedge fund Paulson & Co.
The shares rose that day from their initial price of $9 each to as high as $17.90, but they have since fallen and were trading at $12.72 Tuesday afternoon. It was taken private by Apollo Global Management and TPG Capital in 2008.
Loveman spent much of his talk on Tuesday arguing criticism of the growing casino industry is overblown and that new casinos do not boost crime or take advantage of poorer customers.
He did say about 1 percent of the population is prone to gambling addiction. "We have to deal with that," he said.
Loveman spoke just months after Massachusetts officials approved a bill to allow casinos, and began a process to select operators for three of them. Caesars has a partnership with a Boston-area racetrack to create one of the facilities.
Depending on the design of the facilities, about 40 percent of their revenue could be captured from neighboring states, he said.
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