Shuffle Master recommended for interactive gaming license

The state Gaming Control Board on Wednesday unanimously recommended approving Las Vegas-based Shuffle Master Inc. for an interactive gaming license.

If approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission on July 26, Shuffle Master would become the third Nevada company to receive a license that would allow it to offer intrastate online poker.

Last month, Las Vegas-based Bally Technologies and Reno’s International Game Technology were the first companies to be licensed to offer online poker.

The Control Board also recommended approval of licensing for a controversial Irish company.

Founded in Minnesota in 1983 before relocating to Las Vegas, Shuffle Master, like Bally and IGT, intends to be a business-to-business manufacturer and supplier and is expected to partner with a land-based company to provide online poker using its games, which include computerized versions of Three Card Poker and Texas Hold’em.

Company officials hope the online versions of their games will attract customers to their casino games, which use their signature product, automatic shuffling machines.

Louis Castle, chief strategy officer of Shuffle Master, told board members the company’s games would operate on multiple platforms, including social media outlets like Facebook.

Castle was the co-founder of Westwood Studios in Las Vegas and created the popular “Command and Conquer” strategy video game series with partner Brett Sperry in 1985. When Westwood was acquired by Electronic Arts in 1998, Castle became an executive with the Los Angeles-based video-game company.

Regulators said Shuffle Master’s lengthy record with the Nevada casino industry made them confident the company would be responsible with an interactive license and the board took less than an hour to reach its decision.

Earlier Wednesday, the Control Board recommended a preliminary finding of suitability for Irish online gaming giant Paddy Power Plc, but it is unclear whether the company plans to pursue an interactive license because it doesn’t have any partnerships or existing business in Nevada.

But Paddy CEO Patrick Kennedy told regulators that he views the United States as a potentially lucrative market.

A former Paddy Power executive had advocated being licensed in Nevada and made a play to acquire Las Vegas-based American Wagering, operators of the Leroy’s Race and Sports Place franchise. But the company instead was bought by Great Britain-based William Hill and the sale and licensing were approved by regulators last month.

Kennedy said 80 percent of his company’s profits are generated by online play. The $6 billion company is the largest operator in Great Britain and has divisions in Italy and Australia.

Regulators said they appreciated that Paddy Power has technology in place that blocks play from some 60 countries that don’t allow Internet gambling. The company also refused to take wagers from the United States in 2000, well before the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006.

The suitability license recommended for approval for Paddy Power would enable the company to establish a corporate presence in the state but it would require other licensing to manufacture, distribute or participate in online gaming. Because the company would have to submit to different investigations for those licenses, regulators unanimously recommended the suitability licensing.

“There are lingering questions and concerns on the background side,” Board Chairman Mark Lipparelli said. “But the company has met the standard for suitability.”

Playtech, the company’s business partner in Australia, is expected to be considered for licensing later this year, and Lipparelli said some questions could be resolved in that investigation.

Regulators didn’t ask any questions about some of the wagers Paddy Power has taken in Great Britain, some of which could be considered controversial in the United States. The company, for example, took odds on whether President Barack Obama would complete his first term in office, which some perceived as a bet on whether the president would be assassinated in office.

The company also took bets on what would be the first species to become extinct after British Petroleum’s Gulf oil spill.

Lipparelli said those types of wagers are commonplace at British sports books and often are publicity stunts to generate notoriety for the company.