Something that cannot be denied is the fact that Las Vegas always has – and continues to today – set the benchmarks, trends and paradigms for how to run a gaming town. Even Macau – which has now far surpassed Las Vegas in terms of pure gambling revenues – still aspires to emulate Sin City’s nongaming moneymakers: things like expensive nightclubs, luxury retail, and five-star restaurants, not to mention so-called gentlemen’s clubs, entertainment and special attractions. And, of course, the casinos themselves have evolved exponentially over the decades, and all of that requires the careful design and planning of a few behind-the-scenes leaders who understand what drives the market.
The People Who Make It All Happen
Some of those industry leaders – people like Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson – are highly visible, colorful characters in their own right. But some sit in the shadows behind the scenes, making them no less significant in the forward movement of the Las Vegas gambling industry.
One such person in that latter category is Mark Lerner, the just-retired legal counsel for Bally Technologies. After a 17-year career with the slot-making giant, Lerner can definitely lay claim to actively participating in how the casino industry has changed and evolved during his tenure.
In order to provide gaming equipment in any particular jurisdiction, Bally must hold a gaming license there; something that if you have been following any of the sagas in Massachusetts as operators try to obtain one, is no easy task. In order to provide proper legal counsel for the slots giant, Lerner also had to get licensed in hundreds of locales: 214, to be exact. On top of that, 80 percent of these markets require an annual renewal for re-licensing.
That means 214+ individual suitability investigations that Lerner has had to endure; based on his own calculations, he says, “If you do the math, I’ve been investigated some 2,000 or 3,000 times.”
This is a man who can’t afford to have so much as a parking ticket on his background checks. And it appears, he doesn’t have any. Asked if investigators in all these thousands of checks ever came up with even the slightest red flag, Lerner shrugs and says, “Apparently not. I’m pretty boring.”
Positioned Bally Technologies for SHFL Acquisition
Boring or not, Lerner has played a key position in taking what was once called Alliance Gaming into its current position as the second-largest manufacturer of slot machines, gaming equipment and casino management systems. Following a recent $1.3 billion buyout of SHFL entertainment (sic), Inc. – formerly known as Shufflemaster and the creators of the zillion-dollar brainstorm concept of a machine that auto-shuffles cards in casinos – Bally can now lay claim to seven separate reporting divisions, and the reported (and most convenient, considering the sale price) potential for some $1.3 billion in annual sales.
Much has changed in 17 years, mind you. When Lerner joined the company, they still had spinning reel slot machines; naturally, those are now a piece of history, with video-based reels. And the changes in technology have largely driven the changes in the gaming industry itself, according to Lerner.
“When I started, we owned a few dozen patents,” noted Lerner. “Today, the company has about several hundred. Slot machines are technological marvels.”
While Lerner may be a “backstage” kind of guy, Bally Technology CEO Ramesh Srinivasan credits the attorney’s “deep knowledge of gaming” with much of the company’s meteoric rise to prominence in the casino game.
“Few individuals possess Mark’s knowledge and passion for the gaming industry, and his contributions to Bally cannot be overstated,” Srinivasan said.