Golden Nugget Online Founder Departs DraftKings

Posted on: October 3, 2023, 01:03h. 

Last updated on: October 3, 2023, 06:47h.

Eighteen months after DraftKings (NASDAQ: DKNG) acquired the company he started, Golden Nugget Online Gaming (GNOG) founder Thomas Winter is leaving the gaming operator.

Thomas Winter
Golden Nugget Online Gaming founder Thomas Winter, seen above in a publicity photo, has announced his departure from DraftKings. (Image: Sigma)

Winter founded GNOG a decade ago, overseeing its rise from a privately held bit player in New Jersey to a publicly traded titan in the state’s online gaming industry and eventual target for DraftKings.

10 years after founding Golden Nugget Online Gaming, 3 years after taking it public and 2 years after its acquisition by the almighty DraftKings Inc., time has come for me to close this extraordinary chapter of my life and open a new one, this time focused on the latter part of work-life balance,” Winter wrote in a LinkedIn post.

GNOG went public on the Nasdaq in December 2020 following a reverse merger with Landcadia Holdings II, Inc., a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) controlled by Tilman Fertitta. GNOG is one of the dominant iGaming operators in New Jersey and also has market access in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

In his LinkedIn post, Winter called Fertitta “the shrewdest and most impressive businessman I’ve ever met.”

GNOG Marriage with DraftKings Paid Off

GNOG wasn’t a public company for long. Eight months after it went public, DraftKings offered to acquire it for $1.56 billion in equity, with GNOG investors receiving 0.365 shares of DraftKings for each share they owned.

The deal was shrewd for DraftKings because the operator is now one of the leaders in the US iGaming market share. Some analysts believe the combined North American internet casino and online sports wagering market could be worth $42 billion by 2030.

Winter praised DraftKings for understanding “the benefits of a multi-brand strategy and trusted GNOG was the right addition to deliver on it.”

Before founding Golden Nugget Online, Winter was chief executive officer and director at Betclic and Expekt, two European eGaming entities under the Betclic-Everest Group umbrella.

Winter’s Departure Seen as Loss

Perhaps owing to a dearth of credible iGaming talent, some industry observers view Winter’s departure as a loss for DraftKings. Gaming entrepreneur and investor Chris Grove said on X (formerly Twitter). “The subtraction of Winter leaves DraftKings with an outsized hole to fill.”

Grove added that DraftKings’ “impressive online casino success is a mix of GNOG’s legacy and DK’s own prowess with the product (which is also substantial). But bringing Thomas and his team into DK’s online casino operations was a clear case of a whole with more potential than the sum of its parts.”

Still, there’s optimism for iGaming at large. Analysts and operators are enthusiastic about the outlook for internet casinos because there’s a long runway for state-level legalization (it’s currently permitted in just a handful of states). It’s also a higher-margin business than sports betting, and bettors are often stickier and spend more money than they do on sports wagering.