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Boyd Gaming One of Many Industry Players with New Legal Leads

May 3, 2021, 10:00 AM

Boyd Gaming Corp., a casino and hospitality company that owns properties throughout the U.S., has hired former MGM Resorts International executive Uri Clinton as its new general counsel.

Clinton was a former top lobbyist for MGM in the Las Vegas-based gaming and hospitality giant’s bid to expand its operations in New England. He didn’t respond to a request for comment about his move.

David Strow, a spokesman for Boyd, which is based in Paradise, Nev., adjacent to Las Vegas, confirmed Clinton’s hire to Bloomberg Law.

Boyd has been without a legal chief for more than a year following the retirement of general counsel Brian Larson, who spent over two decades in the role.

The company co-founded by casino icon Sam Boyd paid nearly $281 million in 2018 to buy the Valley Forge Casino Resort in King of Prussia, Pa., near Philadelphia.

Boyd’s new top lawyer spent the past year as a development consultant to MGM Resorts and as a partner at Sorelle Capital, a real estate and hospitality investment firm. In late 2019, he stepped down as president and COO of the Empire City Casino, a Yonkers, N.Y.-based raceway that MGM acquired the year before.

Clinton isn’t the only gaming industry lawyer making moves.

In recent weeks, companies operating in various segments of the market—from industry stalwarts to startups—have been busy recruiting legal talent.

Sightline Payments LLC, a Las Vegas-based financial technology startup focused on the sports betting space that raised $100 million from investors earlier this year, announced April 19 its hire of Howard & Howard partner Jennifer Carleton as its first-ever chief legal officer.

Carleton, who spent the past year as outside general counsel to Sightline, said there’s a “push for hiring gaming lawyers” with all levels of experience, particularly for companies seeking to capitalize on the expanding sports betting market.

While the coronavirus pandemic temporarily shuttered many casinos, it also put a strain on many U.S. state budgets. Some of those states have looked to levies on legal sports bets to raise money and replenish depleted municipal coffers.

A $212 billion budget deal agreed upon in April legalized mobile sports betting in New York, a state hit hard by the financial fallout from Covid-19. Sports betting is now legal in 27 U.S. states and Washington, D.C.

“Almost every state in the U.S. is looking at some form of gaming expansion,” said Sightline’s Carleton. “Operators, service providers, and technology companies are looking for help navigating the regulatory and licensing requirements that come with this unprecedented growth.”

In-House Roulette

Carleton, prior to joining Howard & Howard in 2018, spent more than a decade at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a law firm with strong gaming industry ties.

Another such firm is Dickinson Wright, which saw its gaming and hospitality practice chair Kate Lowenhar-Fisher, an adviser to various sports betting enterprises, decamp in March to become chief legal officer for Everi Holdings Inc.

The Las Vegas-based gaming and casino products maker’s prior legal chief, Harper Ko, bolted Everi in late 2020 for the top legal job at Penn National Gaming Inc.

Everi’s first general counsel, former Brownstein Hyatt partner Kathryn “Katie” Lever, was herself announced April 1 as the first-ever legal chief for AutoLotto Inc., owner of online sweepstakes platform Lottery.com.

AutoLotto is preparing to go public by merging with Trident Acquisitions Corp., a special-purpose acquisition company being advised by Loeb & Loeb. White & Case is representing AutoLotto on the deal.

“My role will be part of the executive team as we grow as a new public company, expand both domestically and internationally, and continue to innovate in digital gaming,” Lever wrote in an email to Bloomberg Law.

Lever, a 20-year industry veteran, most recently served as chief legal counsel for the Drew Las Vegas, a long-delayed Las Vegas casino and resort project that was sold earlier this year to a group led by Koch Industries Inc.

Bloomberg Law recently reported on seven firms grabbing roles on another SPAC deal that will see Betway Ltd., an online sports betting business in Europe, go public and make inroads into the U.S. Betway, a subsidiary of SGHC Ltd.’s Super Group, has partnerships with several U.S. sports teams.

Roger Parkes, Betway’s Malta-based director of compliance and regulatory affairs, didn’t respond to a request for comment about whether the company will be looking to hire U.S. in-house lawyers as it prepares to go public.

BetMGM, a Jersey City, N.J.-based digital gaming and sports betting joint venture between MGM Resorts and British gaming giant Entain PLC, tapped former MGM Resorts chief corporate counsel Andrew Hagopian III to be its legal chief in January. BetMGM has also recently recruited former Big Law associates Alexander Walder and Angelo Cerimele for compliance roles.

Entain, BetMGM’s co-parent, hired legal chief Simon Zinger, most recently group general counsel at media and marketing company Dentsu Aegis Network Ltd., in February. Zinger, who last year started the General Counsel Oath, is based in Gibraltar. Zinger’s hire came two months after Entain named Martin Lycka its senior vice president for American regulatory affairs and responsible gambling.

At Boyd, Clinton joins a casino operator with its own online gaming presence—B Connected Online—and which late last year hired associate general counsel Christine Chang, a former chief litigation counsel at Caesars Entertainment Corp., whose former legal chief found a new home in January.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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