The 23rd Round

There is no question that the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas has a major stake in the boxing industry, simply by virtue of the fact that it puts up major money in order to host major boxing shows.

Given that fact, would it really surprise anyone that the tentacles of the company would extend not just to regulation on the local level (if you don't know this, just read the previous two chapters), but to the national level as well?

I wonder if very many people outside the state of Nevada actually realize this, but John Ensign, the Republican United States senator from Nevada, is the son of Michael S. Ensign, the Chairman and CEO of Mandalay Resort Group and holder of five million shares (worth roughly $130 million) of that company's stock.

This wouldn't be so significant, except that Senator Ensign currently sits on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, right beside John McCain. What that means is that he has been involved in creating, and voting on, the boxing-related legislation that will coming up for vote on the Senate floor relatively soon – I'm speaking, of course, about the “Professional Boxing Amendments Act”. This is legislation that would affect Michael Ensign, who, through his company's licensure with the Nevada commission, is a big player in some of the biggest world title fights.

Of course, that means, once again, that we have a situation where the son would have some sort of regulatory domain over the father.

And that's not all. Within McCain's committee, there is a three-man “sub-committee” which, in the event McCain's legislation is passed, will make the official recommendation to the President as to who will be appointed to the position
of “United States Boxing Administrator” (commonly referred to as the boxing “czar”) – a position that would be created as a result of the Boxing Amendments bill.

So by definition, if and when someone is chosen who is going to be instrumental in shaping, implementing, and enforcing policy nationwide, the son of a major boxing promoter is going to have an awful lot to say about it.

Of course, it's worth mentioning that there are quite a few states who seem to resist some federal intervention, even if the autonomy of their own commission is preserved to some extent. And Nevada is one state where the constituents hold a lot of libertarian ideals. Not the least of those constituents are the people who comprise the gaming industry.

As you might expect, Ensign's campaigns are heavily financed by casino money. The industry contributed $373,749 to his 2000 Senate campaign, by far more than any other business sector and ten times that which it gave to his opponent, Ed Bernstein. And the Mandalay Resort Group contributed over $111,000 of that total, nearly twice that of the next highest donor, the MGM Mirage ($56,950).

And it should be noted that there is some built-in protection for the casinos' position in the legislation that is being proposed.

Foe example, this is from the “Professional Boxing Amendments Act of 2002”:

“PROMOTER. The term `promoter' means the person primarily responsible for organizing, promoting, and producing a professional boxing match. The term `promoter' does not include a premium or other cable or satellite program service, hotel, casino, resort, or other commercial establishment hosting or sponsoring a professional boxing match unless:

“(A) the premium or other cable or satellite program service, hotel, casino, resort, or other commercial establishment is primarily responsible for organizing, promoting, and producing has a promotional agreement with a boxer in the match; and

“(B) there is no other person primarily responsible for organizing, promoting, and producing the match not affiliated with the premium or other cable or satellite program service, hotel, casino, resort, or other commercial establishment.”

The law would not mandate that the casino be classified as a “promoter” if there is only a site fee package involved in their financial support of a fight. So while Ensign may not be completely on board as far as passing McCain's legislation is concerned, at the very least he's going to have his bets covered, if you pardon the pun, by protecting those who support him and having some input as to who will be wielding the ultimate authority over the industry (including his father's enterprise) as a whole.

Look – I don't necessarily disagree with protecting the casinos' interests, vis-a-vis national regulation. Certainly anyone who is familiar with realizes that I am pro-industry as far as casinos are concerned. And even though we've pointed out in the past that a casino can be considered a “promotional partner” in an event, if a property is not in control of fighters, or does not make exclusive deals with promoters, we might concede that their role could conceivably be regarded as that of a “sponsor” and “host”, rather than a “promoter”.

Then again, I'm not the one that requires the casinos to be licensed as promoters – the Nevada commission does. And that should tell you something about the way THEY look upon that role.

Not that there aren't some redeeming aspects about Ensign's presence in the Senate, though. He has fought against a particularly ridiculous, ill-informed piece of legislation put forth by McCain – one which would ban all betting on college sports across the country (although when you think about it, the very act of him fighting that bill could be a conflict of interest in and of itself, couldn't it?).

And Ensign's spot on this three-man “czar appointment committee” could serve a positive purpose as well – if that purpose is to bring someone else into consideration for that job, other than McCain's favorite, ABC “past president” Greg Sirb.

But I see a double-edged sword – something that worries me, and should worry you as well. Clearly, Ensign is going to try and push someone from Nevada to become the “czar”. And because Ensign and the other Nevada senator, Harry Reid (the Democratic Whip) have the ability to bring together a considerable amount of support, they might indeed be able to force someone from the Silver State into the mix as a “compromise candidate”.

If some of the whispers are true, Ensign may be creating a mechanism for putting Tony Alamo Jr.'s name forward for that job. After all, some feel Alamo Jr.'s campaign for the vice-chairmanship of the Nevada commission (he was appointed last week) was intended as a stepping stone in that direction, to get him “credentialed”.

You must admit – it's a perfect setup.

Well, if Alamo Jr.'s involvement is a concern on a local level, certainly it has to be as much, if not more of a concern, on the national level, especially as Mandalay Bay is involved exclusively in events that carry with it a degree of national and world significance, involving the networks in all cases, and because the company would, in the course of business, compete with other entities across the country to acquire those events.

I don't anyone to interpret from these pieces that I do not like the Mandalay Bay or its people. Indeed, I respect the Mandalay Bay and acknowledge their role in supporting boxing events, which is something we could use more of. At the same time, however, I recognize that their role – and that of casinos in general – is as a participant in this business; a party with certain financial interests, and not as the quasi-regulator.

And I'm not sure anyone concerned with the long-term interests of boxing wants to see someone holding a national position in regulating the boxing industry, with all the unilateral authority and power that it brings, who has the kind of relationship Alamo Jr. has to a major operator like the Mandalay Bay.

Even if it only APPEARS that way.


Copyright 2003 Total Action Inc.