With the National Football League’s 2018 season under way and the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in ashes following a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year, the time has never been better, or bettor, for those inclined to partake or invest in the U.S. gaming sector.
The NFL, the world’s most profitable professional sports league, stands to potentially make billions from betting, according to a recent Nielsen report. Other gaming and technology companies are racing into the space following the 6-3 decision in May by the nation’s highest court allowing states to legalize sports gambling. And lawyers, perhaps not surprisingly, are increasingly in demand for clients looking to capitalize on a change in the status quo.
Enter Mark Hichar, a former chair of the gaming law practice at Hinckley, Allen & Snyder, who left the regional firm this week to join Greenberg Traurig as a partner in Boston. Hichar spent the first decade of his legal career as an in-house lawyer at GTECH Corp., a Providence, Rhode Island-based gaming technology operator bought for $4.5 billion by Italy’s Lottomatica in 2006.
“I joined out of law school when it was just a small company in Rhode Island, but I got to travel all over the world doing gaming deals,” said Hichar, who served as assistant general counsel for GTECH until 2000. “Since then the industry has continued to expand.”
Lottomatica eventually adopted GTECH’s name, and in 2014, the Italian lottery operator acquired International Game Technology plc in a $6.4 billion deal that created a London-based global gaming giant known as IGT. Earlier this month, IGT inked a deal with daily fantasy sports provider FanDuel Inc. for a mobile sports betting platform in New Jersey, the state that turned to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to successfully overturn PASPA.
Hichar, who advises casinos, gaming technology companies and investors, lotteries and their various vendors, declined to identify specific clients that he hopes to bring with him to Greenberg Traurig. His new firm, a 1,944-legal giant that saw gross revenue climb to nearly $1.48 billion in 2017, has a long history in the gaming sector. When FanDuel rival DraftKings Inc. ran into legal issues in late 2015—the two daily fantasy sports companies saw a proposed merger collapse last year in the face of regulatory opposition—Greenberg Traurig was one of several firms retained to help clean up the mess.
Hichar will be part of a gaming group at Greenberg Traurig led by partners Martha Sabol in Chicago and Mark Clayton in Las Vegas. Clayton is a former member of the Nevada Gaming Control Board who joined the firm in August 2014 from now-defunct Lionel Sawyer & Collins. A gaming practice often requires corporate, intellectual property, litigation and regulatory expertise, Hichar said, something that Greenberg Traurig, due to its size, has in spades. The firm can tout Clayton as one of the world’s top gaming lawyers, according to Chambers and Partners.
“Greenberg Traurig had the foresight to see [gaming] as a growing business,” said Hichar about his decision to leave 147-lawyer Hinckley Allen, which hired him in early 2012 from Edwards Wildman Palmer, three years before that firm merged with Locke Lord. “Over the years there has been a convergence between lottery and nonlottery [clients]. There is so much investment … anything that can give you a competitive advantage will be monetized.”
Hichar declined to disclose whether or not he used the services of a legal recruiter in making the move to Greenberg Traurig. The firm, which this summer saw co-founder Robert Traurig die at 93 and is soon poised to lose co-president Hilarie Bass in Miami to her own diversity and inclusion initiative, faces competition in the gaming arena from several Big Law rivals.
Earlier this week, MGM Resorts International Inc. and the Alliance of American Football, a spring football league set to debut next spring, announced an agreement that will allow viewers to bet on player data from live games. The deal, which raises several unique legal issues, comes a little more than a month after Las Vegas-based MGM and the U.K.’s GVC Holdings plc struck a $200 million deal to build an interactive sports gaming platform. MGM turned to Gibson Dunn on that transaction, while Latham & Watkins took the lead for GVC.
CORRECTION: 9/14/18, 10:54 a.m. EDT. A previous version of this story transposed the legal representations on the MGM/GVC deal.