[caption id="attachment_230889" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Fantini Research, a leading Dover-based gambling industry publication, has been sold to an equipment manufacturer. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
DOVER – Frank Fantini has been the daily go-to source for analysts, executives and investors in the global gambling and casino industry for more than two decades, but he’s prepared to start calling rather than raising the stakes after selling his company to an industry colleague this month.Fantini Research Publications, based in a downtown Dover office near Legislative Hall, has produced daily newsletters, earnings report recaps, revenue databases, conference show calendars and more to keep up with the rapidly changing industry, dating back to the nascent days of the internet.“Reading your report is more important to my day than my morning coffee,” Cordish Co. Chairman David Cordish has said about Fantini’s daily report.The eight-employee company is entering a new era as namesake founder and former publisher Fantini steps down from a daily role at the company to semi-retirement, and working primarily as an industry consultant. On Jan. 18, the company was acquired by California-based Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, a boutique gambling research firm that Fantini has partnered with for more than eight years. Terms of the deal between the private companies were not disclosed.Fantini and Eilers & Krejcik Gaming founder Todd Eilers have known each other for many years, with Fantini helping to market Eilers’ reports on equipment manufacturers for the gambling industry.
[caption id="attachment_219698" align="alignright" width="300"] Frank Fantini | PHOTO COURTESY OF FANTINI RESEARCH[/caption]
“Todd is an outstanding person, and he's an individual of utmost integrity,” Fantini told the Delaware Business Times. “We had talked about this off and on over the years and he expressed an interest [to acquire the firm] if I ever decided to step aside. So, it was just a natural decision among two people who have worked together very closely for a long time.”Fantini didn’t found his company due to a passion for gambling – it was a combination of his background as a journalist and longtime investor that led him to the opportunity.A former reporter and editor-in-chief of the Delaware State News in Dover, and the former publisher of the now-defunct Delaware Business Review, Fantini would also spend time as an executive in the newspaper’s parent company, Independent Newsmedia Inc. All the while, he was an avid investor who happened upon the gambling industry in the early 1990s just as it was beginning to expand to far-flung locales from the epicenters of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J.“You had situations where a couple of guys would get together, raise some money and then go borrow money at junk bond interest rates to finance a project somewhere in Mississippi. And they were extraordinarily successful, because people would line up to get into these casinos,” he recalled.Many of those operations went public, drove unsustainably high share prices and came crashing down, leaving opportunities for savvy interests to snap up shares of technically strong casinos at rock-bottom prices.“I became, not with any intention or any plan, an investor focused on the gaming industry, and I started making a fairly significant amount of money,” Fantini said.At the same time, he was networking with like-minded investors on early online AOL messaging boards and meeting with industry executives at trade shows. When concerns were raised that the message boards may be ending, Fantini made a consequential decision: he launched his own subscription newsletter for investors and analysts on Jan. 1, 2000.Within the first month, he received inquiries from then-hedge fund heavyweights Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns to collaborate on his research. The newsletter quickly grew by word-of-mouth in the burgeoning industry, targeting institutional investors seeking easy-to-read updates that were chock full of insights. His background as a corporate executive and actual stockholder helped sell his reputation to paying analysts.“It took me two weeks to discover that there actually was a business opportunity here,” Fantini said.Under Eilers & Krejcik, Fantini said he was confident that the daily industry reports would continue to provide the level of insight and sophistication that readers desire.“I knew [Todd] would respect this separate kind of business and we're not trying to make it conform to something that might actually undermine it over time,” he said, noting other potential buyers over the years suggested making a publication that would appeal to a wider conventional readership.Taking over for Fantini as publisher is longtime reporter and editor Ashley Diem, who Fantini said was “really smart” and ready to take the reins. “This is a really great opportunity for her to be empowered and be free, and she's going to do a great job,” he said.The gambling industry has matured quickly in the 22 years that Fantini Research has published, with online gaming and sports betting now primed to be big parts of its future. Technology is largely driving those changes, he said, noting that cashless gambling – or machines that operate on debit-card-like accounts – are one feature likely on its way.“Gaming has always been a technologically backward industry because it is an extraordinarily intensely regulated industry,” Fantini said, explaining that regulators are beginning to see the benefits and safeguards of cashless gaming.He also sees the proliferation of digital gaming and sports gambling becoming a more common presence in American lives, much like it has been in Europe for decades.“It wasn't that long ago that Walt Disney fought ferociously against gaming, and it was one of the reasons you've never had commercial casinos beyond racetracks in Florida,” he added. “Well, guess what? Disney now owns ESPN, which is heavily into sports betting. So, these barriers, whether they're political, social, or technological, are all breaking down, and I think you're just going to have these integrated gaming enterprises.”