Pit Boss Steven Roth: Waiting on the Jackpot

Steven Roth is best known in these parts as the “arrogant” and “stubborn” (Tom Menino’s words, not mine) New York developer responsible for the giant hole in the middle of Downtown Crossing. Maybe we should get to know him a bit better as the guy about to cash in on the Massachusetts gaming bonanza. For starters, Roth’s firm, Vornado Realty Trust, owns a 20 percent stake in Suffolk Downs, one of the front-runners to win a casino license if (when) the gaming bill currently working its way through the State House becomes law. But that’s not the only way Roth stands to make a buck from expanded gaming here. It turns out, as noted in this Forbes article from the other day, that Roth would also likely profit from legalized online gaming. He’s a big investor in U.S. Digital Gaming, a software and advertising firm poised to be highly in demand if online gambling becomes legal in the U.S.

Now, to be clear, online gaming in Massachusetts is not imminent, though it does seem like an increasingly likely prospect. As it stands, any Joe with an internet connection can play online poker, but because it’s illegal in America, the sites are all hosted off-shore. Many of these operations, to put it politely, are really really really shady. That’s why revenue-starved states (especially ones that know something about gambling) like Nevada and New Jersey have been looking into legalizing online gaming. GOP state rep Dan Winslow has been pushing for Massachusetts to beat those states to the punch, and introduced an amendment to the House’s casino bill that called for the newly created gaming commission to create model legislation for legalizing online gaming here. No similar amendment was included in the Senate version of the bill, so we’ll have to wait and see whether there are any provisions for expanded online gaming in the final version that ends up on Deval Patrick’s desk.

If there are, it’ll be the first step toward another opportunity for Roth to fill his pockets while leaving the hole in Downtown Crossing empty.