Hard to believe for-families Disney could be profiting from casinos, but the New York Times posted a story late Saturday that lays out the "family entertainment" giant's connection to gambling.
It seems some of the profits from licensing the Amazing Spider-Man and Iron Man slot games you see in casinos across the world come back to Florida's biggest anti-gambling entity.
In "Gambling Debate Entangles Disney in Florida," Times writers Lizette Alvarez and Michael Snyder explain that Disney's piece of the action began in 2009, when it purchased Marvel, its characters and operations. Turns out Marvel has copious licensing arrangements with gambling products, from slot machines to online games to lottery tickets.
At present, Disney-owned Marvel has licensing deals with slot-game makers around the world, with character machines in casinos in Macau, Brisbane, Brussels, Capetown -- even Florida.
The Times story begins with this: " ... Within shouting distance of the greyhound track here at the Mardi Gras Casino (in Hallandale Beach), the Amazing Spider-Man slot machine beckons gamblers with its spinning masked superhero and his nemesis the Green Goblin."
(Have a look at this YouTube video, made to capture the excitement of Amazing Spider-Man casino game.)
The story never touched on Marvel's on-line gambling presence, particularly throughout Europe, where it is large and growing. A "teaser" game sample, where players can try a game out without risking money, is available online now. (A photo of the online game is shown above.)
Disney claims its gambling association was unwanted and just came with the deal when it bought Marvel Comics for $4.4 billion on Aug. 31, 2009.
Said the Times, "Asked whether Disneys ties to the gaming industry, through Marvel, undercut its position on casino gambling, a Marvel spokeswoman said last week that the company planned to shed its connection to slot machines when the various licensing agreements expire. On Saturday, the spokeswoman added that Marvel had signed its last slot machine deal."
It will take a few years for all contracts to expire, the spokeswoman said.
In 2009, Disney Chairman Robert Iger said this: We believe that adding Marvel to Disneys unique portfolio of brands provides significant opportunities for long-term growth and value creation.
However, over half of Marvel's revenues in 2007 -- a major lure for Disney in the first place -- came from licensingits characters to third party producers of video games, TV shows, toys, movies -- and lottery tickets.
Marvel characters appear on lottery tickets around the country, the story claims -- particularly Iron Man and The Avengers. In many states the tickets are sold in vending machines. Their availability to minors has been a bone of contention in particular to the National Council on Problem Gambling. The NCPG believes scratch-off tickets are a gateway to more serious gambling.
The licensing business has very high margins, because Marvel's cost of production on a licensed product is almost nothing. On the other hand, Marvel sees only a percentage of the profits from the products themselves, which should ease Disney's pain when it gives up the licensing of gaming products.
The Times says the debate over casinos has grown more difficult for Disney in the past year because its relationship with Marvel is growing more and more obvious to theme park visitors and other Disney customers.
When Sunshine State News asked No Casinos spokesman Michael Murphy in September to explain how the anti-gambling group justifies Disney's licensing presence in hundreds of casinos, he said, "From a No Casinos standpoint, it's been widely reported that the Marvel character images were purchased by Disney long after they were licensed by the previous owners to the purveyors of those games."
Nova Southeastern University Law Center professor and expert in gambling law Robert Jarvis suggested to the New York Times it would be better for Disney to stop pretending. Hypocrisy is in the eye of the beholder," Jarvis said. "If they were honest, they would just come out and say, 'its Business 101. Were trying to protect our turf, and weve always attempted to do that.'
Reach Nancy Smith at sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423.