Saturday, December 25, 2010

"What happens on Wall Street . . .er, in Vegas . . . stays in Vegas!"

Wall Street Bond Traders Set Up a Bookmaking Shop in Las Vegas
What a Christmas! Optically-challenged Wall Street bankers are truly the "gift that keeps on giving" to political humorists. The December 25th issue of the New York Times reports that blue-chip bonds trader, Cantor Fitzgerald, is opening a Nevada branch arm to trade in (i.e., make book on). . . drumroll, please . . . Sports Betting!!!

You just cannot make this stuff up, folks.

 Cantor Fitzgerald opens a new sports gambling operation, even though the reputed 'market-makers' obviously lack an effective marketing department? How profoundly 'tone-deaf' can these suspender-clad financial 'quants' be? Out of touch in their lofty Manhattan offices, or locked away in their homes within exclusive gated communities (purchased, no doubt, with their massive bonuses for well or ill-placed bets) have these obtuse bond bookies not heard politicians and commentators of all stripes railing about "closing the casinos on Wall Street" for the past two-and-a-half years?

It was on Wall Street, after all, that traders, such as those at Cantor Fitzgerald, crippled the world economy with huge bets on a market replete with "rigged" mortgage securitizations, exotic derivatives products and still ill-understood financial instruments like collateral debt obligations. Trying to play the "house" on a Wall Street caught up in a housing bubble, firms like Cantor Fitzgerald nearly "lost the house."

And nowWall Street trader want to "diversify" their operations by becoming legal bookies for the action on college and pro sports? (As NFL analyst, Chris Berman, would no doubt roar, "C'mon, Man!")

"Cantor’s push into Vegas," according to the Times, is being led by 61-year-old Lee Amaitis, "whose past includes a conviction in his 20s for dealing cocaine."

“There’s big money in this, especially now that we are moving onto the Strip,” Amaitis, dressed in character, wearing a gray pinstripe suit with the top two buttons of his white shirt undone, told the Times.  "Cantor Gaming," he points out, "mitigates its risk through volume." Sounds like its a classic "numbers racket" to me. Buggsy Siegel, another financial rogue who sought refuge on the wide open Vegas strip would - no doubt - be proud.

"Wall Street executives usually protest when their business is compared to a casino," the Times observes.  However, they note that gaming industry analysts (unsurprisingly) see the logic in Cantor's new gaming subsidiary. “Guys who trade Treasuries are doing it for basis points, and sports betting is not much different,” Jeffrey B. Logsdon, an entertainment and gaming analyst for BMO Capital Markets, told the Times. “Trading a million dollars in Treasuries is different than trading a billion. Sports betting is the same. You want the spread, volume and you see yourself as a match maker.”

Unlike the autumn 2008 break up of Wall Street's epic game of 3-Card 'Housing' Monte that led to the Great Recession and the ensuing financial crises that continue to rock world markets, a subject that will be picked apart and studied by economists and regulators for decades to come, "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."

As noted, you just can't make up such folly. No one would believe you. But no matter how cynical and ironic this move is by one of Wall Street's highest rollers, at least they are being more upfront and intellectually honest about how they made (and will make) their billions: they hedge their bets and make book on the greed and gullibility of the gaming public.

My only question is how the ever-amenable bonds rating agencies, Moody's and Standards & Poor, might be leveraged to continue to shill for Cantor in its newest gambling venture?

But, enough already. . . . My Christmas humor stocking overfloweth!

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