Fertitta just had an exit of one of his companies. Photo by J. Thomas Ford

The acquisition of Tilman Feritta’s Golden Nugget Online Gaming, Inc. (Nasdaq: GNOG) by digital sports entertainment and gaming company DraftKings Inc. (Nasdaq: DKNG) is complete.

DraftKings announced that it has completed the acquisition, worth at approximately $1.6 billion (dubbed the “GNOG Acquisition”) on Thursday, May 5.

“This will be an alliance unlike any other in the digital sports, entertainment and online gaming industry,” Fertitta said in a statement . “Now that the acquisition is completed, I look forward to what the future will bring for our combined company and am confident this relationship will be a huge success.”

DraftKings notes in a press release that this GNOG Acquisition will allow the company to leverage Golden Nugget’s established brand to “broaden its reach into new customer segments and enhance the combined company’s iGaming product offerings through DraftKings’ vertically integrated tech stack and Golden Nugget Online Gaming’s unique capabilities – including Live Dealer.”

Notably, the GNOG Acquisition will not include brick and mortar Golden Nugget casinos; Fertitta will maintain ownership of those entities.

The GNOG Acquisition will deliver “significant” benefits to DraftKings, as well as expected savings of $300 million, a release notes. The company aims to deploy a multi-brand approach meant to enhance cross-selling opportunities and drive increased revenue.

Additionally, DraftKings and Fertitta Entertainment expect to rebrand some current and future retail sportsbook locations at Fertitta Entertainment-owned Golden Nugget properties into DraftKings sportsbooks.

As CultureMap previously reported, DraftKings' agreement with Fertitta Entertainment will provide for it to become the exclusive daily fantasy sports, sports betting, and iGaming partner of the Houston Rockets. Additionally, if sports betting becomes legal in Texas, DraftKings will open a sportsbook at the Toyota Center.

As the Houston Chronicle reports, DraftKings, headquartered in Boston, more than doubled its revenues to nearly $1.3 billion in 2021 from about $615 million in 2020, according to SEC filings. Its net loss widened to about $1.5 billion from $1.2 billion in 2020.

“Acquiring Golden Nugget Online Gaming gives us synergies across our business,” said Jason Robins, chairman and CEO of DraftKings, in a statement. “We anticipate that this acquisition will provide meaningful revenue uplift by utilizing our data-driven marketing capabilities and a dual brand iGaming strategy, gross margin improvement opportunities, and cost savings across external marketing and SG&A. I am proud to welcome the Golden Nugget Online Gaming team to the DraftKings family.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Watch elite gamers face off in League of Legends. Photo by Jamie McInall/Pexels

Popular esports tournament powers up at NRG Stadium with a historic twist

game on

Heads up, gamers. The most popular esport is coming to the Bayou City. The League Championship Series (LCS), will host its marquee championship event at NRG Stadium (8825 Kirby Dr.) on April 23 and 24, the organization announced.

Not only is this the first time the tournament will be held in Texas, it’s also the first time the prestigious League of Legends competition — the LCS Spring Finals — will be hosted in an NFL stadium. For the uninitiated, League of Legends is a wildly popular, team-based multiplayer strategy game.

Houston fans are invited to attend both the pregame Fan Fest celebration and the LCS Finals, a first since the pandemic. The Fan Fest starts at 10 am Saturday, April 23, and the first match starts at 2:30 pm.

As the league’s first seasonal championship event of the year, the competition will see North America’s top three teams vie for an LCS trophy, a banner in the LCS Studio rafters, and an invite to the international Mid-Season Invitational in Busan, South Korea next month, per a release.

Developed and run by influential and prolific developer and publisher Riot Games, this championship will be held in North America across four cities — Mexico City, New York City, Toronto and San Francisco, a first since 2016, a release notes.

As the most-watched esport in the world with 12 international leagues, the 10-year-old LCS is actually the third-most popular major professional sports league among 18- to 34-year-olds in the U.S., per industry insiders.

For some perspective, more than 465 million people watched esports in 2021. Esports generated more than $1 billion in revenue, according to a Newzoo report.

For more information on the Fan Fest and tournament, visit the official site.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The University of St. Thomas has opened its esports center on its campus. Photo courtesy of UST

Houston university opens esports facility on campus

game on

Houston's University of St. Thomas has taken a big step into the esports arena.

On August 31, the school held a grand opening for its on-campus esports facility. The facility features 13 gaming stations decked out with high-end tech equipment, including three 70-inch TV screens and Alienware monitors. The university recently gained an esports sponsorship from Monster Energy.

Beena George, chief innovation officer at UST, introduced esports to the school. It's the first university in Houston to launch a competitive esports team and esports academic program. UST teamed up with Houston-based Mainline, an esports platform and media company, to develop the curriculum.

"Our university is educating youth to take advantage of the tremendous career opportunities that are presented by esports," George says.

Esports is one of the world's fasting-growing industries, with global revenue projected to hit $1 billion this year and $1.8 billion in 2022. North America accounts for nearly one-third of this year's projected revenue.

According to Next College Student Athlete, UST joins about 175 colleges and universities that are members of the National Association of Collegiate Esports. The website lists eight schools in Texas with esports programs:

  • Concordia University - Texas in Austin.
  • McMurry University in Abilene.
  • Schreiner University in Kerrville.
  • Texas A&M University - San Antonio.
  • Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth.
  • University of North Texas in Denton.
  • University of Texas at Dallas in Richardson.
  • Wayland Baptist University in Plainview.

Anthony Dominguez, a 20-year-old computer science major from Puerto Rico, competes on UST's varsity esports team, which started last year. He's pondering a career in esports after earning his degree.

"After college, I see myself pursuing a future in one of the two fields, either computer science or esports," Dominguez says in a UST news release. "As a competitive esports player, I consider myself to be very good. I may consider pursuing gaming as a professional."

Justin Pelt, UST's esports coach and program director, says the academic element of the esports initiative offers an array of professional opportunities for students like Dominguez. A UST student currently can receive a minor in esports coaching, an academic specialty that launched this fall. In the near future, UST plans to introduce more esports minors (in communication and business).

The North America Scholastic Esports Federation partnered last year with UST to enable high school students to earn college credit while learning about the business of esports.

"UST provides students with the foundational pieces of the industry, the production, the business aspect, and the professional side," Pelt says in the news release.

Potential jobs in esports include broadcaster, player, coach, entrepreneur, events manager, sales professional, social media coordinator, talent manager, and contract attorney.

Some UST graduates may be able to stay in Houston to pursue esports careers, as the industry is expanding here. The Houston Outlaws esports team was founded in 2017, and Belong Gaming Arenas said in June that its first U.S. esports location will be in Houston. In addition, several esports startups are based in the Houston area, including Mainline, Enterprise Gaming, and Uconnect Esports.

"The more Houston innovates and grows in the esports space and starts hosting big events, people around the world in the esports demographic will inevitably take notice and potentially create more interest in our city," Pelt says.

UST is one of about 175 colleges that has an esports team. Photo courtesy of UST

Tilman Fertitta's online gambling biz has changed hands. Photo by J. Thomas Ford

Houston businessman sells online gaming casino in $1.56B deal with fantasy sports tech company

m&a

DraftKings, the nationally renown fantasy sports and online sportsbook company (Nasdaq: DKNG), announced it will acquire Houston billionaire Tilman Fertitta's Golden Nugget Online Gaming, Inc. (Nasdaq: GNOG) in an all-stock transaction valued at $1.56 billion. In addition, DraftKings has reached an agreement with Fertitta Entertainment on a partnership with the Houston Rockets, Golden Nugget casinos, and the Landry's vast network of restaurants.

"Our acquisition of Golden Nugget Online Gaming, a brand synonymous with iGaming and entertainment, will enhance our ability to instantly reach a broader consumer base, including Golden Nugget's loyal 'iGaming-first' customers," Jason Robins, DraftKings' CEO and chairman of the board, said in a statement. "We look forward to Tilman being an active member of our Board and one of our largest shareholders."

Golden Nugget Online Gaming began operating in New Jersey in 2013. The company offers online gaming such as blackjack and slot machines that are accessible by computers, tablets, and smartphones. Live dealers enhance the experience for players.

Fertitta took Golden Nugget Online Gaming public in 2020. At the time, the deal valued the company at approximately $745 million. Fertitta currently owns approximately 46 percent of the shares in GNOG, according to a press release, and serves as its chairman and CEO.

"This transaction will add great value to the shareholders as two market leaders merge into a leading global player in digital sports, entertainment and online gaming," Fertitta said. "We believe that DraftKings is one of the leading players in this burgeoning space and couldn't be more excited to lock arms with Jason and the DraftKings family across our entire portfolio of assets, including the Houston Rockets, the Golden Nugget casinos, and Landry's vast portfolio of restaurants. This is a strong commercial agreement for both companies."

DraftKings' agreement with Fertitta Entertainment will provide for it to become the exclusive daily fantasy sports, sports betting, and iGaming partner of the Houston Rockets. Additionally, if sports betting becomes legal in Texas, DraftKings will open a sportsbook at the Toyota Center.

The boards of directors of both directors of both companies have approved the transaction, which is subject to regulatory approvals. It is expected to close in the first quarter of 2022.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Launch Esports, a partnership between two Texas companies, has expanded into more schools. Photo courtesy of Launch

Houston esports software company says game on to untapped market

ready player one

A joint venture between a Houston-based esports tournament software and management company and a Dallas-based college multimedia rights company has expanded into a new market.

Launch Esports, formed by Mainline and Steel Planet Esports, announced a round of competitions that bring structure and continuity to conference-level play for small college conferences and schools across the country, according to a news release.

"Launch Esports and its member conferences are focused on the massive untapped opportunity to reach a community at over 1,500 schools across the nation," says Darin David, president of Launch Esports, in the release. "By bringing the advanced tools, best practices, competition platforms, and live event production to these schools, we are opening a huge opportunity for a collegiate community that reaches 55+ million students and alumni nationwide."

Launch Esports is providing its platform and structure for Division II, Division III, NAIA and community college conferences and universities, including KCAC, Mid-South Conference, Conference Carolinas, Sooner Athletic Conference, and Red River Athletic Conference.

"Our experience with Launch Esports running our Madden Invitational this summer was excellent and has only added to the KCAC's vision of esports as we enter our inaugural year of full competition this fall," said KCAC Commissioner Dr. Scott Crawford. "Launch has delivered on building first-class tournaments for our student-athletes and teams. It is a great feeling to know we are working with the premier partner ensuring a best-in-class experience when it comes to the overall platform, onboarding competitors and teams, marketing competitions, and broadcasting the great competition within the KCAC."

This initiative is just the first expansion for Launch Esports. According to the release, Launch anticipates adding more conferences across various NAIA, Division II, Division III and Community Colleges.

"The Mid-South Conference is proud to partner with Launch Esports as we begin to compete as a conference this fall," says Eric Ward, commissioner of the Mid-South Conference, in the release. "Their knowledge and expertise in competitive gaming will make our initial efforts to sponsor esports as a conference championship seamless and hassle-free."

Houston-based Mainline is providing the tournament software for an unprecedented esports showdown between the Big 12 schools. Jamie McInall/Pexels

Houston esports company to provide software for a first-of-its-kind collegiate tournament

game on

While college football's fate this fall is up in the air thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the Big 12 Conference is definitely going to face off virtually thanks to esports software developed in Houston.

According to an announcement from the Big 12 Conference and Learfield IMG College, its multimedia rights partner, the tournament has opened for registration for all 10 member schools — Baylor University, Texas Christian University, University of Texas, Texas Tech University, Iowa State University, University of Kansas, Kansas State University, University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, and West Virginia University.

"This is a great opportunity to engage in an emerging space on a Conference-wide level," says Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby in a news release. "This opportunity is a unique way to provide original content from within a competitive environment during these challenging times. We appreciate the collaborative efforts that have made this first-of-its-kind Big 12 Championship tournament possible."

Houston-based Mainline, an esports software startup, has been selected to provide the tournament software for this unprecedented event, which is set to take place July 13 to 16. Each of the 10 schools will host its own single-elimination qualifying tournament featuring Madden NFL 20. Students have until July 10 to register to compete. Big 12 Now on ESPN+ will air both the schools' finals and the Big 12 Conference Championship tournament. The host of Big 12 This Week, Bill Pollock, will call the tournament.

Not only will Mainline's tournament software enable the competition, but it will allow Learfield IMG College to sell sponsors on esports visibility. Just like the football season, the esports tournaments will promote school branding and an opportunity to connect with student participants.

"It's more important now than ever to provide college students the ability to stay connected and engaged, and our technology can help aggregate the college esports community to help make that happen," says Chris Buckner, Mainline's CEO and founder, in the release. "This will multiply the opportunity, power and fun of esports to college students attending all Big 12 universities and keeps students competing while still practicing social distancing."

Earlier this month, Buckner joined InnovationMap's Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the opportunities — as well as the challenges — the pandemic posed for his company.

"Everyone is looking for how to get sports, or esports, in front of people because everyone is just missing [sports] so much," Buckner says on the episode. "Our June will pretty much be the best month of our company, and a lot of that is driven by the fact that everyone is looking for a digital solution rather than an in-person solution."

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Houston cleantech company sees shining success with gold hydrogen

bling, bling

Houston-based cleantech startup Cemvita Factory is kicking things into high gear with its Gold Hydrogen product.

After successfully completing a pilot test of Gold Hydrogen in the oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas, Cemvita has raised an undisclosed amount of funding through its new Gold H2 LLC spin-out. The lead investors are Georgia-based equipment manufacturer Chart Industries and 8090 Industries, an investment consortium with offices in New York City and Los Angeles.

Gold Hydrogen provides carbon-neutral hydrogen obtained from depleted oil and gas wells. This is achieved through bioengineering subsurface microbes in the wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen.

Cemvita says it set up Gold H2 to commercialize the business via licensing, joint ventures, and outright ownership of hydrogen assets.

“We have incredible conviction in next-generation clean hydrogen production methods that leverage the vast and sprawling existing infrastructure and know-how of the oil and gas industry,” Rayyan Islam, co-founder and general partner of 8090 Industries, says in a news release.

Traditional methods of producing hydrogen without greenhouse gas emissions include electrolysis powered by renewable sources like wind, solar or water, according to Cemvita. However, production of green hydrogen through normal avenues eats up a lot of energy and money, the startup says.

By contrast, Cemvita relies on depleted oil and gas wells to cheaply produce carbon-free hydrogen.

“The commercialization and economics of the hydrogen economy will require technologies that produce the hydrogen molecule at a meaningful scale with no carbon emissions. Gold H2 is leading the charge … ,” says Jill Evanko, president and CEO of Chart Industries.

Investors in Cemvita include Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, as well as BHP Group, Mitsubishi, and United Airlines Ventures.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and United Airlines Ventures are financing Cemvita’s work on sustainable jet fuel. United Airlines operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston.

Founded by brother-and-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi in 2017, Cemvita uses synthetic biology to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals and alternative fuels.

Houston named best city in Texas and No. 11 in U.S. in prestigious report

best in tx

At least according to one new report, Houston is not only the Energy Capital of the World but also the livability capital of Texas.

A new study from Best Cities, powered by Resonance Consultancy, puts Houston at No. 11 among the best cities in the U.S. That’s the top showing among the six Texas cities included in the ranking. Houston appeared at No. 17 on last year’s list.

“Educated, diverse and hard-working, Houston is America’s stealthy powerhouse on the rise,” Best Cities proclaims.

Best Cities notes that while Austin grabs much of the best-city attention, “the promise of the Lone Star State drawing Californians and New Yorkers is quietly being fulfilled in Houston.” The website points out that the Houston metro area has gained nearly 300,000 residents in the past year, thanks to both domestic and international migration.

Here are some of the individual rankings that contribute to Houston’s 11th-place finish:

  • No. 4 for restaurants
  • No. 7 for culture
  • No. 8 for foreign-born population

“Houston is a diverse and vibrant metro where individuals can start a family, grow their business, attend world-class institutions and universities, or be immersed in the 145 languages that are spoken by our residents,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a news release. “The quality of life we have in Houston is second to none, and the data we receive from placements such as … Best Cities further reaffirm the strength and resiliency that has come to define this great city of ours.”

A few spots behind Houston on the Best Cities list are No. 14 Dallas and No. 15 Austin.

What lifts Dallas to the No. 14 spot? These are some of the factors cited by Best Cities:

  • Location of more than 10,000 corporate headquarters
  • Strong showing (No. 2) in the airport connectivity category
  • Kudos for the soon-to-be-expanded Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center Dallas
  • Home of the country’s sixth largest LGBTQ+ community
  • Presence of the 28-block, 68-acre Dallas Arts District

Austin comes in at No. 15, one notch behind Dallas.

Best Cities praises Austin as “a place that’s incredibly livable. Talk to any entrepreneur leaving Silicon Valley or Seattle and chances are they’ve considered Austin.”

The website points to a number of Austin’s assets, such as:

  • Growing presence of Fortune 500 headquarters
  • Comparatively low unemployment rate
  • Location of the University of Texas’ flagship campus
  • Status as the Live Music Capital of the World
  • Home of the annual SXSW gathering

Two other Texas cities make the Best Cities list: No. 34 San Antonio and No. 94 McAllen.

Best Cities bases its list of the best U.S. cities on Resonance Consultancy’s combination of statistical performance plus qualitative evaluations by locals and visitors. Those figures are grouped into six main categories. This year’s ranking features 100 U.S. cities. To come up with the ranking, Resonance Consultancy assessed all U.S. metro areas with at least 500,000 residents.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

How a Houston med device startup pivoted to impact global health and diagnostics

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 153

In the span of a couple years, a Houston startup went from innovating a way for patients with degenerative eye diseases to see better to creating a portable and affordable breath-based diagnostics tool worthy of a prestigious grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Steradian Technologies, founded in 2018, set out to create human super-sight via proprietary optics. In early 2020, the company was getting ready to start testing the device and fundraising. Then, the pandemic hit, knocking the company completely off course.

Co-founder and CEO of the company, Asma Mirza, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast that the Steradian co-founders discussed how their optic technology could detect diseases. Something just clicked, and the RUMI device was born.

"We are from Houston, Texas, which is one of the most diverse and accessible cities in the country, and we were having trouble with basic diagnostic accessibility. It was taking too long, it was complicated, and people were getting sick and didn't know if they were positive or negative," Mirza says on the show. "That's when we pivoted the company and decided we were going to pivot the company and use optics to detect diseases in breath."

Fast forward two years and the company has been recognized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a grant to sport the development of the tool — which costs about the same price as a latte to make. The impact for global health is huge, Mirza says, allowing for people to test their breath for diseases from their own homes in the same time it takes to take your temperature.

"You blow into a cartrige and we're able to take the air from your breath into a liquid sample," Mirza says, explaining how the device uses photons to produce quick results. "It's wild that we still don't have something like that yet."

She shares more details about the grant and the future applications for the technology — as well as the role Houston and local organizations have had on the company — on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.