When Matt Sodl formed Innovation Capital, LLC with principals of The Innovation Group, a boutique investment bank focused on gaming was something new. Now, nearly 20 years later, Innovation Capital has advised on over $11 billion in transaction volume within the gaming, leisure, restaurant and retail industries. Most recently, the company acted as financial advisor to Bally’s in its successful bid for the Chicago casino project. Sodl talks about the current economic climate and why it continues to foster opportunities for tribes and corporations alike. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros from his offices in Boca Raton in February.
GGB: You’ve got a couple of earth-shaking deals right now, especially with the Bally’s Chicago deal. How did you accomplish that?
Matt Sodl: We had good fortune to be in some interesting situations over the last couple years in the post-Covid era. The Bally’s Chicago project was one where we and Bally’s assembled a great team that put together a very good project, and we were very competitive. Going into it, everyone was telling us there’s an incumbent in that market that is a shoo-in to get the license. But we took a good project together with good people and aligned ourselves with the right constituents and the right piece of real estate. We put a $1.7 billion project together, and kudos to the Bally’s team and Soo Kim for the leadership and creating what is it going be a flagship property for them.
You had another impressive announcement last month as well in Miami.
My partner Kevin Scheible was the lead on that project. He was advising the Poarch Band of Creek Indians from Alabama on their acquisition of a Magic City casino in Miami. We just opened an office in Florida a couple of years ago, and it’s nice to get a very large transaction done in the South Florida market. A lot of eyeballs were on that transaction because of because of the Seminoles having a monopoly on the state. But Poarch Creek saw what the opportunity is in the Miami market, and I think what they plan to do with that development opportunity is going to be pretty interesting.
In this current financial environment with a looming recession and high inflation, I would think that would mean making deals would be put on the back burner. But that doesn’t seem to be true. What are you seeing?
It’s a difficult environment to get to get deals done. The financing markets come in and out of favor. It’s a very choppy financial market. So, just when you put a deal like this together—whether it be Bally’s or Magic City—we have to navigate the financial markets. It means that the good transactions, the better projects are going to get done.
M&A activity always seems to happen whether it’s a good times or bad, and especially now in the sports betting field. Is that true?
When you look at the state reports of who the sports betting market share leaders are in the regional markets, it comes down to a handful of companies. There are dozens of new entrants that are trying to get a piece of what is a very small pie because the market share leaders aren’t going anywhere. They’ve built good products, they have cash resources, and they can be very aggressive from a marketing perspective. That means that these new entrants better have a unique twist on a product, or deep pockets behind them.
In the mainstream casino business, we’ve seen most of the big companies swallow each other up. Is there anything left to consolidate?
That’s a good question. Most of the big deals have gotten done. Caesars has pruned most of their non-core assets off and sold them. I would see perhaps some activity in the lower to mid-cap market. There are a handful of companies out there that have either, whether it be new projects that will put them on the map for some of the larger companies or some of these smaller companies who’ve tried to undertake some pretty large projects and haven’t had the most success. So you could bet that they’re on the radar of some distress companies looking to take advantage of an opportunity there.