The House Always Wins

Don Barden rolled thedice when he anted up millions for a Las Vegas casino. It turned out to be a sure bet.

Barden & Co. determined that there’s a sizeable market for the video jukebox, which stores up to 3,000 digital-quality music videos on a computer hard drive and operates through a touch-screen monitor. “We’ll have several hundred of these [jukeboxes] in place by the end of this year and then several thousand [in the future].” Barden Entertainment holds a controlling interest in the partnership, which he projects will gross $100 million annually by 2006.

Barden would not disclose manufacturing costs for the jukebox — because of the proprietary nature of the technology — but said the machines would be placed in Barden Companies’ properties as well as bars and restaurants at close to a 50 — 50 revenue-sharing basis. “It doesn’t cost the location anything and they get to share in a percentage of what the jukebox generates,” Barden says. “In addition to that, we’ll be selling advertising on the screen between videos.”

Barden is part of an elite group of serial entrepreneurs who have built successful business empires in disparate industries, ranking them among the BE 100S CEOs of two separate enterprises. Another prominent member of this group is Robert L. Johnson, whose RLJ Development L.L.C. (with $49.4 million in gross sales) ranked among the largest African American-owned businesses in the United States.

Though Barden’s core business has shifted from real estate to cable, to gaming, these industries share a common thread. “The underlying concept is that I like to be in businesses that make money while I sleep,” Barden explains with a grin. “Real estate makes money while you sleep because you get a rent check every month, and it’s an asset that does not require my time in order to get compensated. The same holds true for cable television and casinos.” The industries are also attractive from a cash-flow basis, the entrepreneur says, with cash exceeding operating costs by as much as 20% — 25%. This increases profits and leaves more funds available to service debt and pay for capital expenditures.

Barden doesn’t expect to make any dramatic business transitions in the future, but rather intends to leverage his existing businesses to develop new products and services. “At this juncture in my career, I don’t imagine that I’ll have an interest in pursuing something that’s a material departure from my current businesses,” Barden says. “As long as it’s related [to existing businesses], and I can easily integrate it, then it would be an attraction to me — whether something to do with our casinos like concerts or boxing.”

Barden is also becoming more active on the political front. He was recently appointed vice chairman of finance for the presidential campaign of Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.). His responsibilities will focus on wooing contributions from businesses and individuals — particularly in areas where he’s well connected, such as Las Vegas and Detroit. “I’ve known congressman Gephardt for several years. I like him. I like what he stands for. I like his focus and experience on the domestic economy, as well as his expertise in foreign affairs,” Barden says. Though no

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