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December 18, 2014

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How SALT helped the Strip

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Steve Marcus

Anthony Scaramucci (C) managing partner of SkyBridge Capital, receives the key to the city from former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman (L) during the SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada May, 9, 2012. SALT brings together public policy officials, capital allocators, and hedge fund managers to discuss financial markets.

Editor’s note: Rob Taub is a freelance journalist who blogs at robtaub.com and has appeared regularly on Fox News Live.

Few businessmen showed as much faith in Las Vegas in 2009 — just when President Barack Obama warned captains of industry to not spend their federal bailout dollars on trips to Las Vegas — as did an out-of-towner named Anthony Scaramucci.

His name might not be well known among the food servers and housekeepers whose jobs were in peril during the Great Recession, but Scaramucci had the moxie to launch a high-concept business conference in Las Vegas at a time when a nation of CEOs was viewing the Strip as politically toxic. Scaramucci’s SALT Conference, coming up on its sixth gathering, was an instant hit, an eclectic gathering of business and government leaders of all stripes and a time for networking, investment seminars, an examination of macro economics, fine food and cigars. For his efforts, Scaramucci was presented the key to the city two years ago by Oscar Goodman on behalf of his wife, Mayor Carolyn Goodman.

This year’s SALT Conference, an invitation-only affair which is expected to attract 1,800 attendees, convenes at the Bellagio this week.

I have known Scaramucci for 20 years and other than at lunch or dinner, I’ve never seen him sitting down. He seems to be in a state of constant motion, and although his walk is carefully balanced between a strut and a swagger, it always manages to remain endearing. Anthony — never Tony — is also affectionately known by friends and associates as “Mooch.”

Scaramucci is the founder and managing partner of SkyBridge Capital, which manages and advises on $10.4 billion in hedge funds. He also is a regular commentator on CNBC’s “Fast Money,” as well as the co-founder of the SALT Conference (SkyBridge Alternative Conference). He graduated from Harvard Law School and worked at Goldman Sachs, so SkyBridge and CNBC are a logical progression. Five years ago, SALT seemed to appear out of nowhere. Scaramucci gave me the back story.

“In 2009, at the bottom of the market — the Dow was at about 6,500 — my SkyBridge partner, Victor Oviedo, came up with the idea for SALT,” Scaramucci said. “President Obama had just announced that this was not the time to go to Las Vegas.”

With the collapse of the economy, Obama had publicly advised fat cats (many who had received federal bailout money) to ground their private planes and avoid places like Las Vegas. A vast number complied, as did plenty of average Americans who suddenly found themselves unable to afford a vacation or convention.

What Scaramucci and Oviedo saw was a unique opportunity. “The country’s economic austerity set up a huge vacuum in the conference and convention business, which is the lifeblood of the middle class in Las Vegas,” Scaramucci said. “Hotel workers and all sorts of people in the many service industries benefit from conferences, so we went to Las Vegas and met the mayor, with the intention of helping to restart the conference business. Room rates were down to $99 a day and they were giving things away with the hopes of bringing business back.”

The concept was to launch an affordable conference that would not only help the Las Vegas economy but the investment community as well. A key function of SALT was to assemble panels of experts from the financial world to debate “macro-economic trends, geo-political events and alternative investment opportunities within the context of a dynamic global economy.” What SALT also accomplished, according to a mutual friend, was to select an unusual, wildly eclectic group of speakers, and unlike many other conferences, serve very good food. SALT was an immediate hit.

“Some of it was good timing,” Scaramucci said, “but a big part of it was the programming.”

Scaramucci refers to Oviedo as the “chief editor” of the conference’s programming and, having attended three of the four SALTs, I believe that is the primary reason for its success. In the past, speakers have ranged from former presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush) to Colin Powell to Al Pacino and Mike Krzyzewski. This year’s lineup includes Valerie Jarrett, David Petraeus, Kevin Spacey and Magic Johnson. CNBC also broadcasts its financial shows while the conference is in session, with many attendees appearing as guests.

“People can come here and sample science, politics and macroeconomics,” Scaramucci said. “We invite all of our competitors, because it’s the only way that everyone can share ideas. People leave SALT and talk positively about the conference, so we do a huge word of mouth business.

“I want people to say they learned something, that they met some people they can do business with, and that they had fun in Las Vegas. That’s a trifecta for our conference.”

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