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"I receive a lot of spam every day, much of it offering to help me get out of debt or get rich." -- Bill Gates, in an e-mail explaining how Microsoft (MSFT) plans to tackle spam. Robert Johnson built Black Entertainment Television, the first nationwide network for blacks. His purchase of the Charlotte Hornets -- renamed the Bobcats -- made him the NBA's first black majority owner. Now, he wants to establish the first national black-owned bank.

Since April, Johnson has been buying shares of Independence Federal Savings Bank in Washington, D.C., and now owns 3%. The bank has $246 million in assets and five branches, but its thrift status could let it expand with few regulatory hurdles. Johnson won't comment. His spokesperson, Naomi Travers, confirms that he is considering buying the bank. An Independence spokesperson says Johnson has not approached the bank.

The largest black-owned bank is OneUnited Bank, with $500 million in assets and branches in three states. Supporters say a nationwide bank is needed. "A lot of national banks pay lip service to minority lending," says Bernard Beal, CEO of black-owned investment bank M.R. Beal & Co. Johnson, with a net worth of $1.3 billion, could be out to change that.

Corrections and Clarifications

"A big bet on banking" (Up Front, July 7) stated that Robert Johnson purchased the Charlotte Hornets, now named the Bobcats. It should have said that Johnson bought an NBA expansion franchise in Charlotte and named the team the Bobcats. The Hornets moved to New Orleans.

The FDA is finding it hard to work with the food industry to close security gaps that could threaten America's cupboard. Before and after September 11, the agency produced three major studies about terrorist threats to the food supply.

The problem is, portions of the reports have been classified "secret." That data can't be shared with America's 2 million farms and thousands of importers, livestock feedlots, and food processors vulnerable to attack. "Some of the industry groups that most need to understand the dangers are out of the loop," says Robert Brackett, director of food safety at the FDA.

Among the dangers: terrorists launching an economic attack using, say, foot-and-mouth disease, which kills animals but doesn't harm humans. Or poisoning processed food or food imports, which could kill people.

One proposed solution is to grant security clearance for food-industry executives. But with a big backup in security applications, that process could take a year or more. So the FDA is organizing advisory groups that at least can be given unclassified summaries of the reports. Brackett hopes the summaries, security clearances, and declassifying material will help. Will Atlantic City ever be able to shake its image as a dropoff point for busloads of day-tripping grandmas?

Two Las Vegas operators, MGM Mirage (MGG) and Boyd Gaming (BYD), are betting $1 billion they can transform the city into a destination resort like their hometown. Borrowing a page from the playbook of Vegas legend Steve Wynn, their new Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa resort, opening on July 3, will boast 2,002 rooms, 11 restaurants, plus the spa -- all in a faux-Italian palazzo style.

The Borgata will be the first new Atlantic City resort in 13 years. Promoters hope it will rejuvenate the city the way Wynn's Mirage and Bellagio revived Las Vegas.

The Borgata's opening is coming none too soon: Competition from Indian casinos and slot machine-loaded racetracks have pushed Atlantic City's gaming revenues down 2% so far this year.

The Borgata is already making an impact. Harrah's (HET) Showboat, and the Tropicana have pumped $600 million into new hotel towers and entertainment offerings. And the city is taking bids for a family-oriented entertainment complex. Maybe then Grandma will bring the grandkids and stay a while. Sorry, Jay Leno, but it's no joke. Southern Methodist University is starting the nation's first school to train video-game designers. And contrary to your recent on-air quip, a video-gaming degree is not "more useless" than one in political science.

Grads of the 18-month program could start out earning $48,000 in an industry that's adding 5,000 jobs a year, according to Interactive Digital Software Assn., a trade group. Top game designers can make as much as $300,000 a year. The Dallas university expects some 40 students will fork over the $37,000 in tuition for the graduate program, which starts in the fall.

While the SMU Guildhall school of video games will teach everything from animation to software development, its biggest lesson will not be technical. It seems the stereotype is true: Designers tend to be nerdy young men with no social skills -- and that's a shortcoming the school will address. "What we need are people who know how to work as a team," says Paul Jaquays, a director at Microsoft's game lab who helped design the course. "Right now a lot of people spend too much time flaming each other." Looks like SMU might crib from poli-sci and add a course in conflict resolution, too. The state of Oregon thinks it can solve your gift-giving dilemmas. Just click on over to online auctioneer eBay and look for goods sold by Oregontrail2000.

There, you'll find item #3229347894 "For That Hard to Shop For Person." And what is the fabulous item? A framed 1998 health permit from the state of Nevada allowing the infamous Mustang Ranch brothel to operate its spa room.

Oregon has gotten so good at selling on eBay that government agencies outside the state use it to auction off their goods. The state, which takes up to a 10% cut, has sold farm animals, an airplane, and equipment from a gold mine. Cindy Becker, director of Oregon's online sales, says the state has raised about $7 million this year.

Every product from the Mustang Ranch, which closed in 1999, comes with its own certificate of authenticity. The state is taking bids through June 27. But don't worry if you miss out. Oregon plans to auction off two more batches of bordellobilia in coming weeks. After a decade of economic malaise, Japanese consumers' love affair with European luxury goods may be losing some of its spark. To rekindle the passion, luxury retailers such as Ferragamo, Louis Vuitton (LVMHY) and Coach are all opening big stores. On June 7, Japan's hip and trendy swarmed into Prada's new $85 million megastore in Tokyo. "Despite the recession, luxury brands still sell," says Seiko Yamazaki, associate research director at Tokyo's Dentsu Institute for Human Studies.

Problem is, the new shopping shrines are opening just as Japan's luxury goods market appears to be ebbing -- with sales expected to drop 4% this year. Why the building binge? Retailers figure the new stores will help them get a bigger slice of a shrinking pie. It works: Louis Vuitton's sales jumped 15% last year, to $1.16 billion. Not bad for an economic downturn.


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