Who's feeling lucky?  

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is ready to cash in its chips after losing its shirt on its lousy AOL wager. The search-engine giant is looking to exercise the demand registration rights on its $1 billion investment in AOL, forcing Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) hand at creating an exit strategy.

OK, so maybe it wasn't a horrendous bet. Google may have overpaid when it invested $1 billion to acquire a 5% stake in Time Warner's online arm, but it also locked up ad-serving rights on AOL. Put another way, it kept Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) out.

So who cares if AOL wasn't worth $20 billion four years ago? Facebook wasn't worth $15 billion when Microsoft overspent for a minority stake that was tethered to ad-serving rights.

These were never investments. They have always been cover charges.

If you're a little rusty on demand registration rights, that's what Paul Allen's group triggered to unload its stake in DreamWorks Animation (NYSE:DWA) in 2006. In a nutshell, if Google goes through with it, Time Warner will either have to take AOL public or buy back its 5% stake at an appraised price. Either way, Google will have to settle for far less than its original cover charge.

Search engines have been lousy investors when they've invested in other search engines. Yahoo! was stupid when it dumped its stake in Google, shortly after its IPO. Google in turn was a dummy when it cashed out of its 2.3% stake in China's leading search engine, Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU), at $80 shortly after Baidu's IPO.

The search engines either buy early and sell too early or buy too late and sell late.

This doesn't mean that Google will regret its purchase. One can only wonder how relevant Yahoo! or Microsoft would be with advertisers today, if it was handling the paid search rights on the heavily trafficked AOL.

Google may be walking away with fewer chips than it started, but it also kept its competition from the tables.

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Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Google and Baidu are Motley Fool Rule Breakers picks. DreamWorks Animation is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz wonders if there is more to be had between AOL's "Welcome" and its "Goodbye." He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story, save for DreamWorks Animation. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy, and it's got mail.