Florida: Scott loses, big time; Coup d’etat in Atlantic City

Fourteen more years. That’s how long the Seminole Tribe can have exclusive rights to blackjack in Florida, thanks to a ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle. It’s a huge Seminole logowin for the Seminoles and not entirely unforeseen, given how poorly the State of Florida’s lawyers performed before Judge Hinkle. While we wouldn’t be surprised to see Gov. Rick Scott (R) appeal the decision, his negotiating position vis-a-vis the Seminoles is considerably weakened, giving him an incentive to wrap up a new, clean compact as soon as possible. Lawmakers have balked at Scott sending them a compact that was garlanded with concessions to the state’s parimutuels that would have allowed them to cut back on live racing while still offering poker and slots. Now that a compact-free Seminole Tribe can continue gaming with impunity, we think Scott will want to cut a deal and get a slice of that blackjack revenue sooner rather than later.

* Melco Crown Entertainment chief Lawrence Ho added the title of COO to his portfolio, forcing out Ted Chan. The latter was said to have resigned for “personal reasons,” such as being publicly dissed by Mr. Ho perhaps. In an unusually pejorative announcement, Ho said that the company was trying to “focus on improving its marketing initiatives and [create] a more efficient reporting structure,” implying that Chan was deficient in those areas. He added, “Melco Crown’s recent performance has improved but I believe we have many more near-term opportunities to drive growth and profitability.” In other words, Chan wasn’t getting the job done to Ho’s satisfaction, so out he went.

Macao is no different from the rest of the world in trying to prognosticate the economic implications of a Donald Trump presidency. Most of the experts surveyed by the Macao Daily Times think the effect upon Macao will be minimal unless there is anemia in the dollar. “Maybe a weakened dollar would be good for Macao but only in the short term,” said economist Albano Martins, citing the enclave’s dependence on imported goods. “In the short term it might boost tourism but in the long term it will be highly inflationary because we produce nothing in Macao and import everything.”

* Since there will be no expansion of casino gambling into northern New Jersey, it becomes considerably more likely that Las Vegas Sands will move ahead with as much bethlehem_steel_2$100 million in additions to Sands Bethlehem. An initial, $40 million phase that would add a discrete poker room and more restaurants, is almost a shoo-in, while the balance of the project would include a second hotel tower (remember how grudgingly then-COO Michael Leven completed the first one?), a second performance venue and retail in the erstwhile Bethlehem Steel No. 2 Machine Shop, even if Bass Pro Shops has fallen out of the deal. “This company doesn’t make any decision in a vacuum but not having new competition in New Jersey is clearly a plus for Bethlehem,” LVS spokesman Ron Reese told The Morning Call. “We were going to be very deliberate, either way, but this certainly gives us clarity how to proceed.”

* This year’s casino referendum on Atlantic City went down by the largest measure of defeat ever sustained by a Garden State ballot question. It also racked up the largest pro-and-con advertising tab: $24 million. Atlantic City’s moment of joy was brief, however, as a state takeover went into effect. Some blame the city’s declining casino revenue for the situation although sharp reductions in the property-tax assessments of Borgata and its brethren were the inciting event. Whatever the case, this change of control puts Bader Field back on the market. Glenn Straub, are you still interested?

* MGM Resorts International sat down with Wall Street analysts this week and had some not-so-random observations. For instance, Dec. 8 is a firm opening date for MGM National Harbor. (A soft opening just wouldn’t do for such a high-visibility project.) If the company goes into Japan, it might do so as a casino operator only and leave the resort-development responsibility in the hands of a Nipponese partner. MGM Cotai will open with 300 tables, more or less, some shifted from MGM Grand Paradise. And the company is cautiously optimistic about Georgia, forecasting the chances of casino gambling passing the Legislature as being at 55%.

* Speaking of narrow margins, the relocation of the Newport Grand slot-parlor license to Tiverton eked out a 366-vote victory. Backers of the casino predict that it will generate $50 million a year in revenue.

* American Gaming Association President Geoff Freeman predicts that the incoming Trump administration will feature “significantly more restrained federal agencies.” If so, that is bad news for tribal casinos, whose growth ambitions went hand in glove with the Obama’s expansionist view of tribal rights.

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