Running the tables in Pennsylvania; MGM woos Georgia (again)

Due to Pennsylvania‘s quirky habit of releasing slot and table game revenue numbers in staggered fashion, we don’t often comment on Keystone State gambling revenues. Fortunately, the Center for Gaming Research at UNLV consolidates the information into sugar-house-800one handy-dandy report. In October, for instance, table game revenue was remarkably volatile yet had no correlation to whether the casino in question had a revenue-positive month or not. For instance, winnings were up 40% at The Meadows but the casino overall was down 2% for the month. SugarHouse, by contrast, rode a 45% growth in table winnings to a 19% increase casino-wide. The Neil Bluhm-owned casino ate Harrah’s Philadelphia‘s lunch, with the latter down 11%. Bluhm’s Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh was off 2% (11% more table revenues be damned).

The state’s revenue leader was, as almost always, Parx Casino, whose $45 million haul was good for a 2% increase, while Sands Bethlehem banked $42 million, a 3% dip. The state’s table games leader, it nonetheless sustained a 10% decline to $17 million. (Parx comfortably outpaces Sands in slot play.) At the other end of the spectrum, Isle of Capri Nemacolin‘s minuscule $2 million wasn’t helped by an 11% decrease in revenue. Rounding up the also-rans, Mohegan Sun was down 2%, Presque Isle Downs fell 4%, Mount Airy was flat, Penn National stumbled 5% and Valley Forge was up 2%. A single month isn’t enough to conclude whether the Pennsylvania market is saturated or not but, looking at these numbers, once can see why some politicians are concerned about satellite slot parlors at airports or OTBs.

* “We don’t need to be putting money over morality,” says spokesman Mike Griffin of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. He’s sounding the alarm because MGM Resorts International is booting up lobbying efforts for casino legalization in the 2017 Legislature, pursuing what may be the last bumper crop of gamblers in the U.S. nathan_dealThe measure, which would require a constitutional amendment, not only faces opposition from Gov. Nathan Deal (R) but from a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Support, however, also reaches across the aisle. MGM has a convenient tool of persuasion in the form of MGM National Harbor, which it recently showcased for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It’s able to make a case based not only on dazzling architecture but on good-paying jobs, with a median at National Harbor of $60,000 a year. (I’m clearly in the wrong business.) Minority-hiring goals like those in Maryland should be easy to meet in Georgia, too.

Although as many as 62% of Georgians would favor casino gambling — and proponents are expected to pitch a four-casino package to the Lege — getting supermajorities in either house is going to be a heavy lift, especially when casino companies are asking for a 12% tax rate, the second-lowest (potentially) on the East Coast. Lawmakers look to what MGM is prepared to pay in Maryland and will ask ‘Why not here?’ The pro-casino argument stands or falls on projections that the Peachtree State’s Hope Scholarships (funded by the Georgia Lottery, a big business down there and an entrenched special interest) will begin running short of money in 11 or 12 years. That deadline may be too comfortably distant for lawmakers to take the pro-casino argument seriously for a few more sessions.

* The struggling Caesars Entertainment project in South Korea is losing joint-venture partner Lippo Ltd. The latter advises the financial community that an imminent resolution is “unlikely.” At present, the project — near Incheon — consists only of $96 million worth of land. The $730 million project was targeted (back in 2014) to open in time for the 2018 Olympics, a goal that looks increasingly challenging as the Lippo talks, with involve an unnamed third party, continue to drag forth. Perhaps the delay will be a disguised blessing for Caesars, which will get to see how tourist-oriented megaresorts being developed by Mohegan Sun and Sega Sammy fare.

* Having to pay for parking at a Caesars or MGM casino on the Las Vegas Strip? Get used to it, says the Las Vegas Sun — and not just at the resorts that have already instituted the policy. The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is backing off its ‘never, ever’ stance and SLS Las Vegas is also leaving open the prospect of paid parking — although in the case of SLS we don’t think it needs to give customers one less reason to visit the revenue-challenged property.

Only Hooters Casino unequivocally ruled out paid parking, although Las Vegas Sands and Tropicana Las Vegas refrained from slamming the door altogether, saying they had “no hooters-picplans” to go the pay-to-park route. And, let’s face it, the downside for the casinos is relatively small, as those customers whose entertainment calculus will be most affected by a parking fee are locals, not a major tranche of business (save at Hooters). The drive-in player or conventioneer hasn’t much choice in the matter. Also, by charging for parking, a property like Caesars Palace can discourage motorists from housing their car there while they stay at Bellagio for instance. One’s only hope for a rollback, says a realty expert consulted by the Sun, is if the major shopping malls on the Strip start seeing a falloff in business, with Fashion Show Mall expected to be the most seriously exposed of the lot. I hate to say it but, given casinos’ reluctance to reverse policy, I’d say that free parking on the Strip will soon be harder to find than 3:2 blackjack.

* Congratulations to Aristocrat Leisure for posting an 88% increase in profit for the last fiscal year, a tidy $262 million. The phat numbers were credited in part to new casinos in Macao and a government-mandated replacement cycle in existing Macanese slot machines. (Betcha slot companies wish there were more such mandates.) With this news, CEO Jamie Odell leaves on a high note, handing the reins to Trevor Coker at the end of February.

* A casino closure happens once in a blue moon. However, contrary to its name, the Lucky Bridge Casino in Washington State, did not experience good fortune. It was shuttered last Thursday, despite the promise of electronic table games, an infusion of new managerial talent and a clean bill of regulatory health. Apparently the costs of operation were more than Lucky Bridge could cross, leaving its employees high and dry.

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