Jesus scapegoated for December results; Changing of the guard in New Jersey

Deutsche Bank analyst Carlo Santarelli put in some quality time in Las Vegas recently and came away satisfied with the market, particularly MGM Resorts International, Station Casinos, Boyd Gaming and Penn National Gaming, although he had no new intel on Penn’s intentions for the Tropicana Las Vegas. Mandarin 3Convention business remains a pillar of strength: “we believe the overall book of group business remains quite strong and the rate of group pricing growth has accelerated.” High-roller player remains somewhat of a will o’ the wisp, although it’s been better on the domestic front … due in part to tighter holds and “player unfriendly rule changes.” Regionally, Santarelli is blaming Jesus Christ (or the NFL) for the surprisingly weak December, Christmas and New Year’s Day having fallen on Sundays — but don’t we have Christmas and New Year’s every year? Just checking.

The conversion of Monte Carlo into Park MGM continues on pace for an early 2018 (MGM gave itself some late-2017 wiggle room but these things are never finished on time). Over at Palace Station, the oldest parts of the property are being torn out as part of a $115 million renovation. Despite this disruption, Santarelli found that Lucky Dragon Casino “has had no material impact.” Say what you like about Station, it knows how to keep its patrons loyal.

* In what’s a net loss for Atlantic City, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D) has thrown his Whelanhat into the gubernatorial race, while state Sen. James Whelan (D), a former mayor of the Boardwalk, has announced his retirement. Whelan was a staunch defender of Atlantic City against gaming expansion, which Lesniak favored. His withdrawal also leaves legalization of daily fantasy sports without a sponsor. New Jersey gaming policy would probably remain much the same under a Lesniak administration: continued pursuit of sports betting and championship of Internet gambling. There are worse scenarios.

* The interminable process to choose a third casino site in Connecticut has finally boiled down to two alternatives. Nixing three other cities, including Hartford, the joint venture by Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino will choose ultimately between Windsor Locks and East Windsor. “A sham” was MGM’s verdict on the process, which has been a juice job for the two tribal casinos. We agree, even if MGM’s motives are hardly altruistic.

* Shopping malls are increasingly the offspring of casinos but there’s a topsy-turvy scenario playing out in Elk Grove, California. The Howard Hughes Corp. says it can’t make the nut on a new retail mall unless a $400 million Wilton Rancheria tribal casino goes through as planned. However, an anti-casino movement — newly revealed to be the stalking horse of two Sacramento card rooms — has gathered well more than enough signatures to qualify a ballot question that would overturn the Elk Grove City Council‘s approval of the Wilton Rancheria project. This is yet another example of “white man speak with forked tongue.” The card rooms are required to divulge their hypocritical motives but we’d respect them more if they did,

* Voter support for casinos in Georgia has fallen sharply in the last year: down to 56% from 69%. However, state Sen. Brandon Beach (R) is preparing to introduce legislation to permit five casinos and one racino in the Peachtree State. Opponents have varying concerns, including the possibility that instead of making up for shortfalls in HOPE Scholarship funds it will simply cannibalize lottery dollars that go to those scholarships. One must also question whether Georgia has five cities large enough to support a casino — heck, even horse racing is illegal there.

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