Warm December in Atlantic City; Las Vegas stages comeback

Online gambling continues to be a hit with New Jersey players, up 31% to $18 million in December. Resorts Digital‘s market share has eked past Tropicana Entertainment‘s but Golden Nugget ACGolden Nugget is far and away the leader, with 26%. Enjoy it while you can, because would-be Attorney General Jeff Sessions intends to outlaw Internet wagering. A coalition of conservative groups oppose Sessions, including the American Conservative Union, the Americans for Tax Reform, the Campaign for Liberty, the Center for Individual Freedom, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance among others, but that’s how the cookie crumbles.

Last month also saw an unseasonably strong performance by terrestrial Atlantic City casinos. Drag the carcass of Trump Taj Mahal out of the revenue comparisons and you have a 7% increase. Table game revenue was up an especially strong 24% ($56 million) despite 3% less play. Slot win rose a percentage point, to $131 million, on $2 million more coin-in. Borgata alone accounted for $57 million in gaming revenue, up 4% and despite being only 3% up at the tables. (Slot revenue was 4% higher.) Caesars Entertainment appears to be the big winner in the Trump Taj demise, its three gaming properties combining for 15% revenue growth.

Bally’s ($15.5 million) was flat but Caesars Atlantic City shot up 33% to $30 million and Harrah’s Resort rose 9% to $29 million. Golden Nugget was up 25%, finishing at $17 million, Tropicana Atlantic City vaulted 27% to a symmetrical $27 million, and Resorts low_revelAtlantic City was up 15% to $14 million. Now we sit back and wait to see how Ten and its casino-that-isn’t-really-a-casino marketing pitch resonates with gamblers. At least the casino’s operator, Roberto Landino (WHO?) has been disclosed. Bucking decades of precedent, Ten owner Glenn Straub is suing the state to exempt him from applying for a gaming license, which would be very special treatment. Also, Straub waited until 90 minutes before a New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement meeting to submit a revised lease agreement, reinforcing the perception of him as a flake who’s making it up as he goes along.

* It was a different story from Atlantic City in Detroit, where the Midwestern malaise didn’t make an exception for Motown. Although MGM Grand Detroit ($51 million) made almost double the amount of Dan Gilbert‘s Greektown, it was 9% off last year’s pace. MotorCity sputtered 4%, making $39.5 million and Greektown, as ever, brought up the rear, grossing $26 million — a 7.5% decrease. Pennsylvania released slot revenues today and it would be premature to report them without table-game numbers (due later) but let’s just say there were some big losers but no significant winners, at least not so far.

* “I was bit surprised because I thought there might be one area that wouldn’t record net income, but they all did. And that hasn’t happened since 2006.” That’s the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s Tax & License Division‘s Michael Lawton on the Silver State’s first profitable year since 2008, the brink of the Great Recession. The 2016 palazzo_floornumbers represent a swing from a loss of $662 million to a profit of $979 million. Although gambling revenue has advanced year after year, it remains well below 2007 levels, with the recovery being driven by room income. Food-and-beverage represented the same slice of the pie as last year.

Don’t be mistaken: Las Vegas still means gambling. Lady Luck was responsible for 43% of spending, compared to 23% for rooms (the former down a percentage point from last year, the latter up one). Everything else was either static or only incrementally different from 2015. With Las Vegas playing host to 42.9 million visitors last year, it seems that the good times have returned — and that the demise of gambling as a revenue drive in Las Vegas has been greatly exaggerated.

* Attorney Robert Lubin has been working with Gulfport city government for the past year to develop a $160 million casino on a hard-luck site along the harbor. Considering that the city is all-in on the project, to be funded by EB-5 investors, some are puzzling when Lubin is asking for additional civic approvals. His architect, John Stewart, certainly has an eclectic portfolio, including both churches and casinos, including some owned by Pinnacle Entertainment. The most piquant feature of his design for the Gulfport project is a mural that would mask the harbor view from swimming-pool patrons. I guess staying in Gulfport doesn’t always extend to wanting to see Gulfport.

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