Adelson out of stadium deal; Tepid December on Strip

It didn’t take long for Sandoval’s Folly, the mooted [your city here] Raiders stadium to blow up in the governor’s face. With characteristic irascibility, Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson withdrew from the project, taking his $650 million with him. Raiders owner Mark Davis says he has replacement financing from Goldman Sachs, but there appears to be skepticism that it will be enough to cover the costs of an NFL-scale stadium. The source of Adelson’s pique was Davis’s submission of a lease proposal to the Las Vegas Stadium Authority, one that cut Sheldon out of potential revenue streams. The self-dealing document’s more egregious demands including a dollar-a-year lease and control of the schedule at the stadium. Stadium detractor and Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani found the lease amount particularly insulting.

Adelson does not like being out of the loop — especially with $650 million of skin in the game. The Stadium Authority has until mid-2018 to either reach terms with the Raiders or find another team (although the obstacles include the smallness of the Las Vegas media market). What it can’t do is walk away from the project: It’s committed, thanks to the Legislature, to building at least a smaller stadium for the UNLV Running Rebels. (The Rebels wouldn’t be allowed to have any field markings in the Davis stadium.) Those who warned that Las Vegas was cutting a bad deal for itself get to have their “told you so” moment now.

* Despite the presence of an extra weekend, Las Vegas did not cover itself with glory in December, down 2% (down 3% statewide) — although Wall Street expected worse: more like -4%. Last year was much stronger: up 8%. Don’t blame Strip slot play: It was up 3%. Table wagering, however, was off 6%. Strip slots won $260 million, for a 2% gain, while at the other end of the spectrum, blackjack play was off 11%. Fortunately, casino winnings on the game were only 4.5% down. Non-baccarat table games dipped 4%, to $161 million. Excluding poker, casinos won $325 million at the tables. Locals casinos fell 13% to $156 million. Dismal as this may seem, it should be noted that Dec. 30 landed on a Friday and a perversity in Nevada gaming regulations pushes that last-weekend revenue into the next month.

Shame on JP Morgan for restricting access to its rundown of gaming results from outlying Nevada jurisdictions. We must rely on Deutsche Bank‘s more truncated report instead. It shows Downtown off 2% ($42 million), North Las Vegas in a 23% tailspin ($17 million), the Boulder Strip plunging 27% to $47.5 million, Laughlin ceding 9%, for $28 million, and miscellaneous Clark County holding the line at $92 million (-2%). We don’t know how Reno fared specifically but upstate numbers are up 9%, which bodes well. The Chinese New Year boost will be somewhat muted, as the numbers will be split across two months.

* “All is not lost if we don’t open prior to MGM,” said Mohegan Tribal Chairman Mark Brown, while admitting that both his tribe and Foxwoods Resorts Casino have frittered away precious time in their indecision over where to site their (dubiously constitutional) satellite casino. They’re selling their snake oil to desperate job seekers like the woman who brought her resumé after spending 10 years on the unemployment line, Although building a tribal casino on non-tribal land — and in a no-bid process to boot — would seem to spell courtroom doom for the project, opponents like MGM Resorts International aren’t plagued by ironies of their own, mainly not being interested in Connecticut until a third casino was proposed by the state.

MGM, meanwhile, is counting its money from MGM National Harbor, which took a 20% chunk out of revenues at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. Said Richard Clinch, director of economic development at the University of Baltimore’s Jacob France Institute, “They are already in line to do half a billion dollars or more. And this isn’t even the tourist season.” Maryland Live is already feeling sufficiently impacted to abandon minimum bet limits during slower hours.

Having successfully expanded during the Great Recession, Harrah’s Cherokee is doubling down with a $200 million augmentation of its hotel (which could add as many as 800 rooms), a convention center, and a bowling alley that features live entertainment and a restaurant as part of the whole experience. It’s a strategic move to capture convention business currently being lost because there isn’t the event space and the hotel, which runs at 99% occupancy, is just too small, even with 1,100 rooms. Unfortunately, Harrah’s Cherokee will have to keep turning away business for almost another three years, as it may take as many as nine months to choose an architectural firm, then two more years to build the darn thing.

True, there are some local cranks who say things like, “It’s just been the devil’s playhouse … It’s wrong, in every way. It brings in all kind of people, not godly people, no way. It’s a downfall, I think, for the reservation.” However, if you want to make a living, Harrah’s Cherokee is a good place to do it. “There’s a misconception that many of those jobs are minimum wage and minimum skill, but when you look at what people are paid out there and the benefits package, there are a lot of pretty good career jobs there. You’ve got a lot of moms and dads making good livings,” said Steve Morse, director of the Hospitality & Tourism Program in the College of Business at Western Carolina University. According to Caesars Entertainment, some of their Harrah’s Cherokee dealers and cocktail servers are averaging $50,000 a year when tips are factored in. Obviously I’m in the wrong profession.

* It was a squeaker in Virginia, where a bill terming poker a game of skill, not chance, passed the state Senate by a one-vote margin, with the president of the Senate having to break a tie. This is probably as far as the bill will go, as the House is rife with (anti-poker) Republicans. If, by some miracle, the bill should pass, card rooms and tournaments would be permitted by not Internet gambling. Regulation would be the province of, for whatever piquant reason, the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, which should make for some interesting dockets.

* The good news from Japan is, “In addition to Pachinko and slot machines, you can legally bet on boat, horse and bicycle races, motorcycle speedway, and buy lottery tickets.” The bad news is that all categories are mired in a 15-year slump, although horse racing is staging a comeback. Let’s hope that Japanese punters find the novelty of baccarat and blackjack sufficiently alluring to justify $10 billion megaresorts.

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