Sports betting a political football; Lucky Dragon doing just fine

Lawmakers in Maryland are entering the fray over sports betting. Unlike their counterparts in New Jersey, they’re not challenging the federal government directly. The proposed law, as drafted, would make sports betting legal in the Free State *if* the Bradley Act is either repealed or amended to permit single-gaming betting. (None of this parlay-only nonsense that you have to endure in Delaware.) That’s a big “if” unless President Trump — it’s still surrealistic to type that phrase — puts his money where his mouth is about the sensibility of legalizing sports betting on a widespread basis. Or the Supreme Court could rule in New Jersey’s favor and toss the Bradley Act on the ash heap of history.

The draft bill in Maryland would establish a study commission and mandate that the law be ratified by a voter referendum. Not surprisingly, MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment and Cordish Gaming are already on board with the Lege. We might see political action in New York State, where Assemblyman Gary Pretlow says “Pushing sports betting is at the top of my agenda right now,” leapfrogging Internet gambling. Pretlow’s constituents include Empire City Casino, which could benefit from sports-betting lagniappe. There are rumblings out of  such unlikely places as Hawaii, Mississippi and South Carolina, along with the revival of a sports-betting bill in Michigan. “I am the kind of guy that’s willing to take on the government,” says Rep. Robert Kosowski of his frontal assault on the Bradley Act.  He added, “This is a billion-dollar industry, just Michigan alone, by some of the small studies we have seen … All we’re doing right now is keeping illegal bookmaking happening in our state when we could regulate it.” Kosowski’s previous attempt to legitimize sports betting sputtered out in committee two years ago, though he thinks the rotation of chairmanships bodes well for this effort. But he’s realistic, telling a reporter that “at least we can get the message out and at least we can start working on it. Are we going to do it next month? No. But maybe next year.” Good luck to all of them.

It may have opened softly, without its hotel or spa, but Rivers Casino in Schenectady is already creating a positive spillover effect on nearby business in its first few days of operation. Let’s face it, amenities aren’t in the driver’s seat in regional casinos. It’s (almost) all about the gambling. Attending the opening, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said, “We would be talking about this project sometimes and I would say ‘It’s just too great, just too unbelievable, that something this grand and this powerful was going to happen. But it did. The dream came true; the vision turned to reality.”

* Casino patronage fell 10% in Missouri last month but per-visitor spending was up 6%, softening the blow of a $132 million statewide gross. Both Pinnacle Entertainment and Penn National Gaming/GLPI missed Wall Street‘s targets at their properties. Pinnacle led the state with $20 million at Ameristar St. Charles (-9%), closely followed by neighbor Hollywood St. Louis ($18 million), which did a better job of retaining business, down only 2%. Pinnacle’s River City held relatively steady (down 1%), also grossing $18 million. Tropicana Entertainment‘s Lumiere Place dipped 3.5% to $11 million. Isle of Capri Casinos did best in Cape Girardeau, up 4% to $5 million and worst in Boonsville, down 8% to $6 million, proving that everything’s relative. Harrah’s North Kansas City had an unquestionable set back, down 13% to $12 million. Competitors  Ameristar Kansas City ($15 million) and Argosy Riverside ($12 million) slipped 5% and 2%, respectively.

* It would appear that Lucky Dragon Casino is hitting the sweet spot with its sought-after, high-rolling guests. The casino is only a few months old and is already announcing the expansion of its VIP gambling area “offering gaming in an intimate environment surrounded by high-end décor designed to bring luck and good fortune to its guests.” Space is finite at Lucky Dragon, so some juggling of amenities is involved. Dragon’s Alley will be downsized into a noodle bar and the (apparently) more popular Pearl Ocean restaurant will move into the vacated space. Once that is done, Pearl Ocean’s current space will be cannibalized to make room for more baccarat tables. There’s been so little good news to report from the north Strip that it’s nice to know that Lucky Dragon is living up to the first part of its name. Dr. David Schwartz was right when he said the all-embracing megaresort is Out and the niche casino is In.

* Wynn Resorts has upped the firepower of its push for casinos in Georgia by adding former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) to its covey of lobbyists. In addition to the 12-person MGM lobbying push, Penn National, Boyd Gaming and dark horse Elite Casino Resorts have joined in the march on Georgia, but Barbour had the pull to get facetime with Gov. Nathan Deal (R). Advantage: Wynn.

* Fitch RatingsAlex Bumazhny, one of the most prescient gaming analysts, is projecting 10% revenue growth for Macao this year — barring another anti-corruption crackdown from Beijing or a cooling of the Chinese real estate market. The outlook isn’t so great for Singapore, where gaming revenues are predicted to stagnate, with prospective gamblers expected to gravitate toward newer properties in the Philippines and Macao. Who knew the bloom would be off the Singapore rose so soon?

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