Smoke got in their eyes; Curious doings at Mohegan Sun

Macao Chief Executive Fernando Chui is denying that his government is abasing itself before casino operators even as his administration rolls out a new policy, proposed but not yet adopted, that would represent a total cave-in on Chui’s drive to ban smoking from casino floors. The enclave seems to be working off a script supplied to it by the University of Macao (whose biggest booster is Steve Wynn) and paid for by Macao’s six casino concessionaires. Speaking of concessions, there were a few points on which Macanese officials would not yield. VIP smoking rooms would require special permits and Sociedade de Jogos de Macau CEO Ambrose So‘s pleas for a 12-to-18-month implementation period was dismissed as “too much.” Technical requirements for the lounges will also be made more stringent.

Government officials had the results last December but sat on them until now. Though they claim to have the backing of casino workers, labor leader Cloee Chao of the New Macau Gaming Professionals Association said that last year, when things were at their worst, her constituents still supported a smoking ban. Thrown onto the defensive, Chui said, “The government is still studying into this issue and will express its final stance on the matter,” However, even if Chui has not specifically read the report by Morgan Stanley analyst Praveen Choudhary that quantifies negative impact on gambling from smoking bans at as much 20%, he’s undoubtedly aware that smoking and gaming go together like Wynn and bronzed-glass hotel towers.

* Last week we reported on the sudden departure of Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority CEO Bobby Soper, one of those events that raises jumped-or-pushed queries. This timing was hardly fortuitous, coming amidst Mohegan Sun‘s highest pitch of activity in decades. Global Gaming Business called it a “shocking development” that
happened “without warning,” and made all the stranger because Soper had been groomed for the two job for years and was two years into a three-year contract. Super said only he was “happy to take on a new challenge” … maybe the challenge of finding a job in the heavily constricted gaming industry. There just aren’t that many CEO jobs out there anymore. Profit and revenue were modestly up, so it couldn’t be that.

Clarity began to emerge this week as it surfaced that is “an active investigation” in MTGA, focusing in part on the allegation that Soper was engaged in self-dealing, doing business between Mohegan Sun Pocono and marketer PreferLocal, in which he held an ownership stake. Also at issue were “possible operational control deficiencies” involving the tracking and reportage of free slot play, as Mohegan Sun admitted to the SEC. Having severed its business ties with PreferLocal, the Mohegan furthermore confessed that it was not registered as a gaming-service provider in Pennsylvania.

This hasn’t been a good year for Mohegan Sun. As the Morning Call reported, “Last spring, a former Mohegan Sun Pocono official and a frequent gambler at the casino allegedly conspired with a cocktail waitress to steal customers’ information and obtain free slot machine play that netted more than $422,000 in winnings.” That’s totally collateral from l’affaire Soper but, with regard to the latter, when you have not only Pennsylvania regulators but the SEC on your case it doesn’t look good.

* “I’m certainly concerned about the tribes, this seems like an effort to bring them to their knees,” says House Assistant Minority Leader Ilana Rubel (D) of a proposed Idaho law that would strip tribal casinos of VLTs. This cretinous piece of legislation, proposed by Rep. Tom Loertscher (R) would amend Idaho law to prohibit even arm-less and TITO machines. His view is that what the tribes have is casino gambling (which Idaho at large doesn’t have), not a lottery (which it does). But there’s hope. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden reviewed the bill and found it rife with flaws, including the prospect of opening the state up to myriad lawsuits. Nothing makes lawmakers skittish like litigation.

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