Wayne Newton, Mr. Convention; Adelson covets Vietnam

If you doubted that the convention business is the new face of Las Vegas, it trotted out the pretty visage of Wayne Newton. The latter’s Casa de Shenandoah is promoting itself as the new place to hold your meeting, offering to knock $250 off of every $1,000 on the sticker price. Who could resist? After all, conventioneers could find themselves rubbing elbows with Mr. Las Vegas himself, along with Arabian horses, penguins, monkeys and wallabies — to say nothing of the terrorist peacocks. Book your event now: Casa de Shenandoah can only host 550 conventioneers at a time. (And forget about holding meetings in the adjacent theater — it only seats 160 persons.)

* Illinois and Missouri casinos had better prepare to tighten their belts. Lawmakers are proposing to bring slot machines to an auto speedway in the Land of Lincoln and slot routes to the Show-Me State. As history has shown in Illinois, the effects can only be deleterious to casino revenues. Bars in Missouri would be limited to five video-gaming devices but organizations like the VFW could have as many as 10 per post. As usual, education funding is the premise for this cracking of the casino oligopoly. Specifically, Missouri state Rep. Bart Korman (R, below) wants to end cutbacks in school-busing programs. “When you look at the budget situation we have, I think it’s something we need to have a conversation about,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

If Korman’s bill passes (or a parallel version in the state Senate that would designate 35% of revenues collected for higher education), it will be a big day for the manufacturing sector. Illinois already has 25,000 slot-route units. (Most of the action is overseas, however.) Since gaming expansion is always the most painless way of raising taxes, casino companies are going to need to go with the flow and obtain some slot routes for themselves, as Penn National Gaming has already done. The Missouri Gaming Association is gearing up to oppose the legislation, while the Illinois Casino Gaming Association is against putting slots at Gateway Motorsports Park because GLPI‘s Casino Queen is just five miles distant. On top of that, lawmakers who have clearly learned nothing from history are pushing for additional casinos in Chicago, its south suburbs, Waukegan, Carterville, Rockford and Danville. Little good can come of that. The industry is a cow that can only give so much milk.

* Chinese homeowners are cashing in on their home equity — sometimes through property lending — and using it to go and gamble in Macao. (Sound familiar, Las Vegas?) When something like this happens, the chances of governmental intervention increase. Or as Melco Crown Entertainment CEO Lawrence Ho recently told investors, “I think VIP [play] has surprised in terms of its recovery. But at the same time, ultimately, the future of Macao is going to be pinned on the growth of the mass market.”

* Bloomberg reports, “Vietnam’s revolutionary founder Ho Chi Minh relied on lottery ticket sales to raise money for schools and hospitals during the war years. Now Hanoi’s Communist leaders are looking to casinos, horse betting and modern lottery-ticket machines to do the same.” Who knew the Commies were going to be more progressive than hidebound U.S. states like Georgia and South Carolina?

With $800 million a year flowing out of Vietnam and into overseas casino offers, the guvmint wants to recapture much of that and rechannel it into the Viet economy. That means lifting the foreigners-only policy at domestic casinos, at least on a three-year, trial basis. (Depending on the quality of casinos in Vietnam, I think the move is irrevocable.) Says financial advisor Alexandre Legendre, “The fiscal situation of the country is under pressure.” The lottery is already an impressive source of revenue: $13 billion over a recent five-year period. One lottery vendor grosses $1,300 a day from a well-placed ticket kiosk.

In part to combat problem gambling (already an established vice, thanks to sports betting and the dog track), the locals-friendly casinos will be place well away from the population centers. Even allowing for that constraint, super hawk Sheldon Adelson wants to be first in one the market. Or, as Las Vegas Sands exec George Tanasijevich puts it, the company is “eager to proceed” with Uncle Ho’s heirs.

* But what will government officials in Macao, South Korea and Singapore think of Adelson’s implicit diss of their markets when he called Japan “the holy grail. It’s the ultimate of business opportunities. Singapore was a warm-up to this.” Like Hard Rock International, which is willing to take as little as a 40% ownership stake in a Nipponese casino to as large as a 60% one, Adelson will have plenty of time to wait and dicker with potential partners. Rregulations aren’t expected to pass for another 15 months. Hard Rock CEO James Allen, who is vigorously shopping for joint-venture partners, told Reuters, “It’s important to make sure our local partners are involved in the relationship, not just as blind investors.” As the courtship continues, Yokohama is emerging as a preferred destination, with Tokyo fading from the discussion.

Atlantic City casinos are upscaling their commitment to skill-based slots, with Caesars Entertainment adding GameCo‘s Pharaoh’s Secret Temple and Tropicana Atlantic City starting to roll it out along with GameCo’s Danger Arena. The SBGs are bombing with older slot players and even Millennials are having mixed feelings about them. Said one, “I play Xbox and I like video games, but if I want to do that, I’ll just stay home. Here, I prefer games like blackjack or craps.” Spoken like a a true player.

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