AGA backs Obamacare; “Messy” quarter for Station

OK, the headline is an oversimplification (as headlines tend to be) but the American Gaming Association found itself in disagreement with congressional Republicans after their overhaul of the Affordable Care Act was found to leave mental-health and substance-use-disorder services out in the cold, at least as far as disordered gambling is concerned. “The plan released by House Republicans would scale back the government’s role in helping people afford coverage and could leave more Americans uninsured,” stated the AGA. It joined ranks with the National Indian Gaming Association, National Council on Problem Gambling and Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers to send the following message to Capitol Hill: “Today, gambling disorders are recognized under the ACA’s essential health benefits. We believe this recognition, which did not exist prior to the passage of ACA, is critical not only to enable adequate funding for research, but also to ensure necessary resources and treatment facilities are available.” One would be going too far perhaps to say that AGA President Geoff Freeman is at odds with Congress, but there definitely needs to be a meeting of the minds on this issue.

* “It’s worse than it looks,” could be a paraphrase of Wall Street‘s 4Q16 verdict at Station Casinos. Wrote J.P. Morgan analyst Joseph Greff, “we now see more low hanging fruit on the revenue side than our prior expectation.” Gaming revenue at the Palms generally keeps pace with other Station properties but food-and-beverage income lags badly. Station’s future plans for the property include turfing out the online travel agencies, much as Penn National Gaming has done at the Tropicana Las Vegas. The double-whammy of Lucky Dragon Casino and construction disruption did a thumping on Palace Station‘s numbers but Station is right to make a major capex commitment to its signature property rather than rest on its laurels.

“While the stock’s weakness contemplates the above, we view the stock as stuck and we are willing to be patient here, to a degree,” wrote Deutsche Bank‘s Carlo Santarelli, who called the quarter “messy,” enumerating numerous shortfalls but also noting better-than-expected Native American casino-management fees. He foresaw “improving trends in the Las Vegas economy, driving attractive, albeit lowered, same-store LV Locals growth,” aided by the Palms acquisition. “Management notes key economic indicators in LV continue to trend positively (population growth, job growth, wages),” he added.

A “repositioning” of the Palms is to be expected at the end of next quarter. (Badly needed) overhaul of the buffet is on the docket, the property has been integrated into Boarding Pass and was probably profitable in 4Q16, despite the upheaval. Revamping Palace Station and the Palms gives Station a rationale to punt on announcing its Reno plans for at least another three months. Well, there’s something to be said for not having too many irons in the fire.

* Dan Gilbert‘s “Jack” brand continues to suck wind — I believe that’s the technical term — in Ohio. Jack Cleveland was down 10%, to $16.5 million. Its Cincinnati sibling was off 7%, grossing nearly $17 million. At least Thistledown Racino continued its upward trend, plus 4% for a $9 million gross. However, Penn National was in no position to take a victory lap, sliding 10% at Hollywood Toledo ($15.5 million), while Hollywood Columbus was relatively steady, off 1% for $19 million. Penn/GLPI‘s casinos at least could boast the feat of all exceeding the industry average of $200/slot/day, with Hollywood Austintown raking in a mind-boggling $352/slot/day.

A 12% surge, to $19 million, made Hard Rock Rocksino tops in the state once again. Eldorado ResortsScioto Downs was rock-steady, at $13 million, while last-place Belterra Park ($7 million) did at least a 9.5% gain.

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