Just a few months ago, the idea of a Donald Trump-branded casino on the Las Vegas Strip would have seemed like a joke. Trump’s brand equity in gaming had dwindled to zilch and the man himself was out of gaming entirely. However, funny things happen over time and the Trump name could adorn a brand-new Sin City gambling hall. Since Trump’s business interests are in a blind trust (more like a seeing-eye trust, since his kids are running it) the moving force is partner Phil Ruffin, one of the relatively few people to go into bidness with Trump and not regret it.
Ruffin would build the casino on four acres adjacent to Trump International (land originally purposed for the [unbuilt] second tower of the hotel). However, with Alon circling the drain, we think Ruffin could get at least some of his old New Frontier site back if he wanted it. The prospect of expanding his Strip presence has turned Ruffin into an evangelist for high-speed rail from California and he is urging the president to back this high-cost boondoggle, the better to bring SoCal customers to Trump Vatican City or whatever the new casino is eventually called.
Building a rail line to facilitate transportation to a casino partly owned by the president raises some issues articulated by George W. Bush‘s former chief ethics advisor Richard Painter: “If the secretary of transportation owned a casino in Las Vegas and they got involved in that project and decided whether that project should receive federal funding or not, I think the secretary of transportation would probably commit a criminal offense … that’s a perfect example of the type of situation that the president should not have conflicts of interest. If he does have conflicts of interest, he should avoid them, and he should not be invested in a casino in Las Vegas.”
Then again, decades before he entered politics the relationship of “ethics” to “Donald Trump” was that of punchline to joke. However this plays out, it will be entertaining to follow. Personally, I hope they go for it.
* There’s a new wrinkle in the Seminole soap opera playing out in the Florida Lege. A bare-bones gaming bill that’s moving through the House would preserve the Seminole Tribe‘s monopoly on blackjack — but jack up revenue sharing from $250 million to $325 million. Demanding more money for what the Seminoles already have is a big of Indian-giving that takes real nerve, and not in a good way. The money would be explicitly purposed for “retaining and recruiting teachers, helping children in failing schools and enhancing higher education.”
There’s little hope of reconciling the austere House bill with the expansive Senate version, which enables new gaming hither and yon. The House would eliminate dormant parimutuel licenses and player-banked card games in poker rooms. The Senate would enable 10 new slot casinos and give the Seminoles seven Class III casinos. Sen. Bill Galvano (R, pictured) has indicated that the bill is a work in progress. However, the Seminoles say it’s spinach and to hell with it: “Unfortunately, both the Senate and House bills would require dramatic increases in the Tribe’s payments without providing increases in the Tribe’s exclusivity sufficient to justify those higher payments,” wrote Seminole exec Marcellus Osceola. As for Democrats, the prospect of using state revenue to fund charter schools has been described as “a poison pill.” It seems like there’s something here for everyone to dislike and — as if to prove it — dog tracks are in league with casino opponents. Politics makes few stranger bedfellows than that. Meanwhile, the Seminoles are going for the jugular of the Sunshine State’s racinos, offering $200 in free play to racino patrons. They don’t mess around.
* Gamblers avoided Mississippi casinos like the plague last month, sending revenues down 10%. Mississippi River boats did badly — but so did the Gulf Coast.
* Sheldon Adelson may well be right that a comeback at Macao casinos is already underway. Even with one less day in February this
year, revenues were up 18%. It’s been three years since the enclave saw so strong a gain. There’s a chicken-and-egg argument over whether improved VIP play or wider mass-market attractions did the trick but, for now, investors are taking heart in the results. “I think the downturn is well and truly behind us now,” journalist Andrew Scott told Agence France Press. “It took us a couple of years to weather that storm – it was unexpected – but we’re through that.” Let’s hope so.
* Adelson would also be pleased with a new Australian law that, moving the country backward, outlaws Internet poker. The game had slipped through a loophole in a 2001 bill that illegalized online casino games. Australians have the reputation of being the world’s most avid gamblers and it looks like we’re seeing some Big Government paternalism in an effort to curb that image.