Iowa is flat

By David McKee ~ November 4th, 2010 @ 1:16 pm

Actually it’s not, if you’ve lived there (as I did for four wonderful years). However, Iowa‘s casino industry is, down one-tenth of a percent from October 2009. Actually, nine of the 17 non-tribal casinos recorded revenue increases, particularly the small riverboats, led by Isle of Capri CasinosMiss Marquette, up 11%. But a terrible month at Harrah’s Council Bluffs (left, -12%) and a bad one at a few other riverboats plus the Mystique racino flattened the landscape. Ameristar Casinos‘ Council Bluffs property led all riverboats by a whopping margin, recording $13.4 million in revenue — more than double the amount raked in at Harrah’s competing property. If Ameristar is indeed put up for sale, expect Harrah’s Entertainment to make a run at it, for pure spite if nothing else. A 5.5% increase at Harrah’s Horseshoe-branded racino enabled it to break past the Prairie Meadows racino for the top spot overall.

Despite a mediocre month aboard Argosy Sioux City (-2%), Penn National Gaming remains the only Hawkeye State operator to have a revenue-positive 2010. While October’s numbers may portend a statewide fourth-quarter turnaround, Gov.-elect Terry Branstad‘s conviction that now is not the time to expand remains well founded.

Improved consumer spending is what Ameristar predicted in its 3Q10 conference call yesterday. The company fell ever-so-slightly short of its cash-flow projections and challenges remain pretty much the same-old same old (disappointing Colorado returns in spite of a 50% revenue increase, impeded traffic in East Chicago but signs of stabilization). Pinnacle Entertainment‘s new River City resort took a 9% chunk out of Ameristar’s St. Louis-area riverboat. Adjusted for inflation, company-wide revenues were dead even with 3Q09.

Wynn wins again. Eighty percent of the dealer force at Wynn Las Vegas (but not Encore) voted to ratify a contract between management and the TWU. The latter’s Joseph Carbon told the Review-Journal, “It’s not everything we wanted.” Ha! It’s hardly anything that the union wanted and the TWU could have inked the exact same pact a year ago. Dealers weren’t completely screwed: there will be some form of arbitration process when a dealer is terminated and Wynn Resorts tip-confiscation policy is frozen at its current level and participation size (i.e., other classes of employee can’t be juiced into it). If you’re a unionized dealer at Caesars Palace, the Wynn contract is the starting point from which management is going to try and argue you downward, so good luck with that. Judging by the number of Wynn dealers who didn’t bother to vote, a lack of enthusiasm was contagious, given that the TWU’s long-sought contract essentially ratifies the crummy situation currently in place. Talk about a mountain laboring to bring forth a mouse … it’s game, set and match to Steve Wynn.

A circus-tent casino in a parking lot is rather a tatty idea but it has twofold appeal for Cordish Gaming, which is planning to get a head start on gambling at Arundel Mills Mall. Firstly, revenues from the temporary casino would (theoretically) amortize the cost of the permanent facility. Second, it’s a nifty way of getting even with Penn National for meddling in a county zoning referendum. As expected, Laurel Park is calling it quits. Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Penn sympathizer, is bowing to the inevitable and House Speaker Michael Busch says it best, pointing out that former Laurel Park owner Magna Entertainment had a chance to get in on the action when Maryland legalized slots and simply forfeited its shot. As they say, the race is to the swift.

This just in … Harrah’s has been found liable for dereliction of duty — or complacency, if you prefer — in the days leading up to the 2002 River Run. That’s the biker-gang convergence that climaxed in a shootout on the casino floor of Harrah’s Laughlin. (Hell’s Angels mixing with Mongols? Gee, what could go wrong?) However, Harrah’s is 6-for-7 in lawsuits stemming from the big gundown, so the company has to like its odds in the appellate courts.

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