Gambling makes strange bedfellows; Two kinds of Trop trouble

Earlier today, we witnessed the strange spectacle of a capitalist decrying the effect of market forces upon his business. It’s an indirect reminder that casinos are that rare issue which brings together the old maids of the far left and the far right, decrying the terrifying scourge of gambling, like a bunch of latter-day Carrie Nations. An example of the latter would be Jonathan S. Tobin, who wrings his hands, saying, “it ill behooves conservatives or libertarians to be encouraging an industry whose main purpose has always been to encourage the growth of government.” Yes, that’s what Steve Wynn thinks every waking morning of his life. “What, oh what, can I do today to encourage the growth of government?” From the left comes Daniel Denvir, who only now realizes that “casino capitalism” is more than a metaphor. He’s a bit late to the party (by at least a decade) but more than makes up for it when it comes to sweeping indictments. “It doesn’t make tangible things that we need or foster broad-based prosperity,” Denvir wails, without offering concrete alternatives. (Of course.) He also complains that gambling is “a transfer of wealth” … yes, as opposed to famously altruistic industries as retail, entertainment and fast food, to name but three. At the end, Denvir actually rejoices in the parlous economic condition of present-day Las Vegas, as any good scold is wont to do.

Various academics are dragged into the debate, the better to assert such gross and mendacious generalities as, “The only people who benefit from casinos are the owners.” True, casinos don’t radiate business into the surrounding area, as a rule, nor has employment kept pace with revenue increases. But the same could be said of online and big-box retailers, for example. Denvir complains that Big Gaming pays “only” 22% of revenue back in taxes — sounds like plenty to me — and darkly imputes that Native American tribes are somehow beating the rap altogether. I guess another history lesson on tribal sovereignty is in order.

Even casino “workers whose labor is not as productive as, say, repairing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure” come in for scorn. While this Onion story comes embarrassingly close to the truth (as Onion articles have a way of doing), if infrastructural repair is a low priority, that’s hardly the casino industry’s fault but points to questionable priorities elsewhere. And did you notice how friend-of-the-working Denvir laid one helluva value judgment on the worth  If of the work done by cocktail waitresses and dealers. Nice going, jerk. If Americans spend 3X as much on gambling as on movie tickets, that’s our choice to make. The public has voted with its dollars, and those like Denvir and Tobin who think they’re “are very much in the mainstream” are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Loving couple. Speaking of strange partnerships, Sheldon Adelson hasn’t gotten into bed with Rick Santorum (yet). But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been engaging in foreplay. Mind you, Adelson is saying he agrees with someone who — if Pennsylvania voters had listened to Santorum — would have seen to it that Sands Bethlehem was never built. Although it’s been doing much better in recent months, perhaps Sheldon still thinks of Sands Bethlehem as a “mistake” that he’d like to retroactively erase. According to Commentary, Santorum “made it clear he saw no problem with maintaining Las Vegas and Atlantic City as the two enclaves of legalized gaming,” which would be mighty white of him. However, to verify that assertion I’d have to listen to an entire Jon Ralston interview of Santorum and I’m not paid enough to inflict that upon myself. But don’t let me stop you from enjoying the show, above.

Have a great weekend, you “defenders of a dangerous social pathology,” you.

This just in: Asset rightdowns pushed Tropicana Entertainment into the red last quarter — probably including a writeoff of whatever value is left in the River Palms (right). Let’s face it, Carl Icahn‘s casino portfolio is one that’s seen better days. The loss was smaller than in 4Q10 — but revenues were, too. TropEnt blames the decline on its motley collection of Dixie riverboats and Nevada casinos. As for Onex Corp.’s Tropicana Las Vegas, it will be rebranding its club operations (again) after striking a deal with ONE Group to take over the troubled party spots. Even after many misfired business decisions and some high-profile executive turnover, I have to admit I’m stumped for answer when people ask, “What’s wrong over there?”

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