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Posted At : November 5, 2008 02:36 PM | Posted By : D McKee
Related Categories: Ameristar,Election,Pinnacle Entertainment,Penn National,Pennsylvania,Politics,Current,Horseracing,Maryland,Regulation,Colorado,Taxes,Indiana,Gary Goett
JP Morgan has proclaimed Pinnacle Entertainment "the biggest winner this election day." By voting to both lift the cap on buy-ins and the close Missouri to additional casinos, Show-Me State voters delivered a gift to Pinnacle CEO Dan Lee, who has massively invested in the greater St. Louis market and can now reap the benefits of higher wagers and artificially limited competition. Anybody contemplating the investment risk that Pinnacle has been lately (with at least $2.85 billion in outstanding projects) can sleep a little more soundly tonight.
But, as Morgan analysts point out, the stomping of a pro-casino initiative in Ohio redounds to the benefit of Pinnacle's Belterra casino (and Penn National's Argosy Lawrenceburg riverboat). While the Ohio vote reflects a certain amount of anti-casino sentiment, this was one of those ballot measures where the devil was in the details. It polled well in the immediate region, which has been hard-hit with job losses (5,000 of which casino backers promised to replace) but it was "no sale" upstate. An otherwise leftward-trending electorate was unpersuaded.
Specifically, there was a "trap door" in the enabling language that might have let Lakes Entertainment slip its tax obligations if tribal casinos open in the Buckeye State (a long shot, but one voters weren't willing to hazard), not to mention that the casino was to be allowed to operate with scant oversight. Oh, and the license fee ($15 million) wasn't chicken feed, but it's considerably less than what casinos are ponying up elsewhere -- like Kansas -- where no monopolies are promised. The face-saving spin was that "misleading ads" were to blame -- like that's anything new in politics.
Details were the bane in Maine, too, where Olympia Gaming found itself on the losing end of a casino plebiscite. Maine voters have taken a go-slow approach to casino expansion in their state, also voting down a racino at Scarborough Downs. There also seems to have been some "payback" involved -- from Down Easters who had seen their own casino aspirations crushed five years ago. If they couldn't have a casino, those upstart resort communities were going to be SOL, too. So there!
Pat LaMarche expresses her considered opinion of Maine's electoral process.
Lowering the legal gambing age to 19 stuck in voters' craw, as did certain other special privileges which were to be extended to the Oxford County casino and to Gary Goett's Olympia. Project booster Pat LaMarche sniffed that folks in Maine were "very unfriendly" and says she's going to take her ball and LaMarche right next door to New Hampshire.
Having a win/win day, was also the good fortune of Ameristar Casinos, which will see some relief in Colorado, in addition to prevailing in Missouri. In return for helping the state's community-college system, Colorado casinos get some new goodies that -- we hope -- will ameliorate the effects of the state's smoking ban.
It's a mixed bag, albeit more positive than negative, for Penn National. It headed off the Ohio threat but finds its flagship property in West Virginia facing competitive pressure not only from Pennsylvania but soon from Maryland, even though the latter's ramp-up is roughly four years away. Penn astutely protected its flank by optioning strategically placed real estate near Baltimore, in its first move after its LBO imploded last summer.
(Amusingly, both sides in the Maryland fight used President-elect Obama as a "product placement" in their literature. They knew a good "branding opportunity" when they saw one.)
Hopefully the Maryland Lege will revisit (read: reduce) the confiscatory 67% tax rate. Otherwise, brace yourself for Ye Olde Shack O'Slots, as no sane businessman would invest heavily in a casino with such a narrow operating margin. By establishing a Maryland beachhead, Penn is probably thinking more in terms of capturing "leakage" from its other nearby properties, not having visions of $$$ dancing in its head.
Former governor, sometime racino proponent and "Casino Jack" Abramoff beneficiary Robert Leroy "Bob" Ehrlich Jr. (R) hoped to "see us kill this turkey," but that sounds like sour grapes from the one-term blunder, er, wonder. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) moved the ball across the goal line with 59% support, whereas Ehrlich couldn't get it upfield in four tries -- even in the post-9/11 economy. It may nearly be Thanksgiving but the only turkey in sight is Ehrlich (or is that a thinly disguised Steve Carell?)
Speaking of "Casino Jack", add him to the "losers" column of our S&G "Winners & Losers" with a capital "L." From the jailhouse, convicted felon Abramoff tried to 'Swift Boat' his archnemesis, John McCain, but the effort sank without leaving the pier. What a schlemil.
Loose change: Voters also gave their assent to a lottery in Arkansas and expanded table games at Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. So I'd score that as two lost battles (Ohio, Maine), one decisive victory (Maryland) and incremental wins in four other skirmishes.
On balance, a good day.