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They burned the Monte Carlo ... and may get away with it
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They burned the Monte Carlo ... and may get away with it
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Posted At : February 12, 2009 03:08 PM | Posted By : D McKee
Related Categories: Harrah's,The Strip,Station Casinos,Tribal,Boyd Gaming,George Maloof,Wall Street,Economy,Atlantic City,Texas,Tilman Fertitta,Morgans Hotel Group,MGM Mirage,Downtown,Tamares Group,Michael Gaughan,Boulder Strip,Laughlin,Gary Goett
If I wanted to drive myself to strong drink, I could write about depressing, atrocious numbers coming out of Nevada casinos in December. But as that great philosopher, Linus in Peanuts, would remind me, it's better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. (Next panel: Lucy hollering, "You stupid darkness!") Let's just say that December revenues hew to my saw that when Wendover sneezes, Nevada catches pneumonia and move on.
Two Sundays ago, the Review-Journal ran a pair of stories that warranted mention here at the time but got lost in the shuffle. Time to give credit where it's due, especially as these articles highlight some of silver linings inside the present-day storm front.
Boyd Gaming's is the least-sexy brand among the major casino operators ... but sexiness can be overrated. (See: Station Casinos) Unlike a certain crosstown rival which put all its eggs in the Vegas basket, Boyd has always rejoiced in a diversified portfolio. With Wall Street falling in love with the regional casino market, Boyd is likely to experience newfound appreciation on the Street.
Echelon: Stopped in the nick of time.
No wonder CFO Josh Hirsberg strikes such a sanguine tone. He also fesses up to a number of uncertainties, which is a refreshing change of pace. True, the company has halved its 401(k) matches but it hasn't deep-sixed them altogether, unlike several competitors. Also, it stopped Echelon while it still had the ability to alter the scale of the project, whereas Caesar Palace's Octavius Tower had crossed that Rubicon. It certainly doesn't rank anywhere near as high on the Mortification Meter as MGM Mirage's forced truncation of The Harmon (now to be an ungainly stump) or Las Vegas Sands' abrupt cessation of its St. Regis tower. Boyd's ongoing infatuation with fickle Morgans Hotel Group remains a major puzzlement but let's not belabor that now.
Boyd's chances of coming out the economic tsunami intact look good. Besides, the company has surprised people before. Who would have picked it to be the one that would shake up the Atlantic City market and force everyone else to keep pace?
A project that has the makings of a comparable success story in Las Vegas is M Resort, brainchild of the Marnell family. (You know, the folks who gave The Rio its cachet -- before Harrah's Entertainment took over and "geriatrified" the place.) Admittedly, $1 billion for a 390-room hotel/casino doesn't sound anything like optimal bang for the buck, but M Resort has three things going for it that Station's Red Rock Resort and Aliante Station don't: location, location, location.
Strategically, M's site is killer. It sits just north of the pass through which I-15 flows into the Vegas Valley, as you head in from California. In fact, you see the M tower even before you reach the pass, stunningly framed between the canyon walls. The vista from the north side of M ought to give it must-visit cachet when it opens in two weeks (March 1). The relative paucity of hotel rooms may bespeak caution over whether the stay-off-Strip/commute-to-Strip business model has worked yet. As they say on Wall Street, "visibility is limited" because like-minded Green Valley Ranch and South Point have gone private.
Also, by limiting their exposure on the hotel side -- where so much of the rest of the market is overexposed -- the Marnells should have supply/demand dynamics in their favor. A place like Morgans' Hard Rock Hotel, which only drew a third of its cash flow from gambling before Morgans went on a frenzied expansion binge, is super-exposed in the area that's most sensitive to price fluctuations -- hotel rooms -- and soon to become even more so. (The HRH puts a brave spin on it but it's no secret why the project is fully funded: It's 85% owned by the bank which, like the pig in the ham-and-egg-breakfast analogy, is committed while Morgans [i.e., the chicken] has but an interest.)
One also has to laud CEO Anthony Marnell III's incremental preparation for the Vegas market: a stint managing a tribal casino (giving him experience in the drive-in market), followed by acquisition of the Saddle West in Pahrump (ditto the locals market), then Laughlin. So his $1 billion dice-throw was approached via a circumspect route. George Maloof has already shown that a steady locals/hipsters mix can work as a business model. M Resort is the first project since The Palms to wholeheartedly go that route.
With nearby Olympia Gaming and Station (Inspirada) casino developments on indefinite hiatus, Marnell should be firmly entrenched before anyone else in the area gets a shovel in the ground. It's a serendipitous combination of preparation and circumstance. Of course, M could be either a succes d'estime or an outright bust, but the buzz I've been hearing is strong.
Tamares Group giveth (booking a new magic show into the Las Vegas Club) and Tamares taketh away, pulling back on a planned art museum (above). So if this is no time to invest $12 million in an art museum, maybe Tamares might want to invest it in its casinos. Comic relief is supplied by Mayor Oscar Goodman, who's been exceptionally obtuse this week. (See: President Obama, Silly Feud with)
Casinos in Texas are one of the longest of long shots but Galveston's name keeps coming up. The whole thing screams "Tilman Fertitta!", especially since we know he's wanted a casino there and was even rather colorfully accused of surreptitiously installing casino infrastructure in his Galveston convention center. He got a good chuckle out of that one, as I recall.