That means either Las Vegas Sands or MGM Mirage, and it's old news that Sheldon Adelson has been peddling a couple of retail malls and the non-casino aspects of Sands Macao (above). MGM is attempting a reboot (successful so far) of MGM Grand Macau but still might come up short on completion money for CityCenter, especially if condo prices have to be reduced. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that one Macanese casino beats any number of hotel rooms or retail outlets.
Un-Trumped? Thwarted Trump Marina suitor Richard Fields is making another run at the property, which he's been trying to buy since Homer was a pup. Better still for him, he could get it for as little as $75 million. However, he's got dark-horse competition from a Maryland-based private equity fund that's making a play for all three of the Trump Entertainment Resorts casinos.
Notorious for mainly hanging its corporate shingle in tax-haven Green Valley, would-be casino operator Empire Resorts is not only re-headquartered in New York State, it's got new partners. Some of them bring checkered pasts to the table.
Also, Empire's hopes hinge upon the current administration reversing an especially paternalistic ruling from the George W. Bush years: namely, that casino sites must be within commuting distance of the tribal owners' -- in this case the St. Regis Mohawks -- reservations. If economic self-sufficiency is the endgame of federal/policy, Uncle Sam needs to loosen the apron strings.
Unready for some football. The unceremonious scrapping of Monday Night Football events at The Cannery is explained (second item). Magic word: clearance. Columnist John Katsilometes also notes that the second weekend of Zowie Bowie's Vintage Vegas was better than the first. Which would mean it's graduated from "bad" to "mediocre."
New England moralists are apparently OK with slot machines in Rhode Island, so long as they're covered by the fig leaf of mandatory greyhound racing. At least the slot players have a chance of actually catching the rabbit, metaphorically speaking. Animal cruelty is bad enough but when it's enshrined in state law it's even more objectionable, if such a thing is possible.
Galaxy Theatres' multiplex at The Cannery has scrapped all its big-screen showings of Monday Night Football, it was announced today, one week into the NFL season. Perhaps the incessant jabbering of Jon Gruden sent patrons screaming out onto the casino floor.
"Historic Announcement" at Trop: New CEO Alex Yemenidjian has booked a press conference on Wednesday morning with a "Special Guest" who represents an "exciting new partnership" in the entertainment sphere. It's the worst-kept secret in Vegas that Mr. Special Guest is better known as blogger Chuck Monster's least-favorite Strip headliner, Wayne F. Newton.
Also, the Sahara is (finally!) pulling the plug on Larry Marshak's ersatz Platters/Coasters/Marvelettes revue. Alas, the last act in this shameful saga of exploitation has yet to play out. The Marshak troupe will actually move up the Strip food chain, to Planet Hollywood. However, its new home is the Wyrick Entertainment Complex, otherwise known as the "Venue of Death." If that doesn't kill the show, nothing will.
Well that's ... weird: The Las Vegas Sun's Brendan Buhler reports that waitresses at Monte Carlo's lounge within the Dragon Noodle Co. restaurant "are dressed as characters from Japanese animé cartoons, a hobby known as cosplay." This strikes Buhler as odd because the U.S. cosplay cosmos is dominated by teens and pre-teens, and is "geeky." (He said it, I didn't.) He likens it to a Miley Cyrus-themed nightclub, before noting that the uniforms resemble "schoolgirl outfits."
Had the Nevada Gaming Control Board not come down upon Planet Hollywood like a hod of bricks, it's entirely probable that Privé would still be up to its scofflaw antics. That's because Clark County has a long history of looking the other way or, at most, administering the occasional love-tap on the wrist. But when Gaming Control lays down a half-million-buck fine, it's kind of hard for Clark County Manager Virginia Valentine's crew to keep their heads in the sand, pretending to be invisible.
Hence the revocation of Privé's license, quickly restored once the Titanic deck chairs were rearranged and the vessel rechristened the Lusitania. I feel much better now, don't you? (It should be noted that there's a sizeable constituency in Las Vegas that thinks the county and NGCB should turn a blind eye and laissesz les bon temps roulez. Hey, why don't we bring back bribery, too? If those officials are going to be ignoring the laws they're charged with enforcing, shouldn't they be compensated for it?)
Kudos to the ever-clever management of Cannery Casino Resorts. They've struck a deal with ESPN to allow simulcast of Monday Night Football on Galaxy Theaters' giant DMAX screen at the original Cannery. The festivities begin on Sept. 14 with a Bills/Patriots and Chargers/Raiders doubleheader. (OK, the nightcap sounds like a real dog, but MNF doesn't get the pick of the litter since moving to cable.)
A 60-foot-tall Terrell Owens? Scary! More worrisome still: Will egomaniac Jon Gruden hog the mike this season, elbowing aside co-analyst Ron Jaworski? Nobody breaks down a play like "Jaws" but will "Chucky" let him get a word in edgewise?
Steve Wynn must be getting a little apprehensive about how Labor Commissioner Michael Tanchek's long-running hearings on tip confiscation will play out. Wynn's benched the able Gregory Kamer, as well as Wynn Resorts' in-house counsel, in favor of Beltway attorneyEugene Scalia. And, yes, his dad is that Scalia. (Does anybody else think the Bush administration passed over Scalia Sr. for Chief Justice in favor of John Roberts because he -- unlike Roberts -- was too contentious to forge majority rulings? Just me? OK.)
Wait Until Dark (@ CSN) obtains tepid praise from the R-J. I saw it last Friday. What's my verdict? Tune in tomorrow!
There's only one Native American currently serving on the federal bench. Might Nevadamake it two? Vito de la Cruz, S&G hopes you receive due consideration.
Economic parable: Once upon a time there were two thrift stores in my neighborhood. One, run by Catholic Charities, sold good merchandise. The other, Goodwill, peddled garbage. Guess which one went out of business? It's like the nonprofit version of the Walmart saga.
Both the opening of Sands Bethlehem, and recent expansions of Meadows Racetrack & Casino (+29%) and Mohegan SunatPocono Downs (+21%) drove an 18.5% increase in slot revenue this July. With $19.6 million in gross revenue, Sands was only good for fifth place, barely behind Mohegan Sun ($19.8 million).
Adelson's new slot parlor was well off the pace set by Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack ($30.8 million) and The Meadows ($29.9 million). Harrah's Chester didn't perform too shabbily, either, pulling in $27.3 million from the one-armed bandits. Both it and Philadelphia Park were less than 2% down from their July '08 revenues, putting paid to the theory that Sands Bethlehem would draw -- at least in any significant degree -- from the Philadelphia area. Only nearby Mt. Airy Resort & Casino is taking a serious hit.
After fairly flying out of the gate, M Resorthas hit the wall. Unfortunately, CEO Anthony Marnell III's response to economic adversity has been to sweat the value propositions. Not only is M fretting about card counters (hands down, the silliest preoccupation in the casino industry), it's yanking full-pay video poker machines.
“We are in business to have an edge and these games are nearly break-even,” Marnell tells Liz Benston. Give him points for candor ... but if you didn't want players to have a 50-50 shot, you should never have installed the machines in the first place, fella. This reeks of bait-and-switch. The video poker community is tightly knit; word of this stuff gets arounds fast and will undoubtedly redound to Marnell's disadvantage.
Another thing that might be working against Marnell are M's distinctly underwhelming coupon offers -- far inferior to those from Station Casinos, for one. The Significant Other and I tend to forward our M "offers" straight into the WPB (waste paper basket). I'd also respectfully dissent with Benston re M's casino design: It's a throwback to the old "disorientation" days. For ease of navigation, M's not a patch on Eastside Cannery, to say nothing of Wynn Las Vegas. Heck, even the venerable Sahara isn't the rat maze that is M's gambling floor.
When "whales" attack. Indicted high roller Terrance K. Watanabe is taking on Nevada's casino-debt-collection machine and his lawyer is making some interesting legal arguments. Basically, he's contending that markers are loans, not checks (as longstanding Nevada precedent would have it). Should this argument prevail at trial, it could have far-reaching consequences.
Since markers could no longer be booked as income, Nevada would no longer be able to tax uncollected markers, as it currently does. Since enforcement of the debt is funded by assessing a 10% penalty on the debtor, Clark County couldn't afford to go after delinquent whales, either. And casinos themselves might have to think even harder before (in effect) lending money to players like Watanabe who, his attorney says, accounted for a fifth of The Rio's and Caesars Palace's casino revenue in a two-year period.
Hoist on its petard. In his latest Las Vegas Business Press column, Dr. David G. Schwartz explains how the consolidation mania of the 1990s (spurred by manic Wall Street analysts) came back to bite the casino industry in its ass when times were tough. So tell us, Nevada Gaming Commission, why was it such a good idea to have an oligopoly on the Strip (and in Lake Tahoe ... and ... )?
James Packer sure knows how to pick 'em, doesn't he? He's just written off $250 million invested in (read: "wasted on") Fontainebleau. His Crown Ltd. also took the opportunity to kick F'bleau while it's down, stating it felt "no obligation and has no current intention to contribute any further equity or debt to Fontainebleau or participate in any restructuring under any bankruptcy arrangements." In other words, please excuse me whilst I push you under the nearest bus.
James Packer picked a peck of putrid portfolios.
Packer is on the Mendoza Line, now batting 1-for-5 in U.S. casino investments, with only a minority interest in Cannery Casino Resorts providing any ongoing yield. In baseball, a .200 average gets you a ticket to the minor leagues. S&G humbly suggests that, the next time Packer gets the urge to invest in American gaming companies, he ought to have a lie-down until the fit passes. Failing that, he might simply proceed to the water closet and "invest" his money straight down the crapper. The ROI should be about the same.
As for F'bleau, the significant storyline emerging from its bankruptcy appears to be the revelation that ex-CEO Glenn Schaeffer and associates spent $2.1 billion, performed years of construction ... and were only 70% finished when lenders pulled the plug. Which is significant because F'bleau execs maintained, right up to the bitter end, that they'd open in October -- giving them less than six months to do 30% of the work. I'm starting to have a glimmer of sympathy for the banks' point of view.
Welcome to Albania: Otherwise known as Post-Gibbons Nevada. And good riddance to the 2009 Lege for aiding in this debacle.
Although an oft-promised loosening of visa restrictions by Peking stubborny refuses to materialize, an air of cautious hopefulness has crept back into Macao now that City of Dreams has opened on schedule -- and it looks dazzling. Aggressive revenue projections have literally reversed the fortunes of co-owner James Packer, whose disastrous venture into the U.S. casino industry is now seen by some as a blessing in disguise.
At $2.4 billion, City of Dreams rivals the cost of Venetian Macao and is hoped to equal or surpass the latter's 20% return on investment. One projection has it leapfrogging Wynn Macau into third place, with 20% of the Macanese market.
It also represents a double-edged sword for Sheldon Adelson's mammoth casino-resort. If it draws more punters to the Cotai Strip™, good. If it dilutes Adelson's customer base, not so good, obviously. In comments to the Wall Street Journal, Adelson seemed at pains to temper some headstrong pronouncements he'd offered to Steve Friess. As expected, an Adelson without the restraining influences of William Weidner and Brad Stone, is a pedal-to-the-metal Sheldon, saying Las Vegas Sands should have gone faster, faster, faster with its Cotai Strip™ projects, not slower. (The mind reels.)
"I just came back from Macau and we have five or six different options that we can pursue, each one of which would solve our liquidity problems," the Venetian's doge proclaimed ... which doesn't sound a lot different from what he's been saying for months. That is, until he contradicted himself by buying up a truckload of LVS stock -- something he wouldn't have done were a major deal in the offing.
Adelson predicts all his suspended Macao projects will be back in gear by year's end. He's on the curve in one respect, suggesting that his aborted St. Regis condo-hotel on the Strip could be revived by Sands' acting as lender to prospective unit buyers. Palms Placejust started doing that very thing.
Sheldon's Commissariat for Optimism never closes, so one tends to grow skeptical of each new variant of "Victory is mine!" Anyway, Adelson was just off the plane from China, so perhaps jet-lag accounts for this reality-challenged assertion: "Our numbers have been going up and the [Macau peninsula] have been going down."
'Fraid not. Scarcely had that Adelsonian utterance made print than Lusa reported May's revenue numbers. If April had seen Wynn Macau falling back toward the pack, with 13% of market share, it returned with a vengeance in May. Steve Wynn's 18% market share -- with far less capacity than Adelson -- put him only three points behind LV Sands and came at the latter's expense. Stanley Ho still leads everybody with 30% -- as much as Galaxy Entertainment, Melco Crown Entertainment and MGM Grand Macau combined.
A few days earlier came news that visitation from Mainland China to Macao had been -43% in April ... hardly propitious conditions for flooring the Cotai Strip™ gas pedal. Ditto a 10% drop in May gambling revenues. Until that much-mooted visa liberalization actually happens, going apeshit with casino-hotel construction makes no sense whatsoever.
Nor did Adelson do his public image any favors with a gratuitous slam against jilted sidekick Weidner. (The latter, given the opportunity to respond, took the high road.) This 'hit 'em when they're down' move will accrue exactly zero sympathy for Adelson -- and it might have some nasty repercussions should it hamper Weidner's attempts to find another job. Then again, he's as rich as Croesus, so he can probably spend the next few decades on the golf course, should he so desire.
There's been no additional movement on the rumored Genting Berhad offer for MGM Grand Macau. However, even in a $13.8 billion/year casino market, the numbers don't look great for MGM. After it splits its 8% market share with partner Pansy Ho, it would have $55 million from which to pay an onerous tax bill, plus operating expenses. (The ROI must be dismal.)
Borgata, in Atlantic City, does $55 million a month -- in a bad month -- and MGM basically cashes a check from Boyd Gaming. So if MGM elects to stay in Macao and vacate Atlantic City, it won't be because the Chinese enclave is contributing more to the bottom line. Who ever thought MGM Grand Macau would function as a glorified "loss leader"?
Steve Wynn has a dragon ... and now Lawrence Ho does, too.
Back home, MGM is going downmarket at The Mirage. And they didn't even have to sell the place to Penn National in order to get there.
Strangely enough ... Penn's recent expression of interest in both Planet Hollywood and Station Casinos passed with scarcely a murmur of comment locally. You'd think that a well-capitalized company like Penn's hanging of a target on Robert Earl's or Frank Fertitta III's back would make headlines -- or maybe Vegas journos have tired of Penn's endless feints and tuned the company out. Well, almost all of them, anyway.
Planet Hollywood, at least, is acting far more aggressively than one would expect from a property that is contemplating a sale. So perhaps Earl is more pursued than pursuer. However, his conversion of Desert(ed) Passage into Miracle Mile appears to have run out of steam -- or money -- at the halfway point. Try as he might, Earl is never going to completely de-Aladdin-ize that place. A magic lantern and three wishes would come in real handy down there.
Also flying under the radar was former Planet Ho boss Michael Mecca's enlistment with Galaxy. Mecca jumped -- or, more likely, was pushed -- from the Planet right when the Omar Siddiqui scandal was at its height. Informed speculation had it that Mecca was thisclose to being tapped to head up James Packer's projected North American gambling empire. Crown Ltd. CEO Rowen Craigiewas noncomittal, though, and Crown's big Cannery Casino Resorts acquisition fell through soon thereafter, leaving Mecca hanging.
Success being the best revenge, Mecca not only landed a prestigious new gig -- it's with one of Packer's direct rivals in Macao. Mecca shoots, he scores!
Which brings us full circle to Macao. That worked out tidily, didn't it?
Perhaps it was with dry irony that the Las Vegas Review-Journal's latest Station Casinos story's subhead read, "Company blames economy, poached customers." And by whom might those customers have been poached? By Station Casinos itself! The company's imperial overreach has reduced it to gnawing on its own femur, as each new Station property cannibalizes business from somewhere else in the Fertitta empire.
Bad as the 2008 financials were, 2009 is going to be that much worse once the encroachment of M Resort begins to be felt. Last year, Station's casino revenues fell by 11% and ADRs were down comparably. A 14% slippage in cash flow from 2007 meant that a deal valued at a rose-colored 9.7X EBIDTA is now effectively over 11X cash flow. Even had the Fertitta Brothers not insisted upon carting home a half-billion dollars as part of the buyout, its valuation would still have been quite over-optimistic.
(Even in a boom year, Station's proposal to dilute Aliante Station's revenues with a nearby "Losee Station" would be inexplicable. Given the company's current financial performance, it's an idea quite a few fries short of a Happy Meal.)
Elsewhere in the casinosphere, the closest thing to good news was Planet Hollywood's disclosure that it shaved 40% off of last year's losses, thanks to a nearly 8% revenue increase. More alarmingly, the Las Vegas Hilton -- seemingly the one casino-hotel Colony Capital couldn't ruin -- has swung from a profit to a loss.
It's a business miracle! Losses at soon-to-be-cleft Herbst Gaming widened by 60%. Most of that was driven by a -33% downward spiral in slot-route revenues. By contrast, the ouster of sundry Herbsts in favor of CEO Ferenc Szony appears to have given the company's 15 casinos a boost because, as dowdy as some of those places are, their revenue actually grew 1% last year.
For most companies that might be unremarkable; for Herbst it's a miracle. It also puts paid to the Herbsts' face-saving insinuation that, by keeping the slot routes and parting with the casinos, the family was hanging onto the real goodies. I can't even remember the last time I went into a Terrible's convenience store and saw somebody playing the slots.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. The Nevada state budget is a two-legged stool, balanced upon gaming and sales taxes. That stool is getting wobblier by the day. Unfortunately, if the Lege has any solutions, it's keeping them to itself.
I'm deeply imbedded in other projects today. In the meantime, by way of In Business Las Vegas and GamingFloor.com (source of yesterday's Harrah's Entertainment time warp, too) here's the answer to the question, "How many casino failures can you pack into nine minutes?" Watch it and weep.
Though it can't seem to settle on a dollar figure for James Packer's renegotiated Cannery Casino Resorts purchase, this story makes one salient point: A $1.7 billion-plus acquisition could be converted into a 25% stake for $370 million-$390 million. That effectively reprices 100% of Cannery at $1.48 billion-$1.56 billion. Which enables Packer to save face on what is described as an "increasingly onerous deal." Or it could be a graceful way of bowing out of further U.S. casino adventures in favor of a renewed Down Under focus.
A reader writes ...
I know that you are a big fan of a high-speed rail system to Vegas, and I do see the need to increase the traffic flow from SoCal to Vegas.
But I wonder if anyone has run the numbers to compare adding an additional highway lane or two (and even expanding any bridges) from the north edge of the LA area to Vegas? And how that figure compares to the cost of a high-speed rail.
Again, I'm not an opponent of rail lines (in fact, my wife comes from a long-line of train-employed relatives), but I wonder where the best "bang for the buck" would come from.
From some VERY basic numbers on the web, I'm getting estimates of about $1 million per mile per lane for highway building in the desert. Even with adding a lane in each direction, that's about $2 million per mile, or around $400 million for the approx. 200 miles from the north edge of metro LA to Vegas. Even if you more than double that figure for bridge expansions, etc., you still only end up with a cost of $1 billion. Compare that to the $8 billion in the stimulus package for high-speed rail (although I'm not sure how much of that $8 billion goes to the Vegas rail, or what the total cost of that project would be).
As you can tell, I am NO expert on this, but it might be interesting to hear from some experts (and who don't have a dog in the hunt).