Last week, Audit Integrity identified the 20 companies most at risk of bankruptcy (minimum market capitalization: $1 billion) and the lone gambling operator on the list was Las Vegas Sands. On Friday, Business Insider piled on. Pruning Audit Integrity's list of any firms with market cap below $3 billion, that still left nine companies ... and Las Vegas Sands.
Quoth the Insider: "Conditions in Las Vegas are horrible, Asian expansion isn’t enough, and if this lasts too long then LVS will end up in bankruptcy court looking like it bit off more than it can chew."
Marina Bay Sands: a megaresort too far?
No shit. With an unfinished casino-hotel in Pennsylvania and the abortive St(ump) Regis condo on the Strip, Sheldon Adelson has too many fingers in too many pies. Plus, his $5 billion Singapore albatross will get beaten to the starting line by subsequent entrant Genting. And even with a sudden easing of access from mainland China to Macao, it's too soon to be going pedal to the metal on the remainder of the Cotai Strip™, as Adelson would clearly like to do.
(As though to twist the knife in the wound, retail developer Taubman Cos. made a point -- in the course of reiterating its interest in a rival project -- of saying it wasn't in the market for the two shopping malls Adelson is desperately trying to unload.)
Ohio's supreme court delivered a swift kick to the groin of Gov. Ted Strickland (D) -- and to the casino industry's hopes for imminent expansion into Ohio. By a 6-1 vote, the high court ruled that addition of seven racinos needs to go before a vote of the people, throwing as much as a 14-month hitch into the process.
If that weren't enough, Strickland has to cope with the continued meddling of Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), who seems to believe he still occupies the governor's mansion, too. Governors hate it when the congressional delegation bigfoots them on intra-state affairs. Such a clash led to a permanent rift between fellow Republicans then-Gov. Kenny Guinn and then-Rep. Jim Gibbons.
Strickland, meanwhile, is poring over the court's ruling in search of loopholes that might allow Class II gaming to go on line in December. It's that or cut $852 million from the state budget. If he can insinuate VLTs into horse tracks by May, then voters have a few months to get habituated to them before the 2010 vote.
For Harrah's Entertainment, the good news is that the court's ruling temporarily shaves $47 million off the sale price of Thistledown Park (the full $89 million tab is contingent on racino conversion). For seller Magna Entertainment, the bad news is that the deal may fall through entirely if Harrah's doesn't want to gamble on the outcome of further legal challenges and the tender mercies of the electorate.
Despite taking a 22% gouge out of expenses, Colony Capital and its Goldman Sachs sidekicks managed to convert a 2Q08 profit to a $10.5 million 2Q09 loss. Revenues were down $30 million (or 40%), half of that from diminished room bookings. Could the service cuts be driving the revenue plunge? It wouldn't be the first time we've seen "death spiral" management be a company's undoing.
It's certainly interesting to see the bracing effect the recession has had on Vegas casino execs. They, who once took convention business for granted and looked upon conventioneers as less desirable than gamblers, have had a salutary wake-up call ... hopefully not too late.
Colony alsothrew in the towel on Resorts Atlantic City, although it left CEO Nicholas Ribis behind to run the place. That means he will serve two Boardwalk masters: The Resorts mortgage holders and Colony, with whom he co-owns the Atlantic City Hilton and which Ribis has also been running (into the ground, some charge). What happens if it's in Resorts' best interest to steal business from the A.C. Hilton?
It's difficult to decide who was more foolish here: Colony, for borrowing 2.5X the value of a casino whose best days were behind it, or the bankers who secured $360 million in loans with a $140 million casino. Let the floggings commence!
Speaking of death spirals, when you can get an Imperial Palace room for $18 (as an acquaintance recently did), who'd stay in Mesquite? That exurb's travails continue drag Randy Black's oligopoly down with them. Scant competition appears to have bred slackness and complacency in the Mesquite and Primm markets. It may be mere coincidence that the competition-rich Laughlin market has suffered to a much lesser degree ... but I don't think so.
Defaulted interest payments, renegotiated loan covenants, drawn-out cash reserves ... these are some of the unappealing alternatives facing Planet Hollywood. No property's struggle is fun to watch but this one is sadder than most because there's been considerable reinvestment (and some stunning redesign) made to turn the ex-Aladdin into something viable. However, all Robert Earl's horses and all Robert Earl's men have come up a bit short.
Plummeting ADRs have precipitated this crisis and, although losses at Planet Ho have consistently narrowed (and continue to do so), this isn't the first time we've heard that Earl's place was really struggling. And, no matter what Earl does, his casino-hotel has intractable, customer-hostile design flaws that cannot be solved by any means short of implosion.
I've been given reason to believe that whoever ends up owning the physically and fiscally bloated ($4.4 billion, at latest count) Fontainebleau, it won't be Penn National Gaming (at least not unless it's free and clear, and presumably cheap -- a tall order). If Steve Wynn has indeed already spurned F'bleau that'd leave Apollo Management, which never saw a bad casino investment it didn't like, and this one's nearly $1.8 billion underwater.
F'bleau would also give Master of the Universe Leon Black a de factoHarrah's Entertainment property on the north Strip, although Harrah's needs to fill thousands more hotel rooms like it needs a gaping hole in the noggin. Considering that it costs Boyd Gaming $3 million a month to keep Echelon on ice, preserving the F'bleau monstrosity until such time as new rooms can be absorbed seems a better use of capital than trying to finish the accursed thing.
Shakeup at Sands. Geez, you don't think executives on the chopping block could have anything to do with Genting Bhd's rival project getting ahead of slow-moving Marina Bay Sands, do you? Naaaaah! After all, the executive situation at Las Vegas Sands has been so very tranquil this past year. Just ask William Weidner ... or Bradley Stone or ...
When he acquired Aztar Corp., back in 2006, Columbia Sussex CEO William J. Yung III also became one of the company's debtors. So what's his $36 million worth today? According to the Wall Street Journal, 100 grand or less. If that weren't enough to make the ColSux/Aztar deal the all-time biggest casino-sector wipeout of the last 15 years, consider that Carl Icahn's "$200 million" credit bid (i.e., no money down) was placed with debt acquired at 27 cents on the dollar. So Icahn has himself a new casino for a tidy $54 million outlay.
In a less-reported development, Icahn also gained a controlling position in Tropicana Entertainment. Without either its Atlantic City or Las Vegas Trops, it'd be a car without an engine, a gaggle of riverboats and motels. Exactly where this leaves CEO Scott Butera and what role he'll play remains an open question. Hopefully, either his or Icahn's first move in Atlantic City will be to replace floundering Trop General Manager Mark Giannantonio (a Yung crony) with someone more up to the job.
Movement at Cosmo: The GM of Caesars Palace, John Unwin, has resigned. He'll become CEO of the stalled Cosmopolitan in October. While it's still unclear under whose aegis the casino will be run, Unwin's hiring is the first concrete move to get some gaming expertise on board since Deutsche Bank seized the property.
Whining in Macao: Those two "integrated resorts" in Singapore haven't even opened yet and won't for another half a year, but Stanley Ho (whose venerable Hotel Lisboa is seen above) already has his panties in a bunch. According to Bloomberg News, the ancient casino oligarch has been wringing his hands about the burdensome, "serious issue" posed by Macao's 39% tax rate.
Boy, Singapore must be a more serious threat than I'd given it credit, if it's got a Communist Party suck-up like Dr. Ho all a-twitter and taking issue with the government. He's still in better shape than his American rivals; the attempt to graft Vegas-style megaresorts onto Macao has left them badly exposed to anemic market conditions. Ho's gambling-centric strategy gives him less cause for worry.
Today Singapore, tomorrow the U.S.? Even while lender's remorse has paralyzed American banks and stalled any hopes of "unbundling" the U.S. casino industry, diversification may be coming from an unlikely corner. Malaysia's Genting Bhd, riding a sustained runup in its stock, has $2 billion in the kitty, is raising more and could pump $7 billion into casino acquisitions.
That isn't to say there aren't a lot of "ifs" and "buts." Still, Genting's fundamentals appear far more sound than those of say, Las Vegas Sands. It's also in a position to deal a serious blow to Sands in Singapore. Not only will its Sentosa Island casino-resort open before Marina Bay Sands, but customers who "subscribe" to a $1,388/year entrance fee to one casino or another must play exclusively at that casino for the year. Once again, Sheldon Adelson's inability to finish a megaresort on schedule threatens to bite him in the butt.
As the media rages down Memory Lane, here's one from the Strange But True file: Michael Jackson partnered with Detroit entrepreneur Don Barden in a scheme to gerrymander a Motown casino into Barden's hands. I covered the story for Casino Executive at the time but have no recollection of the Jackson angle.
Allah stands on soft 17: These guys are so busted. Eighteen Muslims got nailed for gambling in Java. Guess they couldn't wait for those Singapore casinos to open.
What does a bankrupt casino look like? Sort of like this. If you watch the full video, you'll see that Twin River Casino is literally going to the dogs.
Slots soaked. Heavy storms claimed 75 one-armed bandits at Rivers Casino, in Pittsburgh, a trouble-plagued project from Day One. A four-day delay of the opening is the result. I hope they've got a rainy-day fund.
Bad news for Sands and Genting: Potential Singaporean high rollers are fewer in number these days. The island-state is also in a tourism slump of unpredictable duration. Not only are Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa hoped to turn that around, they'll have to. So, no pressure there.
Editor's note:An item involving Crown Ltd. contained factual errors, which have been corrected (as you'll see). I apologize for the misinformation. My thanks to the reader who pulled my head out of my @$$.
California gamblers stay and play ... at home. While the recession has made some inroads on tribal-casino revenue in the Golden State, it's losing less ground than Las Vegas. Some of those Vegas losses will eventually be recouped, but this day of reckoning was bound to come.
Unlike Las Vegas, which is arguably suffering from having too many competing profit centers within each resort, California casino bosses interviewed still view entertainment as either a loss leader or a one-off. I never thought I'd say this but Las Vegas could use a little more "old school" thinking right now.
James Packer, the guy who can't catch a break, is finds his casino company in even more hot water, in a case of the sins of the father being visited upon the son. The plot surrounding Crown Ltd.'s courtship of a self-banned high roller (and convicted felon) is thickening considerably. Seems paterfamiliasKerry Packer may have been pressuring crony John Williams to get pathological gambler Harry Kakavas back to the tables.
Williams, for his part, rolled on the late Mr. Packer, who's now got some 'splainin' to do. No wonder the young Packer's pursuit of Cannery Casino Resorts collapsed like a pup tent. The money quote, if you will, is: "[Williams] said it was common for patrons to rip up [self-exclusion] cards and that, in his view, Mr Kakavas's loss of $2.3 million in 28 minutes was recreational gambling."
If you lose $82,000 per minute, it's not recreation. It's degenerate gambling.
Globe-trotting Ian Sutton is back from Macao and G2E Asia. The sights! The sounds! The smog!
(Update: Ian says it's not smog but mist, as forthcoming videos will show.)
Holy Cow II: GlobeSt.com, normally a continent source of business news, is shocked -- shocked! -- that Steve Johnson's proposed casino on the former Holy Cow site will include a Walgreens. Smelling salts, stat!
But there are some interesting revelations, For one, the reason that Palazzo's flagship retailer is also a Walgreens is that it was a compromise Sheldon Adelson effected with the landowner ... Steve Johnson. (The mere fact of Adelson compromising is newsworthy enough.)
Turns out, that purchase may set the record for an on-Strip acquisition, at an alleged $50 million per acre -- Phil Ruffin, eat your heart out! Johnson also paid through the nose for the Holy Cow site. The price? $23.5 million/acre for land north of Sahara Avenue. Egad!
Columbia Sussex's casino portfoliocontinues to crumble. Tropicana Entertainment parent Tropicana Casinos & Resorts is selling its Amelia Belle riverboat (thereby forfeiting the New Orleans market) barely two years after the ship was acquired. Amelia Belle is former Harrah's Entertainment vessel, having been Bally's Belle of Orleans.
It's a canny strategic move for new owner Peninsula Gaming, which now has a Louisiana riverboat as well as a racino and four OTBs, not to mention a small flotilla of Midwest riverboats. TropEnt CEO Scott Butera, meanwhile, has less and less over which to preside. At the moment, his ambit consists of four riverboats, mostly in tertiary markets, two casinos in Laughlin and one on Lake Tahoe. Is this TropEnt's future: A succession of piecemeal asset sales? Sure looks that way.
Bad news for Sheldon Adelson. Over in Singapore, rival Genting's mega-budget Resorts World at Sentosa is letting news outlets like Bloomberg know that 60% of the project will ready for a soft opening in early 2010 (i.e., February-March). Projected attendance figures have been revised 20% downward.
In a rapier thrust at Marina Bay Sands, a Genting exec said the company was having regular meetings to make sure it came in on its $4.5 billion budget. Full completion of Sentosa is projected for 2012. Sands is going to have a sufficiently tough time making its nut without Genting crashing the party so soon ... to say nothing of the fact that Genting enjoys much higher brand equity in that corner of the world.
RoboPoker has risen from the grave. Electronic table games have been OK'd for eight New York State racinos. Though the Lege hasn't signed off, the Empire State's lottery board is confident it has the authority to make this move unilaterally. Poor Atlantic City is dying the death of a thousand cuts.
Congratulations to Penn National. It's scheduled to inaugurate a new pavilion for Empress Joliet today. A March 20 fire resulted in a three-month closure of the boat and substantial fiscal hardship for Penn National. In a noble gesture, CEO Peter Carlino kept employees on the payroll even though his ship was hors de combat. Capt. Carlino, S&G salutes you.
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?