Peepshow star/trainwreck-in-progress Aubrey O'Day likes to speak her mind, for whatever it's worth. Evidently the recklessly candid utterances of Ms. O'Day were worth not one, not two but, yes, three dispatches by Richard Abowitz.
The fascination is understandable, given an interview subject who readily owns up to being unhappy and describes her demi-celebrity as "fame-ish-ness." O'Day's costar, Holly Madison may have been dubbed "Queen of Vegas" but when Las Vegas Weekly tried to wrest similar prose mileage out of her, the result was better than Sominex. Strangely, I find myself rooting for the id-on-the-loose that is O'Day to go the distance here in Vegas.
A Bronx Tale. Kudos to Sheldon Adelson for rolling the dice on Chazz Palminteri's virtuosic one-man show, whose run has been extended for another week. Yours truly finds it a rather warm-and-cuddly depiction of Mob life but both Mike Weatherford and Joe Brown express nearly unmitigated enthusiasm. Whichever way you slice it, it's still three thumbs up for Palminteri.
Wynn still happy. If the Chinese government's aim in applying further curbs to Macao is to "tamp ... down" the Cotai Strip™, where Sheldon Adelson™ aims to build "Asia's Las Vegas™" no wonder Steve Wynnis a happy camper. Anything that handcuffs main rivals Las Vegas Sands and Stanley Ho is good news at Wynn HQ, especially with Encore Macau coming on line soon. How boring life would become if Wynn and Adelson ever suspended their running verbal gunfight.
Casino operators in Macao better make the most of the recent relaxation of visa quotas into the enclave. What the government gives with one hand, it partly reclaims with the other. Casino expansion remains out of the question and the minimum age for gambling would go up to 21, from 18, under a bill draft soon to be put forward. (Steve Wynncan afford to be sanguine, as it's far more likely to impact his mass-market-oriented competitors. Investors didn't share his enthusiasm.)
If Wynn -- who continues to toe the Peking party line -- comes out a winner, facing negligible "obstacables," Lawrence Ho is the presumptive loser. As best S&G can ascertain, the curtailment of gambling in residential areas is aimed at his Mocha slot routes, one of the younger Ho's bread-and-butter enterprises.
Another proposal awaiting action by the Macanese Lege would cap table-game inventory. Writes J.P. Morgan analyst Joseph Greff, "we believe the Macau government believes the timing is right to implement these initiatives given the completion of the commission cap rule and the resumption of growth in the industry ... if the number of tables will be limited to 1,000 per operator, [Las Vegas Sands] may need to modify its future expansion plans, as it is already over the limit, while SJM will need to close down some of the older tables operated by the third parties, as it too is already over the limit."
None of this appears to bode especially well for Sands' long-in-coming IPO, although it remains to be seen whether this is a bonafide legislative agenda or simply a warning to inhibit growth. The news, however, managed to cast a pall over Sheldon Adelson's planned resumption of his Cotai Strip™. Also, it's not as though the Macanese government and its casino-owning subjects don't have to worry about an upsurge in gambling back on the Mainland.
Detroit, briefly. The depression continues to eat into Detroit's casino revenues, -2% last month. Despite a -6.5% drop, MGM Grand Detroit remains the big cat, grossing $42 million. Second place is up for grabs, though, as MotorCity continues to fall back (-7%) toward upstart Greektown (+12%), which is closing the gap, grossing $28.5 million against $33.5 million for MotorCity.
Either rumors of Stanley Ho's death, three weeks ago, were greatly exaggerated or the elderly casino magnate has made the most remarkable recovery since Jesus Christ. (I'm put in mind of a favorite bit of Babylon 5 dialogue in which Capt. Sheridan [Bruce Boxleitner] confirms that he indeed died, adding, "I'm better now.")
Today, Bloomberg News reports Lawrence Ho says dear old Dad is "looking better every day" and making a good recovery from -- as best we can conjecture via published reports -- a subdural hematoma brought on by a nasty fall. The younger Ho says his father's SJM has no plan of succession in place. Boy, when the Grim Reaper eventually comes for old Stan, the fight for control is going to make King Lear look like a tea party.
A compromise is shaping up in the Pennsylvania table-games wrangle and casinos won't like it one bit. According to J.P. Morgan summary, while the Dems in the lower house haven't budged off their preferred $20 million upfront fee/34% tax equation, the GOP-led state Senate has blinked.
The Senate's proposal would set the license fee at $15 million (a 50% increase) and the taxes at 14%, up from 12%. Casinos might be able to swallow that, on the presumption that the tax increase is small and the extra $5 million in fees can be quickly recouped. Even at $20 million, a bigger upfront hit can be regained by operators off the back end -- provided that the tax rate stays relatively low. Doubtless that's the lesser of two evils, from their perspective.
Bluhm: $45 million saved is $45 million earned.
On the money-saving front, the budget for the initial version of Neil Bluhm's SugarHouse casino is now announced at $310 million: a -$45 million shift. Considering that Bluhm's Rivers Casino and Sheldon Adelson's Sands Bethlehem came in at a staggering $1.5 billion-plus (combined), this new dollar figure suggests a welcome return to fiscal restraint. Your turn, Foxwoods.
Ist California kaput? That's the question posed by the The Observer and it makes for troubling reading. If Gov. Jim Gibbons (R-NV) is right that tourism from California is the carotid artery of Nevada's economy, then the Silver State is -- to put it politely -- screwed. A good thing the Lege didn't follow Midnight Jim's advice and shut down Nevada's outreach efforts in China.
Speaking of which ... Amidst a flurry of economic developments and positive indicators in Macao, the casinos of Stanley Ho are backing off the expensive VIP trade and going mass-market. (Translation: "We're coming after you, Sheldon Adelson.") Thanks to reader mike_ch for the link.
Colossal buMMer. Breakfast has just been eliminated from the offerings at the M Resortbuffet. Unless one lives nearby (a relatively small clientele), M is a heckuva long detour to make for breakfast, so this economy move is understandable ... but depressing all the same. No casino buffet gets higher marks from LVA readers.
That's a bit weird. Stay with me here, folks. CBS cancels Guiding Light, replacing it with Let's Make a Deal, which is shot at the Tropicana Las Vegas. So what should be coming to Vegas in December (at The Rio) but a Guiding Lightfarewell tour -- yes, Reva, Josh and the whole kit 'n kaboodle. How much you wanna bet they won't be taking in a LMaD taping at the Trop? The only way to make this scenario more Banquo's Ghost-ly would be for the soap convention to be held at the Trop, too.
P.S.: Better get your tickets now before the 'Otalia' fans scarf them all up.
Company. Performances resume at UNLV tonight and it's a must-see. Mind you, the Review-Journal praises the Stephen Sondheim revival with faint damns, while the Sun's review reverses that formula. But I'd pay to see it again, which I don't say about many shows in this town.
A flurry of good news to end the week, starting in Macao:
September, the first month affected by a relaxation of severe visa restrictions imposed on the mainland, saw a 53% jump in Macanese gambling revenues. In terms of market share, Stanley Ho opened a big lead on Sheldon Adelson, 30% to 20%, with Melco Crown Entertainment close behind with 16%. The remainder of the market was divvied between Wynn Resorts (14%), MGM Mirage (10%) and Galaxy Entertainment (8%).
Is Melco's City of Dreams (above) eating into nearby Venetian Macao's business? On the surface, it certainly looks plausible. Given the immensity of the facilities he's building on the Cotai Strip™, Adelson ought to be getting more bang for his pataca.
Vegas hearts gays. Earlier today, I was asked to reflect on my nearly 11 years in Las Vegas. It's been full of surprising twists of fate -- who ever thought Steve Wynn would be forced out of the Mirage brand he'd created, just for starters?
But I sure as heck never imagined I'd open my e-mail box at work and find the following casino promotions, all keyed to National Coming Out Day (Oct. 3):
"Two Queens Beat a Straight" (New York-New York)
... or the slightly more innocuous ...
"COME OUT and Celebrate at Luxor"
(Luxor was smart and didn't offer Criss F. Angel tickets as part of the, uh, package)
In the Vegas of even a few years ago, "Boys' Night Out Package at Excalibur" would have had more of a frat-party connotation. MGM Grand plays it safe with a "His or Her Getaway" which sounds like a generic singles-oriented deal. Even so, we're actually seeing progress from the days when Vegas marketed itself as a synonym for a very debauched and jaundiced vision of male heterosexuality.
There's nothing like a depression to make this a party town of equal-opportunity decadence. After all, LGBT dollars spend just as fast as straight ones.
$545 a night. That's what Mandarin Oriental is asking. If you read the fine print, you'll note that (through March 31), if you buy a room night at that rate, you'll get a comped night, too. Which makes the effective rate $272 and change. By current standards, that's still steep ... but maybe staying in a 392-room hotel instead of a 4,000-room behemoth is an intangible added value. What do you think?
... says the Motley Fool, in essence. Even Borgata, which posted a higher operating profit year/year, is deemed merely to suck less than everybody else. I'm not sure I'm with the Fools on this one. For instance, shouldn't Sands Bethlehem be doing better than fifth among Pennsylvania casinos, especially when you consider its proximity to New York City?
Elsewhere on the Boardwalk, the UAW is fighting Trump Plaza, the Plaza is fighting the National Labor Relations Board and Trump dealers are fighting amongst themselves. Since 32% of dealers initially voted against UAW representation, it should be a cinch to round up 30% to sign a decertification petition. Kudos to Trump Entertainment Resorts CEO Mark Juliano for going out of his way to soothe potential animosity between labor and management.
MILF convention in A.C.: On Oct. 3, former Bunnies and other veterans of the short-lived Playboy Hotel & Casino will return to the shore to relive the good old days. A few might even wriggle into their old Bunny costumes. Maybe a re-infusion of the Playboy brand is what Atlantic City needs. It can only help. Are you listening, Carl Icahn? Revel? Pinnacle Entertainment? Anybody?
Finally, a reason to visit Orlando ...
... or maybe not. And that dude from Scotland is in serious need of subtitles.
Resort-style casinos come to Colorado and doesn't Ameristar's new hotel look lovely? Now, if only somebody would build a mid-market property like this on the Strip. Why must average Americans settle for older, second-tier properties if they're to afford a Vegas vacation?
Health care reform + Internet gambling? Is it just me or is Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) onto something here? This may be just the carrot to dangle in front of legislators who still balk at allowing Americans to wager on the Web.
Creditors screwed again. How much is Greektown Casino worth? Is it the $725 million its creditors claim? Or the $540 million that Greektown asserts? Or maybe the lowball $485 million that lead bidder Tom Celani is willing to pay? Greektown's recent -- and well-publicized -- inroads into the market share of its Detroit rivals lend merit to the higher-end valuations. If the place was in the doghouse, I might sympathize with Celani (who's likely to boot the very management team responsible for Greektown's turnaround), but Fine Point Group has definitely enhanced a once-seedy casino's value.
It's official. VIP-player commissions in Macaowill be capped. Since the war over junketeer commissions was threatening to make Macao a negative-revenue proposition, the new ceiling will greatly improve cash flow for Macanese operators. Middle-of-the-pack Galaxy Entertainment is expected to benefit the most (+27% EBITDA), followed at some distance by Stanley Ho (16%), with Las Vegas Sands and MGM Mirage bringing up the rear. Although the elderly Ho may be on his deathbed, he's lived long enough to broker peace in a potentially destructive situation where the only sure winners were the sought-after junket operators.
Remember how gambling revenues in Macao during July were up 3% from last year (the first positive comparison this year)? That was soon followed by the news that numbers for the first half of August are even more encouraging still (+20%). Though Macanese casinos are on track for a $1.5 billion August, analysts urge caution, noting that the first half of August '08 was exceptionally weak.
Still: Wherefore this sudden resurgence?
Perhaps it's the delayed effect of a February loophole that allowed Guangdong Province residents to circumvent a ban on travel to Macao on Hong Kong visas. Whatever the case, business should get better still on Sept. 1 when, the Macau Tourism Council says, restrictions on Guangdong Province will be loosened even further. That's music to the ears of every casino boss in Macao, needless to say.
Sheldon Adelson, in particular, has fallen in clover. This revelation comes just as he's putting the finishing touches on a planned IPO on the Hong Kong stock exchange (with Steve Wynn following suit). The stock offering, it is hoped, will generate sufficient liquidity to finish a quartet of stalled hotels on the Cotai Strip™ (with five more to come). Right now, the area looks like an outsize version of Miss Havisham's wedding, "leaving swaths of the nascent Cotai Strip covered by steel and concrete skeletons," in the words of Bloomberg News. Macao doesn't need more rooms right now. However, Adelson sure could use the lucre from the casinos onto which the hotels are piggybacked.
But what of Stanley Ho? While the casino baron ails, Bloomberg has unpacked Dr. Ho's June address to G2E Asia, in which he laid into his U.S.-based rivals. “The success of one market model cannot be migrated to another ... Ignoring Macao’s special characteristics and duplicating a Las Vegas or an Atlantic Citywould not be a successful strategy.” (The article also minces few words about the elder Ho's triad associations.)
Those of us who scoffed at Ho's antediluvian casinos are finding that the comparably ancient oligarch is having the last laugh, even if it may be from his deathbed. “The Macao audience is less focused on the ancillary things around gambling. Stanley, with his wealth of experience, understood that better," says Thornburg Investment Management analyst Alex Motola.
Meanwhile, various Ho clan members may be at daggers drawn. Favorite wife Angela Leong is the perceived successor, but daughters Pansy, Daisy and Maisy Ho (no, I didn't make that up) aren't going to step aside quietly, from the looks of things ... especially since Leong is only two years Pansy's senior. SJM CEO Ambrose So is also being tipped as a potential dark-horse heir to King Stanley's throne.
Business as usual at Hotel Lisboa.
But how would the Macanese government cotton to the notion of Pansy Ho controlling both the SJM concession and half of the MGM one? A third concession could be up for grabs if City of Dreams fails to perform, thereby becoming what Melco Crown Entertainment CEO Lawrence Ho calls his "endgame."
His father's death could also set off a philosophical war between the tried-and-true Stanley Ho business model, time-worn though it may be (and likely to be championed by Leong and So), and the Vegas Lite approach in which Lawrence and Pansy have dabbled. But with the Ho family having its fingers in three casino pies (MGM, Melco, SJM) simultaneously, they'll come out winners no matter which way the pie is sliced.
Stanley Ho's newest and oldest progeny: Grand Lisboa and HotelLisboa.
From Malaysia to Monticello. Do you recall those stock sales by Genting Bhd insiders a while back? At the time, it looked as though the money would go toward an acquisition of MGM Grand Macau. However, it now appears the lucre will purchase a stake in struggling Empire Resorts. That's the company whose executives were luxuriating in the low-tax suburbs of Las Vegas -- even though Empire's sole gaming asset was a racetrack in Monticello, N.Y., a full continent away.
J.P. Morgan has raised its 2010-11 cash flow estimates for Melco Crown Entertainment's $2.4 billion City of Dreams megaresort, bringing projected return on investment into the 11%-11.5% range. That comes in the wake of good news that gambling revenue in Macao was $1.2 billion in July, up 3% from last year. That's the first positive comparison of 2009.
What's still more stunning is July's sudden parity between Macanese operators. Stanley Ho commanded 23% of market share but Las Vegas Sands was nipping at his heels with 22%, followed by Melco Crown (18%), Wynn Resorts (15%) and MGM Mirage, leapfrogging past Galaxy (10%) into fifth place with 12%.
Adelson wins one. Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson has vanquished at least one litigant. A federal district court judge scotched former Adelson flunky Moshe Hananel's claim on a share of Sands' Chinese revenues. The former Interface Partners International exec sought credit for having the Sands-in-Macao idea first and laying the groundwork for Adelson's Chinese overture. Adelson recently paid off one trio of claimants and is still battling former associate Richard Suen after losing badly in court.
Not many of us make headlines by waking up in the morning and saying something. But when the future of over 50% of Macao's casino market hinges on A) your health and B) your plan of succession, and C) your name is Stanley Ho ... well, it's a big deal. Macau Daily Times is reporting that the elderly Ho is both conscious and articulate. However, it's also saying that he needs further surgery to extricate blood clots from his brain. My suspicion that the gambling oligarch suffered a stroke (or something very close thereto) and not a simple slip-and-fall -- was first reported -- is hardly dispelled by this latest news.
For reasons I was in the midst of outlining last Friday, just before the Big Computer Freeze destroyed it all, we're far from out of the woods on this. Also, the gathering of family members around the patriarch's sickbed is -- due to various business agendas -- somewhere between courtiers hovering around an ailing monarch and vultures circling potential prey.
Alas, all that must go onto the back burner until I deal with some outstanding business that includes reviewing L.A. Comedy Club at the Four Queens and Tickled Pink at Planet Hollywood. We had some extra time before the latter last night to contemplate CityCenter. Whether one likes it or not, it's going to make several nearby properties -- I'm looking at you Monte Carlo and especially New York-New York -- look very antiquated, bordering on tacky. With a few exceptions, the Wynn-initation themed resorts are proving to have surprisingly short shelf lives.
There I was, 90 minutes into composing a piece de résistance of blogging about palace intrigue surrounding Stanley Ho's sickbed ... when a defective link to some Macao TV coverage froze my computer. Dozens of links, paragraph upon paragraph ... all gone, force-quitted into oblivion. It's enough to make one retire to the nearest sickroom. Aaaaarrrrggghhh!
In the future, when I get the notion to engage in long-form blogorrhea, somebody please belabor me with the nearest heavy object until the fit passes.