Public relations alert for LVS CEO Sheldon Adelson

Jul 30, 2013 3:08 AM

Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson does not always make life easy for his public relations people.

It is their job to let the boss make points he considers important but there are occasional rough edges in need of, uh, cosmetics when this can be done while staying on-message, so to speak.

And Adelson, like his “friend” Steve Wynn has been known to project imagery often associated with bulls wandering unchecked through china shops.

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Which is when the public relations people leap into action.

This may have occurred last week during a quarterly conference call with financial analysts and dozens of interested listeners who probably included some of his Las Vegas Strip competition.

Adelson was asked about trends involving Strip room rates. He launched into a heart-felt explanation about the lower room rates charged by two companies (MGM and Caesars) with about 20 Strip properties. Their rates, he said, were making it difficult for him and his “friend” Steve Wynn to get what they would probably be able to charge were it not for all the budget-priced competition.

“That sucking noise you hear…” Adelson said on the live conversation was the sound coming from his debt-laden competition.

By the time the live conversation had been turned into the transcript supplied by one of the popular sources of such materials all references to a “sucking noise” had been eliminated.

Lake Charles update: The soon-to-be Golden Nugget development along the heavily traveled I-10 corridor in Louisiana at Lake Charles has been passed around among potential buyers and investors like a tray of party snacks since former Pinnacle CEO Dan Lee first envisioned its possibilities nearly a decade ago.

It will be a year or more before it finally opens as the fifth Golden Nugget in the chain owned by Tilman Fertitta whose Landry’s Inc., has more than 500 restaurants with a bulging database that helps nudge gamblers toward these casinos.

But if you are a believer in the familiar notion that life is what happens while people are making other plans, then there may be other changes in ownership ahead for this development that will give Lake Charles added credibility as a regional gaming destination while also adding luster to the expanding Golden Nugget brand that began in Las Vegas.

Fertitta, however, has already made his mark as an entrepreneur who knows how to make big things happen. He became the Golden Nugget owner in 2005, talking big, sounding like an unflappable Steve Wynn with a Texas accent.

This happens to have also been the same year (2005) Lee quarterbacked Pinnacle to the opening of the L’Auberge du Lac casino, which happens to be next-door to the 242 Lake Charles acres on which the Nugget is taking shape.

Lee was already planning what he wanted to call Sugarcane Bay on this land, but when he abruptly left Pinnacle in November 2006, Pinnacle decided to abandon the project. There would be no Sugarcane Bay.

Lee’s interest remained strong. He wanted the project and beat back the efforts by his former employer to stop him. Pinnacle argued unsuccessfully in court that Lee was making use of insider information.

Nonsense, the former CEO countered. But Lee’s problem was that he could not line up affordable financing, a situation that eventually led to MGM entering into the picture as a major investor in what Lee wanted to call the Mojito Pointe hotel and casino.

The plan faded into nothing as Las Vegas-based Ameristar Casinos agreed to buy Mojito Pointe. Yes, it looked like a good idea until Pinnacle decided to buy all Ameristar properties, including Mojito Pointe or whatever the company might want to call it. Perhaps Pinnacle was planning to make the best of a situation that had not looked so attractive several years earlier.

What goes around comes around again…if all the players are patient enough. Well, sometimes it does.

In this case, federal antitrust officials decided they could not approve the Pinnacle purchase of Ameristar unless Pinnacle agreed to sell two of its casinos. The company decided the under-construction Lake Charles project would be one of them.

Fertitta had probably been tracking developments closely and decided this was his cue to get involved. It looks very much like the strategy he had previously applied when he bought casinos in Biloxi and Atlantic City and turned them into Golden Nuggets.

From Las Vegas to Atlantic City and wherever, they are all tailor- made locations for his myriad restaurant brands.

And as Fertitta noted when he got his Atlantic City casino license for what had once been the Trump Marina, the millions of people who have spent time in one of more of his restaurants might also be tempted to visit a Golden Nugget.

“I could not pass up the opportunity to operate a casino next to my hometown,” the Houston-based Fertitta gushed.

And in New Jersey: State casino regulators continue striving to get the state’s version of Internet gaming launched no later than late November.

The assumption of some analysts, myself included, was that it’s nice to plan but, really, how often do projects as complicated as this get started on time?

“The governor has Internet revenue figures in the current budget, the budget year that began July 1,” explained a source familiar with the pace of government operations there. “The incentives for getting this thing (Internet gaming) started per earlier announcements do not get any bigger than that.

“Everyone is very aware of the timing issues,” he added. “They’re sensitive to it. State government is counting on the revenue.”

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. He can be reached at [email protected].

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