Caesars Pacific Rim projects will not stop with South Korea

Mar 25, 2014 3:08 AM

Caesars is the most recent Nevada resort company to appreciate the ability of Asian countries to understand tourism-related spending can be a powerful economic development tool.

Tourism is a big time creator of jobs by the thousands, generating the revenue that keeps a lot of wheels turning.

Caesars and its Indonesian partner are the beneficiaries of South Korea’s decision to create a for-foreigners-only casino resort that is expected to draw Chinese travelers from the Beijing and Shanghai areas about an hour away by plane from the proposed resort near Seoul.

The decision is a big one for Caesars. It missed an earlier opportunity to get in on the big profits other Las Vegas companies have been making in Macau.

South Korean interests have been competing to “absorb China’s outbound tourism demand.” It’s expected the Caesars joint venture with an Indonesian company – the first foreign-owned casino – will benefit from “explosive growth.” Planners hope to draw 10 million tourists from mainland China by 2020 compared to the 4.3 million who arrived last year.

The Pacific Rim projects will not stop with South Korea. Japan is already in the crosshairs of Caesars and other Nevada companies looking to take advantage of Asian opportunities.

Nevada vs. NCAA: I’m sure someone out there in the Nevada gaming industry has considered dropping a friendly thank you note to the NCAA.

Not that anyone expects a cordial you’re welcome from the organization that rules college sports and snarls at suggestions for legalizing sports betting beyond Nevada. The NCAA would shut down Nevada books if it could but that ship sailed long ago.

“Where would we be without all this March Madness business,” a busy Las Vegas sports book employee said, a big smile on his face. It was a rhetorical question I suppose because he did not wait for my response. He continued, “It’s great, the way it plays across several weeks and people are in a spending mood. It’s like an extended party.”

Most of the local experts with an understanding of the high energy forces that shape sports wagering say that in the aggregate March Madness is “bigger than Super Bowl,” which is of course just one day.

There is no reason to rub the NCAA’s nose in Nevada’s success but there is clearly a giant disconnect between NCAA thinking and the preferences of the countless thousands who indulge in wagering opportunities.

And this year Warren Buffett deserves credit for a major assist. The savvy billionaire knows a moneymaking opportunity when he sees one, challenging those impossible odds with the offer of a billion dollars for anyone able to construct a perfect bracket.

The challenge died after a mere 25 games but there is still $100,000 available for each of the top 20 entered in the Quicken Loans Bracket Challenge. The magic of March Madness lights up my imagination.

We can imagine Nevada’s major industry in the role of an Oscar winner, standing before an appreciative audience, thanking those who had anything to do with this successful project. Resort bosses probably also want to aim some of their thanks in the direction of cable networks, the print media and the myriad Internet outlets.

March Madness coverage has whipped sports fans into a let’s-get-out-and-bet frenzy. Casino executives in Atlantic City and elsewhere across the landscape of the U.S. gaming business are envious. If only they had a legal promotion like March Madness on which to build the kind of business Nevada resorts are enjoying this month as visitors with an itch for action spend money in a variety of businesses that feed off tourism spending.

Maybe state officials will develop the programs that can track this spending. It would be nice to have the kind of specific information that comes each year when the Gaming Control Board reports Super Bowl wagering totals at sports books.

There will, of course, not be any glad-we-could-do-it notes from the NCAA bosses who have shown no sign of giving an inch when faced with proposals to expand sports betting beyond Nevada. They are probably busy putting fresh polish on the old arguments about sports betting soiling the pristine image of college sports.

We can count on the NCAA lawyers repeating themselves this summer or fall, assuming the U.S. Supreme Court decides to hear New Jersey’s appeal of federal court decisions that have so far blocked Gov. Chris Christie’s efforts to bring sports wagering to Atlantic City casinos.

And this is where the issue gets complicated because the strategists familiar with thinking at Nevada resorts would love to continue their monopoly on sports betting even though the biggest Nevada-based companies (Boyd, Caesars and MGM) also operate casinos in New Jersey and other states where the prospects for legal wagering hinge on the outcome of New Jersey’s challenge.

In the meantime, perhaps someone will send a package of “I Like March Madness t-shirts to the NCAA.”

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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