Video Megabucks on tap

Feb 1, 2005 5:23 AM

IGT’s nearly ready to kick its popular Megabucks progressive jackpot up a couple of notches.

The company plans to launch a video Megabucks game during the next couple of months with a jackpot that will progress upward from $10 million rather than the present $8 million.

The current Megabucks is a three-reel, $1 denomination slot game. The progressive game linking hundreds of games throughout Nevada to a central computer in Reno has created a lot of instant millionaires since it was launched almost 20 years ago with ceremonies led by the late IGT chairman Si Redd at the Stardust.

There were only about nine casinos on the initial link. Yes, the game has come a long, long way since then.

Illinois holding up MGM merger?

MGM Mirage’s plans to acquire the Mandalay Resort Group could be delayed by the dead weight of Illinois politics, but you can bet MGM bosses will not let this happen.

An inside source says the Grand Victoria part of the acquisition by MGM could be put into some sort of escrow until such time as the Illinois Board can act.

But MGM will give away the Grand Victoria Casino (near Chicago in Elgin) before they let Illinois and its twilight zone approach to gaming control affect the merger.

The problem is just when the Illinois Gaming Board will hold another meeting. There are only two members now, one less than the number needed for a quorum, and it has been months since the last meeting.

Observers say there is nothing in the current political mess that is even slightly encouraging to companies trying to do business in Illinois.

Station bullish on locals market

Station Casinos Chief Financial Officer Glenn Christenson could scarcely find adjectives strong enough to summarize his satisfaction with what’s been happening in the Las Vegas locals market.

"Is there a stronger economy on the planet than Las Vegas?" he asked.

Christenson partially answered his own question by citing building on the Strip.

"What is really taking our economy to the next level is the development on the Strip," he said.

But there is also plenty of off-Strip activity as well, he and other Station execs noted. Currently under construction are locally oriented properties such as Boyd Gaming’s South Coast and Station’s Red Rock casino.

Assessing his company’s performance last year, Christensen said that, by any measure 2004 was a "blowout."

The continued Las Vegas population growth and strong economy were two of the factors helping to fuel a double digit fourth quarter increase in same store revenue during the last three months of 2004.

The Station executives said they are continuing to plan the development of their Wild Wild West casino on Tropicana near I-15. That looks like the next big project in the Station pipeline.

"That will become our flagship of the future," an insider with Station said.

Chairman Frank Fertitta III hinted that the "future" could be sooner than expected in order to take advantage of the growing number of Las Vegans with money to spend.

Carson came close to owning a casino

If we had known that Johnny Carson’s 1980 bid to buy the Aladdin Hotel would be a one-shot deal, we might have spent more time savoring the moment.

We being all the news people, gaming regulators and gaming executives who followed this wrestling match between entertainment giants.

It helps to remember the context of that moment. Wayne Newton was as big as he could be on the Strip during the early months of 1980. But Newton had ambitions that went beyond performing. The Aladdin was a popular casino whose owners were in big trouble with the state. They had to sell.

So enter competing bids by two of Vegas’ most popular performers.

Carson was a periodic Strip performer at that time, appearing at the Sahara where he and exec Ed Nigro developed a relationship that looked like it might pay big dividends when they decided to joint venture the effort to acquire the Aladdin.

Carson was eulogized as the king of late night TV, but he came very close to becoming a casino owner.

Newton and his partner, former Riviera executive Ed Torres, were the eventual successful purchasers of the Aladdin, thanks to a big assist from former Valley Bank Chairman E. Parry Thomas.

Torres’ alleged mob ties added spice to the issue, but the prospect of celebrity ownership of a major Strip property — and that’s what the Aladdin was in those days — was enough to keep this story in the headlines for months.

As far as I know, Carson never made another attempt to buy another Las Vegas casino. Several gaming insiders liked Carson’s star power and they presumed he would be back. Little did they know Carson