MGM takes a biteout of the Big Apple

Jun 28, 2005 3:36 AM

MGM Mirage has a big foot in the door in the biggest market in the country. Yes, it doesn’t get much better than this. A gaming location within spitting distance of the Big Apple amounts to a rare opportunity.

One of the opportunities — and that’s opportunity with a capital "O" — is operating a casino at Aqueduct, but could extend to other racetracks operated by the New York Racing Association. MGM officials quietly acknowledge as much without revealing any specifics.

That’s the way to read the company’s decision to operate as many as 1,400 slots at the renowned Aqueduct track in the heart of everything that defines the NYC market.

Estimated returns on the initial investment will not raise eyebrows, but future returns could be huge. They may also pale into nothingness. Let’s see what doors are opened as the Great Debate over gaming’s expansion continues.

In the meantime, MGM Mirage expects to earn $10-$15 million a year as a result of lengthy negotiations that will have the company spending roughly $170 million to build and operate a slot operation at the famed track.

Does this open the door to possible opportunities at other tracks owned by the New York Racing Association? You can bet that the answer to this is a muted "hopefully" as MGM strategists speak among themselves.

The immediate returns may amount to pocket change as far as MGM is concerned — the company is spending better than $100 million on a Las Vegas parking garage — but MGM is certainly in the right place at the right time to take advantage of future gaming opportunities involving the largest metropolitan market in the U.S.

More slots
for Florida

You could almost hear a "whoosh," the sound of all those heads snapping around, at the news of the Florida judge saying he wants Broward County officials to create slot rules now, as in right NOW . . . or he will do it himself.

Time to get those slots humming, spinning or whatever, his honor concluded. Gaming proponents in Florida get this kind of helping hand about as often as Halley’s Comet comes around.

Gaming opponents were quick to unleash growls and howls of dismay, declaring that Circuit Judge Leroy Moe can’t do what he did.

The winds of dissent would not be swirling like a class four hurricane if the issue involved nothing more than the presence of slots at a few Broward pari-mutuel operations on the state’s southeast coast. But the actual stakes are much higher.

The big issue for Florida’s right-leaning body of lawmakers in Tallahassee, of course, is not how many machines can be crammed into the frontons and racetracks of Broward County, but how this ruling may effect the desire of the Seminoles to operate machines at their myriad gambling halls, including Hard Rock casinos near Tampa and Hollywood. Remember, the Tampa Hard Rock is a short distance from the heavily traveled Interstate 75.

Florida voters previously gave Broward and Miami-Dade voters the chance to vote on slots. Those in Broward said yes while Miami-Dade voters said no several months ago. Legislators were to set up the rules for slot operation, but legislative leaders who generally look at slots as they would an outbreak of malaria managed to side step anything resembling action.

Here’s how the Miami Herald quotes Moe on that issue: "(The legislature) deliberately violated the constitution of the state of Florida by not implementing rules and regulations regarding the use of these gambling devices . . . (the pari-mutuels) have a clear right to have slot machines in their establishments. There is no question about that."

Not that this is the last word on the issue. It should only be that easy. We can probably count on an appeal and some lawmakers getting as creative as possible with efforts to block the arrival of expanded gambling.

But expanded gambling is on the way, thanks to the help of rulings such as this. There are already efforts in the works to bring the slots issue back to the ballot in Miami-Dade.

Harrah’s eyes
online poker

Harrah’s might some day be operating its own online poker web site pulling in the sort of revenue that compares nicely with what the rest of the company is doing.

Sound like an impossible dream?

Not actually, but don’t look for this to happen in the near future. It is one of the tantalizing possibilities being studied by company officials trying to mesh their technology with what the law allows.

But the bottom line is that the company’s World Series of Poker will not be budged from its spot high on the list of most popular brands owned by Harrah’s.

Everything, I mean everything, has been breaking in the company’s favor. Efforts to increase the WSOP’s appeal are receiving help from every direction. It’s likely preliminary World Series circuit events will be held at Asian and European locales.

More than 3,000 of the expected 6,000-plus entries into the WSOP championship had been paid for as of mid-June, and the big game does not begin for another week or so. Assuming all this works out, the plan is to make each person at the final table an instant millionaire with the winner getting something like $7.5 million.

One of the web sites ( sponsoring so-called satellite tournaments that qualify players for a $10,000 seat in the main event is even offering a $10 million bonus if the ultimate winner of this event qualifies for the championship in a Full Tilt satellite.