Mississippi debates moving casinos inland

Oct 4, 2005 5:43 AM

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour was given the weekend to use his lobbying power to influence the Senate regarding House passed legislation that was designed to help revive the casino industry.

On Friday, despite the opposition of House Speaker Billy McCoy, the lawmakers approved the measure by a vote of 60-53, just three votes more than was required.

The Senate, called into session by the governor to act on legislation aimed at saving the $2.7 billion industry, began debating the House measure late Friday but recessed at midnight to await the renewal of discussion on Monday noon.

In an appearance on CNBC’s Squawkbox session early Monday, Bobby Moak, chairman of the House Gaming Committee, described the importance of the proposal since the state was losing about $500,000 per day in revenue and that several thousand employees needed to return to work.

Under the bill, Moak explained, the casinos would be permitted to rebuild their destroyed facilities "less than three football fields inland" to a more secure area. The proposal does not affect the river casinos built north of the Gulf Coast.

During the House debate, McCoy maintained his anti-gambling position. When the law restricted the casinos to be built in tourist areas and over the waters of the Mississippi River or the Gulf of Mexico, he voted in opposition.

Affected by the current proposal are the 13 casinos located along the Gulf Coast from Biloxi to Bay St. Louis.

Anti-gamers said they would continue their fight in the Senate despite having failed to influence enough House members to oppose the legislation. But there were cracks showing among their ranks.

On Sunday, when a number of church pastors railed against gambling, some churchgoers pointed to the unemployed casino workers and their families that were suffering.

"We have a lot of casino workers here and we don’t take a stand," said a deacon in one of the churches. "God wants you to come to him and be a Christian. You can still do your job and come to Him," he added.

Dates moved

Because of hurricane damage to Delta Downs, owned by Boyd Gaming Corp. (BYD), the track’s scheduled race meeting, set for Oct. 21, has been cancelled and some of the dates have been moved to Evangeline Downs beginning Dec. 1.

Boyd officials said they hoped to return live racing to their Vinton, La., track around Jan. 11, 2006, provided all damage has been repaired.

Racing at the Fair Grounds, a New Orleans track that also suffered hurricane damage, was transferred by owner Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN) to Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, a facility owned by Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (HET).

A spokesman said the Louisiana Racing Commission understood the problems posed by the track damage and wanted to give the track owners time to repair their facilities so that they could complete their awarded racing dates.

Guidance cut

Ameristar Casinos Inc. (ASCA), once the darling of Wall Street investors, dipped even further last week when the company reduced its financial guidance for both the third quarter and the full year 2005.

The company said it had to lower its projections because of "greater than anticipated construction disruption" related to the work being done at its casino in Black Hawk, Colo. Also affecting the financial future of the company, the announcement said, was the competitive environment in the St. Louis, Mo., market area.

For the third quarter, the company said it expected operating income to be between $39 million and $40 million, down from $42 million to $44 million and diluted earnings per share to be between $0.26 and $0.28 per share, decreased from the previous guidance of $0.30 and $0.32 per share.

For the full year, it expects income of $162 million to $164 million and earnings per share of $1.08 to $1.11.

THE INSIDER: International Game Technology (IGT) has increased its quarterly cash dividend to $0.125 and will make the payments on Oct. 25 to shareholders of record on Oct. 11.

Susan Bala, who was convicted of operating an illegal gaming site as head of North Dakota’s Racing Services Inc., has reported to a minimum-security facility in Illinois to begin serving her 27-month sentence.

The Mashantucket Pequot Indian tribe, operators of the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, has closed the Foxwoods Golf and Country Club in Richmond, R.I. and is expected to place the property up for sale. The tribe purchased the golf course in 1997 to provide an amenity for its high-roller players.

Magna Entertainment Corp. (MECA) says it has completed the sale of a company, formed to manage racing on the Virginia circuit, to Colonial Downs L.P. for $7 million in cash and a $3 million note.

Kentucky Lt. Gov. Steve Pence has come out in favor of expanded gambling in his state, a position that is contrary to that expressed by Gov. Ernie Fletcher but one favored by the state’s horse tracks.

Maryland racetrack slots have failed to pass the legislation so far but that hasn’t stopped the Frederick County commissions from taking action that would restrict slots at the local level.

Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (HET) says it will partner with SMG of Philadelphia, Pa., the world’s largest operator convention centers, in its bid to win a gaming license in Singapore.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has once again taken up the matter of whether to approve formal recognition of the Mashpee Wampanoag Indians of Massachusetts. Ancestors of the 1,400-member tribe are believed to have greeted the Pilgrims when they arrived on American soil.

Gaming analysts at Goldman Sachs have initiated the coverage of the shares of Scientific Games Corp. (SGMS) with an outperform rating.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS) will release its financial results for the third quarter on Wednesday, Nov. 2.

Alliance Gaming Corp. (AGI) said it estimates it will be prepared to file Form 10-K with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Nov. 3.

Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN) has contracted with Souire Marketing Group to manage the online stores and printed catalogs for the company’s primary brands.