N.J. bans smoking;casinos exempted

Jan 17, 2006 4:51 AM

Ignoring rallies that included exotic dancers in front of the Statehouse, New Jersey lawmakers last week banned smoking from all public places, except from the Atlantic City casinos.

The legislation was signed into law on Sunday by Gov. Richard Codey whose time in office is limited to a few days. The ban takes effect on April 15.

Affected are all bars, restaurants, nightclubs and bowling alleys. In addition to casinos, exemptions were provided for tobacco retailers, cigar bars or cigar lounges that generated 15% of gross income from on-site sale of tobacco products in 2004.

Exempting the casinos became a major controversy with some saying "Casinos have vast lobbying power as a result of their lobbyists and their campaign contributions."

But casino supporters were quick to respond that the industry provides employment for 50,000 people, "has billions in public and private investment and just as importantly provides hundreds of millions of dollars to the state annually."

In Delaware, a similar smoking ban was instituted three years ago but the law didn’t exempt the casinos. Subsequently, gaming revenues fell by a reported 25%.

Singapore defection

City Developments Ltd., identified last month as the second-largest property group developer in Southeast Asia, has decided against joining Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS) in its bid to become one of two casino operators in Singapore.

It was only one month ago that the company announced it was taking a 15% equity interest in the project.

The defection was confirmed by Sands officials who noted, however, that CityDev Chairman Kwek Leng Beng would continue to advise the company as the bidding process continues.

Meanwhile, MGM Mirage Inc. (MGM) announced it was continuing with its bid to build and operate a casino resort in Singapore.

Campaign donations

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s sudden announcement that he favors introducing Keno game operations has caused a rush to state records to determine whether the two lottery firms doing business in the state were behind the move.

A review of campaign contributions to Blagojevich has determined that Scientific Games International Inc. (SGMS) gave the governor’s campaign $10,000 in December 2004 while officers of GTECH Corp. (GTK) contributed a combined $2,500 in July 2003.

However, spokesmen for both firms denied even being aware that Blagojevich planned to ask the legislature to authorize keno games as a way of paying for new school construction.

The governor’s spokesperson said Friday that the administration would not let the contributions influence any contract should the lawmakers approve keno.

Gambling fever

For whatever reason, gaming has been on the upswing among Americans during the past few months with nearly every state reporting increases in gaming revenue.

Led by Nevada, where the state’s casinos reported revenues of $999.62 million, a 16.01% increase over the previous year, casinos in several other jurisdictions show an increase in gaming activity.

Atlantic City’s December gaming revenue rose 7.3% to $387 million, led by Resorts Hotel/Casino jumping 23.7%; Tropicana rising 19% and the Trump Taj Mahal moving upward by 18.8%. These casinos were joined by the Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (HET) properties that showed a collective increase of 11.9%. Highest among them was the Caesars Atlantic City casino that beat last year by 9.9%.

The Borgata in Atlantic City, co-owned by Boyd Gaming Corp. (BYD) and MGM MIRAGE Inc. (MGM) continued its strong showing in its second full year of operation winning $704.4 million, a 10.7% jump over its 2004 figure. Officials listed the Borgata as the city’s most profitable casino.

Missouri December gaming revenues rose 4.1% to $130.2 million with the St. Louis casinos operated by Ameristar and President leading the way.

Illinois’ casinos reported gaming win of $152.4 million, an increase of 3.9% over 2004. The leaders in this market were the Aurora Casino, owned by Penn National Gaming Inc. (PENN), and Harrah’s Metropolis Casino up 19.1%.

Showing a decline in December were the casinos in Iowa. They fell 1.4% to $89.9 million.

Officials in Macau reported that gaming revenues in December rose 15% to $500 million bring the annual total for 2005 to an unofficial $5.7 billion.

Booming business

Business is really booming at the Hollywood Slots site in Bangor, Maine, the state’s only authorized "racino" operation.

Although slots were authorized for Bangor Raceway after it was purchased by Penn National Gaming Inc. (PENN), approval was granted for the company to set up a temporary operation in a nearby restaurant.

In its first two months of operation with 475 slot machines, Hollywood Slots gamblers had wagered more than $60 million of which $4.1 million was listed as profit. According to the tax rate set by the legislature, the state will receive $2 million as its share of the bounty.

Also, last week, Gov. John Baldacci insured a monopoly for the facility by vetoing a bill that would have permitted an Indian "racino." The veto was upheld by the Maine House of Representatives.

THE INSIDER: Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has signed the bill authorizing four pari-mutuel facilities in Broward County to install 1,500 slot machines. The tracks and fronton are expected to have the slots in operation by this summer.

Landry’s Restaurants, Inc. (LNY) has declared a cash dividend of $0.05 per share to be paid on Jan. 25, to shareholders of record on Jan. 10.

WMS Industries Inc. (WMS) will release its second quarter fiscal report on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at l:30 p.m. PST.

Station Casinos Inc. (STN) will hold a conference call at 9 a.m. PST on Tuesday Jan. 31 to discuss the results of its fourth quarter.

Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (HET) has set its fiscal release date as Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 6 a.m. PST.

In one of his first acts since the death of his father, well-known publisher-gambler Kerry Packer, James Packer announced that his company, Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd., and its partner, Stanley Ho’s Melco International Development Ltd. were withdrawing from the competition for a casino/development license in Singapore.