Relief-workers’ cash boosts Louisiana casinos

Jun 27, 2006 4:38 AM

No one would dare to have predicted it but Louisiana casinos, hit by not one but two hurricanes — Katrina and Rita — are enjoying the biggest boom ever in their history.

Officials are crediting the fact that a number of Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos were so badly demolished that they were not able to get back in business as quickly as owners had hope.

Also, officials point out, the hurricane-ravaged area is awash in recovery workers who appear to have both the money and the time to patronize those Louisiana casinos that were able to open.

For the first 11 months of the current fiscal year, gaming taxes to the state have increased from a comparable $414 million in 2005 to the current $474 million. And that is with three fewer casinos operating.

A gaming analyst viewed the situation and remarked, "The people who have come here to rebuild the city have a lot of money in their pockets and not a whole lot of entertainment options."

In May, the state’s 16 casinos banked $220.2 million in gaming revenue compared to the $199.5 million of a year ago. A similar situation occurred in April and also in March.

Benefiting strongly from the new activity are the casinos in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas as well as the Lake Charles casinos. The latter group benefit from the thousands of relief workers that have been attracted to the jobs in Louisiana and Texas made possible by the damage caused by Hurricane Rita.

Gulf Coast officials are quick to point out that their loss of gaming revenue will be short-lived. As Biloxi, Miss., casinos, such as Beau Rivage, owned by MGM MIRAGE Inc. (MGM), reopen, Mississippi will once again become the nation’s third-ranked gaming market.

Beau Rivage is scheduled to reopen on Aug. 29.

Budget crunch

New Jersey casinos, as well as state parks and beaches could be closed if the budget impass isn’t settled by July 1”¦or thereabouts.

By law, the state must have a balanced budget in place by that date. However, in order for that to succeed, the legislative leadership must find an acceptable compromise with Gov. Jon Corzine.

That might not be easy.

So far, Corzine has insisted that the state must increase the state’s sales tax from 6% to 7% in order to generate enough money to fund teachers’ union pensions and other state obligations that has been strongly supported by various New Jersey unions.

As it stands, the state faces a $4.5 billion budget shortfall.

It’s expected that round-the-clock negotiations will take place even if it requires some legislative person to stop the hands on the clock at 11:59 p.m. on Friday.

Changing places

Gavan Isaacs played a major role in the development of business for Aristocrat Technologies Inc., the Nevada-based American arm of Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Ltd., after he moved to Las Vegas as company president.

However, when the parent company said he would be transferred back to Australia to work with new developments, especially in Macau, that the company had planned, he elected to give up his post so that he could remain in the U.S.

His availability didn’t escape the management team of Bally Technologies Inc. (BYI) who immediately made Isaacs an offer.

As of Sept. 1, Isaacs will become chief operating officer and executive vice president of Bally Technologies.

Part of his employment compensation, the company said, will be the option to purchase 150,000 shares of BYI stock at a market value on his first day of employment. The option vests in four annual installments of 37,500 shares on each of his first four anniversaries of employment.

THE INSIDER: Fred Havenick, a greyhound racing executive at Flagler Greyhound Park who led the unsuccessful fight for slot machines in Miami-Dade County, has died of lymphoma. He was 62.

The Nevada Gaming Commission agreed with the recommendation of the Nevada Gaming Control Board that some major investors, such as Goldman Sachs, should be permitted to avoid full licensing investigations, as previously required by law.

Also the Commission approved the licensing of longtime Nevada gaming executive Larry Woolf to manage the Reno Hilton Hotel/Casino for new owners, Grand Sierra Resort Corp.

On August 15, Illinois casinos will begin checking the identifications of people 30-years-old and younger prior to their being admitted.

A group led by racing official Terry Meyocks reportedly is interested in acquiring Ellis Park from Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN).

Lakes Entertainment Inc. (LACO) has completed the $305 million senior note financing the company plans to use to fund tribal casino projects.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS) says it has lined up some 250 retail outlets for its development project on the coati Strip in Macau.

Station Casinos Inc. (STN) will hold a conference call at 9 a.m. Tuesday, July 25, to discuss the results of its operations for the second quarter of fiscal 2006.

Analysts at Sanders Morris Harris have upgraded the shares of Landry’s Restaurants Inc. (LNY) from hold to buy.

Cash Systems Inc. (CKNN) says it has renewed the multi-year contracts with Cannery Casino & Hotel and Rampart Casino in Las Vegas.