Lawsuit threat gets Sparks
OK for Whittemore casino

Sep 5, 2006 4:40 AM

All it took was a major lawsuit from influential lobbyist-turned-developer Harvey Whittemore to get the approval for a $100 million hotel/casino to be built in Sparks, Nev.

The Sparks City Council, meeting behind closed doors on Friday, reversed a previous denial of the project and agreed to permit the project to go forward in order to eliminate the lawsuit that sought more than $100 million in damages from the city.

The previous vote to deny the application was 3-2 but following Friday’ reversal there was no information provided relative to the new vote.

Recommending the reversal was City Atty. Chet Adams who maintained Whittemore’s argument had merit because of a 1994 development agreement for Whittemore’s Wingfield Springs housing development in Sparks. That deal allowed a hotel/casino in the project, and unused development approvals to be moved to other parts of the city.

Whittemore contended that a nearby 20-acre site on the Pyramid Highway in Spanish Springs Valley was more suitable for the resort that calls for a 200-room hotel, an 18,000 square-foot casino, a theater and restaurants.

Adams told the council its hands were tied.

Not so, insisted Beth Cooney, a spokesperson for John Ascuaga’s Nugget hotel/casino which helped finance the citizens’ group opposed to the project.

"We think it is a shame and are very disappointed the city is not maintaining their decision both from the planning commission and city council that turned down the project. It basically says the process doesn’t matter," Cooney told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

She said the group will seek a judicial review of the settlement agreement.

Review time

A proposal by Boyd Gaming Corp. (BYD), initially offered by Coast Resorts, to legalize up to three casinos in the State of Nebraska, will be heard by the Supreme Court on Sept. 8.

Opposed to having the voters decide in a November referendum whether the state should have additional gambling is Atty. Gen. Jon Bruning, who has filed a 46-page brief explaining why a district court judge’s approval of the plan failed to take into consideration essential parts of the state law.

A plan to permit casinos was defeated by the voters in 2004. Whether the current proposal substantially differs from the one previously rejected has caused the difference of opinion.

More opposition

A new group, Common Cause of Rhode Island, has joined the effort to prevent Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (HET) and its partner, the Narragansett Indian Nation, from building a casino in West Warwick, Rhode Island.

Their approach is a little different from that of "Save Our State," the original opponents to a referendum on the November ballot.

Common Cause says it opposes the referendum because it would permit Harrah’s to build a casino without bidding against other developers.

"We are outraged," said Common Cause vice president Brian Heller, "that a no-bid Harrah’s casino would be planted permanently in the Rhode Island Constitution." He added that if voters approved the amendment it would wreak havoc for future generations.

Macau goal

Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands (LVS), said last week that it is his goal to achieve a 60% share of the gaming market in the Chinese protectorate of Macau.

That, he said, will be accomplished by his new giant casino now under construction and expected to be operating late next year. Sands Macao currently has a 15% market share in the rapidly developing gaming empire.

Also, Adelson noted, his company will be developing a Las Vegas-styled "neon alley" on the Cotai Strip that he hopes will generate some $14 billion in gaming revenue by 2010.

New owners

Larry Wolf, longtime Nevada gaming executive and owner of the Navegante Group, has joined with investor Rick Stevens to form Nav Elko, a group that is in the process of acquiring casinos from the McClaskey Family properties.

Included in the purchase are the Red Lion Inn & Casino, the Gold Country Inn & Casino, the High Desert Inn, the Thunderbird Motel and the Chevron gas station in northern Nevada.

The sale is expected to be consummated sometime this month.

Navegante Group currently leases and operates four downtown Las Vegas properties including the Plaza Hotel & Casino, the Las Vegas Club, Western Hotel/Casino and Gold Spike Hotel/Casino. The company also operates the Grand Sierra Casino in Reno and is part owner and manager of Casino Fandango in Carson City, Nev.

Back in action

After a two-year hiatus, caused by a bankruptcy and political infighting with the prior ownership, Vernon Downs harness track Thursday greeted more than 10,000 fans who flocked to the reopening.

New owners, Nevada Gold and Gaming Inc. (UWN) and N.Y. City businessman Jeff Gural, renovated the property and added improvements to the seven-eighths mile racetrack to make it more attractive to the racing public.

Also under construction is a section of the facility that will be used to house 800 slot machines, expected to be in action sometime next month.

Back in the announcer’s booth is Jim Moran who has been the race-caller at the track since the early 1970’s.

Bids submitted

Four groups seeking to be granted the franchise to run New York State’s three major racetracks have submitted their applications.

The bidders include current franchise-holder, the non-profit New York Racing Association; the consortium called Empire Racing that includes the country’s two biggest racetrack operators, Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN) and Magna Entertainment Corp. (MECA); Excelsior Racing Associates LLC, and Capital Play PTY Limited of Australia.

NYRA, whose franchise expires in December, 2007, has argued that since it is a not-for-profit organization, it can be relied upon to provide more money for purchases than can the for-profit groups.

THE INSIDER: Cash Systems Inc. (CKNN) has renewed its contracts with the Normandie Casino in California and the Isle of Capri Casino in the Bahamas, and has signed a new contract with the Lakeside Inn and Casino in South Lake Tahoe, Nev.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services has downgraded the debt of Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (HET) from stable to negative but reaffirmed its credit ratings in the wake of Harrah’s announcement that it had offered $530 million for the U.K.’s London Clubs.

One of the principal beneficiaries of the London Clubs sale will be Malaysia’s Genting International Plc. The company owns nearly 30% of the London Clubs’ stock. Genting also is rumored to have made an offer to acquire Stanley Leisure, Britain’s largest casino operator with 45 facilities around the country.

Fans at hard-pressed Casino Windsor in Ontario, Canada, will now be able to wager on sports events. The track has been suffering from reduced patronage since Ontario banned smoking in public places.

Magna Entertainment Corp. (MECA) announced that it has completed the acquisition of AmTote International Inc., a privately-held company that provides wagering services to racetracks.

A federal judge has continued a restraining order that bars the online gambling firm BetOnSports from accepting bets in the U.S. The federal government is attempting to serve the order on the London-based company.

The Southern Gaming Summit will again be held in Biloxi next May after a one-year hiatus because of Hurricane Katrina. The 2006 meeting was held in Tunica, Miss.