Pennsylvania looks to be
a major player with slots

Jan 2, 2007 5:57 AM

Pennsylvania’s goal is to become one of the country’s biggest commercial gambling states, even if it means losing a major National Hockey League franchise.

Last week, the state’s Gaming Control Board shut out Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. (ISLE) in its bid to get a slot machine license for Pittsburgh with a promise that its project would include a $290 million arena for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Since the decision was announced in favor of a privately-held slots casino to be developed by Detroit entrepreneur Don Barden and his partners, hockey legend Mario Lemieux, principal owner of the Penguins, said he has taken down the "for sale" sign for the franchise and will seek other alternatives, including leaving the state.

That’s exactly what officials of Hartford, Conn. wants them to do.

Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez has already begun a campaign to have the Penguins relocate to Connecticut’s capital city to replace the Hartford Whalers who left in 1997.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania, which has granted 11 licenses to gaming applicants, could have 30,000 slot machines in operation within a year. And that could double by 2010 when all license holders will be operating as many as 5,000 machines each.

State officials don’t expect the state to reach the gambling level of Atlantic City but they do expect the various properties to achieve a $4 billion level of investment.

Bangor update

The slots business has been thriving in such an unlikely place as Bangor, Maine, a gambling locale that was first identified by Las Vegas wheeler-dealer Shawn Scott and later purchased for development by Penn National Gaming Inc. (PENN).

In fact business at a converted restaurant adjacent to historic Bangor Raceway has been so good, Penn National plans to convert the property into a $90 million complex. The new casino will have 116,000 square feet and will house up to 1,500 slot machines.

The project took a step forward last week with the purchase of the Holiday Inn, located within 2,000 feet of Bass Park, an area that voters said could be used for a slots operation. The hotel will be razed to make room for the new casino.

Construction of the new facility will begin in April with completion expected in 2008.

Meanwhile, Penn National, which received one of six racetrack slots licenses granted by regulators in Pennsylvania, is in the process of building a gaming complex at its Penn National racetrack in Grantville, Penn.

Cleaning the slate

Apparently fearing that one of its investors would be a drag on its hopes to get the racing franchise from New York State, Empire Racing Associates — a group that includes Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN) and Magna Entertainment Corp. (MECA), the two largest racetrack operators in North America — has bought out one of its early investors.

The associates, listed as second among the three remaining bidders for the franchise that would permit the winner to take over the operation of Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga racetracks, have bought out the interest of Jared Abbruzzese.

According to published reports, Abbruzze is involved in an investigation of N.Y. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno relative to the latter’s dealings with Evident Technologies Inc., a high-tech firm that is situated in Bruno’s district.

A study committee had placed Empire Racing Associates a close-second to Excelsior Racing in its evaluation of three bidders that included the current franchise holders, the New York Racing Association. The committee’s report will be studied by the legislature and Gov. Eliot Spitzer who will make the final decision.

Next Stop?

Speculation has been that the next gaming stop for Donald Trump might be Mississippi.

Seems Diamondhead Casino Corporation, a publicly-traded company, has a 404-acre tract of land in Diamondhead, Miss., that is just waiting to be developed into a casino. Coupled with that is the acknowledgement from Diamondhead officials that they have been engaged in negotiations with Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. (TRMP) with respect to the development of a casino resort on the property.

If an agreement is reached — and none has, so far — the amount of land involved for casino development would be about 50 acres. County officials reportedly have approved zoning for the gaming site.

The property is owned by Mississippi Gaming Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Diamondhead Casino Corporation. The latter trades as a Bulletin Board stock with the symbol DHCC.

THE INSIDER: Shares of Ameristar Casinos Inc. (ASCA) have been downgraded by analysts at CIBC World Markets from "sector outperform" to "sector perform."

Gaming Partners International Corporation (GPIC) plans to present its RFID-based Electronic chip Surveillance system at the International Casino Exhibition in London, England on Jan. 23.

International Game Technology (IGT) has completed the acquisition of Venture Catalyst Incorporated for a purchase price of $2.58 per share.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services have affirmed its ratings on Landry’s Restaurants Inc. (LNY) and raised the corporate credit rating for Landry’s Golden Nugget Inc. casinos.

Progressive Gaming International Corporation (PGIC) says it has received approval from the Nevada Gaming Control Board for its Rapid Bet Live Wireless system that has been on field trial at the Palm Hotel and Casino.

Debra J. Nelson, vice president of corporate diversity for MGM MIRAGE Inc. (MGM), has been named among the "Top Blacks in Corporate America" by Black Professionals magazine.