Olympia Gaming pitches Maine casino

Sep 30, 2008 8:00 PM

Gaming Insider by Phil Hevener | Las Vegas-based Olympia Gaming may be waiting for credit markets to thaw out enough to justify the start of its much discussed south-Strip resort, but the company remains busy chasing project developments elsewhere.

Vice Chairman Dean Harrold is on the road this week in Maine talking up the benefits of a full-fledged casino the company will build in Oxford County, assuming voters endorse this thinking November 4. Oxford County is on Maine’s border with New Hampshire, part of the Portland metropolitan area with a population of some 55,000.

Harrold is projecting optimism but history suggests nothing should be taken for granted. Voters rejected tribal gaming during a 2003 vote, but Penn National has since opened its Hollywood Slots racino in Bangor.

Olympia and Harrold hope to take gambling options in the state way beyond a slots-only approach with their talk of a $100 million project with at least a little bit of everything that comes to mind when one thinks of a new casino. It would be at an as-yet undisclosed location.

There is no talk yet of the likely path to finding financing for the casino during this period when gaming companies much more established than Olympia have been putting development plans on hold, but perhaps Olympia’s timing is good as the movers and shakers of the financial world consider responses to the $700 billion bailout that goes to a vote in Congress this week and is expected to cure some of the ills that have frozen spending and borrowing on a number of fronts.

Is Maine ready for a bigger casino than it has ever known before? Harrold thinks so, pointing out that Maine residents last year made about 271,000 trips to the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos in neighboring Connecticut.

"We’re thinking we can keep 65-70 percent of that spending in Maine."

Harrold notes that one of the differences between proposing a casino project in Maine and Las Vegas is the fact "a hundred million dollars will get you a lot of attention here. It doesn’t rate a second look in Las Vegas … The Oxford area needs jobs. No one else is proposing to spend a hundred million on anything here."

The figure represents first phase spending Harrold figures will get about 125 rooms and suites, 1,200 slots and table games, a spa, meeting rooms "and several nice restaurants."

Harrold is prepared this week for a little hand-shaking, some wheeling and dealing with the powers that be in Augusta as he heads to the state capital.

"I’m gonna meet a few people and make some commercials."

Polling figures aimed at determining how voters have responded to the casino proposal will be ready Oct. 10.

One of the elements of the initiative that Harrold figures to give ground on is the provision that would allow 18 year olds to gamble.

"Eighteen’s not a good idea and I’m ready to bring the gambling age there in line with what it is just about everywhere else, 21."

Regulators ease
salon restrictions

Private gambling salons within the Las Vegas casinos catering to the wealthiest of wealthy gamblers are about to become more user friendly.

Burdensome levels of red tape related to the operation are to be stripped away. Resort operators will probably be allowed to determine the level of minimum bets. The rewriting of regulations could not come at a better time as casinos reach for al the marketing tools they can find to attract high-rollers who enjoy access to private salons elsewhere.

The new rules will be in effect in time for Chinese New Year, according to Nevada Resort Association boss Bill Bible who has been monitoring the slow process of change.

At a recent Las Vegas hearing on the proposed changes, Control Board member Randy Sayre described himself as "leaning toward language that allows properties to set their own (minimum betting) limits."

Nevada Resort Association Chairman William Bible, a former chairman of the Control Board threw his support behind this thinking. "I could certainly understand the need to set a maximum wager in order to control risk elements and protect the bankroll, but have never heard articulated any particular reason for the regulators to establish a minimum requirement."

Progressive faces
tough challenges

Looks like publicly traded Progressive Gaming may be reeling, in the midst of a meltdown, another possible victim of difficult economic times that leave little room for error as CEOs pilot their companies through treacherous times.

The stocked closed at about $1.15 a share Friday, way down from its 52-week high of $45. The market capitalization appeared to be less than nine million dollars.

So much for the bad news.

The good news is that Progressive appears to have a strong catalogue of patents and assorted gaming products as the company attempts to maneuver for some breathing room with the possible sale of some of these assets.

A company with stock near a dollar a share is not a company that inspires confidence among possible lenders and prospective customers considering deals of one kind or another based on expectations the company will be around a month or a year from now.