Tribal gaming: AC feeling some heat

Jul 17, 2001 1:39 AM

Connecticut has just two casinos, but they have grown so strong that they threaten to endanger an Atlantic City, N.J. streak of 22 consecutive years of gambling revenue increases.

Atlantic City’s 12 casinos generated revenues of $2.1 billion, a decrease of 1.1 percent from the same period last year.

In Connecticut, where the Indian casinos report slot revenue to state regulators, Mohegan Sun recorded an increase of 14.3 percent over last June to $52.6 million. Foxwoods was up nine percent to $64.5 million.

“My theory is the bigger we get and the more diversity of products that we and Foxwoods offer, Connecticut becomes more and more of a force,” said Mitchell Etess, Mohegan Sun executive vice president of marketing. “If you live in Westchester or Long Island, the product offering here is so strong, it gives you a lot of compelling reasons not to go south.”

Mohegan Sun is three months away from opening a 10,000-seat arena and a new casino encircling the largest planetarium in the world. The additions are part of a $1 billion luxury hotel-convention center expansion. When the entire project is completed next spring, Mohegan Sun will rival Foxwoods as the largest casino in the world.

The best months historically for casinos in Connecticut and New Jersey are July and August. So Atlantic City could make up its revenue shortfall with a strong showing in the second half of the year.

“The industry has never had a down year,” said Daniel Heneghan, a spokesman for the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.

Combined overall revenue generated at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun is estimated at about $2 billion a year, compared with $4.3 billion last year in Atlantic City where the first casino opened in 1978.

The Connecticut market has plenty of room to grow since it is regarded as comparable to Atlantic City, with 10 million adults within 100 miles of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun and more than 20 million adults within 150 miles.

In Connecticut, the state government gets 25 percent of slot revenues, and the state share for the fiscal year ending June 30 was about $332 million. For the 2001-02 fiscal year, the state is projected to get $365 million from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun slot machines.

NY Assembly stalled

The Seneca Indian Nation would likely postpone an Aug. 7 referendum if the New York State Assembly doesn’t pass legislation allowing the governor to enter into a gaming compact with the tribe.

Cyrus Schindler, president of the 7,000-member western New York tribe, met with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, to discuss concerns that employees of any Seneca casino would be able to unionize.

Republican Gov. George Pataki has proposed to give the tribe the right to set up casinos in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, and on reservation land.

$200,000 Surrender

SunCruz Casinos executive Adam Kidan has surrendered control of the company to the estate of slain founder Gus Boulis in exchange for $200,000 and a promise to drop all lawsuits against him.

Boulis estate attorney Marty Steinberg said the settlement would end a large portion of the pending litigation between the estate and Kidan’s management team.

H. Dewayne Williams, Boulis’ ex-partner on a gambling boat in Myrtle Beach, S.C., is expected to question any deal that would leave the Boulis estate in charge of company management, 100 percent of the corporate voting shares or with a leading role on the creditor committee.

Foothill Capital Corp. and Citadel Investment Group, the primary lenders for SunCruz, are also likely to ask for an independent trustee to run the company. The two corporations are owed more than $67.5 million.

Kidan has been replaced by gambling industry veteran Michael Hlvasa and several longtime Boulis associates replaced Kidan, who invested no cash in the company. The associates had been forced out after the company was sold for $147.5 million.

Boulis, a Greek-born entrepreneur, was shot to death Feb. 6 in Fort Lauderdale. Police call his death a planned hit.

Show Me the first billion

Missouri’s casino industry hit the jackpot, posting its first $1 billion year as fewer gamblers lost more money on the riverboats.

The $1.05 billion in total revenue reported by Missouri casinos in the fiscal year that ended June 30 was up 7.3 percent from $977 million the previous year, according to a new report from the Missouri Gaming Commission.

Commission analyst James Oberkirsch calculated the average loss per gambler in Kansas City at $47.86 per visit, a rise of 10 percent from last year. St. Louis area gamblers dropped an average of $51.32.

Argosy Riverside Casino’s operations director Terry Schneider said a big factor in revenue growth has been the popularity of a growing number of small-denomination slot machines.

Missouri’s 10th casino is expected to open later this month. The Mark Twain Casino in La Grange, near Hannibal, will face its final licensing vote July 25 before the commission.

Michigan vote delayed

State approval of a massive casino in Allegan County (Mich.) became less certain as opponents secured a delay in legislative authorization.

About a dozen West Michigan lawmakers oppose the casino, which is viewed as out of character with the heavily religious, conservative nature of the region.

The lawmakers sought a delay in any legislative vote at least until September.

The Gun Lake Band of Pottawatomi Indians have been, funded by investors from Mount Pleasant, who are longtime supporters and friends of Michigan Gov. John Engler. The Indians want to build a 180,000-square-foot gambling complex and resort along U.S. 131 about 30 miles south of Grand Rapids.

Engler’s office has recently said he would consider negotiating a gaming compact with the Gun Lake Band if the House and Senate approached him.

Feeling is pari-mutuel

Gaming revenues at Iowa’s riverboat casinos and race tracks increased slightly in fiscal 2001 for the first time since adopting an expanded format for slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities.

The adjusted gross revenues were $887 million at the 13 state-licensed gambling operations, a rise of $9 million from last year.

Iowa’s riverboats reported approximately $11 million more revenue in fiscal 2001 compared with the previous year. However, race track casinos in Dubuque, Council Bluffs and Altoona reported declines of about $3 million.

Vegas eyes Chicago

MGM Mirage, Park Place Entertainment Corp., and Mandalay Resort Group are all expressing interest in acquiring a major stake in a Chicago-area casino development property, according to a Crain’s Chicago Business report.

All three groups want a majority stake in Emerald Casino Inc., which has been attempting to open a casino in the suburb of Rosemont. Crain’s said Desert Inn owner Steve Wynn is also seeking out local counsel in Chicago.

The Illinois Gaming Board in January denied the request of Emerald owners Donald and Kevin Flynn to open a casino in Rosemont, citing in part questionable business practices by the men in the past.

Reno gaming slides

Northern Nevada gaming revenues fell almost three percent below the same month last year, marking the fourth decline in the first five months of 2001.

“Basically you can tie it to the depression that they’re having in the Silicon Valley (San Jose-San Francisco) area,” said Steve Trounday, marketing director at Fitzgeralds Casino/Hotel in Reno.

Stateline saw revenues drop almost four percent, while Elko County fell 3.6 percent in May. Only the Carson City-Carson Valley market managed an increase of a modest 1.3 percent.