Is the blush off Ho’s Rosy Macau operation?

Feb 19, 2002 7:47 AM

NO HO, HO, HO IN MACAU: Things are not going so well for Stanley Ho, the aged gambling czar of Macau who last week was granted one of three licenses for a casino in the Chinese conclave where he has maintained a monopoly for decades.

According to press reports, Ho is feuding with his partner, Henry Fok, a major shareholder in Ho’s Sociedad de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau, the company that was chosen for a Macau license. Fok claims that he didn’t get his fare share of last year’s revenues.

Ho’s profits for the year 2001 reportedly totaled $1.4 billion.

The partners recently attended a Lunar New Year party hosted by Fok but neither said anything about their disagreement. But, recently, Fok said he received only about $100 million of last year’s profits even though he holds a 25% share of the company.

A top-level battle involving two of Macau’s best-known gamblers won’t sit well with the license-issuing body that is trying to upgrade the gaming facilities on the island.

SHAKING THE DICE: In the mid-90’s, Las Vegas casino operators were lamenting that “craps” was dying out as a popular table game. In fact, some of the major properties instituted and still maintain instructors to teach visitors how to roll the dice.

It may be that their efforts are beginning to show fruit. A review of the gaming revenue report distributed by the Nevada Gaming Control Board shows that during calendar 2001, craps surpassed baccarat as the second most lucrative table game offered by Nevada casinos. Blackjack or “21” was tops, as usual.

For the 12 months, casinos won $466 million at the dice table, a decline of 5.16% from 2000. But the baccarat win of $441 million was down 18.58% from the previous year.

Since the so-called Asian Flu of 1999, Las Vegas’ major casino have been working even harder to attract Asian players who select baccarat as their game of choice. Except for a set back caused by the September 11 attacks, insiders believe they are winning the battle.

GOOD NEIGHBOR! Ralph Engelstad, owner of casinos in Las Vegas and Mississippi, is donating another $10 million to build a hockey and events center in Thief River Falls, Minn., his hometown. Although he has already built a $100 million arena at his alma mater (University of North Dakota), Engelstad wants to do more. I’m sure the folks back home will appreciate it.

RON PERELMAN, affectionately known as the Earl of Pearl, is no longer the richest man in New York City. The mayor, Mike Bloomberg, is now worth at least $7.5 billion. Details of Bloomberg’s fortune are featured in the March issue of Worth magazine.

“It’s an interesting survey,” writes Neil Travis. “Only about 25% of those who made the cut did it with inherited wealth.”

Said a pipe: “If you’re interested Joan Kroc is the richest lady in San Diego. Her late husband, Ray, founded MacDonald’s restaurants. And, when I knew, her she used to play a smart game of blackjack at Caesars Palace.”

BUY OUT BAIT! Rumors are buzzing that WMS Industries (WMS) has one of the strongest balance sheets in the business with $93 million in cash and no debt as of Dec. 31, 2001.

Said a rosebud: “Don’t be surprised to hear of a bid from Aristocrat Leisure. WMS stock dropped after being hit by a software problem January 2001 resulting in a delay of state regulatory approvals of several of its new machines.”

The rosebud continued: WMS is full steam ahead to resolve its problems. And, with all that do-re-mi on the balance sheet there’s no wonder it looks attractive.”

“THE COW IS SO BIG that only his tail is in Nevada.” So said Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman. He recently took a shot at the casino industry’s Âí­silence on the Yucca Mountain brouhaha.

As soon as the words came off hizzoner’s lips, rejections were offered by the Nevada Resort Association President Bill Bible.

AIRPORT SLOTS ”” KA-CHING, KA-CHING! “Airport travelers are spending more time at the Las Vegas and Reno terminals these days due to beefed up security requirements and are amusing themselves playing the slot machines.

“Even though 1.5 million fewer passengers passed through the Las Vegas airport in the last three months of 2001, compared with the previous year, its slot revenue totaled $8.5 million, nearly $474,000 extra,” said a pipe.

McCarran International has 1,308 slot machines and Reno-Tahoe International has 237. Âí­Nevada is the only state with slots at its airports.

END OF AN ERA: The name of a gaming giant appeared in the news last week although few readers probably remember his contributions to the sport of jai-alai.

The heirs of “Buddy” Berenson agreed to relinquish their rights to off-track betting in the city of Hartford, Conn., at a jai-alai fronton built by Berenson a quarter-century ago.

Berenson’s name was synonymous with the Basque sport through his company, World Jai-Alai Co. with frontons from Florida to New England. But, when he sold the company and it fell into the hands of underworld characters it was only a question of time before interest waned. The game is still played in a couple of frontons in Florida and in Newport, R.I., but it lacks the popularity that Berenson brought to the sport.

Prior to his death, Berenson acquired Monticello Raceway in the New York Catskills but never was successful with the sport of harness racing. Ironically, the property is now being considered for an Indian casino.

ANOTHER OF RUDY’S LEGACIES: New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg inherited the plan of his predecessor Rudy Giuliani to sell the city’s off-track betting operation. The only difference is that Bloomberg isn’t sure he wants to go forward with it.

Throughout his administration, Giuliani felt that the city should not be in the bookmaking business. In fact, during the early years, he found that the off-track betting corporation was a loser. “Can you imagine,” he was once quoted as saying, “this is the only bookmaker that loses money.”

Inefficiency and nepotism prevented the operation from making money. But with new appointments and mayoral pressure, the city’s bookmaking began to make money.

Still, Rudy wanted out and he put the operation up for bid. After studying the proposals, he elected to sell the company to Magna Entertainment for $380 million. Before anything could be accomplished, the destruction of the World Trade Towers took all of his time.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg hasn’t decided whether to sell the corporation, saying that he will decide later this year.