Still a horserace for slots in Mass.

Jan 28, 2003 6:21 AM

NOT ALL VOICES COUNTED, YET: Like many other states, Massachusetts is looking into the possibility of expanding gaming beyond the existing lottery and pari-mutuel racetracks to include "racinos" and Indian casinos.

But not nearly so obvious has been another group that may soon show its legislative clout by moving into the gaming discussion. Restaurant, hotel and other related food service and hospitality industries have filed bills and are lobbying hard to be included in the gaming discussion, which will become louder in March when lawmakers begin deciding gaming’s future.

The hospitality industry’s bid for slot machines simply says that any facility that has a liquor license would have the right to install video poker machines. The proposal makes more sense to legislators whose jurisdictions don’t include a pari-mutuel track. "Racinos" would only benefit Suffolk Downs in East Boston, Wonderland Dog Track just 10 minutes away in Revere; Raynham Dog Track, south of Boston, and the small harness track, Plainfield, near Foxboro.


GLOOM AND DOOM OVERSTATED: That’s the opinion of Andrew Zarnett, the highly-respected high-yield bond managing director for Deutsche Bank when referring to the pre-earnings announcements made by MGM MIRAGE Inc. (MGG) and Mandalay Resorts Group (MBG) that resulted in most gaming stocks taking the plunge.

The announcements "stirred up the pot of fear" noted Zarnett, who added that both Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (HET) and Park Place Entertainment Corp. (PPE) indicated that "business in Las Vegas over the last few months has been in-line with expectations, albeit slightly off during New Year’s."

Also indicating that business was strong enough for it to beat the street estimates was The Venetian. "The company indicated it was getting a higher level of play from Asians and that a greater level of that play is cash versus credit, which reduces the risk of collections."

"Looking to the macro economics of Las Vegas," Zarnett said, "we believe first half 2003 will prove to be ahead of last year, provided there is no military action against Iraq."


DOING HIS DERBY HOMEWORK: Got to give credit to Johnny Avello, race and sports director for Bally’s-Paris Las Vegas, for the research he and his staff have put into this year’s crop of three-year-olds and their potential attraction for Kentucky Derby honors.

Avello recently released his updated odds-list for potential Derby starters in his 2003 Kentucky Derby Future Book. He has listed odds on nearly 200 horses with undefeated Vindication the favorite at 3-1 and several horses listed at 300-1.

One other feature about Avello’s odds: he never hesitates to raise the odds on horses that run poorer than some expected and the money on that particular individual fails to show. Case in point: Roll Hennessey Roll, a colt owned by Anchor Gaming founder Stan Fulton who now owns Sunland Park racetrack in New Mexico and has acquired a substantial stable of runners.

Roll Hennessey Roll failed to go the distance in his first effort around two turns in the Hollywood Futurity after leading through the first six furlongs against highly-regarded Toccet and Kafwain. Prior to the race, the colt was listed at 150-1 but was dropped to 200-1 following the losing effort. There are a number of similar examples.


PUT YOUR DOUGH ON THE GOODFELLAS! A gangster film is the leading contender for the 75th Academy Awards Best Motion Picture honor. That’s the word from our friend Johnny Avello, who obviously can place odds on events other than the Kentucky Derby. His line for the Oscar contenders has become an item of interest throughout the country.

The film, "Gangs Of New York" has been installed as the 3-1 favorite, followed by "Chicago" at 4-1 and "The Hours" at 5-1. A popular film this year, "About Schmidt" is in the running at 8-1, and "Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers" round out the fifth spot at odds of 10-1.

All 5,700 nomination ballots were sent to the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on January 10, and the official nominations will be revealed on February 11. The 75th Annual Academy Awards will be held on March 23. Although Las Vegas casinos cannot accept wagers on this event, Johnny said there is nevertheless considerable interest in the annual Oscar race.