N.J. casinos now face smoking ban with clean air act

Feb 11, 2003 7:29 AM

Not only do Atlantic City casinos have to worry about an increase in the gaming tax and increases in competition from "racinos" in their own state but now they are facing the problem of smokeless casinos.

A bill in the New Jersey legislature received unanimous approval in the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee last week and the action has the casino operators crying foul.

The Clean Indoor Air Act would prohibit smoking in common areas of hotels, bars, banks, restaurants and casinos but it would permit the companies to create a separate smoking area provided it is properly ventilated.

Still under construction with opening expected this summer is the Borgata Hotel Casino that is spending thousands of dollars installing a "very efficient, high-quality air system," explained Bob Boughner, CEO of the $1 billion property.

New Jersey casino operators don’t have to look far to develop evidence that a smoking ban will be a deterrent to business. They can point to Delaware where a smoking ban was imposed Nov. 27.

Last week, Delaware’s three racetrack casinos reported revenues of $36.8 million, a decline of 7.9% from last year’s numbers. In fact, during the firs two months since the ban was imposed, the tracks have seen their business fall by about 10%. Prior to the state prohibition on smoking, the tracks were growing at about 9% over the previous year.

New project

Plans for a $650 million hotel/casino on the site of the Wet ”˜N Wild water park on the Las Vegas Strip were approved last week by the Clark County Commission.

The project is being proposed by the partnership of long-time gaming executive Paul Lowden and Voyager Entertainment. It will feature a 12-story high Ferris Wheel.

Plans call for the 3,250-room hotel, including timeshare units and a casino to be constructed on the 27.5-acre property, if and when the property becomes available. The land is currently held by the Sahara Hotel, whose owner was the recently deceased Robert Bennett. It was Bennett who bought the Sahara from its former owner, Paul Lowden, current chairman and CEO of Archon Corp., operator of the Pioneer Hotel/Casino in Laughlin, Nev.

Arrangements for the financing of the new project were not revealed.

Gaming Summit

Producers of the Southern Gaming Summit have announced that Dan Lee, president and CEO of Pinnacle Entertainment Co., parent company of Casino Magic Biloxi, Miss., will be the keynote speaker.

The Summit will be held in Biloxi beginning on May 7.

Also among the speakers will be Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association, and Wally Barr, president and CEO of Park Place Entertainment Corp.

The Gulf Coast Gaming Association, producer of the trade show, said it had already lined up about 130 exhibitors and expected that the show would be "the most successful industry trade show outside Las Vegas."

The Insider

Poor market conditions probably was the reason Mandalay Resort Group (MBG) Monday postponed a $300 million junk bond sale.

The share price of MTR Gaming Group Inc. (MNTG), operator of the Speedway Casino in North Las Vegas, fell to a 52-week low last Friday when it closed at $5.80. During trading on Monday it rose $0.03 but fell to $5.34 per share during after hours trading.

Magna Entertainment Corp. (MIEC) has entered into an agreement to purchase the long-term operating rights for the Portland Meadows Racetrack.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has suggested that the state take back all the gambling licenses that have been issued and go into the casino gambling business.

A bill to increase the gaming tax in Mississippi from the current 8% to 12% died in committee last week.

Aristocrat Leisure Ltd., Australia’s largest manufacturer of slot machines, said it was reducing its expected earnings forecast from $109 million to $80.2 million because it was unable to book a large sale to a South American casino because the company failed to meet certain obligations.

A movement is on in Pennsylvania to have riverboat licenses included in the slot machine legislation that is favored by new Gov. Ed Rendell.

Indiana lawmakers are considering a bill that would force the state’s racing commission to split equally between the state’s two racetracks the subsidies provided by state law.

Grand Casino Biloxi, Miss., a property operated by Park Place Entertainment Corp. (PPE) is selling a welcome center on U.S. 90, an acre of land on which sits two buildings, for $4.5 million.

Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association has gone on record as opposing the proposal that would legalize pari-mutuel betting on rodeo events in Wyoming.

In making their quarterly fiscal report, Argosy Gaming Inc. (AGY) officials said that they expect that the effective gaming and admission tax rate for the company in 2003 will be 37%, up from the current 34%.

Among the insider trader transactions reported last week were: Frank Fertitta III, chairman and CEO of Station Casinos, who sold 219,000 shares on Feb. 4 for proceeds of $4 million, and his brother, Lorenzo Fertitta, president of the company, who sold 65,800 shares for proceeds of $1 million.

Analysts at Salomon Smith Barney last week cut their rating on Park Place Entertainment Corp. to "in-line" from "outperform."

The Seminole Tribe of Florida held a topping off ceremony last week for its $100 million 12-story Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, Fla.