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Despite Pataki approval, Catskills casino faces delays

May 13, 2003 6:37 AM

Officials of Park Place Entertainment Corp. (PPE) have been given the green light from New York Gov. George Pataki to build and operate a casino for the St. Regis Mohawks in the New York Catskills but progress probably will be delayed by a court challenge.

Monday, Pataki said he had agreed on a plan that would permit the Mohawks to build the new casino about 90 miles from Manhattan and give the tribe cash to buy back land that they have alleged was taken from them illegally.

But any development has to await approvals from the state legislature, the tribe and the federal government.

More importantly, however, is a court challenge that alleges the state constitution bars casinos. The litigation was filed by Cornelius Murray, an Albany lawyer who represents a pair of legislators, an anti-gambling group and the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce.

Income declines

Anyone believing that the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut is strictly a casino had better review the tribe’s quarterly report for the period that ended on March 31 in which it identifies some of its non-gaming activities.

The tribe said it purchased for $10 million a WNBA basketball team and changed its name to the Connecticut Sun; acquired the rights from the Jan Companies of Rhode Island to open three Krispy Kreme doughnut sales outlets at its Mohegan Sun casino, and continued construction of a 15,000 square-foot nightclub called Mohegan After Dark, that it is building as a joint venture with Patrick Lyons of Boston. The nightclub is expected to open next month.

During the second fiscal quarter, which Billy Velardo, president and chief operating officer and general manager described as "challenging, but overall very positive," the casino had gaming revenue of $50.2 million, a 13.2% increase over the comparable quarter of 2002. Non-gaming revenues, driven by strong food and beverage sales, were up a sparkling 66.1% to $47.5 million.

However, because of increases in operating expenses and interest costs, net income for the quarter decreased to $16.5 million, or 27.9% lower that last year. Cited as one of the most challenging expenses were the employee benefits with health care rising to $50 million this year.

End around

Looking to avoid a legislative delay, supporters of "racinos" in Pennsylvania hope to avoid a committee confrontation by attaching a favorable amendment to an existing crime-code bill.

In order to be successful, the amendment proposal must receive 26 votes, a simple majority of the Senate. It would then move to the House where a majority also would be needed to approve the attachment.

Although the move is primarily opposed by Republicans, who control the Senate, 29-21, observers believe that there will be enough GOP crossovers to give the bill a "50-50 chance" of success.

Gov. Ed Rendell’s $3 billion plan to cut local property taxes, increase state funding for education and spur economic development depends greatly on income from the track slots plan. He hopes to begin generating this slots revenue sometime this summer.

Hospitality honors

Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (HET) and the Bellagio Hotel Resort and Casino in Las Vegas were honored recently by Market Matrix, LLC, a provider of hospitality market research services.

Harrah’s was ranked No. 1 for hotel operations by a gaming company, a category that included 135 hotel brands, 25 airlines and 11 car rental companies. This ranking placed Harrah’s atop an index that included such well-known brand names as Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, JetBlue Airways, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Walt Disney World Resorts.

The Bellagio was honored as one of the country’s best upscale casino hotels.

The Insider

Although authorized by state law, slots at the N.Y. Racing Association (NYRA) won’t go forward without a modification of the funds distribution that is scheduled for the second five years of the 10-year plan. Negotiations are underway between track management and the horsemen’s association.

Nevada casinos won $834.7 million during the month of March, an increase of 3.4% over March 2002.

Gaming revenues in Illinois declined by 6.2% during the month of April. In Iowa, gaming revenues were down 1.7% during the same period.

Dan Lee, chairman and CEO of Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. (PNK) speculates that his company’s $325 million project in Lake Charles, La., can generate about $60 million a year.

Stockbroker and horse owner Gary Lucas of Indianola, Iowa, will become interim chairman of the Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino replacing Jim Rasmussen who resigned following charges of illegal gambling.

Mikohn Gaming Corporation (MIKN) has received approval from the Mississippi Gaming commission to install the company’s YAHTZEE slot machines in Mississippi casinos.

Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (HET) and Allegiant Air have extended their agreement to provide charter flights to Reno/Tahoe and Laughlin, Nev.

Looking to lower the age of its patrons, Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut will open a Hard Rock Café next summer. Casino executives have pegged the current average customer age at over 50. The new café will be aimed at the 30 to 40 years of age group.