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Isle of Capri looks to U.K.
to expand gaming operations

Dec 2, 2003 4:10 AM

A growing list of major gaming companies has been looking toward the United Kingdom for future growth of their industry, especially in light of a study committee recommendation that gaming be deregulated. Such deregulation, mentioned as being on the front burner by Queen Elizabeth in her address last week, would pave the way for the development of a number of Las Vegas-type casinos throughout the country.

On Monday, officials of Isle of Capri Casinos, Inc. (ISLE), a major player in the regional gaming industry of the U.S., firmed up its efforts to pounce on the U.K. market as soon as deregulation takes place by announcing that it had completed the acquisition of a two-thirds interest in Blue Chip Casinos Plc.

Blue Chip has acquired The Castle Casino in Dudley, England, near Birmingham, and has received approval from the Gaming Board of Great Britain to acquire and operate two other properties in that area.

Isle of Capri said it paid $8 million for its two-thirds interest in Blue Chip with the other one-third interest held by private investors in England.

Added to the Blue Chip acquisition was the agreement with Arena Coventry Ltd. to take a long-term lease and operate a 100,000 square foot entertainment complex that will include a major casino.

American gaming companies that are looking to participate in the expansion of gaming in England are hoping that regulators address the question of deregulation sometime in 2004 but some observers have indicated that the final package probably won’t be ready until 2005.

New player

Penn National Gaming Inc. (PENN) has entered into the fray for a racino license in southern Maine. The company, that has expanded its operation from a localized racetrack operator into a major gaming company with operations in several states, is partnering with the owner of Scarborough Downs.

The two face several problems, not the least of which is to find a community that will welcome a slot machine operation since the town of Scarborough rejected gaming expansion at the November elections.

Sharon Terry, Scarborough owner, has made overtures to both the nearby towns of Saco and Westbrooke since by law the site for slot machines must be within five miles of the live racing plant. Saco’s City Council has voted 6-1 against the slot machine proposals while Westbrooke voters will have their say on the matter at a special referendum scheduled for Dec. 30.

Meanwhile, Shawn Scott, the Las Vegas entrepreneur who proposed the racino referendum after working a deal to acquire a major interest in Bangor Raceway, claims Terry had a "goodwill understanding" with one of his company’s and has violated the understanding by refusing to sign an agreement. He has filed suit.

Battle heats up

Representatives of the Shaghticoke Tribal Nation of Kent, Conn., were back in court last week attempting to block the state’s attorney general from having a say on whether the tribe should receive federal recognition.

A.G. Richard Blumenthal filed papers charging that the tribe was using fraudulent documents to justify recognition by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He asked that federal authorities reject the tribe’s request for recognition.

In its initial ruling, the BIA denied the 330-member tribe the recognition is sought. A final decision is expected in January. Meanwhile, the Shaghticokes continue to file additional information supporting their petition.

Blumenthal and other Connecticut officials fear that tribal recognition will result in a third casino being constructed. The state currently has two of the country’s largest Native American casinos.

Also, the tribe has land claims involving the community of Kent, the Kent School and the Connecticut Light & Power Co.

Casinos favored

A recent survey by the University of Massachusetts showed that a majority of Bay Staters now favors a casino in their state. Results of the survey conducted between Nov. 15 and Nov. 19, found that 56% of the voters questioned said they would favor allowing a casino to be built and operated while 43% were opposed.

In the most recent session of the state senate, an effort to bring two casinos and add slot machines at the state’s racetracks was defeated.

For the past few years the Wampanoag Tribe of Indians has been trying to negotiate a state gaming compact so that they might build a casino in the state but their efforts have been thwarted.

As for the racetracks, the state’s only thoroughbred track, Suffolk Downs, ended live racing last month and won’t reopen until the first week of May, thus leaving the horsemen who have been racing year-round without a venue.

Churchill results

Don’t expect comparable numbers for the forthcoming quarter, warned Tom Meeker, president and CEO of Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN), because the race meet at the Louisville, Ky., track will be adversely affected by a major construction project.

Not!

The numbers for the 27-day meet are in and they are of record proportions. Despite the construction work that practically eliminated use of the track’s clubhouse section, the track showed increases in both attendance and handle. Daily average attendance was 6,755, an increase of nearly 1% while the on-track wagering averaged $1,014,301, a gain of nearly 5%.

Total wagering for the meet ”” including monies wagered at all off-track wagering sources ”” was a record $7,993,598, a jump of nearly 18% over the race meet conducted in 2002 during the same period.

Not dead yet

The lure of easy dollars during the period of a serious budget crunch keeps the idea of video lottery machines alive in Ohio.

Hoping to get a proposal on the March 2, 2004 ballot, Ohio legislators have been working on a compromise regarding the placing of VLTs at the state’s racetracks. However, time is running short since the final phrasing for the referendum item must be completed by this week.

Proponents have estimated that by placing 1,800 to 2,500 machines at the state’s seven racetracks, the state could reap a bonanza of between $500 million and $700 million annually. This would be applied toward education.

THE INSIDER: Chris Hemmeter, who became Hawaii’s leading developer of lavish tourist resorts died Sunday of liver cancer and Parkinson’s disease. Hemmeter later lost a fortune in his efforts to become a casino operator in New Orleans.

The shoe seems to be on the other foot in Louisiana where Evangeline Downs Casino is set to open on Dec. 19. Representatives of owner Peninsula Gaming of Las Vegas are warning that they will negatively impact area Indian casinos. They expect to "whack them by at least 30%" said a racetrack official.

A band of Indians in Michigan has resolved its dispute with two of the three Detroit casinos clearing the way for the two to go forward with their permanent facilities. Not part of the agreement is MGG Mirage Inc. (MGG) that says they did not receive any special consideration for their gaming license and owes nothing to the Indians.

New Mexico’s 11 tribes that operate casinos reported record slot revenues of $112.5 million during the quarter that ended on Sept. 30. This exceeded by some $5 million the previous record.

Moody’s Investors Service has assigned a B3 rating to the $200 million senior notes being proposed by Penn National Gaming Inc. (PENN).

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services has assigned a B+ rating to Pinnacle Entertain Inc.’s (PNK) proposed $290 million senior bank facility.