Squabbling politicos end hopes
for Maryland slots

Apr 13, 2004 4:46 AM

Racing executives and fans expected things to be different when long-time Gov. Paris Glendening, a Democrat, was replaced by a Republican, Robert Ehrlich. Surely, they thought, slot machines at the state’s racetracks would soon be on their way.

The prospects seemed so positive that racetrack giant Magna International Corp. (MECA) jumped in by buying a majority interest of the Maryland Jockey Club from Joe De Francis and his sister, hoping to place slots at both Laurel and Pimlico.

But slots were not to be.

During the last two legislative sessions, the Senate has approved a gaming bill of sorts only to see the bill die in committee. Even the hopes of getting the measure on the November ballot, to let the voters decide, have failed.

Lengthy discussions involving Gov. Ehrlich, Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch, although reported to be positive, failed to break the impasse.

Over the weekend, the legislative leadership announced that the 2004 legislative session would end on Monday without the passage of a major slots bill. And, Ehrlich’s aides said the governor would not continue pushing for enactment of his slot machine bill.

Maryland horsemen have complained that slots revenue in both Delaware and West Virginia had reduced the attractiveness of racing in their state. In order to compete, they charged, the state would need racetrack slots.

Texas turnaround

Despite the bad news in Maryland, shareholders in Magna International took heart in the announcement last week that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has become a strong supporter of racinos.

Video lottery terminals in Texas would benefit Magna International, the owner of Lone Star Park, the state’s largest and most successful horse track. It is located in the heart of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and has been chosen as the site of the 2004 Breeders’ Cup events.

Perry apparently has been influenced by the argument that Texans spend between $800 million and $1 billion annually at casinos in Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

Also influencing the governor, his aides said, was his interest in generating funds to support Texas public schools. Supporters have estimated that track slots could provide the state with some $2 billion over a three-year period to beef up school budgets.

So far, the attorney general’s opinion is that voters would have to amend the state constitution before the state’s lottery could go forward with racinos.

Bid sweetened

While Rhode Island continues with its infighting over expanded gaming, MGM MIRAGE Inc. (MGG) is hoping that its most recent offer for Wembley plc, the English firm that owns Lincoln Greyhound Park, is successful.

Initially, MGM MIRAGE offered the British equivalent of $483 million for the company that owns several dog tracks in England and in Colorado but whose principal source of revenue last year was derived from the Rhode Island track. That offer was topped by BLB Investors, a consortium involving Kerzner International (KZL), Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide (HOT), and British developer Waterford Group which proposed a purchase price of $518 million.

Some gaming observers believed that the consortium, holding nearly 25% of the stock in Wembley, merely raised the price to get MGM MIRAGE to beef up their offer. That is exactly what happened.

If the deal goes through, MGM MIRAGE will not only be given entry to America’s racino business but could possibly install slot machines at their dog tracks in the U.K. should the revised gaming laws, expected in 2005, permit it.

Meanwhile, nothing will happen in Rhode Island until Lincoln Greyhound is restructured in a way that would permit a takeover without any involvement with the indictments of Wembley and two of its officials.

Also, Gov. Don Carcieri is being investigated by state ethics officials on the charge that he was a guest in a luxury box of Fleet Bank for a New England Patriots game. The ethics allegation was made by an individual who has been attempting to get an Indian casino in West Warwick, a move that Carcieri has opposed.

Rhubarb continues

Illinois Gaming Board members have admitted they knew that potential mob influence could affect the operation of a casino in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont but they felt that proper supervision by the regulators’ staff could prevent underworld involvement.

In fact, said board chairman Elzie Higginbottom said that without such supervision the mob would move in regardless where the casino is located.

That explanation hasn’t been well-received by the governor who is upset that his appointee to review the selection of Isle of Capri as the state’s 10th riverboat gaming licensee has not received cooperation from the board. He said he wanted the board to fully answer questions posed to it by his appointee, former U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder.

Also looking for answers if state Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan who had forewarned the board against choosing Rosemont because of potential underworld corruption.

THE INSIDER: More publicy-traded gaming companies have announced dates on which they plan to reveal their earnings for the period that ended on March 31. Making announcements were:

GTECH Holdings Inc., (GTECH) Thursday, April 15, at 5:30 a.m. PDT.

Riviera Holdings Inc. (RIV) Tuesday, April 20, at 11 a.m. PDT.

Penn National Gaming Inc. (PENN) Wednesday, April 21, at 4 a.m. PDT.

Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (HET) Wednesday, April 21, at 6 a.m. PDT.

Boyd Gaming Corp. (BYD) Thursday, April 22, at 11 a.m. PDT.

Scientific Games Corp. (SGMS) Friday, April 23 at 5:30 a.m. PDT.

The Seneca Nation Indians have purchased 57 acres of land in Cheektowaga, N.Y., to be used as the site of their third casino. The purchase ends speculation that the tribe planned to locate the new casino in the city of Buffalo.

Investment speculators who put their money on Canterbury Park Holding Inc. (ECP) in hopes that Minnesota lawmakers would approve slots for their racetrack were disappointed last week when it was announced that there would be no slots approval this year.

Slowing business at the Pearl River Resort in Choctaw, Miss., has forced the operator to cut 87 casino jobs.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) the movie company says it will recommend to its board of directors that the company pay an $8 dividend to its shareholders. Biggest beneficiary of the move would be Kirk Kerkorian whose 71% ownership of the company would provide him with about $1.4 billion.

GTECH Holdings Corporation (GTK) has signed a five-year contract extension with the lottery operator for Luxembourg. The move is expected to return between $23 million and $25 million to the company.

Scientific Games Corporation (SGMS) is the apparent winner of the primary contract to provide instant tickets to the Wisconsin Lottery.

After much debate, a Louisiana House committee voted 5-4 in favor of a bill that would set the age of 21 years to be eligible to work in a casino.

The former Sundowner Hotel Casino in Reno could be turned into a condominium project is a deal develops between a San Francisco developer and local owners.

Magna International Corporation (MECA) announced that it had opened live racing at its new racetrack in Ebreichsdorf, Austria. The track will be operated