First things first: We have a new name for the Majestic Star casino. It shall forthwith be called Rivers casino.
Onto our regularly scheduled program.
... The gambling industry is getting killed just about everywhere else, but in Pennsylvania, we're just getting revved up:
Pennsylvania is bucking the downward revenue trend in the casino business. The state reported gains of as much as thirty percent over revenues in the same month last year. Even after adjusting the figure to exclude new venues, Pennsylvania still shows that four of the five casinos in existence a year ago have increased business, and revenues among the five locations are up almost four percent.
In contrast, neighboring Atlantic City casinos are down close to twenty percent, and Las Vegas is off by twelve percent.
Part of the Pennsylvania boon is the convenience of location. While traveling destinations have suffered from the effects of rising fuel prices and the general economy, patrons have found gambling closer to home attractive. Pennsylvania police have also conducted a major intimidation campaign, raiding and closing local bars and social clubs for even the most minute of gambling operations. Gov. Ed Rendell has largely succeeded in forcing gamblers to seek state-licensed locations to satisfy their gaming needs.
But it's more than just geography and the novelty of the industry at play here:
"A closer look shows that even among the five casinos that have been open more than a year, four are doing better than last year at this time, and all of them are outpacing Gaming Control Board projections. For the month of October, those five have taken in $103.3 million of gross terminal revenue -- the amount of money kept after paying all winners -- compared with $98.8 million in October 2007. That's a modest 3.4 percent increase over last year, but compared to the double-digit slot machine revenue declines in most other states, it's encouraging to state officials. Only Harrah's Chester casino took in less than last year." (Via the Morning Call of Allentown.)
... But what will happen to those border gamblers once the Maryland slots come on line? And what will happen in West Virginia?
"The West Virginia Lottery Commission figures show about 70 percent of the [Charles Town Races and Slots] customers come from Maryland and Virginia while another 14 percent come from Pennsylvania. Britton can't yet estimate how much business Charles Town will lose. He doesn't expect the machines in Maryland to begin operating for another two or three years. Eventually there will be 15,000 machines in five Maryland locations: Allegheny, Worcester, Cecil and Anne Arundel Counties as well as Baltimore City."
... One way to fight the competition to the south is to fortify the borders with your own casinos:
"The recent passing of a voter referendum that legalizes slots gambling in Maryland could further boost the chances a casino and racetrack resort will come to Adams County, said the Gettysburg businessman behind the idea. The project envisioned by David LeVan can't move forward if the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board awards the last remaining gaming license to a Pittsburgh casino project. But there's been some speculation a license won't be awarded, and LeVan said his plan for an Adams County casino has become an even more attractive venture since slots will be coming to Maryland."
Of course, the state Harness Racing Commission might have something to say about that, as will Centaur, the Indiana gaming company that says it is still trying to complete a financing deal to build a casino in Lawrence County.
... On Neil Bluhm's excellent timing:
"Nearly a year after Don Barden broke ground on the Pittsburgh casino, a group headed by Neil Bluhm, a Chicago billionaire, formally took control of the project, receiving the slots license from state Gaming Control Board members during a ceremony at the North Shore construction site. Mr. Barden was forced to relinquish the license last summer, when he was unable to secure permanent financing for the project. Enter Mr. Bluhm's group, which gained majority ownership when it put $205 million in cash into the casino, rescuing it from a near-bankruptcy. [Friday], gaming board members and local politicians said Mr. Bluhm's involvement came just in the nick of time. He was able to secure $555 million in financing for the $800 million project before the nation's financial meltdown virtually dried up lending."
Dispatches from the east
The latest out of Philadelphia:
"Working on a Sunday, Mayor Nutter signed zoning legislation yesterday that helps clear the way for Foxwoods Casino to put a 3,000-machine slots parlor in the Gallery at Market East. On Thursday, City Council approved bills that establish a commercial entertainment zone in the block bordered by Market, Filbert, 10th and 11th Streets. Signing the legislation allows Foxwoods to apply to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board for permission to move its proposed casino from the South Philadelphia waterfront to Center City. ... The zoning change has been met with opposition from residents of Chinatown and complaints that they have been shut out of the process."
Glad that's finally out of the way. Only took, what, four years?
... The Inky editorializes on the decision:
"The city needs to assure that the process for picking a Foxwoods site is thoughtful and deliberate and takes neighbors' concerns into consideration. While the city may be anxious to get hold of the tax revenue from the slots parlors, it is more important to get the location right. ... Then it will be up to Foxwoods: It needs to submit a detailed plan for the Gallery site to both the City Planning Commission and Council. Their review should involve plenty of public input, and should address the many concerns about the location."
Odds and ends
The annual Global Gaming Expo begins this week in Las Vegas ... There are three finalists for the up-for-grabs Illinois gaming license ... The Greektown casino in Detroit is running short on cash, "hampering its ability to continue operating or to finish building its new hotel, which is slated to open in February, according to documents filed by the Michigan Gaming Control Board" ... More layoffs in Atlantic City, this time courtesy of Harrah's ... Harrah's has also pulled out of the Kansas casino project that it signed up for not long ago ... Even the go-go Asian gambling markets are getting killed by the worldwide recession ... The Meadows in Washington County is feeling generous:
"The Meadows is organizing a canned food drive for the holiday. People who donate canned food get as much as $25 in free play. Nearly 15,000 cans have been donated so far, according to The Meadows."
The Meadows is donating turkeys, too.