(One housekeeping item - the Casino Journal's Web address has changed. Bookmark us. Pretty please?)
A double-whammy of casino news - first, construction has stopped because Don Barden still doesn't have the money in hand to pay his contracting crews for the work they did in June and May. Now we learn that he wants to scale back the casino itself. Nothing major. Teensy, really. You won't even notice. Just some brick work. The boat docks. Amphitheater. Riverfront promenade. But that's it. (Garage will stay the same, though):
"At a briefing yesterday, architect Michael Stern told city planning commission members that Mr. Barden wanted to delay construction of the amphitheater, a dock and access paths for three years. The casino also will alter the look of the proposed riverfront promenade, one that will double as a link in the North Shore trail, by restricting the brick paving to an area in front of a 90-foot drum atrium, the building centerpiece. As originally proposed, most of the promenade was to be brick. Now most of it will be exposed aggregate concrete."
... Says the Pittsburgh Comet:
"Where can this possibly be going? Our guess is that we are about to embark on the great Who Can Appear Perfectly Tough But Fair On The Casino Contest of 2008 & 2009 -- yet in the end we can only influence the development on the margins, because things are as they are. (Note to all hand-wringers: Hindsight is 20/20, there's no sense crying over spilt milk, stiff upper lip and all that. Had the commission based its decision solely on depth of pockets, we would have accused it of one-dimensional insensitivity to complex local intangibles et cetera, yet still we would be confronting economic climate change, not to mention bait-and-switchery. Lord, we've already been subjected to monumental bait-and-switchery, yet nary a peep. But boat docks! Our precious North Shore! Oh the humanity!)"
... Says the MacYapper:
"I used to root for Don Barden, the Detroit businessman and casino operator, who lobbied the state gaming commission to receive a license to operate a casino on Pittsburgh's North Shore. You know that crappy area up river that they're trying to yuppify and make pleasant for thousands of maroons who want to piss their money away while loud clanging bells ruin their hearing and second hand smoke clouds their lungs. I was afraid if we gave the license to the folks who wanted to operate the casino at Station Square, it would be one big-ass traffic headache extraordinaire. But it turns out that would have been preferable to the headache extraordinaire that is Mr. Barden his own self. First Mr. Bigshot can't come up with the $10 million to keep the damn construction going. THEN he wants to temporarily (he claims) change the design to lower costs. Now sometimes these Riverfront people who guard against ugly Riverfront shit are annoying pains in the ass. But I believe they have something here. I've said it before. Here it comes again: We picked the wrong freaking horse. This dude doesn't have the juice."
... Says PGH is a city:
"We've made our bed now we have to lie in it. That's unfortunately the situation with Barden. If we don't continue lying in bed with this greedy leech, we'll have an eyesore and no new casino on the books ... To the Riverlife Task Force, we all agree with you. We want a casino that has a unique riverfront access, that encourages outdoor use, and that will not maim our riverfront view. However, more importantly at this juncture of work-stoppage and finance-grasping, we want a casino instead of a hulking steel frame in limbo."
... Says Pitt Girl:
"1. I'd like to know if it's too late to give the license to Franco or Mario or you know, anyone with actual money or at least the ability to get their hands on actual money. 2. I'd like to know why they picked Don Barden in the first place. I mean, really why. Not the fake reasons. The REAL reasons. Like specifically, I would like to know who he has dirty pictures of."
Supposing he does have dirty pictures of Gov. Ed Rendell, let me be the first to go on record as saying I do not want to see them.
... Says Mark Rauterkus:
"Send the builders over to the white elephant Convention Center. Have them roll in the slots machines there. Open the slots parlor next week. And, have the money that Don Barden does have go to pay down the debt of the failing Convention Center. And, Barden's folks can also run the Visit Pittsburgh outfit too. If Barden wants to build in the future -- he can do it in due time after the conditions change."
... Says the Angry Drunk Bureaucrat:
"Now, I don't know much about construction (I doubt that I could tell an I-beam from reinforced concrete or a rivet from a flange), but I do know two things. First, never piss off anyone with power tools. Second, never ever piss off anyone that has access to a backhoe or a bulldozer."
Those are both excellent rules. I'd add a third - never piss off anyone with access to concrete mix and 55-gallon drums.
... Just for the record, here's what Don Barden's opponents were saying about him in May 2007, to the state Supreme Court:
"Forest City/Station Square Gaming and Isle of Capri [attacked] Mr. Barden's profitability at six other casinos he owns, saying he had lost money in several recent years and, due to a large amount of debt, "has a negative net worth of $140 million.'' They questioned whether he has the ability to profitably operate the Pittsburgh casino in a way to produce considerable revenue for the state to use in lowering property taxes. Mr. Barden said he had borrowed money to acquire casinos in Las Vegas and Tunica, Miss., in 2001 and then to acquire a money-losing casino owned by Donald Trump in Gary, Ind., in 2005 ... He said there is nothing unusual about a businessman borrowing money to finance a new operation and said he is fully capable of running his proposed $450 million Majestic Star casino on Pittsburgh's North Shore. He said he already has the money he needs for the casino project committed from lenders, adding that savvy financiers wouldn't make such loans if he weren't a good businessman."
He's right. They wouldn't. Savvy indeed.
Dispatches from the east
Here's the Philadelphia Inquirer's take on Don Barden's latest line of credit:
"Neil G. Bluhm, the Chicago billionaire who is bankrolling the development of a $700 million slots parlor on the Philadelphia waterfront, is pursuing a deal to help Don Barden financially in building his casino in Pittsburgh, according to a partner of Bluhm's. Stymied by legal controversy and neighborhood opposition in Philadelphia, Bluhm now is looking to expand his casino holdings in another part of the state. Bluhm and his real estate private-equity fund, Walton Street Capital L.L.C., have entered into a deal with Barden to help him finance the $780 million Pittsburgh Majestic Star Casino, which has been beset with financial problems. ‘We just think potentially it's a great opportunity, and we are working on it,' Eric Mogentale, managing principal of Walton Street Capital, said last night. ‘It's not a done deal.'"
Just once, we'd like to hear a Barden financier say that it is a done deal.
... "A county judge in Pennsylvania has rebuffed reports to pry reporters' notes and phone records from six news groups in a grand jury leak probe. But the court has yet to decide whether to compel the 15 subpoenaed journalists to testify. Attorneys for casino owner Louis A. DeNaples, under indictment for perjury, in early June sent a flurry of subpoenas to reporters at The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Daily News and The Associated Press, among other news groups. Details of the nominally secret grand jury investigation into DeNaples' dealings with state gaming officials were leaked to the press."
Odds and ends
Compulsive gamblers could start getting state-paid counseling starting this month ... Mt. Airy's payout rate flattens ... Goodbye, Tom Jones. Hello, "lifestyle celebrity" ... If people aren't coming to Atlantic City to gamble anymore, why not build some luxury hotels with no casinos whatsoever? ... "'Girls Gone Wild' founder Joe Francis is being sued by a Las Vegas Strip casino for $2 million in gambling debts from February of last year. Francis spokesman Ronn Torossian said Tuesday that the man who built the soft porn empire already had satisfied his debt to the Wynn Las Vegas casino through "prior agreements. [Francis] said he was waiting for his day in court with Wynn Resorts Ltd. Chief Executive Steve Wynn and planned on ‘exposing how exactly Mr. Wynn deceives his high end customers.'"
I love it when good things happen to good people.