Smaller potatoes

Written by Bill Toland on .

hard-rock-casino1-300x172Is the future of Atlantic City -- at least, the short-term future -- in smaller, boutique casinos? Because for the past two years, even since casinos opened in Pennsylvania, the boardwalk casinos (and attached hotels) sure haven't been packing them in. Too many empty hotel room + too many down months = the end of enormous, Vegas-style casino mega-plexes? (The Venetian in Vegas, for example, has 4,049 suites, 4,059 hotel rooms and a 120,000-square-foot casino.)

But in Atlantic City:

"Hard Rock International is poised to move forward with its plan to build a smaller, $300 million casino hotel on the Boardwalk, thanks to the state's new law requiring a minimum of 200 rooms instead of the current 500. Gov. Christie signed the measure into law Wednesday, the first step in his overhaul of the resort -- and one, he said, that opens the door for developers to build casinos in the nation's No. 2 gambling market, where investment has dried up." (

... but in Pittsburgh, the casino is expanding -- somewhat:

"With demand high, the North Shore casino is proposing to add 19 more table games to its offerings, its first major expansion since the state authorized the form of gambling last year. The increases, if approved by the state Gaming Control Board, would bring the casino's total complement of table games to 107, third most in the state. The casino also is seeking permission for another major change -- the construction of a 15,000-square-foot second-floor ballroom that would offer customers views of the Downtown skyline." (PG's Mark Belko)

... Chris Briem wonders what the new tables games might mean for tax revenue (and also says notes that the year-over-year handle numbers for Rivers were much improved for the last days of December / first days of January, possibly because of the Winter Classic.):

"In general the casino's slots revenues have been awfully flat over most of last year, which is better than declining, but still no real sign of a rebound induced by table games. Table games in themselves must be doing OK if they want more, but what I would like to see is how the current revenue from table games compares to what was projected. The question that follows is what tax revenue from table games is coming in for the library systems. Remember, at the last minute virtually all of the incremental tax from table games were earmarked directly for local library systems." (Null Space)

... Don Barden, one-time owner of the would-be Majestic Star casino on the North Shore (which later became Rivers), is pretty ill, his wife says:

The wife of Don Barden, a prominent Detroit entrepreneur honored for being a leading African-American businessman nationally, has filed paperwork in two courts asking judges to declare him incompetent and is seeking to have the couple's assets protected.Barden, 67, who built an empire that included a successful cable franchise and a string of casinos nationwide, is seriously ill.

In filings in Wayne County circuit and probate courts, Bella Marshall alleges that her husband is too ill from cancer that has spread to his brain to take care of his own affairs and needs an appointed guardian. Marshall, chief operating officer for Wayne County, said her husband "is most often incoherent and unable to act rationally with respect to financial and family matters."

A spokeswoman for Barden said that was not true. (

... Is one Philadelphia casino enough? When Gov. Ed Rendell (and Vince Fumo and John Perzell) were negotiating the gambling law six years ago, they decided that Philadeplphia, the biggest city in Pennsylvania, would get two casinos, while Pittsburgh gets one. But now -- after years of delays for Foxwoods, one of the two bidders selected to build a casino in Philly -- Rendell says he might be OK with moving that license out of his home city:

"Six years after he expanded gambling in Pennsylvania and pushed for two slots parlors in Philadelphia, Gov. Rendell on Monday conceded that one casino may be enough for the city. 'We'll have to take a look at that and see if there's another area that's underserved,' Rendell said when asked about legislators' call to put the failed Foxwoods casino license up for bid outside Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on Dec. 16 revoked the license it awarded in late 2006 to a group of Rendell allies who partnered with the Mashantucket Pequot tribe in what was to be the first Foxwoods Casino outside Connecticut."

Though the license has been revoked by the gaming board, Foxwoods can appeal that decision.

Welcome to Miami

Or: Bienvenido a Miami! Will Miami (or Tampa) become the next big city with a casino in it?

"Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday he is open to allowing Las Vegas-style casino resorts in Florida, opening the door for promoters to move swiftly ahead with legislation this year that would end the decades-old ban on the high stakes games. Promoters expect a hearing as early as next week in the Florida Senate on the proposal that could bring ''destination casinos'' to Miami Beach, Tampa and as many as three other locations. The term refers to the high-end casinos being built around the globe that feature entertainment, retail malls and convention space in addition to blackjack tables, roulette wheels and slot machines."

...  So, if Florida gets casinos, that would be ... let's see ... carry the two ... conjugate the polygon ... 38 states with video gambling, casinos or horse racing. 60 Minutes explores America's growing dependence on gaming revenue on Sunday:

"The national news program '60 Minutes' has confirmed it will be broadcasting this week's 'The Big Gamble' Sunday, Jan. 9 at 7 p.m. on CBS. Lesley Stahl reports on the proliferation of gambling to 38 states and its main attraction, the slot machine, newer versions of which some scientists believe may addict their players ... The segment on predatory gambling in America will have a special focus on electronic gambling machines, which includes the 'Instant Racing' machines that are presently being addressed in Kentucky courts." (West Kentucky Star)

... Will Gov. Ed Rendell flip his lid during the broadcast? That's the hot rumor:

"The 60 Minutes piece ... appears to contain something of a gem: In a preview (available online), Governor Ed Rendell appears to flip out on the reporters, calling them 'simpletons,' and 'idiots' if they 'dont get that,' — although what 'that' is isn't clear from the clip." (Philadelphia City Paper).

Here's the transcript of the exchange. Video is here.

Battle of Gettysburg, Redux

The folks behind the proposed Mason-Dixon casino near Gettysburg don't get the answer they were hoping for:

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board denied a request Thursday by investors looking to put a small casino near Gettysburg to reopen a closed evidence record so they could add concerns about the finances of a competitor for the state's last resort casino license.

Mason-Dixon Resort and Casino asked the board to put on record a report prepared by its lawyers questioning whether Isle of Capri, the company that would finance and operate a small casino at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, in Fayette County, could build that project and another at the same time.

Isle of Capri was awarded a license for a $125-million casino in Cape Girardeau, Mo. in December. The evidence record for the Nemacolin application closed after a hearing in mid-November. (

If Nemacolin is such a slam dunk, then what's taking the gaming board so long? It was supposed to vote on the last remaining category 3 license this week, but postponed that vote. With new gaming board members due to be appointed early this year, will the "new" board reboot the process? And by kicking the can down the road, is the board injecting politics into this decision, or removing it?

Odds and ends

Detroit's pension fund gambles big on the Rivers Casino -- and loses (even so, its pension funds are still healthier than Pittsburgh's) ... The Donald's lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board gets tossed out of federal court ... A new legislative session, another push for casinos in the Bay State ... Please, don't leave your kids in the car while you gamble ...

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