Land-based casino news roundup Nov. 27

land-based-casino-news-roundupThe long-held belief that gambling was a recession-proof industry took another blow with release of figures from casinos in Mississippi and Louisiana. Revenues at Mississippi’s state-licensed casinos were down 3.3% during the first nine months of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009. A modest drop, perhaps, but that’s still 12.9% off 2008’s pre-recession numbers. In a hopeful sign, the 11 casinos situated along the Mississippi Gulf Coast were off only 1.3% from 2009, suggesting that the impact from the BP oil spill was less than might have been expected. In Louisiana, casinos tallied a 5.3% drop from 2009 (and 7.7% from 2008).

At the recent Global Gaming Expo (G2E) confab in Las Vegas, American Gaming Association honcho Frank Fahrenkopf reported that state-licensed casinos nationwide saw a 1.3% rise in revenue from Q2 to Q3 2010, but that modest increase wasn’t enough to bring it on par with revenues from the same period in 2009. In other words, people have adjusted their gambling habits to take into account the uncertainty over their economic stability – more evidence to suggest that of all the supposed ‘vices,’ gambling is indeed the least addictive.

Of course, there are other ways of convincing people not to gamble, such as suggesting that they might be burnt alive. Atlantic City’s Tropicana Casino & Resort cleared its casino floor early Saturday morning after a fire broke out on the sixth floor of the building. No one was injured in the two-alarm blaze, but smoke traveled through the ventilation system and spilled out onto the casino floor, and since you can’t smoke anywhere these days, casino patrons were ordered out.

Despite falling revenues and rising flames at other gaming establishments, Wall Street analysts are positively giddy over Las Vegas Sands stock. Of the 1,952 ratings analysts have given the company, 81.5% are bullish. Some institutions are even predicting LVS profits to increase by 79% annually, mostly on the strength of its Asian operations, although one contrarian warns that “Nothing goes up parabolically forever, even rich Asians.”

What about rich Indians? A couple of tussles are brewing over native American casinos in the states of Washington and New York. In Washington, the fight is over the 416-member Kalispel Tribe’s off-reservation Northern Quest Casino in the suburbs of Spokane, one of only five off-reservation Indian casinos approved by the federal gov’t in the past 20 years. With Northern Quest now garnering much of Spokane’s gambling traffic, the much larger Spokane Tribe (which already has two casinos on its reservation) wants federal approval to build its own resort casino near the Kalispel operation. The Kalispels say competition will cannibalize its existing business, while the Spokanes say it will be complementary, creating a Vegas-style strip of gaming properties that will benefit the entire region. Needless to say, non-native casino companies aren’t wild about any of this.

In New York, Gov. David Paterson signed a land settlement with the Wisconsin-based Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans that will see the Mohicans surrender a 23,000-acre land claim in New York’s Madison County in exchange for the right to build a $700m tribal casino on 330 acres of land in the Catskills, 100 miles northwest of New York City. The deal, which still requires state and federal approval, has raised the ire of the Oneida Nation, who fear their own casino in central New York would be negatively impacted by the Mohican incursion.

In the UK, Minister for Tourism and Heritage John Penrose has proposed increasing the maximum stake at slot machines from £1 to £2 and permitting a ‘modest’ increase in the number of Category B3 slots at the nation’s adult-only arcades and bingo clubs. The proposal is accepting public input until Jan. 25.

Ending on an ‘up’ note, a Trenton, NJ man has claimed the second largest jackpot in Atlantic City history. The man, identified only as Tom, plunked $5 into a Harrah’s Resort progressive jackpot slot and walked away with $7.3m ($3m less than the prize won by Josephine Crawford in 2006). The score happened on the 30th anniversary (to the day) of the casino’s opening, and ‘Tom’ claims to have been there on that day as well. The first thing Tom plans to splash out on is even older than Harrah’s – a 1967 Camaro. Sweet.