Atlantic City back in the red; Sydney casino GM fired for “behavior in work setting”

atlantic-city-star-casino-vaikuntaLast month, Atlantic City casino execs were popping the bubbly after posting their first revenue increase in almost 3.5 years. But with revenues falling 7.2% in January, it’s time to put the cork back in the bottle. Statistics released by New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement put January revenues at AC’s 11 gambling joints at $236.7m. Slots revenue held steady at $164.7m, but table game hold percentage slipped a couple points, resulting in a 20.2% drop in revenue to $72.2m. Individually, only the Golden Nugget and Resorts Casino Hotel showed revenue bumps, up 3.4% and 3.2% respectively. The worst performer was the ACH (which will be rebranded as The Atlantic Club next month), which saw revenues fall 20.6% to $7.8m. The Borgata was off 2.4%, but its $51.7m haul was the highest total city-wide.

Sid Vaikunta, the Borgata’s former VP of marketing who just five years ago was named one of the “Top 40 Under 40” go-getters by Atlantic City Weekly, was recently fired from his position as general manager of The Star casino in Sydney, Australia under, shall we say, murky circumstances. In a Feb. 2 note to the Aussie stock exchange, Echo Entertainment Group head Larry Mullin said Vaikunta’s tenure “ended after his behavior in a social work setting.” The Star’s PR person Camille Bentley told the Daily Telegraph that details behind Vaikunta’s sacking were “confidential” but a “senior government source” told the paper that “the allegations relate to the sexual harassment of staff and other matters.”

Vaikunta joined The Star in 2009 and oversaw the casino’s $870m overhaul last September. An enhanced emphasis on “fast, friendly, fresh, fun and focused” led some staff to complain that standards were being lowered in terms of dress codes for customers and sexed-up uniforms for serving staff. More to the point, a push toward maximizing revenue had led to fewer incident reports being filed by staff running gaming tables. In December, the Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority recommended renewing The Star’s license, but raised concerns about the casino’s diligence in policing loan sharking, money laundering and prostitution activities on site.

Sources at The Star told the Sydney Morning Herald that Mark Brown, who ran the Sands Macau until March 2010, has been on site for the past month and has applied to Aussie authorities for the appropriate licensing. The timing of Brown’s arrival and Vaikunta’s dismissal has led authorities to question when Echo Entertainment first learned of Vaikunta’s behavior, and why no mention was made during the license review process. Echo Entertainment was recently spun off from Aussie betting powerhouse Tabcorp into a standalone business. The Canberra Times reported that Tabcorp was warned in 2010 of “widespread substance abuse” among The Star’s senior management and had been advised to conduct “sobriety tests” to monitor for cocaine use. Tabcorp declined to institute such a testing program due to what it claimed was insufficient evidence of abuse.