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The Gaming Industry Weekly Report


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The Gaming Industry Weekly Report for 7/3/17
Alan R. Woinski, Editor
Presented by: Gaming USA Corporation - ON Partners
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The end of the first half of 2017 was a summary of the first 6 months. If you expected the unexpected, you were not surprised. It has been a tremendous first half of the year to be an investor in gaming stocks but not one where you did well if you didn't use common sense. What was supposed to happen didn't but what should happen did, if we can use that logic. Regional gaming was supposed to be amazingly strong given the raging stock market and surging consumer confidence but it has been mixed, at best. Macau gaming revenue growth should be good, not great, if you use the metrics that worked before but instead it has been surging towards 2012 and 2013 growth levels. Pennsylvania should have easily passed an online gaming bill, Illinois should have already been taken over by another country that outlaws gambling and the Supreme Court should have told New Jersey to go bet on sports in Nevada.

As of press time ahead of the start of what could be the longest July 4th holiday weekend ever (good for casinos), the Supreme Court shocked everyone, including Donald Trump's administration, by agreeing to hear NJ's appeal of every loss they have been handed in their quest for unregulated sports betting, PA is coming down to the wire with the odds starting to increase that no gaming measures may pass, again, by the initial deadline and Illinois has a greater chance of passing an online gaming bill that just popped up rather than a slots at tracks, Chicago owned casino and a few more gaming licenses bill even though that is a disaster waiting to happen that has been debated by the biggest misfits in political history for years. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have a 2017 Portfolio that is up over 30% in the first half of the year and if you used every logic that worked in the past for stocks, you missed out.

The NJ sports betting situation started the week in typical fashion with the Supreme Court not considering it at first, leaving speculation that we could hear soon or even months from now on what the high court really wanted to do with it. By Tuesday morning, the biggest surprise since online gaming passed in NJ took place with the Supreme Court agreeing to hear the case. Obviously that does not mean they will overturn the many lower courts' decision that you can't have unregulated sports betting but if we were the NCAA, MLB, NHL, NFL and the rest of the hypocrites who say they can support Daily Fantasy Sports because it is not gambling but regulated sports betting is evil, we would realize the handwriting is on the wall and it says, DO THE SMART THING.

It is time for all these sports organizations to team up with the American Gaming Association to push Congress to change the rules. Meet in the middle on this. There already is regulated sports betting in Nevada that works and is safe and secure. Reach some sort of agreement where the Nevada structure, even the Nevada casinos or sports book operators themselves, expands to other casino markets. The sports organizations can either do this and work with the AGA or they run the risk of every casino, horse track, OTB and candy store allowing sports betting. Make sure that only those who have undergone the licensing by state casino officials can offer sports betting. There should be no doubt that AGA head Geoff Freeman is correct that this is the nail in the coffin for the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. The sporting organizations can either limit it to those who deserve and can handle sports betting or they can have the explosion that could be as bad as what they have now with illegal bookies. By the way, if you have unregulated sports betting, can't you offer it online?

While we wait for the eventual decisions on pass, fail, or kick the can down the road by lawmakers regarding two states who have put themselves into a financial mess (PA and IL) despite using gaming as a piggybank, in Connecticut the Governor signed the East Windsor bill. Now we wait for the real lawsuit from MGM and others, the one that will show lawmakers how a lack of common sense is their downfall. The appeals court ruled against MGM's pre-emptive strike lawsuit, in essence saying they filed it too early and should wait until the Governor actually signed the bill into law. The way we see it, the two tribes got this passed using fear tactics, scaring lawmakers so much that none of them used any common sense. They had lawmakers believing that MGM Springfield would destroy their casinos, with not one lawmaker asking the Mohegan or Mashantucket Pequots why their casinos have seen revenue decline 50% over the years without any supposed "competition" like MGM Springfield. Let's just go with the argument by the tribes that the state will be doomed by MGM Springfield. The tribes screwed up then by delaying and restarting the process because even if everything goes smoothly, MGM Springfield will open way before the East Windsor casino. If MGM does what we think they will and ties this thing up for years, then either Connecticut is doomed or the two tribes look like fools. There are very few casinos in the United States that are not faced with new competition. Most fight it out because they are confident in their ability and their properties. The only facilities that deserve to lobby to lawmakers are those put at a disadvantage, like in NY. Racinos paying close to 70%, who suddenly get casinos paying half that in "non-competitive" areas that are anything but that, deserve to complain to lawmakers and ask for a break. As for the others, you made your bed, either lay in it, close up, or show you know how to compete.

While we completely disagree with lawmakers in Connecticut, we blame MGM just as much for this. We have said previously that we think it is not just a coincidence that President Trump has spent the first few months holding up or undoing every tribal casino related measure that the Obama administration approved. We all know MGM CEO, Jim Murren, made quite a spectacle coming out and turning his back on his Republican Party and endorsing Hillary Clinton. He doubled down on that recently by criticizing Donald Trump again. There has only been one tribal move by Obama that Trump has agreed with and that is the one in Connecticut. By now just about everyone agrees that the turning point in getting the East Windsor vote approved was the Dept. of Interior saying they agree with the Obama administration's views on this.

We also have said that lawmakers need a little education on this industry and that includes Mayors who have to realize they have a responsibility to not look like fools. Years ago the Atlantic City casino interests arrogantly said they were not concerned with PA casinos because they were slots in boxes. Tropicana AC leader Tony Rodio even had the infamous comment that PA casinos were "Walmarts with slot machines and a bar and a restaurant". We remind everyone of our motto when they call or email us complaining about what we have said about them. If you say something stupid, we call you on it. Well we hope we don't have to do the same to Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. After MGM was given the appeals court decision, Sarno was quoted as saying the East Windsor casino would be a "glorified slots parlor" and he is not concerned about it. We cannot stress enough that ignorance is the biggest issue facing the casino industry today and perhaps someone should explain to Sarno that gamblers go to the nearest slot machine or table game, not the one in the nicest and most expensive facility. Or he can go talk to Tony Rodio, the only AC executive that criticized and dismissed the PA casinos as not being competition for Atlantic City that still has a job there.

With the exception of the Connecticut tribal views, the Trump Administration kept their perfect record of going against anything the Obama administration did with tribal gaming. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in Massachusetts is royally screwed and Genting is out a ton of money as the tribe decided to give up any effort in seeking a favorable ruling from the Dept of Interior regarding their off reservation casino development in Massachusetts. The tribe announced they suspended their request for review under Category 1 of the Indian Reorganization Act, obviously because the DOI told them they were not going to give them a favorable ruling The tribe will now regroup and decide if they will sue or just walk away and leave Taunton, MA with a hole in the ground. The Mashpee tribe and Genting had begun construction of the First Light casino even though some Taunton locals had sued and seemed to have a good case. The sad thing is the group behind the Rivers casinos could have had a casino ready to open if the Mashpee tribe had not so arrogantly bullied the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and others in the state. The $677 million Brockton casino proposal was shot down by the Commission and obviously it was because the Mashpee Tribe arrogantly predicted they would have a casino open by the end of 2017. The only thing we believe the MA Gaming Commission did wrong was not try to call the tribe and Genting's bluff. The tribe was arrogant enough that they probably would have taken the bait if the Commission forced them to back up that statement with monetary penalties. For now, it looks like there will be only two casinos and one racino open in the state with no others for a very long time.

Crown Resorts shares are trading about midway through their 52 week high and low, boosted a bit this week by the conclusion of their China nightmare. The Shanghai court convicted 16 of their employees to nine or ten months in prison, just about what they have already spent there so it was just a formality and they will be out soon. Crown paid the $1.3 million fine and just wants to put all this behind them. That won't happen anytime soon as the company has lost any chance of growth, shutting down their Asian offices, their former chairman resigned as a director, James Packer is getting pressured as potentially involved in a fraud case regarding Israeli government officials and the Israeli press is harassing Mariah Carey about it. All we need is for Mariah to get vindictive and start throwing Packer under the bus and who knows what will happen. The reality is that while Crown is giving the money they got from the Melco Resorts share sale back to their shareholders, that makes little sense except to prop up their stock until they figure out what else to do.

Crown paid dearly for their mistakes in how to try to get into the US casino markets and who they did it with. While they did well financially in Macau, their mistakes in marketing to the Chinese not only did more damage to their reputation, it removed any growth prospects. They have pulled back from any type of potential expansion outside of Australia but the projects they were developing in Australia need high rollers to work. If you can't market in Asia, where do you get the high rollers?

Visitor arrivals to Macau in May totaled 2.6 million, up 3.7% year on year with overnight visitors up 14.2% to 1.4 million Same day visitors declined by 6.1% to 1.2 million and not surprisingly, Mainland China visitation was down 4.4% to 1.7 million, still accounting for the bulk of the visitors. South Korea casinos and hotels are crying over the massive declines in business due to the Chinese being discouraged to visit but the same is not true for South Koreans coming to Macau. Visitors from South Korea saw the biggest growth, up 50.1% to 72,205. For the first five months of the year, visitation to Macau is up 6.3% to 13.2 million. We like the 5 month percentage increase, we are not pleased with the May percentage increase although overnight visitors make up for it, for now.

Japan's talking heads regarding just what will eventually be in the IR bill have gone from saying they want Singapore-style junkets to not having any junkets at all. To those conditioned to believe that you can't have VIP without junkets, the mindset should be you can't have low margin VIP without junkets. The difference between needing junkets in Macau and not having them in Japan goes to the flow of money. In Macau, junkets provide the liquidity, the work around to Beijing's control of money leaving the mainland. In Las Vegas, casinos provide credit directly and while there has been junket activity, it is a small portion. Japan really doesn't need junkets, especially if they are not going to be like South Korea foreigners only casinos and live and die based on Chinese VIPs, or the lack of them. Once again we will remind you we are a long way from the finish line in Japan and things will change. Not that it is stopping the start of criticism of the things that have been leaked about the impending IR bill. The Governor of Osaka criticized the plans to have locals enter the casinos by way of the MyNumber identification cards. That system is not very popular as only 9% of Japan's residents have the card. The difference is we are talking about 2022 or so when these casinos start to open. By then MyNumber may have been replaced by YourNumber or NoNumber cards or 90% of Japanese residents could have MyNumber identification cards.

Scientific Games announced the long awaited launch of The Simpsons, their new wide area progressive slot game that many expect to add a new element to the WAP market. The Simpsons slot game is featured on SGMS' immersive Gamescape cabinet and won our Best of Show title for G2E a couple of years ago. Not only is the Gamescape cabinet just amazing for multimedia and graphics, the game features the first gesture control element utilizing motion sensor technology to allow players to physically interact with the game in some of the bonus features. Since we have already taken some millennials on casino tours to see their reaction to things like IGT's 3D products, we believe features like 3D and sensory products have the potential to impact and attract their play more than taking video games that require a learning curve and expecting that to just open the floodgates to 30 something visitation.

Everi Holdings announced the launch of Casablanca, a video reel game and the company's first licensed game theme for its wide area progressive link, developed exclusively for Class II markets and local area progressive developed for Class III markets. Casablanca is featured on the Empire MPX, EVRI's newest premium gaming cabinet, part of their Class II WAP link which went live in February 2017. The new Casablanca game theme is now live at three casinos across Oklahoma, Connecticut and Louisiana and will be rolled out to more casinos and markets in the coming months.

As expected Cyprus signed the deal with the consortium of Melco International, Hard Rock and Cypriot CNS Group to build casinos, including what is being called the largest one in Europe. The major casino will be developed in the coastal town of Limassol, at a cost of more than 500 million euros. That casino will include 136 gaming tables, 1,200 slots, with an adjoining 500 room luxury hotel. Four smaller casinos will also be allowed for development in other cities in Cyprus. Just a day after the agreement was signed, Melco International announced they entered into an agreement to assume the majority stake of 70.74%, buying Hard Rock's 35.37% stake in the project. No terms were disclosed but the Cyprus Government must approve the change in ownership and branding. Cypriot CNS Group will hold the remaining 29.26% stake but the comments by Melco in their press release that said they "currently" hold the remaining stake may suggest Melco is in discussions with them also.

Another article said just before the deadline to bid, the joint venture of Melco International and Hard Rock pulled out of the race to operate the Center for Recreation and Tourism, an integrated resort development in the autonomous Catalan region in Spain. That left just one remaining bidder, Genting and Grup Peralada and with the bad luck streak Genting is on lately, if we were Grup Peralda we would suggest wearing a necklace of garlic.

Lady Luck Casino in Marquette, Iowa is now Casino Queen Marquette following their grand re-opening. Prior to the closing of the acquisition of Isle of Capri Casinos by Eldorado Resorts, ISLE sold the Lady Luck property to CQ Holdings Inc, the parent company of Casino Queen in East St. Louis, IL.

The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians announced new details of their Four Winds Casino they are developing in South Bend, Indiana. The Kankakee Grill will be one of the restaurants offered at the property. There will also be a Copper Rock Steakhouse Buffet, Timbers Fast Food and Deli, Players Lounge and three bars. The tribe said they are on track with the construction of phase one. The nearly 175,000 square foot development is bigger than their satellite casino in Dowagiac but smaller than the one in New Buffalo. When complete the casino will offer 1,800 slots. The casino is set to open in early 2018.

We have mentioned before how unstable we believe the New Mexico tribal gaming scene has become since Governor Susana Martinez has been in office. Even the tribes that gave into her ridiculous demands are feeling the wrath of Oh Susana as numerous pueblos are going to court to try to avoid paying the state tens of millions of dollars Martinez says they owe for free play credits. New Mexico regulators insisted the free credits should be included when calculating the revenue tribes share with the state under the gambling compacts but in 2015 a new agreement said they should not be included. The problem is Martinez makes her own rules and she has determined the tribes should include them. In April regulators sent letters to gaming tribes demanding the money. Sandia Pueblo alone was told they owe $26.5 million and said it was due by June 19th. You make a deal with a devil and you wind up getting burned.

MGM China's upcoming integrated resort in Macau, MGM Cotai, will have nearly 3,000 square meters of meeting space, a theater for 2,000 guests, 1,390 hotel rooms and artwork by the likes of Andy Warhol and Ma Desheng. MGM announced the HK$26 billion resort will boast a range of options for business and social events including a pillar-free boardroom capable of hosting 1,000 people and a boardroom, known as Vista, which overlooks the resort's reflective pool and greenery while offering floor to ceiling windows and a spacious alfresco terrace. MGM Theater will be a dynamic space that can transform into over 10 different configurations with the press of a button. The hotel rooms will include floor to ceiling windows while the Resort Rooms will have spectacular views of Cotai, scenic fountains or the horizon. The Suites will provide extra space including separate living and dining areas, a day bed, marble master bathroom and more. MGM Cotai will also see MGM expand their Skylofts concept beyond Las Vegas. Each Skyloft is a one of a kind duplex space at the resort's North Hotel Tower. Guests in the Skylofts will have access to the Sky Lounge located on the 33rd and 35th floors atop the hotel's North Tower.

Ortiz Gaming has sent Maurilio Silva packing, removing him as CEO for the US. Most of you who go to casinos probably wonder who Ortiz Gaming is and why you never see their machines in casinos. That is probably why Silva is no longer US CEO. Ortiz Gaming said the brand has decided to integrate a new administration structure in order to optimize the different areas of management, sales, operations, government relations and regulatory compliance.

Entertainment Gaming Asia, formerly Elixir Gaming and before that Casinovations has finally given their long suffering shareholders a mercy killing. Melco International Development Limited completed their transaction to buy the shares they did not already own for $2.35 per share and delisted their shares from trading.

Caesars Entertainment and Caesars Acquisition Company announced the SEC declared effective the Form S-4 registration statement in connection with their proposed merger. Shareholders meetings are scheduled for July 25th for each company.

Harrah's and Harvey's Lake Tahoe announced Stateline visitors will have to pay for parking at the properties during holidays and special events beginning June 30th. Parking rates will run $20 for self-parking and $25 for valet. The new policy will run through the summer on days and nights during special events and peak holiday periods.

Tropicana Entertainment and Icahn Enterprises announced the launch of a modified Dutch Auction Tender Offer for up to 5,580,000 shares of Tropicana Entertainment. Icahn Enterprises already owns 72.5% of the shares. They will pay not less than $38 and not greater than $45 a share.

The Macao Government Tourism Office reported some restaurants located in the City of Dreams Macau casino resort have been closed due to the lack of necessary permits. A total of 13 restaurants were investigated by the MGTO with 8 already completed, fined and served with a closure notice. The enforcement action took place on various dates between 2016 and now but for some reason, was just made public. It always seems like things in Macau are on a need to know basis. Melco Resorts told GGRAsia that the recent closure of certain restaurants is part of the property refurbishment which aims to enhance and refine the overall property experience. In accordance with local licensing standards, restaurants operate under different types of licenses. MLCO and the restaurant operators are working with authorities on the relevant licensing procedures.

Live! Casino & Hotel announced Jennifer Kearns was promoted to executive director of relationship marketing. Kearns will be responsible for leading the relationship marketing team in building and enhancing the VIP guest experience with a focus on the flagship Live! Hotel set to open in early 2018. Kearns launched the casino's customer relationship management system as director of relationship marketing.

The Alon casino project in Las Vegas never got off the ground, just lost their partner Crown Resorts, but president Andrew Pascal still is saying he and Oaktree Capital Management are actively pursuing the project. Meanwhile YWS Design & Architecture sued the project last month, alleging copyright infringement, deceptive trade practices and breach of contract.

The Resorts World Manila casino was given the approval to reopen by PAGCOR. Ironically it was given approval just days after PAGCOR disclosed they were losing P14 million per day. No word on whether they hired security guards that won't run and hide at the first sign of trouble.

The Nevada Gaming Commission endorsed Senate Bill 240, approving the changes to allow pari-mutuel bets on events like e-Sports tournaments, the World Series of Poker and the NBA draft. The bill was passed to bring the rules for pari-mutuel betting in line with those of regular sports book bets.

The UK Government is cracking down on online gambling promotions that they believe fool gamblers. We have discussed this in the past because of how it happens in the NJ online gaming space. The Competition and Markets Authority said promotion ads promise customers money but force gamblers to play hundreds of times before they can withdraw the bonus. In NJ the online gaming sites have promotions that range from playing the bonus amount one time through, like Sugarhouse, to completely ridiculous ones like Pala Casino where you must play 20 times the bonus and deposit and your money is locked from being withdrawn. Others are somewhere in the middle between liberal and difficult. In the UK the CMA"s consumer enforcement unit said new customers are being enticed by tempting promotions only to find the dice are loaded against them. NJ online casinos should start being a little more careful because it is just a matter of time before someone raises a stink about these things here. After all, has anyone ever been able to read the fine print in the Betfair online casino TV commercials where they tell you to stay at home and gamble and get $1,000 free?

Amaya Inc., soon to be called The Stars Group Inc., is planning to start offering services in India by the end of this year. India is considered the fastest growing smartphone market and AYA wants to be the market leader when it comes to poker. They are aiming for at least half the Indian market, estimated to reach $150 million over time.

NYX Gaming Group's NextGen Gaming has launched 21 slots games with AYA's PokerStars NJ brand in the NJ online gaming market. The latest venture extends the long standing partnership between the companies, which share the mutual goal of expanding in regulated territories and enhancing their international profiles as leaders in digital gaming.

PokerStars has named David Carrion as their new director of marketing and interim director of live events. Carrion will replace Vadim Soloveychi as director of marketing and Edgar Stuchly as director of live events. One guy taking the job of two people is impressive. Carrion joins AYA from Spanish operator Cirsa where he was director of live poker operations for Latin America.

Scientific Games Corp. announced they won a new four year contract to provide instant games and services to the New Hampshire Lottery, the first US state lottery. The New Hampshire Lottery has partnered with SGMS since its first instant game launch in 1975.

IGT announced its IGT Global Solutions Corporation unit has been awarded a seven year base contract to provide the West Virginia Lottery with a wide array of products including a new draw-based central system, new lottery terminals, a multi-technology communications network and ongoing services. IGT also recently signed a four year contract with the WV Lottery to provide 100% of their instant ticket printing business.

Pollard Banknote Limited announced the addition of Ms. PAC-Man to its expanded licensed games portfolio. Under the agreement with BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment, Pollard Banknote has the brand for instant tickets, the first time Ms. PAC-MAN has been available for use on lottery products.

Insider Transactions Ira Raphaelson, director of Inspired Entertainment, bought 100 shares on 6/27 at $12.11.

 


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