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Indy Gaming: Caesars enters NYC casino skirmish after first rejecting the idea

Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz
EconomyGaming
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Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Gaming newsletter, a weekly look at gaming matters nationally and internationally and how the events tie back to Nevada.

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Caesars Entertainment’s entrance into an expected heated process for the rights to operate a casino resort in New York City came as somewhat of a surprise.

Last week, the company announced a partnership with SL Green Realty Corp. on a venture to develop Caesars Palace Times Square.

Eight months ago, however, Caesars CEO Tom Reeg said it was “extraordinarily unlikely” the company would enter the New York casino market.

“How do I answer this politely?” Reeg said on the casino operator’s fourth quarter conference call in February. He questioned the state’s “difficult” regulatory structure and the “extremely expensive” costs to obtain a license and develop a project.

But Reeg left the door open.

“If one of those developers wants to talk to a manager that brings 65 million (customer loyalty program) members and powerful brands, we'd be very interested in having that discussion,” Reeg said at the time.

Enter SL Green.

Other than stating that the partnership would include the development of a Broadway Theater location to house a production of The Lion King, not much was revealed about the project. Caesars touted endorsements from Actor’s Equity labor union, the CEO of the restaurant group that owns Carmine’s, the head of New York Laborers’ Local 79, the CEO of Wyndham Hotels and a former New York City police commissioner.

During the real estate investment trust’s third-quarter earnings conference call, SL Green CEO Mark Holliday said there wasn’t much to be revealed until New York releases the request for proposal (RFP) for the casino and developers can go over the terms.

“We are exclusive with Caesars on this casino site, and we’re going to be putting both of our mutual best efforts behind making it happen,” Holliday said. He added that after the pandemic, “Times Square needs help and needs to reboot itself. I think we can rally around a casino and make that (an) economic engine.”

In the New York state budget approved earlier this year, a section was set aside to provide for three downstate gaming licenses, which voters first approved in 2013. Lawmakers touted union jobs as well as increased tourism and tax revenue and noted the RFP process would start in early 2023. While the bidding for each license will start at $500 million, analysts said the developments will top more than $1 billion in construction and development costs.

Most observers believe two of the licenses are destined for Resorts World and MGM Resorts International. The companies already operate New York City-area casino facilities at two horse racing tracks that house slot machine-like video lottery terminals.

Resorts World New York City in Queens is attached to the Aqueduct Racetrack and MGM’s Empire Casino is part of Yonkers Raceway, roughly 15 miles north of Manhattan.

Gaming industry advisor Brendan Bussmann, managing partner of Las Vegas B2 Global, said with two licenses all but spoken for, the gaming industry’s largest casino operators “will be circling in and around Manhattan.”

The curved tower of Wynn Las Vegas is viewed on June 28, 2022. (Joey Lovato/The Nevada Independent)

Wynn Resorts announced a partnership with New York-based Related Companies in September to seek a gaming license for Western Yards at Hudson Yards. The location is next to the Javits Center, one of the busiest convention centers in the United States that recently completed a $1.5 billion expansion.

Late Las Vegas Sands founder Sheldon Adelson had long desired to build a New York City casino near the Javits Center. In 2019, the company brought in former New York Gov. David Paterson in an unsuccessful effort to push up the development timeline.

Last week, Las Vegas Sands CEO Rob Goldstein said the company has a New York property in mind and is putting a bid together.

“We've been focused on the market for many years and we’re very bullish on New York,” Goldstein said on the company’s third-quarter earnings call last week. “It’s tough because I think there is one available license. Hopefully, we have a bid that gets attention.”

It was reported in July that New York Mets owner Stephen Cohen and Sands were discussing a casino project near Citi Field, the team’s ballpark. But the New York Times reported last week that Cohen is also talking with Hard Rock International. Bally’s Corp. has also expressed interest in expanding to New York.

Bussmann expects the New York City license to become one of the nation’s most expensive integrated resorts developed outside of Las Vegas. As a comparison, Bally’s is spending $1.7 billion on an integrated resort in downtown Chicago.

“This becomes a race for who can best capture the addressable market by creating a compelling, game-changing project that not only is a differentiator in the market to those stakeholders but captures the local and tourist markets,” Bussmann said.


Marina Bay Sands in Singapore in November 2010. (commons.wikimedia.org)

As Macau struggles, Sands’ balance sheet is on the back of its Singapore resort

One observer succinctly summed up the dilemma for Las Vegas Sands Corp., which sold its Strip holdings in February and is seeing little, if any, return on its billions of dollars of investments into Macau. Meanwhile, its only property in Singapore is carrying the company’s financial burden.

“Singapore is absolutely on fire as the country continues to rebound from the COVID pandemic while Macau continues to be an absolute disaster with zero visibility as to when there will be a material change in their harsh anti-COVID stance,” Stifel Financial gaming analyst Steven Wieczynski told investors in a research note after Las Vegas Sands released third-quarter results last week.  

“Las Vegas Sands continues to put on a good face and act as if all is well over in China while the Macau casino assets continue to take the brunt of China’s ridiculous zero-case COVID policy,” Wieczynski added.

In the quarter that ended Sept. 30, Sands said $756 million of its $1 billion in revenue came from the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.

On a conference call with analysts, Las Vegas Sands officials were somewhat mum on when Macau could return to profitability. They also didn’t want to comment in detail on the ongoing Macau licensing renewal process — the company is one of seven casino operators seeking one of six 10-year gaming concessions.

They believe the process will be concluded by the end of the year.

“We’ve been working with the government closely, and a couple of rounds of discussion have been held,” Sands China President Wilfred Wong said. “We are waiting for the government notification (on) whether there will be another next round of discussion. The timetable remains the same.”

Analysts believe Las Vegas Sands will retain its license for five integrated resorts in Macau, which the company said it spent more than $15 billion to develop over the last 20 years.

Analysts are unsure when Macau’s casino market will return to profitability. Prior to the $6.25 billion sale of the Venetian, Palazzo and Venetian Expo, Las Vegas Sands saw 72 percent of its pre-pandemic annual revenue ($12.12 billion in 2019) come from its Macau properties.

CBRE gaming analyst John DeCree told investors he wasn’t convinced Sands Macau will reach 2019 revenue levels even if the market fully reopens in 2023. He blames policy moves implemented by both Macau lawmakers and the government in Beijing.

“We still believe the Macau recovery will remain elusive for most, if not all, of 2023,” DeCree told investors.

That sentiment is why Sands executives focused attention on Marina Bay Sands, the Singapore property that is in the initial stages of a planned $3.3 billion expansion. It is just one of two casinos in the island nation.

The company is currently spending $1 billion to upgrade the 2,000 hotel rooms and suites at Marina Bay Sands while adding several “premium segment-focused amenities,” CEO Rob Goldstein said.

The only issue with the upgrade is that up to 500 of the property’s rooms are offline during the renovation.

When the Marina Bay expansion was first announced in 2019, Las Vegas Sands officials said the market needed additional hotel rooms. Sands President Patrick Dumont said the timing of development for a new tower is still under consideration.

“As we make more progress on our work there, we'll be able to disclose further about where we're headed,” Dumont said. “We're very optimistic about it. We think it really will speak to a very powerful part of the market.”


The Monarch Casino Black Hawk, which is operated by Reno-based Monarch Resorts, is seen on Aug. 15, 2022. (Howard Stutz/The Nevada Independent)

Monarch hopes Atlantis plans has the same effect as Colorado expansion

If it worked in Black Hawk, Colorado, why not Reno?

Earlier this year, Northern Nevada-based Monarch Casinos completed a $442 million expansion to its Monarch Casino Resort Spa in Black Hawk and the benefits showed up on the company’s third-quarter earnings.

Revenues for the two-casino company grew almost 20 percent in the three-month period to $134 million, which led to a 31 percent increase in cash flow. Monarch doesn’t break out results between the Black Hawk casino and the company’s Atlantis in Reno.

But analysts credited the Colorado property in the mountain community 45 minutes from Denver, which saw its casino double in size and open a 516-room hotel tower.

“Clearly, the ramp-up at Black Hawk has been more robust and rapid than we had originally anticipated,” Macquarie Securities gaming analyst Chad Beynon wrote in a research note. “There is more room to grow further with the new Black Hawk amenities attracting a new caliber of player not seen in a long time.”

While not committing to making the same financial investment into the Atlantis, Monarch CEO John Farahi said the company plans to renovate the hotel rooms at a second Atlantis tower, following the upgrades of an older tower completed this spring.

The company did not reveal costs for the hotel renovations, but Farahi said the guest response to upgrades, “has been very positive.” He also said Black Hawk has “a long runway ahead to fully unlock its potential.”

Truist Securities gaming analyst Barry Jonas suggested Monarch’s share of the Reno market could expand through the hotel renovations and an ongoing upgrade of the property’s retail space. 

“Management has already seen some increased return on investment following its projects thus far and remains confident that continued investment will further enhance Atlantis's positioning in the market,” Jonas told investors in a research note.

A day after the quarterly earnings announcement, Monarch’s stock jumped more than 14 percent on the Nasdaq National Market.

Stifel Financial gaming analyst Jeffrey Stantial told investors Monarch was “comparatively well positioned given economic tailwinds” in both the Denver area and Reno.


Attendees watch a demonstration of a gaming machine at the Aristocrat booth during G2E on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Slot developer Joe Kaminkow takes on an expanded role with Aristocrat

Joe Kaminkow is a member of two casino industry-related halls of fame and holds more than 130 patents for various slot machine designs and networks. His fingerprints are on more than 1,500 games across multiple gaming formats and markets.

Retirement – or even slowing down – are not words found in Kaminkow’s vocabulary.

Just ahead of the Global Gaming Expo, Aristocrat Gaming said Kaminkow would take on an expanded role as the company’s chief innovation officer. He joined Aristocrat in 2013 as a senior vice president of gaming development.

“We are delighted that someone of Joe’s caliber will be working full-time across the company to champion innovation, helping us to further penetrate growth opportunities and develop even more outstanding talent within our business,” Aristocrat Gaming CEO Hector Fernandez said in a statement.

Joe Kaminkow of Aristocrat Gaming

Kaminkow led slot machine development teams at International Gaming Technology in the 1980s and 1990s, creating more than 1,000 different slot machines based on pop culture and entertainment, including “Wheel of Fortune,” which remains one of the casino industry’s most popular products.

He also has designed more than 100 different pinball machines, which earned him a place in the Pinball Hall of Fame. He was a 2018 inductee into the American Gaming Association’s Gaming Hall of Fame and was the initial inductee to Eilers & Krejcik Gaming’s Slot Hall of Fame that same year.

After leaving IGT, Kaminkow took a brief hiatus from gaming.

“Time away allowed me to catch my breath and gain a better perspective,” Kaminkow said in a 2013 interview. “Sometimes you grind yourself into the trees and you can’t see the forest.”

Before joining Aristocrat, Kaminkow co-founded Spooky Cool Labs, a Chicago-based design studio that created social games for the internet. He sold the studio to social gaming giant Zynga, where he later served as chief creative officer.

Kaminkow will work with Aristocrat’s teams in the slot machine division, social games area and the company’s real money online gaming business.


Construction workers gather in front of the $1.9 billion MSG Sphere on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

MSG Sphere taps former Allegiant executive to oversee $1.9B project

The $1.9 billion MSG Sphere is a year from opening behind the Venetian resort, but the entertainment attraction now has a general manager.

New York-based Madison Square Garden Entertainment hired Raul Gutierrez away from Allegiant Stadium to oversee the overall operations of the Sphere, which is expected to be open by November 2023.

Gutierrez was most recently vice president of operations at Allegiant. He previously held an operations position at T-Mobile Arena, and prior to his roles in Las Vegas, held operations positions with Barclays Center in Brooklyn and BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.

“Throughout my career, I have focused on delivering exceptional experiences for guests, but the opportunity to be part of redefining the venue experience with MSG Sphere is truly thrilling,” Gutierrez said in a statement.

MSG Sphere, featuring a 580,000-square-foot outdoor LED screen surrounding the spherical structure, will have 17,500 seats with a standing-room capacity of 20,000 for entertainment performances, concert residences and sporting events such as boxing.

A 160,000-foot interior LED screen will surround audiences. MSG Sphere will also include 23 luxury suites and a 5.7 million-cubic-feet grand entry in the main atrium.

The Sphere is under development on 19 acres across Koval Drive from the Venetian, which will be connected to the venue through a covered pedestrian overpass.


Attendees gather at the Sightline Payments booth during G2E on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Quotable

Via press release from Sightline Payments

Cashless gaming proponent Sightline Payments has completed a round of funding from J.P. Morgan Payments. Privately held Sightline did not disclose the amount raised, but said the company would work with the investment bank to develop an “omnichannel solution” for cashless wagering at land-based casinos and with online gaming companies.

“We are confident that a strategic relationship with J.P. Morgan Payments will allow us to deliver a unique mobile user experience for those gaming industry patrons and power the digital transformation for gaming operators.”

-          Omer Sattar co-CEO, Sightline Payments

Via press release from Californians for Community Safety, Equality, and Reinvestment

The tribal coalition, which includes Palms Casino Resort owner San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, was seeking to qualify a ballot question in 2024 that would allow California’s Indian casinos to offer mobile sports wagering. A spokesman said the measure fell short of the signature threshold, primarily because the group’s attention was focused on killing Proposition 27, a mobile sports betting question on next month’s ballot that is backed by DraftKings, FanDuel and other online sports betting operators.

“While we believe an age-verified tribal measure represents the best path forward for online sports wagering for California, its tribes, residents and communities, we made a strategic decision this year to concentrate our full resources on defeating Proposition 27.”

-          Roger Salazar, spokesman for the coalition 

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