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Indy Gaming: Las Vegas Sands casino expansion effort in Texas fails again

Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz

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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Casino legalization efforts in Texas backed by the Las Vegas Sands ended last week with the same losing result the company has seen going back to 2007.

The company had wanted lawmakers to approve a measure allowing voters to consider a ballot question in November that called for one Las Vegas-style casino resort in each of the state’s four major metropolitan markets. Legislative leaders said they didn’t have enough votes to advance the measure out of the state House.

There was also the matter of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the fervent anti-gaming expansion Republican who oversees the state Senate.

“I've said repeatedly there is little to no support for expanding gaming from Senate GOP,” Patrick wrote on Twitter in a statement released by his office. “I polled members this week. Nothing changed. The senate must focus on issues voters expect us to pass. We don’t waste time on bills without overwhelming GOP support.”

Going into the state’s 2023 biennial 140-day session, this year seemed different for Las Vegas Sands, which has spent millions of dollars in the last 16 years on casino expansion efforts, including costs for lobbying and marketing programs.

In January, the Dallas Morning News said Las Vegas Sands brought on 63 lobbyists for the 2023 session with a mandate to spend up to $5.9 million. The newspaper cited data from the Texas Ethics Commission.

Sands formed a political action committee, Texas Sands PAC, that contributed $2.2 million to statewide officials and dozens of lawmakers from both parties during the 2022 campaign. Also, a study undertaken by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs that found 75 percent of Texans support casino legislation.

In the end, none of those efforts mattered for Sands, which no longer has casino operations in Las Vegas and is focusing on earning one of three available New York City-area gaming licenses. Sands also operates resorts in Macau and Singapore.

In a statement to the Texas Tribune Friday, Las Vegas Sands Senior Vice President of Government Relations Andy Abboud, who has overseen all the company’s Texas casino legalization tries, remained optimistic.

“Our efforts to bring destination resorts to Texas took an extraordinary step forward with the vote in the Texas House of Representatives,” Abboud said. “Although it narrowly fell short of the two-thirds threshold of support required for a constitutional amendment, there is no question that our efforts are on the right track.”

A rending of the front of the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center looking north toward the newly designed main entrance. (Courtesy photo)

LVCVA begins $600 million renovation of convention center’s oldest space

Two years after the opening of the Las Vegas Convention Center’s $1 billion, 1.4 million-square-foot West Hall, the legacy South Hall and related space will receive a $600 million facelift.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority broke ground on the remodel last week that will extend the contemporary design, architecture, and modernization seen in the West Hall to the South Hall along with a climate-controlled interior concourse with the North Hall to provide interior access across the entire campus.

The project will also continue the signature West Hall exterior ribbon roof, which will create architectural cohesion across the entire campus. An outdoor plaza and indoor lobby at the South Hall will create a sense of arrival and provide direct access to the renovated convention space and a second-floor boardroom.

The LVCVA said work on the renovation will take place through 2025, with construction designed to accommodate and minimize disruption to scheduled trade shows. The Las Vegas Convention Center comprises more than 4.6 million square feet, with 2.4 million square feet dedicated to exhibit space and 327,000 square feet set up for meetings.

“We have been the number one trade show destination for nearly three decades, and we are committed to being the number one trade show destination for another three decades,” LVCVA CEO Steve Hill said in a statement. “This renovation will provide our customers with an experience that will make them want to come back year after year."

A “Grand Lobby” between the North and Central halls will be developed along with a newly designed parking lot outside of the Central Hall. A Vegas Loop station to transport guests between the convention center and Wynn Las Vegas and Encore is expected to debut next spring.

Gov. Joe Lombardo during his first State of the State inside the Assembly Chamber at the Legislature on Jan. 23, 2023. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Contentious room cleaning bill awaits signature of Nevada’s governor

A bill removing a pandemic-imposed requirement to clean hotel rooms on a daily basis is headed to Gov. Joe Lombardo for his signature after the Assembly approved the measure without discussion last week.

SB441 put gaming and labor on opposite sides over the room cleaning requirement that was part of SB4, which was approved at the height of the pandemic during a 2020 special legislative session.

Assembly members voted 33-9 to give the legislation its final approval. The no votes all came from Democrats. Earlier, the Senate approved the bill by an 18-3 vote, with three Democrats opposing the measure.

The Nevada Resort Association and industry representatives have said daily room cleaning won’t disappear if the measure passes but want the language removed from state law.

Culinary Workers Local 226 leadership and its members have testified that daily room cleaning was “still a good policy” and was standard practice at Strip and downtown resorts before the pandemic. They also worry passage could lead to job cuts.

Culinary Secretary-Treasurer Ted Pappageorge said the union would seek daily room cleaning language in upcoming contract talks with the resort industry over the new agreements covering 60,000 non-gaming employees.

Update: Gov. Lombardo signed SB441 on 5/17/2023

U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 6, 2021. (Humberto Sanchez/The Nevada Independent)

 Asher was in the room when it happened

Joe Asher was at the forefront of the nationwide expansion of sports betting long before the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed New Jersey’s challenge to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act five years ago.

Now the president of sports betting for International Game Technology, Asher has a long history of running Nevada sports betting operations, including past stints as the CEO of William Hill U.S. and helping Cantor Fitzgerald lobby for a change in state laws to launch the first mobile sports betting devices.

Prior to his gaming career, Asher was an attorney. As one of a handful of gaming and sports betting leaders advocating for the activity’s nationwide legalization in 2017, ahead of the Supreme Court ruling, he was in the courtroom watching the justices quiz the attorneys for New Jersey and professional leagues.

After the hearing, he had lunch in Washington, D.C., with two other lawyers, former solicitor general Ted Olson who argued the case on behalf of New Jersey and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

They surmised correctly that the Supreme Court would ultimately legalize sports betting. After watching the arguments, Asher said the lunch “had a very-much celebratory feeling, for sure.”

Former MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren, attending the Resorts World Las Vegas opening on June 24, 2021, is now a board member at PlayStudios. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Ex-MGM boss Murren named CEO of Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

Jim Murren has traded the desert for the high seas.

The former chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International has been named CEO of the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, which offers 7-to-10-night voyages in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and Central America.

Murren, who retired from MGM Resorts in 2020, was named executive chairman of the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection in January and took over as CEO last week. He replaced company founder Douglas Prothero, who will continue to serve as a board member and strategic advisor to Murren.

“I am honored to take the role of CEO and look forward to collaborating with the talented team to continue to drive growth and innovation,” Murren said in a statement. “Thanks to Doug, we have a strong foundation to build upon, and we will continue to deliver a truly unique luxury cruise and super yachting experience, which will be unparalleled in the expanding luxury market,”

Murren led MGM’s casino expansion on the Strip and throughout the U.S. during his tenure as CEO, which began in 2008. He announced plans in February 2020 to retire from the company at the end of 2020 but stepped away a month later due to the pandemic. Murren headed the state’s COVID-19 Response, Relief and Recovery Task Force that secured personal protective equipment, medical supplies and testing kits for the state. 

In 2021, Murren and two former Morgan Stanley executives created Acies Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) developed as a publicly traded shell vehicle to take another company public. It was used for the listing of Las Vegas-based social game developer PlayStudios. Murren is a member of the PlayStudios board.

Exterior of Emerald Island Casino in Henderson on Wednesday, July 21, 2022. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)


Via press release from the Emerald Island Casino

One of the oldest casinos in downtown Henderson celebrates its 20th anniversary Saturday. The Emerald Island is celebrating 20 years since twin brothers Tim Brooks and Mike Brooks bought the Pot of Gold Casino and remodeled and rebranded the property. The Emerald Island is a sister property to the Rainbow Club.

“Over the past 20 years, Emerald Island has enhanced its services, remodeled and weathered many storms, such as the 2008 recession and the 2019 COVID-19 pandemic. Our ability to thrive is a true testament to the loyalty of our guests, many of whom have come to know our staff as extended family and friends.”

-          Tim Brooks and Mike Brooks, owners, Emerald Island

Via article in CDC Gaming Reports

Southern California’s San Manuel Band of Mission Indians named Peter Arceo as chief gaming officer for the San Manuel enterprise. In his new position, Arceo assumes strategic leadership responsibilities for innovation and growth of the Tribe’s gaming portfolio, including its flagship Yaamava’ Resort & Casino in San Bernardino County and the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.

Arceo has 28 years of gaming industry experience, including time as the general manager of Yaamava’.

“We have experienced significant growth under Peter’s management and leadership and look forward to tapping more into his depth of tribal and overall gaming experience, history, and knowledge to help us navigate our path to the future as leaders in gaming.”

-          Lynn Valbuena, chairwoman, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians


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