F-blue, Rio approved; Indiana down again; Biden smoked

Fontainebleau owner Jeffrey Soffer and top exec Brett Mufson are certain to be approved after their audition for the Nevada Gaming Control Board. And why not? Aside from an ancient tax issue involving the Town Square mall, there’s nothing untoward about Soffer’s application. (Trivia question: Upon what casino’s gravesite was Town Square built?) The only beef we have is the NGCB’s habit of waiting until the last possible minute to approve such applications. If something truly noisome turned up it would be too late to address it properly. The Control Board essentially takes itself hostage to the unstoppable momentum generated by large casino projects. As for the total budget for 16-year construction folie de grandeur that is F-blue, nobody’s talking. We have to defer to Citizen Kane‘s stentorian newsreel description of Charles Foster Kane‘s Xanadu: “Cost? NO MAN CAN SAY!” However, we strongly suspect that F-blue will outstrip Resorts World Las Vegas as the costliest megaresort in Las Vegas history, were the tab to be honestly accounted.

Gym rats will be happy with Fontainebleau’s ginormous spa and gym (70,000 square feet total). “Part of our culture and infrastructure is to lean into health and wellness facilities, and that’s why our fitness center and spa are abnormally large,” Mufson explained. We’ll be really impressed if Kate Beckinsale decides to tone her flat abs there. We’re already impressed with F-blue’s George ($215 million) commitment to “historically disadvantaged” (read: minority) businesses. In contrast to the whopping 4,065 rooms and suites, the casino floor is average by Las Vegas Strip standards: 1,300 slots and 128 tables. Then again, when you’ve seen one casino floor in Vegas, you’ve seen most of them, although some (Encore) are more notable than others (The Venetian). F-blue has staked its bet on rooms and copious amenities, so we’ll see if stands—as we hope—or falls on that proposition.

Also auditioning for Nevada regulators was the brain trust from The Rio. The NGCB issued licenses to Dreamscape Cos. President Eric Birnbaum and sundry execs. Although “no issues of concern” were reported, perhaps regulators should have queried Dreamscape’s decision to take casino management in-house, an area in which it lacks experience. Birnbaum walked regulators through Dreamscape’s planned, $350 million revival of The Rio, starting with renovation of the Ipanema Tower. Since Caesars Entertainment let The Rio go to hell, it’s over fervent hope that 350 million clams are enough to undo the damage.

“We thought, instead of shutting the entire property down and doing it all at once, since the property is doing quite well, it would make sense to do it in a phased-in approach,” said Birnbaum, who obviously learned from Virgin Las Vegas‘ colossal mistake. Dreamscape will go one or two floors (or one or two restaurants) at a time, in a rolling renovation designed to create minimal disruption. It’s a well-heeled company with exposure eight major metropolitan markets. We’re pulling for it to reverse the fortunes of what is one of Sin City’s more beautiful resorts.

Gambling revenues continue to come to earth in Indiana, where they were down 3% last month, grossing $188 million. It’s the fourth consecutive downward month for the Hoosier State but the shallowest decline of the four. Still, the state is 7% below where it was before Covid-19 hit, buoyed by one casino. That one, Hard Rock Northern Indiana thumbed its nose at the trend, up 3.5% to $34 million, best in the state. Horseshoe Hammond plunged 18% to $23 million while nearby Ameristar East Chicago slipped 3% to $16 million. The state’s two racinos went in opposite directions. Horseshoe Indianapolis was up 3% to $27 million while Harrah’s Hoosier Park dipped 3% to $18 million. Best of the rest was Caesars Southern Indiana, down 6% to $18.5 million. Blue Chip was flat at $10.5 million while Boyd Gaming‘s other property, Belterra Resort, rose 6% to $8 million. Bally’s Evansville was flat at $13.5 million, French Lick Resort jumped 8% to $7 million and Hollywood Lawrenceburg dropped 11% to $12 million.

Sports betting revenue brought in $19.5 million, on handle of $224 million. FanDuel kept $8.5 million, DraftKings nabbed $6 million, BetMGM grossed $2 million and Caesars Sportsbook $1 million. Barstool Sports fell way below our cutoff point.

B Global founder Brendan Bussmann didn’t miss an opportunity to rake politicians over the coals for their avarice and stupidity regarding casino expansion, in an address to Truist Securities. On the plus side, Bussman thinks that the Seminole Tribe will relaunch sports betting in time for NFL season and that North Carolina—where the Lege still is in session—may well green-light Internet casinos. Less to the good were Ohio‘s punitive, 100% tax increase on sports betting revenue and Missouri, where sports betting almost surely have to go to a vote of the people to be approved. New York City‘s casino-selection process remains “stalled” although Bussmann questioned whether it was worth the $1 billion price tag for Resorts World New York to go to Class III status, given how successful it has been with slots alone. Slot routes in Chicago are an issue of whether the city needs the money. Is Bussmann kidding? Chicago always needs the money and now more than ever.

It’s party time in Atlantic City. Our East Coast source reports that Bart Blatstein‘s Showboat water park has no fewer than seven bars. Your move, casinos. Meanwhile, Ocean Casino Resort is trying something new, hosting the July 19 local premiere of the (ugh!) Barbie movie in its large theater, followed by an after-party. And Mayor Marty Small looks like he’ll get his away with the redevelopment of Bader Field. But, this being Atlantic City, it won’t go smoothly. An offshore wind farm wants to run electrical cables under Bader Field. Also, there’s gas and oil contamination that will have to be remediated.

While we’re on environment subjects … Highlighting a disconnect between what the Biden administration says and does, a coalition of New Jersey casino workers upbraided Dr. Jill Biden for a speaking engagement at smoker-friendly Hard Rock Atlantic City. “We’re sure you’ll notice the dangerous odor of cigarette smoke when you walk inside the casino. While this is a temporary experience for you and many of the attendees at the National Governors Association meeting for a few days this week, it’s the reality that we face every day when we go to work,” they wrote.

“We spend eight hours several days a week stuck breathing these carcinogens, and we’re tired of the diagnoses of cancer, heart disease, emphysema and more that result from this,” the open letter continued. “Some of us have even had to deal with the smoke at work while pregnant, left to wonder what hand was being dealt to our unborn children. While the smoking in the casino affects every part of the building and will reach the convention space, we invite you to take a walk on the casino floor to see what we experience on the job every day.” The silver lining to the smoky cloud is that Garden State legislators may finally ban casino smoking in their lame-duck session. ‘Bout bloody time.

Quote of the Day: “It’s on the player to be the professional that you’re supposed to be and earn the money that you’re earning and play in a league that you’re privileged to play in, and protect that league’s integrity by not betting on the league.”—CBS football analyst Boomer Esiason on NFL players who plead ignorance of the league’s anti-gambling rules.

Jottings: Both Las Vegas Sands and MGM Resorts International got a boost from Deutsche Bank analyst Carlo Santarelli, on the strength of their performance in Macao. Sands is now the market’s dominant operator, with 27.5%, while MGM controls a surprising 15.5% despite its relatively limited footprint … Congratulations to Caesars Virginia, which has raked in “tremendous” revenue ($12 million in 17 days) despite being in a most unprepossessing sprung structure. “Our wages and rates being very strong, healthy in the region,” said General Manager Chris Albrecht, “and now that word has spread what a table games dealer can make, what a slot attendant can make, we’re getting just a tremendous amount of output of interest in roles right now” … RIP, Aruze Gaming, which is going out of business on August 18. It was yet another victim of owner Kazuo Okada‘s ineptitude and venality. We hope the 100 displaced workers find new jobs soon … Jake’s 58 Casino Hotel, the New York State casino you’ve never heard about, is moving ahead with a $200 million expansion. The investment would go toward doubling Jake’s VLT inventory … Hard Rock International has a new CFO: Vincent Zahn. A former Wall Street number-cruncher, Zahn comes to Hard Rock by way of Wynn Resorts, an admirable pedigree … Undoubtedly much to the chagrin of Maverick Gaming, four tribes in Washington State have inked new compacts. The Cowlitz Tribe, Nisqually Indian Tribe, Spokane Tribe and Suquamish Tribe will also be eligible for electronic table games under the new deal. The pacts await approval by the Lege … Finally, mega-kudos to Marriott International and Sheraton Cairo Hotel & Casino for a new animal-welfare initiative. The Sheraton will pay to spay and vaccinate stray dogs that live in the area. Now what about the cats?

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Mike McNamara

Mike McNamara

A Las Vegas Realtor since 2008. Mike has a wide range of knowledge around all things Las Vegas.

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