New York: Trump out, Bally’s in; North Carolina Lege flops

New York City will be stuck with failed casino owner Donald Trump‘s name on an overpriced public golf course until 2035 … unless Bally’s Corp. can swing a deal to buy the obstreperous mogul out of his lease with the city. This means Bally’s is pivoting back to its first, controversial site choice: Trump Golf Links Ferry Point. Comptroller Brad Lander has already given his thumbs-up to the deal, effective Sept. 21, which gets it over a significant hurdle. After all, the Bill DeBlasio administration had wanted Trump out of their sooner rather than later and the current regime doesn’t seem any less ill-disposed toward the unsavory millionaire. So it’s a done deal, right?

Wrong. The horse is still a long way from the stable. Back in the 1990s, Trump reneged on a franchising deal with the Rank Organization that would have seen Trump Castle rebranded as a Hard Rock casino, an accord that probably would have saved the struggling property. In a fit of caprice (some would say instability), Trump quit the agreement on the night before it was to be announced. The Castle would become Trump Marina, then the Golden Nugget. Could history repeat itself? Given Trump’s insufferable ego, he may well bridle at being quietly ushered out a side door and sabotage the Bally’s agreement. Keep your fingers crossed that he plays well with others this time.

If he does (a mighty big “if”), Bally’s moves from extreme long shot to get a Five Boroughs casino to a medium-range one. We still don’t know where Chairman Soo Kim would get the money to built a Gotham megaresort but he’s still got a couple of years to figure that out. Yoked to Trump, Bally’s would never have been chosen and sexual predator Trump wouldn’t have gotten a gaming license, period. The E. Jean Carroll verdict alone would have put paid to that. If the gratitude Bally’s earns for showing Trump the exit ramp lands it a casino concession, the company has a valuable piece of property for itself, one that’s passed by 40 million drivers annually. If not, it’s stuck with a pricey golf course.

“I am delighted that Trump’s name will no longer deface city parkland,” wrote an ecstatic Lander. Added a Parks Department flack, “We are supportive of the transfer of the Ferry Point Golf Course to Bally’s, and we are confident they will deliver a high-quality golfing experience to New Yorkers.” Bally’s will keep the 17 acres on which the golf course outright its and transfer another 17 back to the parks people. The site encompasses 180 acres in total, more than enough for a destination resort.

Trump is likely to make a huge profit on the deal—a rarity for him—as he got the land from the Michael Bloomberg administration for peanuts and has only paid $5 million for its use over the last eight years, thanks to preposterous greens fees. ($205 for a round on weekends.) His $10 million clubhouse will be history, if everything goes Bally’s way, as it sits on the rumored casino location. A lot of things will have to break in Bally’s direction, especially Trump’s ability to behave predictably, but the company is suddenly a plausible contender for an NYC resort.

It’s a busy weekend for Bally’s, as it will be throwing open the doors to Medinah Temple as soon as possible. The former Shrine Circus hangout will be rechristened a temporary casino, the Illinois Gaming Board having given the nod. This follows what General Manager Mark Wong called “months of extensive validation” by the IGB. By the time you read this, gambling will have been going on since 8 a.m., Chicago time. The early turnout will tell us much about Chicagoans’ fever for casino casino fun. One-term mayor Lori Lightfoot bet heavily on being able to wean her constituents off Rivers Des Plaines and Hard Rock Northern Indiana. We’ll now see if she was right to do so.

Bally’s will be a huge improvement on Medinah Temple’s 2020-3 tenant: nobody. And few will be happier than Temple owner Albert Friedman, who was joined at the hip with Lightfoot. He stands to rake in $17 million a Year One and $9.5 million for each year after that … and we’re betting that it’ll be a while. (Possibly as many as six years.) Bally’s will also be picking up Friedman’s property tax tab. Sweet. Equally sugary was the arrangement whereby the city steered Bally’s into the arms of Lightfoot supporter Friedman. He leases space to nearby Frontera Grill, which we’d recommend for pre-gambling dining … were the service not so shambolic.

In the biggest anticlimax of the legislative season, North Carolina solons adjourned after failing to pass casino expansion in the Tarheel State. We’re disappointed but also a bit relieved. The whole, elongated process was gamey in the wrong sort of way. The legislation was crafted to juice Cordish Cos. into a statewide, private-sector monopoly—after it had liberally showered GOP lawmakers with campaign dollars. Cordish also got a zoning variance for a casino in Rockingham County despite vociferous public opposition. Let’s face it, North Carolina may not be ready for non-tribal casinos.

Speaker of the House Tim Moore effectively sabotaged the enabling legislation by spurning Democratic support and insisting it had to have 61 Republican votes or no deal. With friends like that, who needs enemies? Senate Majority Leader (and Cordish beneficiary) Phil Berger, meanwhile, said that casino gambling wouldn’t pass unless bundled with the state budget, effectively slamming the door on any final hopes. Apparently the state GOP was scared into action partly by grass-roots opposition but mainly by the interference of Donald Trump Jr. What business, if any, Little Donnie has in North Carolina isn’t obvious but he sure put the kibosh on casinos.

Rattling its saber at apparently recalcitrant casino bosses, the Culinary Union set Sept. 26 as the date for a vote on whether or not to strike the Las Vegas Strip. Since Wall Street has been assuming that a new labor accord was a fait accompli, this will come as a bit of a surprise. “It’s disappointing that we are still so far apart from the casinos after months of negotiations,” Culinary Secretary-Treasurer Ted Pappageorge thundered. Talks are continuing and there hasn’t been a wide-area strike in almost 40 years but casinos have been raking it in with less labor (and not too smart about keeping their traps shut about it), so the Culinary has a beef. So will Las Vegas motorists, as they are advised to avoid Reid International Airport, lest they run afoul of 53,000 Culinary members descending upon the Thomas & Mack Center.

The demands of the Culinary and the allied Bartenders Union are manifold, starting with the biggest-ever wage increase, followed by A) reduced housekeeping workloads, B) mandatory daily room cleaning, C) more panic buttons, D) an increased security presence, E) safety committees, F) tracking of customers who commit sexual harassment, G) new job opportunities for workers made redundant by technological advances, H) the right to return in the event of another cataclysmic job loss and I) the right to strike against non-union restaurants on property … they’re looking at you, Eataly.

“When it’s been three or four days since I’ve been assigned to clean a room, I’m never sure what I’m going to find behind that door. I worry that there could be a body, a totally trashed room, or a stash of guns like what was in the hotel room on October 1,” complained Bellagio employee Evangelina Alaniz. Added Aretha Wilder, a Flamingo cocktail waitress, “Since the pandemic, there has been a difference in guest behavior and a lack of security guards to deal with problems. Last year, there was an incident at a bar: A guest started shouting racial slurs at one of the cocktail servers who was behind the bar. He ended up spitting his drink on the waitress and trying to steal another guest’s bag before leaving.” Why does Big Gaming think working conditions like those should be the norm?

Kudos to Isleta Resort & Casino for doing the right thing and making a post-Covid-19 ban on smoking permanent. As Interim CEO Diana Howard explained, “I would read guest reviews from the hotel and the casino, and the number one complaint was only the stench on the property from the smoke. We didn’t really like it to begin with, but … it’s what was done. It’s what our competition was doing.” Maybe the competition will begin to see the virtues of going smoke-free. Employees, unsurprisingly, “overwhelmingly” ratified the new regimen. Customers like it, too. “We have happier guests. We are not getting any complaints anymore about how they smell when they leave and how their hotel room smells,” Howard told a subcomittee of the New Mexico Lege. Added Isleta human resources boss Charles Walters, “We saw our revenue going up, we saw our player count going up. We did not see the complaints that were going out there historically.” It also makes it easier to attract new workers. It’s a win-win-win.

Jottings: Congratulations to Monarch Casinos. Its spa in Black Hawk, Colorado, was chosen as the fourth-best hotel spa in the U.S. by USA Today. According to Spencer McKee (no relation), guests can choose from “an aqua spa, a brine inhalation treatment, a hot stone sauna, herbal steam rooms, experiential showers, a laconium lounge, massage treatment options, and more” … On Thursday, the ribbon was cut on $190 million worth of renovations at mammoth Potawatomi Casino Hotel in Milwaukee. 600 slots and 16 table games have been added, along with a new sports book. CEO Dominic Ortiz called the result “even better than Vegas” … Speaking of sports books, Venelazzo has opened a 12,000-square-foot William Hill one. It’s garnished with two Yahoo Fan Caves that feature 98-inch TV sets and seating for as many as eight. We’re getting a case of FOMO … Guests wanting a libation at Bellagio can now try The Vault, a high-end speakeasy selling $55 cocktails. There’s also “minimal food service,” albeit of a very chi-chi variety …

Hard Rock Bristol is underway in Virginia, budgeted at $500 million. The $110 million Phase One will include 303 hotel rooms, a spa, a gym, and an indoor and outdoor pool. It is expected to open next summer … In Nebraska, construction begins next month on the permanent Grand Island Casino & Resort. A “24-hour, Vegas-style experience” is promised … Atlantic City casinos are debuting so-called TIBO slots. According to our Boardwalk source, “The new machines would attempt to predict when a customer is ready to leave, then give her/him a bonus to keep playing.” In other words, they would further incentive gambling—just in time for Problem Gambling Education Month, no less!

Quote of the Day: ” … a concern of mine for many years has been the fact that there are any number of academic and commercial studies around the world that use small numbers of subjects such that no one can derive any meaningful benefit from the results. This, of course, doesn’t stop stakeholders from using those results to try to influence policy.”— University of Nevada-Las Vegas Distinguished Fellow Alan Feldman, on the inadequacy of much contemporary problem-gambling research.

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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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