Report from Chicago; Gray Lady in high dudgeon


A picture worth half a billion.

If you have a bridge in Brooklyn or perhaps some swamp land in Florida, then Oak Street Real Estate Capital would like to hear from you. It just paid $200 million for the site of Bally’s Chicago and $300 million for a share of an imaginary casino yet to break ground. Oak Street, understandably “declined to comment” on the deal when the Chicago Tribune came calling. You have to hand it to Bally’s Corp. It literally got something for nothing, even though it’s still at least $1.2 billion shy of the finishing line. And selling off its empire to pay for tomorrow has its limits, as Bally’s is fast running out of things it can peddle. At least Gaming & Leisure Properties got tangible value when it paid Bally’s $1 billion (insert Dr. Evil inflection here) for Bally’s Rhode Island assets. Oak Street just got played.

Speaking of Chicago, we got a good look at both Bally’s permanent site (the Tribune‘s printing plant) and the temporary-to-be, Medinah Temple. Regarding the latter, it’s in a very densely packed section of the north side, which will be a boon to foot traffic but the city isn’t even remotely prepared for drive-in patrons in an already congested area. (Parking, anyone?) Also, has Bally’s cut a deal to limit amenities within the casino? Nearby businesses will probably not welcome competing restaurants or stores within Medinah Temple. As for the permanent site, it’s well outside the tourist corridor but at least has good visibility from the interstate.

However … if Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) thinks that suburbanites are going to be peeled off from Hard Rock Northern Indiana or Rivers Des Plaines, well, we’d like some of that ‘happy dust’ she’s been snorting. Suburbanites hate to drive into the city under the best of circumstances and are highly unlikely to sit in the already-heavy traffic on the expressways to have a flutter in the city when they can go to Rosemount or Rockford or (very soon) Waukegan. Oh, and one thing that rendering doesn’t show is that there are a pair or railroad tracks snaking right past the back door of the Tribune site, embracing the building. We don’t know how active they are but it kind of crimps Bally’s style.

Always a Debbie Downer where legalized gambling is concerned, the New York Times is at it again. “Four years ago, betting on live sports was illegal in most of the United States. Now, fans watching games or attending them at stadiums are barraged with advertisements encouraging them to bet on matchups, not just watch as spectators,” frowns the Gray Lady. It bemoans the breakout of sports betting following Christie v. NCAA, which dealt a death blow to federal prohibitions. What has followed is “the largest expansion of gambling in United States history,” swoons the Times.

True, the paper makes some good points, arguing that the likes of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D, above) got taken for a ride by Big Gaming. The American Gaming Association projected $40 million in taxes from the legalization of Internet gambling and sports betting. 2021’s haul? $21 million. Then again, one should never believe revenue projections that come from the industry. Haven’t we learned from the dreaded “Penn National Effect” yet? The Gray Lady applauds New York State and New Hampshire for taxing the bejeesus out of sports betting (51%) without questioning whether this makes the business unprofitable. One could argue that, in the Empire State, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) saw Big Gaming as a bunch of marks desperate to make a nickel even if to cost them 10 cents and took them for all they were worth. And you’d be right. That doesn’t make it OK.

The NYT also gets the vapors over promotional free play, as though it were something sinister, when it’s really a case of the consumer getting to pit the big books against one another. “It is the modern-day equivalent of the free bus ride to Atlantic City casinos with a roll of quarters thrown in for the slots,” shrieks the Times, bewailing the consequent loss of tax revenues. True, there’s been some buyer’s remorse about this, particularly in Virginia, where the Lege is trying to claw been promos, which seems like dirty pool to us. They made a bad bargain, they should have to live with the consequences.

Unsubstantiated claims of overwhelmed regulators across the country are made and Dave Portnoy is wheeled out in order to imply there is something inherently unsavory about betting on sports. We despise Portnoy but Penn Entertainment is not responsible for “turning him into a public spokesman for sports betting.” Portnoy was that already before Jay Snowden started a bromance with him.

The Times‘ peroration darkly concludes, “Betting companies have made clear that the ultimate goal is to bring so-called iGaming to states across the nation, where customers can use their mobile phones to play blackjack, poker and other casino-style games.” The horror, the horror. Seriously, the NYT should have done some research into i-gaming and, if it had, would have learned that it is expanding very slowly and with great difficulty, unlike easily grasped sports betting. The nation’s premier newspaper really can do better than this.

Has Bart Blatstein, owner of the Showboat in Atlantic City lost his mind? Or is he right to think big when Mayor Marty Small (D) thinks small? Blatstein has pitched a $3 billion redevelopment plan for defunct Bader Field. Says our East Coast correspondent, “It would be a 12-year, multi-phase, 10,000-rental project with canals, retail, walking trails, hotel, etc. Bart will joint venture with the Pestronk Brothers. Bart reported he has joint ventured with them in Philadelphia for billions worth of property in the past. Blatstein said what A.C. needs is people/population, not a ractrack, and points out that it once had a population of 65,000. Now it’s about 38,500.

“Seems the prior project for rental units and an auto racetrack was never approved by the State of New Jersey. The other plan was given the ‘OK’ (in a nutshell, as he might say) by Mayor Small. Small detail, but New Jersey must approve all the major expenditure for Atlantic City. Perhaps the idea of an auto race rack and residential units next to each other was too wacky even for the people who work for state government in Trenton (like our fine governor).” We say give Blatstein a shot. He’s one of the very, very few visionaries on the Boardwalk. Just Joe Lupo and Bart Blatstein. Nobody else.

Jottings: Good news for Atlantic City, very bad news for casino employees. A Fairleigh Dickinson University poll shows that a biparitsan majority (51%) of Garden State voters oppose expanding casino gambling beyond the Boardwalk. (Sorry, Meadowlands.) But 57% of voters want to keep casino smoking in Atlantic City as is, with only 29% in favor of an outright ban … There goes that November comeback of gambling in Macao. Once again Covid-19 is on the rampage and casino stocks are feeling it, with Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands trending downward … Get ready to place your bets, Maryland. Tomorrow’s the big day for online sports wagering. Seven of the 10 initial licensees are ready to go, including habitual first movers DraftKings and FanDuel. Regulators are hoping for $26 million in tax dollars in Year One … This weekend should be good for Las Vegas. Sin City is turning out to be a popular destination for Thanksgiving. Observed Boston College‘s Rev. Richard McGowan, “Clearly this is a real boost to the Las Vegas economy when families will come over a holiday period.” Oh, the irony … Sports betting isn’t for honkies anymore—just ask Ojos Locos Sports Cantina y Casino at Hotel Jefe. Young Hispanic males are among the primary drivers of sports wagering in the U.S. and Fifth Street Gaming is looking to cater to them … Get ready for Hard Rock Bakersfield. The Tejon Indian Tribe has been green-lit to move ahead with their $600 million, Hard Rock-branded casino project. The plan is for a 400-room hotel, 3,000 slots and an unspecified amount of blackjack. You can bring your RV.

Quote of the Day: “Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.”—Mae Jemison



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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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