Las Vegas Sun

April 18, 2014

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Columnist Jeff Simpson: Why Wynn, Station are likely to pass on Penn

Jeff Simpson is business editor of the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at [email protected] or at (702) 259-4083.

Leading Las Vegas casino operators don't agree on prospects in the Keystone State.

Among those planning or hoping to compete in Pennsylvania are: Boyd Gaming Corp., Venetian parent Las Vegas Sands, Harrah's Entertainment, Binion's owner MTR Gaming and Millennium Gaming, the owner of the Cannery and operator of the Rampart.

But Steve Wynn's Wynn Resorts and Station Casinos are taking a pass on gaming opportunities there.

Wynn told me a couple of weeks ago that Pennsylvania's high tax rates and the state's failure to allow table games are the reasons he doesn't plan to compete there.

"We're builders of destinations. Not slot parlors," Wynn said.

And Station bosses were almost as succinct last week in summarizing why they are not actively pursuing slot licenses in either Pennsylvania or in Florida's Broward County.

Station Chairman and Chief Executive Frank Fertitta III, President Lorenzo Fertitta, Chief Financial Officer Glenn Christenson and Chief Development Officer Scott Nielson met for 90 minutes last week with Sun gaming reporter Liz Benston and me to discuss the company.

Although Frank Fertitta III said "Never say never," about plans to operate in either state, he followed by saying: "When we look at jurisdictions with slot parlors and 50 percent marginal tax rates, we think we have better ways to spend our time and money."

On the other hand, the limited number of slot licenses available in populous Pennsylvania make the state attractive for others.

Boyd and Las Vegas Sands each want to build one of the state's seven stand-alone slot parlors.

Millennium and MTR Gaming want licenses for Pennsylvania's seven racetrack slot parlors, called racinos.

And industry behemoth Harrah's wants slot parlors in the state's two biggest cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, as well as a racino license outside Philadelphia.

Lorenzo Fertitta said those operators aren't foolish. "Anyone who gets a license is going to make money," he said.

But it's not enough money to convince the Fertittas -- or Wynn -- to spend the time to play in Pennsylvania.

***

Nielson told me later in the week that disgraced Republican casino lobbyist Jack Abramoff had lobbied on behalf of a central Michigan Indian tribe to prevent a tribal casino Station is trying to develop near Grand Rapids, Mich.

Station executives have never employed Abramoff, he said. In fact, although the Fertittas are strong Republicans and regular GOP donors, company executives have never met Abramoff, Nielson said.

Station's Gun Lake tribal partner, Nielson said, "was the victim of what he attempted to do."

***

If the first craps-table throw was indicative of the South Coast's future success, Boyd Gaming and its Coast Casinos subsidiary are poised to do well.

A few minutes after the South Las Vegas Boulevard -- extreme south -- locals casino opened its doors a couple of weeks ago, a middle-aged man dressed in army-style camouflage stepped up to the casino's six-table crap pit, ready to be the first to battle the game's constant house advantage.

After buying $20 in never-used one-dollar chips to keep as souvenirs, the felt warrior placed three twenties on the table -- but not on the pass line, where most players place their initial bets. He bet on the don't pass.

"Money plays," said the dealer.

And then the man shot himself in the foot, rolling an 11, a loser for a don't pass better.

"Yo-leven. Take the don'ts," said the dealer.

Making one last-ditch attempt to come out ahead, the South Coast's first roller placed three hundred dollar bills and a twenty on the don't pass -- $320.

And rolled a seven -- another loser.

"I gotta get out of here," he said.

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