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Real estate mogul Jeff Gural is in the midst of a busy summer. His Meadowlands Racetrack just hosted the prestigious Meadowlands Pace on Saturday, and The Hambletonian — harness racing’s biggest day — is on tap for Aug. 3. On Friday, Gural will be on hand for a ribbon-cutting for the new FanDuel sportsbook at his Tioga Downs racino in New York State’s Finger Lakes region. But comments made by former New York Governor David Paterson on Monday at first would seem to put Gural in an awkward position. That’s because Paterson — just named as a vice president for Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s Sands Corp. casino business — pitched the idea of having New York State move up its timeline to allow for quicker approval for adding a casino in New York City. But the sooner a New York City casino opens, the sooner it also will have sports betting on the menu, thereby siphoning off some gamblers who currently visit the Meadowlands to place their bets and watch the ballgames. It also would mean that Gural couldn’t get a second windfall from the Meadowlands Sports Complex — touted as a likely site in a failed 2016 referendum — opening a casino before New York put one in the region. On the other hand, Gural would make money on his Tioga Downs property, because such a change to the 2013 casino law can only happen once the four upstate New York commercial casinos are compensated. Gural told NJ Online Gambling that not only does he expect the state to accelerate the bidding process, “I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t happen.” New York’s two-phase casino plan The six-year-old law allowed for construction of four casinos in the upper part of the state — excluding New York City and its suburbs of Long Island as well as Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties. Only after the new casinos get up to six years to grow their product could the state issue three other licenses “downstate.” Gural said that as it stands, the state can’t even put out a Request For Proposals (RFP) until December 2023. He added that with bid submissions, reviews, and finally a vote of the New York State Gaming Commission — and then construction — no Big Apple casino would be open before 2025 at the earliest. “It would be foolish of the state to wait so long,” Gural said. “My guess is it makes the mose sense to start the process next year.” Just one problem: Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose resistance to mobile sports betting foiled a bill in the legislature in Albany last month, sounded skeptical of an “early start” for downstate casinos in a interview with The Associated Press, saying, “I’m not a big fan of the gaming industry.” Gural, however, believes the sheer volume of revenue for the state will prove irresistible. A number of reports have suggested that MGM — which acquired Yonkers Raceway earlier this year — would be comfortable with a $500 million licensing fee to turn its Empire City property adjacent to the horse track from a slots parlor into a full-fledged casino. Paterson implied that same ballpark price for each of the three new licenses in his comments. “Imagine what the state could do with a billion and a half dollars,” Gural said. The heavy frontrunners for the licenses are Yonkers in Westchester County and Aqueduct, another racino that is located in Queens. Paterson suggested a casino close to LaGuardia or JFK airports in that same borough, but that presumably would raise the hackles of Aqueduct owner Genting. “You almost have to give licenses to Aqueduct and Yonkers, or you’d put them out of business,” Gural said. “The third one is complicated. You’d have to have a neighborhood that wants [a casino]— look at what happened with Amazon [in Long Island City in Queens].” A Bronx facility likely would just cannibalize much of Yonkers Raceway’s potential casino revenues, and Staten Island is relatively small and remote compare to the other boroughs. Brooklyn has numerous neighborhoods on the rise, presumably reducing the number of options there. Made in Manhattan? Of course, the biggest bang of all economically would come from a Manhattan casino. But as he has said previously, Gural is beyond just skeptical. “No politician I’ve ever spoken to thinks that would ever happen,” said the politically connected Gural, a progressive philosophically. “The hotels, the restaurants, the theaters — none of them want to compete with a casino. “And the politicians say they don’t want to make it too easy for people working in Manhattan to just go downstairs and gamble on a Friday night and then come home with no paycheck. They feel like that would be making it too easy to gamble.” Those concerns mirror Cuomo’s opposition to legalization of mobile sports betting, even though anyone with a smartphone can easily find unregulated offshore sportsbooks in a matter of seconds. Should Cuomo ever change his mind, Gural is well-covered on that front. He already has a deal in place with FanDuel to offer mobile sports betting whenever the state gets around to allowing it. Gural gets B&M sports betting in NY, too Speaking of FanDuel, the daily fantasy sports giant turned sports betting operator will run the sportsbook at Tioga Downs that is having its soft launch this week. Gural told NJ Online Gambling that this FanDuel sportsbook will be “much smaller” than the Meadowlands operation, where the Victory Sports Bar contains the main sportsbook. A smaller sportsbook can be found on the opposite side of the Meadowlands Racetrack, and the latter sounds like it will be a better comp to the Tioga Downs sportsbook. New York state law will keep anyone under 21 from even entering the sportsbook, even though — as in New Jersey — you can bet on the horse races at age 18. As for the New York standardbred horsemen, Gural said their purse supplements are not connected to the fortunes of the sportsbooks coming to the state. By John Brennan Reprinted with permission of njonlinegambling  

People who earn their livelihoods working with horses in eastern Will County, Chicago, are hoping recent gaming-expansion legislation will revive the struggling harness racing industry. “It’s a good business,” said Kim Roth, 51, of Crete, a horse trainer and owner. “Obviously, it’s dwindled. Hopefully (the legislation) will turn things around. It’s going to help everything.” “Everything” involves thousands of jobs directly and indirectly related to harness racing, according to an industry trade group. There are investors who own horses, men and women who breed and train the animals and drivers who man the carts known as sulkies. The trade involves veterinarians who care for animals, blacksmiths who shoe them, farmers who grow hay, occupations related to the transport of horses and entry-level jobs of mucking stables and grooming horses. Roth works out of Sawgrass Training Center near Crete, where trainers and riders take horses around a half-mile limestone track. Because of economics, there are far fewer horses bred in Illinois today than in past years. “Our breeding industry has collapsed,” Roth said. “That’s going to have to be completely rebuilt.” To put it in perspective, there were 124 standardbred horses foaled in Illinois in 2018, according to the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association. During harness racing’s peak in the 1980s, there were more than 2,000 horses foaled each year in the state, the group said. Trainer Kim Roth, 51, of Crete, works with Ashlee's Fine, a 2-year-old standardbred Illinois horse she is training, on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, at Sawgrass Training Center near Crete. "Our breeding industry has collapsed, " she said of the decline in the number of horses bred in Illinois. (Ted Slowik/Daily Southtown) “The purses have got so low, people can’t afford to pay their training bills,” Roth said. Nelson Willis, 75, of Crete, has worked in the business for 62 years, starting as a horse groomer when he was 13 years old. “You’ve got to learn how to take care of a horse before you learn how to train one,” he said. Willis said he trains “22 or 23” horses at Sawgrass and employs five people. Previously, he said, he had a dozen people working for him when he trained 55 horses at Balmoral Park near Crete. “I’ve seen the best of times and right now it’s the worst it’s ever been in this state,” Willis said. “So many people have left here.” For years, track owners, breeders and others in the trade pleaded with legislators to allow gaming positions at racetracks. Illinois was losing out to Ohio, Indiana and other states that drew more competitors and spectators, they said. Trainer Nelson Willis, 75, of Beecher, holds onto a horse halter outside a barn on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, at Sawgrass Training Center near Crete. "I've seen the best of times and right now it's the worst it's ever been in this state," Willis said of the harness racing industry in Illinois. (Ted Slowik/Daily Southtown) After years of efforts, the General Assembly recently passed and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a measure to expand gaming. The major changes allow casinos in Chicago, the south suburbs and four other areas; legalizes sports betting; permits video gaming terminals at racetracks and other large venues; and designates a new racetrack for the south suburbs. Tinley Park officials have said a developer is interested in building the racetrack on the site of the former state mental health facility northwest of Harlem Avenue and 183rd Street. The historic approval happened seven years after lawmakers passed a measure to expand gaming and address losses in the horse racing industry. Former Gov. Pat Quinn vetoedthe 2012 measure. “That left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth,” said Roger Welch, 55, of Beecher. “That was the biggest letdown. One person with a veto single-handedly stopped Illinois horse racing in its tracks.” Welch is a fourth-generation horseman who was inducted into the Illinois Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2012. He has bred world-champion horses, such as Fox Valley Anabell, a horse owned by the late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. The harness racing industry in Illinois has rapidly declined in the past five years, Welch said. “There’s no market to sell (horses) in Illinois,” Welch said. “I hope it’s not too late” to bring back the industry. Welch said he remembers when he was a child and visited Sportsman’s Park near Cicero. Crowds were so big, people paid for parking and admission, he said. Attendance dwindled as years passed, despite free admission and parking. Welch said he still lives in Beecher but spends the horse-racing season in Indiana, working mostly at Harrah’s Hoosier Park Racing and Casino in Anderson, northeast of Indianapolis. Since 2016, Hawthorne Race Course on the border of Cicero and Stickney has been the Chicago area’s only track with harness racing. Hawthorne also hosts thoroughbred racing. Balmoral ended its harness-racing tradition after the 2015 season and became a show-jumping venue in 2017. Maywood Park near Melrose Park also closed in 2015. Sportsman’s Park hosted its last horse race in 2002 and was demolished in 2009. Other harness racing tracks were Washington Park Race Track in Homewood and Aurora Downs Racetrack. Fire destroyed Washington Park in 1977, and Aurora Downs went out of business in 1976. During a 99-day peak stretch in the summer of 1979, Sportsman’s averaged daily attendance of 13,136 patrons who wagered a daily average of $1.6 million, the Chicago Tribune reported in 2017. Back then, harness racing outdrew thoroughbred racing at Arlington Park. Thoroughbreds — the types of horses raced at the Kentucky Derby — are larger but more delicate animals, Roth said. “Standardbred horses are tougher,” she said. Breeding stallions and mares for thoroughbred racing also is more expensive. Harness racers turned to Amish farmers for standardbred workhorses, Welch said. “Amish breeders were breeding every buggy mare they had,” he said. Thoroughbred racing has jockeys; standardbred racing has drivers. Several factors contributed to the decline of harness racing in Illinois, including the introduction of riverboat casinos in the 1990s. In 1995, state lawmakers introduced “purse recapture,” a provision designed to help racetracks when live simulcasts of out-of-state races were introduced. Recapture awarded track owners a share of money that otherwise would have been allotted to purses. The lower purses in Illinois drove many horsemen and horses to races in other states. The decline in racing quality further diminished attendance. “It was a chain reaction,” Roth said. The new legislation ends purse recapture after nearly 25 years. “Purse recapture was the killer,” Welch said. “The racetracks kept recapturing the money and the wagering dollars were less and less every year.” The Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association estimates that harness racing-related jobs stand at about 20,000 in Illinois, down from a peak of more than 60,000 two decades ago. The new legislation will create jobs indirectly related to harness racing, including racetrack positions such as tellers, bartenders, servers, marketers and accountants, the IHHA said. “The ripple effect of our industry on the Illinois economy is wide and difficult to grasp sometimes,” IHHA President Marty Engel said in a statement. “It was one of our missions to make sure that our economic impact was understood as valuable.” Blacksmith Jimmy Halvorson, 35, of Crete, shoes a horse on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, at Sawgrass Training Center near Crete. "A lot of people left. Now there's a lot of talk that they want to come home," he said of harness racing-related jobs in Illinois. (Ted Slowik/Daily Southtown) Jimmy Halvorson, 35, of Crete, is a blacksmith who shoes horses at Sawgrass and other training centers. “It seemed like we had a dying business here,” Halvorson said. “A lot of people left. Now there’s a lot of talk they that want to come home.” Despite track closures, declining attendance and job losses in the industry, horsemen and women are optimistic that the new legislation will create growth within a few years. “I’m excited,” Welch said. “I think it’s going to be real promising.” Welch and others believe breeders, buyers and workers will return to Illinois as the harness racing industry is re-established. “This is going to get our breeding business going again,” Roth said.  By TED SLOWIK  Reprinted with permission of The Chicago Tribune

WOODBURY, N.Y. — The state Legislature has approved the creation of a video gambling hall in this Orange County town. The legislation allows Empire Resorts, which operates the Resorts World Catskills casino and Monticello Raceway in Sullivan County, to use the VLT (video lottery terminal) license that it held for the Monticello site at the new location.  Empire discontinued video gambling at Monticello earlier this year. The new operation, expected to have more than 1,100 VLTs and employ about 400 people, is to be at the site of the long-closed Nepera Chemical plant in Woodbury, which has been reduced to rubble and is contaminated. Empire Resorts will be responsible for cleaning up the site and will get no tax breaks, according to state Sen. James Skoufis, D-Woodbury. New York state will kick in $1.2 million of offset the cost of municipal services associated with the project. The legislation allowing the VLT parlor commits Empire Resorts, which has Gov. Andrew Cuomo's support, to preserve at least 1,473 full-time jobs at Resorts World casino. Empire has suffered steep financial losses since opening the casino in early 2018, and it recently got permission from the state to reduce the number of gaming tables there. The legislation also mandates the “long-term operation of harness racing in Monticello." The video gambling operation still must go through the approval process at the local level. Mid-Hudson News Network Reprinted with permission of The Daily Freeman

New York residents continue to leave the state in large numbers, driven away in large part by the state’s high cost of living and onerous taxes. So why — as state lawmakers scramble to pass bills during the final days of the 2019 legislative session — is anyone in Albany focused on providing tax breaks and cost savings for casinos? Changing the rules for casinos to allow them to keep more of the public’s money should be the last thing on lawmakers’ minds. Yet lawmakers are trying to do exactly that. One bill (A8400/S6562) sponsored by Assemblyman Phil Steck would allow full-service casinos like Rivers in Schenectady to pay half what they currently pay to support the state’s horse-racing industry. Racinos like Saratoga Casino Hotel, which offer both video gaming and harness racing, would pay the other half. Under the 2013 agreement that legalized private casinos in the state, the casinos are required to pay 100 percent to the funds. That 100 percent payment was put into the agreement because the new casinos were expected to draw significant business away from the existing racinos, and by extension take money out of the horse-racing industry. And they have. To further punish the racino by forcing it to absorb half the horse-racing obligations, in addition to the revenue losses to the casino, adds insult to injury. Among the reasons cited in the bill for offering the break was that the state’s four casinos have contributed millions for education and local property tax relief. The bill memo also cites competition from the new MGM casino in Springfield, Mass., as a threat to the financial viability of the Rivers casino. This isn’t the first time lawmakers have tried to help the casinos this year. Earlier in the legislative session, some lawmakers were pushing to lower the tax rate paid by the casinos on slot machines. Competition from the MGM casino was also cited as a justification. Casino operators knew that the tax rate on slot machines and full payment into the horse-racing funds were part of the price of doing business in New York.  They shouldn’t cry about it now.  And it isn’t as if the Rivers casino is being bankrupted by these expenses. A report issued in April found that gross gaming revenue for the Rivers casino increased 11.5% over the previous fiscal year, up to $157.1 million in 2018-2019. The casino also had its most lucrative month ever in March. On top of that, ironically, the casino is now allowed to offer off-track betting on horse-racing at track odds. And soon, it will be allowed to offer sports betting. Does that sound like a business in need of special relief from the state? These expenses might be cutting into profits. But casino operators went into this arrangement with their eyes wide open. They should be forced to uphold their end of the bargain. Until someone comes up with a truly compelling reason for relaxing the original financial obligations agreed to by the casinos, lawmakers should keep their focus on those who really do need a break — the taxpayers of the state of New York. Gazette Editorial Board Reprinted with permission of The Daily Gazette

ALBANY – An effort to move the gambling operations that shuttered in April at Monticello Raceway to a new betting facility in Woodbury, Orange County, is picking up key support in the state Legislature with just days to go before the legislative session ends. A bill introduced this week would allow the casino owners of Resorts World Catskills to open a new video-lottery facility near the Woodbury Common outlet center. The proposal was quietly floated earlier this year by Empire Resorts, which owns the struggling Sullivan County casino, after it shuttered the gaming operations at Monticello Raceway and combined it with Resorts World. Now the idea has picked up support from the local delegation in the state Senate and from Assembly Racing Committee chairman Gary Pretlow, D-Mount Vernon, who said earlier this year that Empire Resorts approached him with the plan. "It does mean a lot to them to preserving jobs at one site, increasing jobs at another and in turn increasing revenue and education funding," said Senate Racing Committee chairman Joseph Addabbo, D-Queens. "If we have that opportunity, I think we should take it." What could happen in Orange County? The Casino at Monticello Raceway is closing The bill states the new gambling hall would "maintain the state video lottery gaming revenue previously coming from video lottery gaming operations Monticello racetrack by authorizing a video lottery gaming facility to be operated in Orange County by the owner of Monticello racetrack." The bill would also require it to be at least 30 miles from Empire City Casino and Raceway in Yonkers and also provide payments to Yonkers Raceway because of its relative proximity to the Westchester County track. The bill would seem to address many concerns in the region about the future of horse racing and Resorts World Catskills, which has struggled to meet revenue projections. Resorts World closed its VLT parlor at Monticello Raceway in April, but has kept open the harness track at Monticello Raceway. Without the VLT revenue, Pretlow and local horsemen have expressed worry that Resorts World might ultimately try to close the track. The casino said it doesn't plan to close the track. Why is this being considered? A new VLT parlor near Woodbury Common, the popular destination, could be a boon for Resorts World and Monticello Raceway, which would share in the profits from the new facility — as would the state. The bill notes the track and casino are Sullivan County's largest employer with more than 1,600 employees. "To provide sustainability to the business, Empire Resorts seeks statutory authorization to relocate its current VLT allocation to a location with a more stable revenue base," the bill states. It added that if the bill becomes law, "this will provide the state with incremental video lottery gaming revenue and enhanced racing support payments and long-term continuation of harness racing at Monticello racetrack." It is unclear whether the bill has the support within the Legislature to get approved before session is set to end Wednesday. By Joseph Spector Reprinted with permission of Poughkeepsie Journal

MGM Resorts International and its real estate arm, MGM Growth Properties, have finalized their $850 million purchase of the Empire City Casino and its 97 acres of developable land in Yonkers, New York, just 15 miles north of Manhattan’s Times Square. The purchase gives MGM — which opened its $960 million MGM Springfield resort casino in August — a fourth property in the Northeast. MGM bought out its partner and took control of the Borgata in Atlantic City and opened MGM National Harbor in Maryland, both in 2016. MGM Springfield President and CEO Michael Mathis said MGM’s operation in Yonkers will help it market MGM Springfield, especially through MGM’s M life rewards program. “The Empire City Casino acquisition in Yonkers is designed to tap into the underserved NY market, which will complement the MGM Springfield market. MGM’s unmatched East Coast presence in major markets allows for significant cross marketing and customer loyalty programming that offer us a clear competitive edge. We are well positioned to be a leader in the Northeast’s multi-billion dollar gaming market," Mathis wrote in an email. The New York Gaming Commission approved the deal Monday, as well as MGM’s permission to run harness racing at the 120-year-old track. Continued racing is a requirement under Empire City Casino’s license to run slot machines. “We are pleased to welcome the 1,200 employees at Empire City Casino to the MGM Resorts family,” said Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts, in a news release. “With this new addition to the MGM Resorts portfolio, we have now gained a foothold in the high-density New York City region and we look forward to leveraging the MGM platform to maximize value in this evolving marketplace.” Tribal Winds: East Windsor casino project has new name, new push from Foxwoods and Mohegan to compete with MGM Springfield This comes as the Connecticut legislature is asked to pass legislation allowing casino expansion to East Windsor. MGM bought the property from the Rooney family, owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers and owners of Yonkers Raceway since 1972. The Empire City Casino opened in 2006. “What’s incredibly exciting is the amount of opportunity MGM Resorts will bring to the employees at Empire City, as well as Westchester County, the city of Yonkers, and the State of New York,” said Timothy J. Rooney, president and CEO of Empire City Casino, in a news release. “With destinations throughout the world, from resorts to casinos to entertainment, MGM has a tried-and-true formula for success. ... the potential for growth at Empire City has absolutely no boundaries.” Over the years, MGM has told investors it plans to leverage the marketing power of its East Coast casinos, offering package deals and cross promotions to get visitors moving among the casinos and looking to MGM’s Vegas properties for longer vacations. MGM is also in the final stages of buying Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park in Ohio for $1 billion. Empire City Casino is 125 miles and a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Springfield. Empire City doesn’t have state permission to run table games. It offers slot-machine-like electronic games at 5,200 video-lottery terminals operated by the state lottery. MGM Resorts said will pay an additional $50 million to the Rooneys if Empire City is awarded a license for live table games by the end of 2022 and if MGM Resorts gets the license by the end of 2024. But New York has a moratorium on new casino development until 2023. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told the news website Lohud.com that he is aware that MGM would like to get a full casino with table games in Yonkers, but didn’t indicate he would look to make any changes to the time frame. “I know it’s a topic of conversation, but I have no opinion or intention of making any changes at this time," Cuomo said. "It’s an evolving field, there’s no doubt about that.” The website USBets said MGM might relocate the required harness racing meet to Belmont Park, a thoroughbred track and home of the Belmont Stakes, to free up space for development at the Yonkers track. By Jim Kinney Reprinted with permission of the MassLive.com site

Amid fears the loss of a proposed $140-million hotel-casino complex could cripple it, London's Western Fair District is already banking on other money —  not all of it certain — to keep the 150-year-old organization alive. Winded, but not down. Amid fears the loss of a proposed $140-million hotel-casino complex could cripple it, London’s Western Fair District is already banking on other money —  not all of it certain — to keep the 150-year-old organization alive. Part of that hope rests on the Ontario government, which the chief executive is counting on to extend a helping hand to the Western Fair’s horse-racing track, as it has done elsewhere in the province, even though Doug Ford’s government is battling a huge budget shortfall. Hugh Mitchell, president of the Western Fair District, said the organization asked the government seven weeks ago to shore up horse racing in London if the private casino operator that runs the slots pulls out of the site. Gateway Casinos and Entertainment, which had been locked in long-running negotiations to get a better lease deal at Western Fair, this week confirmed it has signed a lease in southwest London that will take it out of the fair district, planning instead to build a new casino complex along Wonderland Road near Wharncliffe Road.   Casino giant inks site deal to leave Western Fair District Canada’s largest private casino operator has ditched plans for a new hotel, restaurant and casino complex at the Western Fair grounds in London, instead inking a deal at a site in the city's south... Under the existing lease for the slots casino at the fairgrounds, Western Fair District rakes in $6.2 million a year — money that may be gone for good after the lease expires in March 2020 unless the Progressive Conservative government steps in to help fill the loss. “There’s a silver lining in every cloud, and we’ll find it,” Mitchell said Thursday, after issuing a news release that stressed Gateway’s move puts the fair’s horse racing “in jeopardy.” “The important thing is that we’re not asking for any more than the current lease than was negotiated with government for racing,” Mitchell said. But whether that help will come is far from a sure thing. The Ford government faces huge hurdles trying to whip Ontario’s budget red ink, which the province’s fiscal watchdog says will rise to $12.3 billion this year — half a billion dollars more than originally forecast. Asked by The Free Press whether the province plans to support horse racing at Western Fair, one London-area MPP in Ford’s cabinet was sparse on details. “The PC government understands the importance of live racing in Ontario, including here in London.  We will continue to support the industry moving forward,” Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek wrote in an emailed response. “However, this is a matter between Gateway, the City of London and the Western Fair. We’ll continue to monitor the situation closely,” added Yurek, the Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP. Support for horse racing, meaning help to pay racing purses that support the industry, was one of the reasons Ontario first located its mini-casinos with slot machines, like London’s, at racing locations. RELATED Casino giant inks site deal to leave Western Fair District City hall moves on rezoning for Gateway casino and hotel Is price paid for Southwestern Ontario casinos still a secret? You bet Western Fair boss focusing on big-ticket plans as departure nears Politicians endorse expanded gambling in London Ontario has since moved to get out of directly running gambling operations, hiving off big chunks of the business to private operators like Gateway, which was awarded gambling rights for much of Southwestern Ontario. The government announced this fall that slots will remain in a number of communities where the racing industry depends on the revenue, including in Hiawatha in Sarnia — just minutes away from a new casino opened by Gateway in Point Edward. That’s a good sign, politicians said Thursday. “Both the Western Fair and the city and the province seem to be committed to a vibrant harness racing industry,” said Coun. Josh Morgan, who also sits on the Western Fair board, but spoke in his capacity as a city politician. “Aside from harness racing, I’m not concerned about the viability of the Western Fair as an organization,” he said, adding it continues to diversify and add other business attractions, including its hockey arena, animal and trade shows and its farmers’ market. Morgan added Gateway’s southwest location will be a “benefit for taxpayers” because it’s a fully-taxable site. “The business units still stand on their own merits,” Mitchell said, adding there are events at the fairgrounds every weekend from September through June. Mayor Ed Holder weighed in on Gateway’s move, saying he has “a lot of confidence” in leadership at Western Fair to keep the organization profitable. “Western Fair has been around for 150 years, and part of the strength is that it continues to reinvent itself. I’ve lived in London long enough to see them make great strides,” he said, citing the slots, market, arena and Agriplex. Horse racing has had a “see-saw” relationship with provincial governments, Holder said, noting Gateway’s move could be a challenge but that it’s still early to figure out next steps for the Western Fair. Keeping Gateway’s investment — “hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs” — in London is good for the city, he added. “Businesses have the right to choose their own location, what works best, and I have to applaud Gateway for their strong financial commitments to the city,” Holder said. The British Columbia-based company needs rezoning for its new southwestern site before it can build a casino along Wonderland Road. “Councillors want to keep the jobs in London, have the direct investment in London. Gateway, to their credit, wants to be in London,” Holder said. “My feeling is that council will look at one of two choices: Either they’ll (Gateway) be in London at a place of their choosing, or not. To me, that’s the clear thing. I’m not sure that it’s government’s place to tell business where they should do their business.” Megan Stacey, The London Free Press Reprinted with permission of The London Free Press

Australians are increasingly using mobile phones to place bets - but fewer are taking a punt, according to a study by Australian research company Roy Morgan. Some 3.4 million Australians bet on a sporting event, horse racing, harness racing (trots), greyhound racing or some other event in the 12 months ending in March 2018, Roy Morgan said in figures released on Monday. That figure was down from more than 3.7 million Australians six years ago.  More than one-third of Australians (34.1%), make their bet using the Internet compared to 15.7% six years ago. Tabcorp Holdings was used by 17.4% of bettors, while Sportsbet.com.au was second with 12.9% of users. Crownbet had 6.5% of users. While fewer Australians are gambling, those who do place a bet are using their mobile devices more often. "The growth is clearly being driven by the increasing use of mobile phones to place bets," Roy Morgan said, adding that 22.7% use their mobile phone now compared to 5.6% in 2012.  Most bets are not placed online, however. “A majority of Australians who bet still don’t bet via the Internet. Over two-fifths of Australians who bet have not used the Internet to place a bet and these are the key market companies offering online betting need to target to grow their revenue," Michele Levine, CEO of Roy Morgan, said in a statement after the results were released. The Australian market has significantly changed over the years.  Tabcorp merged with Tatts Group in late 2017, Sportsbet was bought by the Irish Paddy Power Betfair, and 80% of Crownbet was acquired by the Canadian gaming company, the Stars Group, in March.  By Nicole Gheller Reprinted with permission of The Gambling Insider 

MANALAPAN, NJ -- May 14, 2018 -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that states can legalize sports betting, breaking up Nevada's monopoly on the practice. The court upheld the legality of a 2014 New Jersey law permitting sports betting at casinos and racetracks in the state and voided the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Some states see sports betting, like lotteries, as a potentially important source of tax revenue. The Supreme Court justices struck down the entire federal law on a 6-3 vote. "The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own," Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion. The state law at issue would allow people age 21 and above to bet on sports at New Jersey casinos and racetracks but would ban wagers on college teams based in or playing in the state. Shares of several casino companies moved higher following the ruling, including Caesars Entertainment, up 6 percent and Penn National Gaming, up 4 percent. Others gaining included MGM Resorts, Boyd Gaming and Churchill Downs. Wynn Resorts stock recaptured some of its losses from earlier in trading, down 1.9 percent on the day. Industry analysts have said that dozens of states might legalize sports betting if they are not barred from doing so by the federal law. While awaiting Monday's ruling, seven states — Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Iowa, New York, Mississippi and West Virginia — had laws prepared to make sports betting legal. Thirteen other states — California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and South Carolina — have plans or proposals to consider legalizing sports betting. The ruling takes the U.S. a step closer to legal sports betting in numerous states, possibly even nationwide. Currently, the practice is legal only in select places such as Nevada, home to the gambling capital Las Vegas. The current illegal sports betting market is worth billions of dollars annually. Click here for full article Courtney Stafford  Michael Sheetz, Reuters contributed to this report.

NEW KENT COUNTY, Va. — A hub for gambling is taking shape in a historic area of Virginia between Richmond and Williamsburg, signaling sharp change in a state that long resisted the lure of gaming revenue. Two weeks ago, a Chicago company announced plans to buy and reopen the dormant Colonial Downs horse-racing track, Virginia’s only facility for major thoroughbred events. The deal — worth some $20 million — was made possible when the General Assembly this year legalized a type of video horse-racing game that some have likened to slot machines. Just a few days earlier, the Pamunkey Indian tribe disclosed an interest in land a short hop up the highway from Colonial Downs as the possible site of a $700 million casino and resort. While that project could take years to come about, the tribe has the right to seek the casino under federal recognition that it won in 2016 and has partnered with a billionaire investor. [A famed Va. Indian tribe seeks federal recognition amid casino fears] Virginia is one of only 10 states that have so far resisted any form of casino gambling, unlike neighbors Maryland, West Virginia and North Carolina. Its conservative legislature turned away riverboat gambling in the 1990s, outlawed Internet gambling cafes in the 2000s and has kept a casino bill bottled up in a Senate committee for the past five years. An artist’s rendering illuminates plans by the Pamunkey Tribe to open a resort and gaming development could bring the first casino to Virginia. (Pamunkey Tribe)   But momentum for gambling is getting a strong push from the popularity of the MGM Grand casino just across the Potomac River in Maryland, which estimates that at least 40 percent of its business comes from Virginia. In March alone, Maryland’s six casinos generated more than $44 million for that state’s education trust fund. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has taken note and said it may be time for something similar in the Old Dominion. “I think there is the potential for it. Obviously, we’re going to take it one step at the time,” Northam said. “If that’s something Virginians want to participate in, why not look at doing it here in Virginia, rather than those resources going to other states?” Such a step would be hard for some to stomach. Virginia House Speaker M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights) voted against the horse racing bill, and is even more opposed to the idea of a major casino. “I have a long record of opposing the expansion of gaming in Virginia, particularly casino gambling,” Cox said via email. “I do not believe opening the Commonwealth to casino gambling is in the state’s long-term best interests.” But his party is changing. The Colonial Downs legislation was sponsored by a Republican from Fauquier County, and the GOP delegate representing New Kent County — where both the track and the casino site are located — said he is excited about the possibilities. “I think the mores, the social concerns over that have weakened a bit,” said Del. Chris Peace (R-New Kent). “I get the sense that if it was done right . . . New Kent is a very hospitable community and wants progress and would be a good partner.”   Historical horse racing Horse racing has always been an easier sell in Virginia than casinos, thanks to racing’s long history here. Virginia claims that the first thoroughbred race in the United States was held in Gloucester in 1752.   But the state that produced Secretariat had turned away from the highest levels of the sport until Colonial Downs opened in 1997, on Interstate 64 about 30 minutes east of Richmond. Virginia has other facilities for steeplechase and harness racing, but this is the only thoroughbred track. Owned and operated by Jacobs Entertainment of Colorado, the sprawling facility with Georgian-style construction also supported a network of as many as nine off-track betting parlors around the state. Over the years, though, Jacobs clashed with the state’s breeders, who wanted more racing with larger purses. Unable to resolve differences, Jacobs stopped racing in 2014. [Va.’s status as holdout on casino gambling hurt Colonial Downs] The Virginia Equine Alliance — a coalition of interests including breeders, harness racers and steeplechase groups — found a possible buyer for the track in a Chicago company called Revolutionary Racing. But to make the economics work, the buyers wanted the ability to install a new type of product called historical horse racing machines to draw business even when there are no live races. The devices use video from old races with all identifying elements removed. Players can see the odds and make bets.   In this year’s General Assembly session, Del. Michael J. Webert (R-Fauquier) sponsored legislation to legalize the historical racing machines. Webert is a farmer whose family has a long involvement in horse racing. Many of his neighbors are part of the annual Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase classic, which draws 60,000 spectators and was held Saturday. Revitalizing horse racing would have “a much broader impact than most people believe,” he said. A study commissioned by Revolutionary Racing claimed that a revitalized Colonial Downs could generate $41.6 million per year in state and local tax revenue. While the General Assembly has been reluctant to approve gambling-related legislation, Webert said he felt this year was the right time to push for it. “The makeup of the House is different,” he said, referring to the fact that a crop of young Democrats, who might be friendlier to such measures, made gains in the House of Delegates in last fall’s elections. Webert’s bill passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support and only modest debate. It was signed by Northam in April, clearing the way for the track sale.   With racing projected to start next spring, Webert said he could see a Pamunkey casino being a logical complement to Colonial Downs. “Now that Maryland has opened their casino, we have gambling in pretty much all the states around Virginia,” he said. “There are folks who believe the morality side of gambling is bad . . . but, well, if they could spend that money here and the commonwealth could harness some of that revenue and put it to good use, why not?”   Economic independence The Pamunkey tribe occupies 1,200 acres formed by an oxbow bend of the Pamunkey River in King William County, adjacent to New Kent County. It is said to be the oldest Indian reservation in the country, dating to the 1600s. The tribe spent more than 30 years seeking federal recognition through an administrative process that gave it the ability to pursue economic projects such as gambling. The six other Virginia tribes that won federal recognition this year used a political process and — to help win support — stipulated that they would not seek to build casinos. Pamunkey Chief Robert Gray said his tribe, which has fewer than 400 members, needs a way to become economically self-sufficient. The reservation land is beautiful — with low fields, wooded wetlands and the broad, twisting river on all sides — but does not generate any income. “We would love to not be reliant on federal programs,” Gray said, “to have our own economic drivers funding the programs that we want to provide for our tribal members — housing, medical, job placement, education. It’d be great if we could just pay for that ourselves.” The tribe is pursuing several possibilities, including becoming an Internet service provider, he said. But none of the other options would have the impact of a casino and resort. The tribe has released few details about its plans beyond the $700 million figure for a 1,200-room hotel and casino, a spa and multiple restaurants. Last week, it disclosed that it had an interest in a 600-acre site near Quinton in New Kent County, just off I-64. The parcel was bought by investor Jon Yarbrough, a billionaire with ties to Native American gambling, as first reported by the Daily Press. There’s still a long way to go, and the Pamunkey could consider other sites. Getting the land put into trust — a requirement before the work could begin — has taken years for tribes in other parts of the country. To have Class III gaming such as slot machines and roulette would require forming a compact with the state to share revenue. And the Pamunkey are likely to face opposition from competitors. The backers of the MGM Grand even lobbied the federal government against recognizing the Pamunkey during the tribe’s application process, trying to head off the potential for a rival casino in Virginia. The uncertainty produced a cautious official reaction last week in New Kent County, a largely rural area that serves as a bedroom community to Richmond on one end and Williamsburg on the other. “At this point, we don’t really have enough information to even comment on it,” said Matthew Smolnik, the county’s director of community development. “We’re working internally to figure out what we need to do and what the next steps are.” The casino would be a cannonball in the local economic pool. New Kent’s biggest private employer is a hospital, followed by a road contractor, Smolnik said. The tribe projected that the casino could generate 4,000 jobs. In the meantime, the Colonial Downs racetrack is likely to move into the top spot. At its peak, the track put about $750,000 a year directly into the county’s coffers, Smolnik said.   ‘Why not just keep that here?’   The prospect of both facilities being sited in New Kent in the next few years already has the community buzzing. “It’s all been a little bit much,” said Jeanna Bouzek, vice president for operations at Colonial Downs, as she prepared the grounds for the big sale announcement last week. “We’ve gone from no gambling to now we’re poised for this opening up” — she gestured at the entrance to the track — “then a casino. I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime, to be honest.” “I’m telling you, it’s exciting, man,” said Terence Davis, a real estate agent at the Coldwell Banker office near Colonial Downs. Davis lives in the Kentland golf community adjacent to the racetrack and said property values have suffered since the shutdown. The golf course almost closed. Now it’s all roaring back, with the possible casino as icing on the cake. “It’s the best news I’ve heard,” Davis said. He often drives to Maryland to gamble, he said, “so why not just keep that here in Virginia?” If there was a note of concern, it was that the pair of developments might be too much, too fast. “I understand why the Pamunkeys want to do this,” said Courtney Sodan, who runs Sodan Armament with her husband just off the highway near Quinton. “I’m not opposed to the principle of them wanting to provide income, but I’ve never been a big fan of casinos and gambling.” She said she worries that so much change might ruin the rural character of the area. “I was against the lottery, so I’m an old-school Virginian,” she said. “I just wish there were other options.” But there aren’t many alternatives that promise this kind of revenue. So far this year, Maryland’s six casinos have hauled in more than $414 million, with nearly $150 million of that going to state and local coffers. “They’re reaping a lot of money out of it,” said Virginia state Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), who has seen many failed gambling efforts during his 42 years in the legislature. With the state struggling to boost funding for education and to expand health care, Maryland’s windfall looks especially enticing. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t do what Maryland’s done,” he said. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Post

After almost three years of debates, the City Council of Sudbury, Ontario, voted Tuesday evening in favour of the rezoning procedure needed for the construction of the Kingsway Entertainment District. Although the casino project was approved, it would need to be given the green light by the court, as the battle between supporters and opponents of the new casino is now going to Ontario’s newly founded Local Planning Appeals Tribunal. At the Greater Sudbury City Council meeting, which started 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, councillors passed an amendment of the Official Plan which included the rezoning of the land where the proposed casino and entertainment complex is supposed to be built. The council voted 11 to 2 in favour of the amendmentand the only officials who voted against it were Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti and Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier. Last month, the city’s Planning Committee approved three rezoning applications filed by developer Dario Zulich which were for a casino, an arena, and a parking lot. With the council’s vote, the rezoning of the 20-hectare vacant lot on the Kingsway was ratified and is very likely to move the project forward. The plans for the new complex, named Kingsway Entertainment District, include a casino, a hotel tower, and a CA$100-million concert arena. It is still unclear who would develop and operate the hotel, but the Boreal Hospitality Group and the Intercontinental Hotels Group said they are interested in the project. Gateway Casinos and Entertainment announced that it would be investing $60 million into the casino, which would replace the Slots Parlor at Sudbury Downs, a harness racing track. Currently operated by Gateway, the slots venue includes a little over 400 slots that would be relocated to the new gambling facility. In addition, the casino that would be built on a 6.96-hectare parcel of land would have three different restaurants. The Stinging Attack against the Project Continues Tuesday’s vote ended months of heated debate and harsh criticism against the Kingsway Entertainment District with various groups of society opposing the casino facility, in particular. The decision of Greater Sudbury City Council was taken after hours of discussion regarding the potential benefits and most of all, the potentially negative impacts of the proposed complex on the local community. Previously expressed concerns were once again raised by casino opponents at last night’s meeting, including the criticism that no studies on the environmental and economic impact have been done. According to some people, the land treatment with salt for the parking lot may harm the city’s main source of drinking water, the Ramsey Lake. Others, including many health experts, express concern for the problem gambling rates in the area, which may see a dangerous spike with the opening of a new casino. In addition, the new gambling venue might have even a more dramatic impact on Sudbury’s poorer communities located in close proximity. This was one of the main issues pointed out a couple of weeks ago in a joint open letter by representatives of around 50 religious groups. Anti-casino campaigners from the Casino Free Sudbury group released a report last month which focused on the risks Kingsway Entertainment District poses to the economy. The study, carried out by consultant company urbanMetrics, suggests that the casino may struggle to attract customers as it is located in a remote area. According to the findings, the only way the gambling facility would be able to generate some revenue is to divert revenue from other businesses in the city. This is why Tom Fortin who leads the Casino Free Sudbury group says that he and another 500 businessmen from the area are opposing the project. They are expected to file a notice of appeal in the province’s new authority on such matters, the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal. by Daniel Thompson Author: Daniel Thompson Daniel had previously worked as a correpsondent and editor for several local Canadian news websites. He developed true interest in the ways of the gambling industry after several accidental visits to casinos with friends.  

More than 50 faith leaders, including Sault Ste. Marie Bishop Marcel Damphousse, have banded together to oppose a $60 million casino project on the eastern edge of Greater Sudbury. But so far the faith side is losing the battle against gambling, with just one more vote to go at city council on April 10. The proposal was passed at a marathon planning committee meeting March 26. “Whoever develops an addiction and loses everything, it’s churches and social groups and the synagogues and the mosque who are going to be the ones picking up the slack,” said Christopher Duncanson-Hales, a member of a committee opposed to the a casino. “We do the charity in the Church. That’s our job and we’re up for it. But this is the justice side of it. You have to fight to stop it in the first place.” The proposed casino site is surrounded by low income and subsidized housing, not far from a seniors’ complex with more than 1,000 residents. The people on fixed incomes are among the most vulnerable to personal ruin through gambling, the University of Sudbury theologian said. “It’s in the middle of low-income housing where the health unit and the Canadian Mental Health Association has clearly stated that the closer proximity to the casino and the impact on people of lesser means or in subsidized housing is proportionately greater,” said Duncanson-Hales. He predicts that if the casino is built Holy Redeemer Catholic Parish’s independent food bank will be overwhelmed by demand. Gambling isn’t new to Sudbury. The Sudbury Downs racetrack has offered parimutuel wagering on harness racing for generations. After Ontario opened up to other forms of legal gambling in 1993, Sudbury Downs installed slot machines in 1999. In 2016 the province sent out a Request for Proposals on what it called the “Northern Gaming Bundle”including North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, Kenora and Sudbury.  By February last year Vancouver-based Gateway Casinos had the contract and was in control of the slots at Sudbury Downs. Plans quickly evolved for an expansion of gambling to the “Kingsway Entertainment District” where the city is planning on a $100 million arena for the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves and a hotel. The 407 slot machines at Sudbury Downs generate more than $2 million a year for the City of Greater Sudbury, which has a population of 161,500. The company employs 141 people. The claim that expanded gambling is going to create more jobs and generate new tourist dollars is empty, Duncanson Hales said. “It’s not creating jobs. It’s taking jobs away,” he said, adding that city council has pushed aside studies that show the social costs of easier access to gambling outweigh the supposed benefits.  For the most part Sudbury citizens are somewhere between resigned to an inevitable expansion of gambling to hopeful the new entertainment district will be a plus, said Sudbury Living magazine editor Vicki Gilhula.  “Ten thousand people care, the rest do not,” she said. By Michael Swan Reprinted with permission of The Catholic Register  

All four non-Indian casinos in state are missing their financial targets Little more than a year since their grand openings, two of New York’s four non-Indian casinos are asking the state for financial help. Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady and Del Lago Resort and Casino in Seneca County are both making their cases with state lawmakers as the negotiations for the 2018-2019 state budget wind down to the final hours in Albany. Details on their requests are elusive and, given the secretive nature of deal-making in the Capitol, quite possibly subject to change or outright rejection. But the casinos' financial data is readily available through an online state database. Both casinos’ performance (and that of the two other casinos) has fallen well short of initial projections offered when their backers were trying to sell their proposals to state regulators and New York voters were being asked to approve limited legalized casino gambling. Rivers projected tax payments of $69 million to $86 million during its first year of operation but paid $45.45 million to the state from March 2017 through February 2018. Del Lago projected $59 million to $76 million but paid $42.92 million. Meanwhile, Rivers’ first general manager departed in November and Del Lago’s general manager announced Tuesday he would be departing at the end of this week. Both had been with their respective operations since before they opened. Also Tuesday, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported that a Del Lago official was in Albany, asking state lawmakers to provide relief. The official would not specify what exactly he was seeking. A Del Lago spokesman would say only that the casino is suffering from recently increased and grossly unfair competition from nearby Indian-run casino operations. Details were likewise hazy on the request by Rivers. A New Jersey public relations agency working for Rivers said there would be no comment on the matter.  A lobbyist reportedly working for the casinos did not return a call seeking comment.  The state Gaming Commission and state Department of Taxation and Finance said the casinos’ requests has not reached the stage where it would be in their hands.  The State Division of the Budget would say only that “budget negotiations are ongoing,” which is certainly very accurate: The state budget deadline is 11:59 p.m. Saturday. However, Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, whose district contains Rivers Casino & Resort, said he has been given a rough idea of what Rivers is requesting, and said he endorses it. In summary, Rivers seeks: To take 10 percent of the tax money it pays to the state and spend it instead on marketing. The goal is to increase patronage, increase gambling and thereby increase its own revenue. (This ultimately would bring in more tax revenue, Steck said; in the meantime, there would be no reduction in host-community payments to the city, county, city school district or to surrounding counties.) An end to the requirement that it pay the state to run security checks on its prospective employees. (Steck said that the state hasn’t been collecting that and doesn’t require it of the nearest competing gambling facility, Saratoga Casino Hotel.) An end to payments Rivers is required to make to Saratoga Casino Hotel to make up for revenue shortfalls in Saratoga. (An official with Saratoga Casino Hotel said this is inaccurate, Rivers pays it nothing — it pays the horsemen’s association to compensate for reduced prize money at the Saratoga harness track.) “None of this is a huge change,” Steck said, adding that the requests seem reasonable and he supports them. Thirteen months into the casino era in Schenectady, he considers Rivers a positive force in the city, having fulfilled its promise of increased economic activity in surrounding areas and a new revenue stream for the local municipalities. “I’m not a fan of casinos generally,” Steck said, calling them effectively a tax on the poor and the middle class.  He said he would have sought other means of boosting state tax revenue had he been governor. But he’s not governor, and the man who is, Andrew Cuomo, didn't share his views. So New York has four non-Indian casinos, and he accepts that as reality. Aware of the pun, Steck added: “You have to play the hand you’re dealt.” James Featherstonhaugh, corporate secretary and part-owner of Saratoga Casino Hotel, said the situation is unfolding much as he expected it would when the state authorized construction of a full-service casino 20 miles south of Saratoga. That is: a 25-percent revenue reduction for the Saratoga Casino Hotel, where the gambling options are limited to video gaming machines and wagers on harness racing. Featherstonhaugh expects nothing good to come of the late-hour move by Rivers and Del Lago to gain relief through the state. “I think it’s clear that the gaming universe in New York could be thoughtfully and responsibly reviewed with the goal being to have both a healthy industry which will continue and grow education revenue in New York,” he said. “But that cannot be done in 48 hours or 72 hours.” Featherstonhaugh thinks it will be another 18 months or so before the financial picture stabilizes for the two Capital Region gambling facilities.  Steck said he hadn’t researched the financial impact of Rivers on Saratoga Casino Hotel, nor has he heard any complaints about it. Rivers opened Feb. 8, 2017. A New York State Gaming Commission database shows that $1.99 billion was gambled at Saratoga Casino Hotel from March 2017 through February 2018, an 18.1 percent decrease from $2.43 billion in the preceding 12 months. By John Cropley Reprinted with permission of The Daily Gazette

MONTICELLO, NY -- It's the biggest of the new Upstate New York full-service casinos, but state financial records show it may have had the smallest opening. Resorts World Catskills, the $1.2 billion gaming and event complex located off Route 17, opened Feb. 8, more than a month ahead of schedule. That meant it opened with just a third of its hotel rooms and a handful of its dining options. Some gambling offerings -- like the poker room and private gaming salons -- weren't operating yet, either. "We're open, but we don't have all the pistons in the engine," said Charlie Degliomini, executive vice president for the casino's owner, Empire Resorts.  That could explain Resorts World Catskills' slow start in earning: Gaming revenues for its opening weeks in February failed to match the numbers put up by two other full-service Upstate casinos -- del Lago Resort & Casino in the Finger Lakes and Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady -- when they opened in February 2017. The Catskills resort, just off Route 17 near Monticello,  also didn't earn as much as either of those casinos did in a side-by-side comparison of the final weeks of this February, according to records compiled by the New York State Gaming Commission. Resorts World Catskills opened amid mounting concerns that the Upstate New York casino market is saturated. The three full-service non-Indian owned casinos that opened in recent years -- del Lago, Rivers and the smaller Tioga Downs in the Southern Tier -- collectively earned about $200 million less in their first year than they had projected when they applied for state licenses.  As a result, there's a lot of attention paid to the state gaming commission reports on what are called  "gross gambling revenue." That's what a casino keeps after winnings are paid out, but before taxes and operating expenses. Here's a comparison of Resorts World Catskills revenues with del Lago and Rivers: First two-plus weeks of opening: Resorts World Catskills: $8.7 million (February 2018) Del Lago: $9.3 million (February 2017) Rivers: $10.3 million (February 2017). Direct comparison of final two full weeks of February 2018: Resorts World Catkills: $5.3 million Del Lago: 6.8 million Rivers: $6.5 million Resorts World opened in February with 2,151 slot machines and 112 table games, plus about one third of its hotel rooms and two dining options. Resorts World Catskills expects to open more of its features by the end of March and into April, Degliomini said. The poker room opened this week, and two restaurants should open in coming weeks. Eventually there will be 10 or more dining options. Also still to come are Resorts World's private gaming salons, which aim to provide "high roller' customers with what the casino calls a "curated" gaming experience unlike its Upstate competitors. "So all in all, it's inaccurate to look strictly at the numbers so far," Degliomini said. "We didn't plan to open until March. So this is, literally, found money. We didn't even budget for it. Wait and see what happens when we get this engine fully running." Analysts who believe the Upstate casino market is saturated say Resorts World does have several advantages: It is closer to the big New York City market than the others and is geared to attract a significant numberof Asian and Asian-American clients. (Its gaming floor features several tables popular with Asian gamblers and much of its staff speaks Mandarin and other Asian languages). It also has a solid international gambling pedigree: Resorts World Catskills is owned by Empire Resorts, which also operates the nearby Monticello Raceway, a racino that combines harness racing and slots. The majority shareholder of Empire Resorts is K.T. Lim, a billionaire Malaysian gaming magnate. He is chairman of the Genting Group, operator of casinos and resorts around the world -- including those under the Resorts World name. In this case, Empire Resorts is the owner, and it is operating as a Resorts World under a license with Genting. There's also more to come: A Rees Jones-designed golf course is under development and a  family-friendly  indoor waterpark will soon be under construction. Both should open in 2019. Don Cazentre writes about Upstate NY casinos for NYup.com, syracuse.com and The Post-Standard. Reach him at dcazentre@nyup.com, or follow him at NYup.com, on Twitter or Facebook. Reprinted with permission of the New York Upstate site

Jeff Gural doesn’t just own Tioga Downs Casino Resort. He’s the chief executive greeter. His uniform: blue jeans, orange Crocs and an open-neck, collared dress shirt with rolled-up sleeves. Gural, 75, a blunt, affable Nassau County native with an edge sharpened from five decades in high-stakes New York real estate development, is a fixture at his resort-casino in Nichols, midway between Elmira and Binghamton. He and his lenders recently plowed $160 million into converting the property from a racino to a true “destination resort” 30 miles south of the Finger Lakes. Now, he asks visitors what would keep them coming back for harness racing, eight eateries and bars, 32 poker tables, 950 slot machines, a 161-room hotel, golf and other attractions. Gural wonders how Tioga can boost gaming revenue, which recently fell 25 percent short of the casino’s $100 million year-one projection. Come Feb. 8, Empire Resorts’ executives will face a similarly daunting competitive challenge as they open Resorts World Catskills in a crowded, cutthroat Northeast gaming market. The $920 million, 1.6-million-square-foot, five-star casino and entertainment complex has an optimistic $277 million year-one gross gaming revenue projection. But that number is realistic if the project dazzles and draws heavily from the New York City area, said Clyde Barrow, a gaming expert at Pyramid Associates of Westport, Mass. With 2,157 slot machines and 150 table games on a 100,000-square-foot gaming floor, the Town of Thompson property will be New York’s 25th commercial or Indian gaming licensee. Resorts World Catskills, which will be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, joins a lineup of venues featuring horse racing, casino gaming, video lottery terminals and off-track betting. It will be New York’s 10th casino, including six Indian locations. Shortly after Resorts World Catskills debuts, the Oneida Nation will open the 11th, Point Place, in Madison County near Syracuse. Twenty-five years ago, scant gambling competition existed in the Northeast, until the Oneida opened Turning Stone in Verona five years after the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allowed federally recognized tribes to open gaming venues. Today, the list of luxurious casino-resorts and gaming options continues to grow throughout the Northeast, as every state except Vermont now has gambling options. Pennsylvania alone has 12 casinos. Two new casinos are planned in Atlantic City, N.J., even after market saturation led five of the city’s casinos to close from 2014 to 2016. And several new and expanded casino-resorts are planned over the next two years, including the bar-raising $2.4 billion Wynn Boston Harbor due next year. “There’s no question the market is saturated,” said Moody’s analyst Keith Foley of casinos in upstate New York. “Market saturation is like a game of musical chairs. At some point, there will be no place left for more gaming.” Statewide, New York falls far below the saturation levels for areas of the country considered full, such as the Tunica-Lula area of Mississippi and the St. Louis market, according to statistical modeling that Barrow performed for the Times Herald-Record. Barrow’s analysis also found that New York officials awarding gaming licenses in 2015 and 2016 misplaced the first four non-Indian casinos in cash-strapped, customer-short upstate areas with limited demand and spending power when they could have allowed one or two easily profitable projects in or near New York City. “What we’re doing isn’t easy,” said Ryan Eller, president and CEO of Empire Resorts, which is building Resorts World Catskills. “If you’re closer (to New York City), you can hit that same revenue number with less investment and less risk. This isn’t a layup. It’s a heck of a lot of investment and risk.” Resorts World Catskills’ operators hope to capture gamers of all ages with gaming and amenities they say are on par with Las Vegas and Macau. The project features an 18-story, 332-suite luxury hotel; a 2,000-seat event center for fights, conferences and concerts; and more than 10 bars and restaurants like an Italian steakhouse by celebrity chef Scott Conant. Subsequent plans include a mid-market boutique hotel, along with 15,000 square feet of additional retail, food and beverage space, due in the fourth quarter of this year. Nearby, the $150 million-plus Kartrite indoor, family water park and hotel is being developed by Pennsylvania’s Camelback Resort co-owners Ken Ellis and Arthur Berry III. It’s due by spring 2019. And golfers will tee off at Resorts World Catskills’ revamped golf course by mid-2019. Odds of success Resorts World Catskills’ leaders say their “comprehensive integrated resort” model will succeed because of the property’s quality and proximity within two hours of New York City. But given the glut of upstate gaming, the casino’s gross gaming revenues will be the real gauge of its success. To be healthy in year one, the casino must earn a daily average of at least $228 to $246 for each of its 2,157 slot machines and a minimum of $1,517 to $1,770 per table game, according to the Record’s calculations based on the project’s state license application data and consultations with gaming industry experts. In year three, after full build out, Resorts World Catskills expects its gross gaming revenues to grow to $301.6 million – meaning average daily earnings of $249 to $268 per slot machine and $1,652 to $1,928 per table game, based on the casino’s current number of slot machines and table games. To put those totals in perspective, the giant northeast Connecticut casino Mohegan Sun averaged $411 per slot machine each day in fiscal year 2006-07, when it had little competition, according to data collected by Connecticut. Around the same time, when Atlantic City’s casinos were still dominant, most averaged daily per table earnings between $2,200 and $3,000, Barrow said. New York’s three new casinos have fallen far short of those standards, as well as their own projections. Through the end of December, Tioga Downs averaged just $170 per machine per day, according to the New York State Gaming Commission. Del Lago Resort and Casino, in Waterloo between Rochester and Syracuse, earned $150, and Schenectady’s Rivers Casino Resort took in $209. Table-game revenue was even worse for Tioga Downs and Del Lago. Between April and December 2017, Tioga Downs averaged $873 per table game daily, del Lago, $1,346 and Rivers, $2,041. Signs of market cannibalization are appearing, too, according to a new casino saturation report by Moody’s, which predicted “Resorts World will be entering a very tough gaming market” in upstate New York. Although Del Lago and Rivers have expanded the overall gaming revenue market, they’ve also taken big chunks of revenue from nearby competitors like Finger Lakes Gaming and Vernon Downs, Moody’s found. Barrow’s analysis also showed competing upstate casinos’ gaming revenues have been cannibalized. “It’s a good thing that we didn’t have the right projections, because probably all three of the casinos wouldn’t have been built if we had the accurate information,” Gural said. “I think (the consultants) were using formulas that didn’t fully take into account the saturation factor.” Moody’s Foley recently downgraded debt for Del Lago to a rating of Caa2 or “very weak creditworthiness,” with a “negative” outlook for future ratings. It is on track to earn $150 million in gross gaming revenue instead of the $250 million Moody’s expected. Foley and the other experts interviewed for this article aren’t yet questioning if New York’s new casinos will survive, but they say it remains to be seen if they will gross enough gaming revenues to thrive. “From what states is (Resorts World Catskills) going to be taking people from?” asked Father Richard McGowan, a Boston College management professor specializing in gaming. “Let’s face it, no one will be coming from New Jersey or New England to go there. ... Good luck.” Politics over profits Resorts World Catskills’ leaders will rely on the New York City metropolitan area to supply most of its customer base. They’re also betting the casino will attract “whales” or big-time gamblers, particularly from the Far East, via its upmarket amenities. In line with industry standards, Resorts World Catskills expects to give away seven in 10 luxury hotel rooms to high rollers. The casino also is targeting Asian gamers in general with a gaming area designed for them. If Resorts World Catskills underperforms, it’ll be because of politics, gaming industry experts said. Gov. Andrew Cuomo sold a 2013 referendum to amend New York’s Constitution to permit more gaming as a way to bring jobs and investment to economically disadvantaged upstate areas. “These (new casinos) have been extremely successful from an economic development standpoint, creating all of the jobs promised,” said Gural, who added that he’s not ungrateful for his Tioga Downs license. “The real losers are the owners of the casinos who are not making the profit” they anticipated. Kevin Law, who chaired the state board that selected the upstate casino sites, was not available for an interview. “New York went into this regional resort-casino market long after that trend had been exhausted in this country,” Barrow said. “Globally, the trend is big mega-casinos in major cities. They should have just put a big one in New York City to be better positioned to compete against other forms of entertainment and to attract customers who don’t want drive 90 miles.” Building casinos in urban centers helps entice gamers of all ages, unlike the upstate New York market, where casinos are cannibalizing each other’s older customers, said S&P Global Ratings analyst Timothy Little. “Millennials tend to move toward larger population and urban centers, away from some of the more rural parts of the state where New York’s casinos are,” said Little, who co-authored a recent report on Northeast casino saturation. “It’s unclear to what extent these (New York gaming) facilities will draw consumers living in other states and abroad.” Sullivan County’s soon-to-open casino, located on 1,700 acres of the former Concord Resort property, is $600 million less expensive and twice as far from New York City as a failed 2014 Tuxedo bid would have been. Like Resorts World Catskills, the Tuxedo application came from Malaysian-Chinese casino magnate K.T. Lim. He also financially rescued Resorts World Catskills’ parent, Monticello Raceway owner Empire Resorts, from a potential bankruptcy in 2009 after it lost $38.4 million in 2007 and 2008, according to public filings. And he’s kept it afloat since. Lim is a key part of the family trust that owns Kien Huat Realty, an investment company that is the majority shareholder in Empire Resorts and Genting Berhad. The latter is part of the Genting Group, a $37 billion Malaysian gaming, biotech and palm oil conglomerate. Under a branding agreement with Genting, Sullivan County’s casino is using Genting’s “Resorts World” name, though it’s technically not a Genting casino. Colossal casino competition Although a 2014 Tuxedo casino proposal faced controversy for its potential effects on Sterling Forest, gaming experts said a site closer to New York City would’ve been assured success. Eller agreed. Resorts World Catskills “would be a hell of a lot easier if we were closer to our core market,” of New York City, said Eller, 42, who led the Tuxedo project’s application before taking Empire Resorts’ helm last year. A former Marine major, a Harvard MBA, and a 12-year gaming industry veteran, Eller is overseeing a 1,400-employee Resorts World Catskills entertainment complex that will eventually grow to 2,200 workers and $1.2 billion. That’ll occur by the end of 2019, when the $150 million-plus, 600-employee Kartrite Hotel & Indoor Waterpark opens. Regardless of location, for new casino properties like Resorts World Catskills to succeed, they must diversify well beyond gaming, said David G. Schwartz, the director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. “Once you could just put out quarter slot machines, but that’s not enough,” Schwartz said. “So, now they have to put much more emphasis on dining and entertainment options.” That’s exactly what Connecticut’s Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have done. Foxwoods’ Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, and Mario Kontomerkos, CEO of Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment, said they’ve had to expand their amenities to remain competitive over the past decade. As the Northeast has grown more competitive, each casino has taken giant revenue hits since fiscal 2006-07, when Mohegan Sun raked in $916.4 million in slots revenue and Foxwoods brought home $805.5 million. By 2016-17, those totals had fallen to $602.3 million and $457.5 million, respectively, according to state of Connecticut data. Las Vegas model The two tribes pioneered the Las Vegas model in the Northeast. With funding from K.T. Lim’s father, Lim Goh Tong, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe heavily built up Foxwoods in Ledyard, Conn., in 1992 and ’93. Nearby, the Mohegan Tribe developed Mohegan Sun in Uncasville three years later. Northeast competitors have mushroomed ever since to emulate the Connecticut casinos’ success. To remain relevant, Connecticut’s casinos have morphed into cities unto themselves. With 9 million square feet, Foxwoods is larger than the Pentagon, and just 340,000 square feet is reserved for gaming. The rest goes toward dining, lodging, retail and recreational options. Mohegan Sun’s similar-size gaming floor is complemented by two luxury hotel towers totaling 1,563 rooms, a 10,000-seat arena, 275,000 square feet of meeting and function space and more than 40 restaurants, bars and lounges. Foxwoods has “put over $3 billion in the ground over 25 years, and it’s probably closer to $5 billion adjusted for inflation,” Butler said. “We know the (Lim) family well, and Resorts World Catskills will be a great property,” he added. “They’re brilliant operators, and the partnership with the (Kartrite) indoor water park is a great idea. But our market has shifted (to New England), so we’re not too concerned with what you’re doing in the Catskills.” Given how different Northeast casinos are, it’s simplistic to ask whether the casino market is saturated, said Jeremy Kleiman, a veteran New Jersey gaming lawyer. Foxwoods’ and Mohegan Sun’s leaders agreed. They say they’re in an elite class competing for whales. Or as Mohegan Sun’s Kontomerkos put it, “Walmarts compete against Walmarts and Nordstroms compete against Nordstroms.” At Resorts World Catskills, Eller too aspires to create a “destination resort casino” full of amenities, as opposed to the convenience gaming offered by racinos like Resorts World Casino New York City at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. Yet even without table games, that Queens property – owned by K.T. Lim under his Genting Berhad umbrella – could compete with Resorts World Catskills. Resorts World Casino New York City averages a strong $404 in revenue per day for each slot machine, and Lim is currently expanding the New York City complex by $400 million, adding a hotel, restaurants, retail and more slots. To help Resorts World Catskills succeed, Roberta Byron-Lockwood, president and CEO of the Sullivan Catskills tourism bureau, plans to aggressively market the property as “a full-fledged, full-service, four-season, multi-attraction destination casino, appealing not only to New York and other states, but also to international visitors, and those from the Pacific Rim.” Marc Baez, president and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development, touted the same marketing approach. He said Resorts World Catskills will thrive by building on the Catskills’ history of resorts, while capitalizing on local assets like Bethel Woods, the planned Town of Goshen Legoland and the future Yo1 Lifestyle Wellness Resort in Monticello. “We’ll pretty much have something to do for everybody,” Baez said. Eller is the first to admit his won’t be the biggest, highest-earning casino in the Northeast. But he said it has “the right investment and strategy as an integrated resort and the right revenue estimates” to create new gaming receipts beyond merely cannibalizing existing regional totals. Like Gural, who owns Tioga Downs, Eller said Resorts World Catskills’ success will be “built on relationships, and that has nothing to do with the distance,” because high-rollers have the means to travel most anywhere. But there is at least one key difference between the two casino leaders. Eller is more likely to greet whales in a power suit than orange Crocs and jeans. “Are people from the New York metro area going to drive 90 to 100 miles to go play table games” at Resorts World Catskills? Eller asked. “The reality is they already do, they go to Atlantic City. They go to Connecticut. They go to Vegas.” “We’re built on a Las Vegas casino model where there’s entertainment all the time,” Eller added. “You should feel like you’re stepping into a casino in Las Vegas.” By Daniel Axelrod  Reprinted with permission of The Times Herald-Record

The opening of Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady and a second new casino in central New York has helped state gaming revenues but hurt their closest competitors in an already crowded regional gambling market, according to a new analysis by Moody's Investors Services. The credit rating agency, which headlined its report "Cannibalization of gaming revenue continues in the Northeast," said the opening of Rivers last February has led to a decline in revenue for the Saratoga Casino Hotel in Saratoga Springs, which offers video lottery gaming and live harness racing, but doesn't have the live table games available at Rivers. FOSS: Casinos will continue to battle each other The report reflects what critics of New York state's efforts to promote casino gaming said would happen if casino gaming was expanded. Within barely a year's time, three full casinos have opened upstate, in competition with each other and with eight video lottery casinos, all of which have opened in the last 15 years. Until 2001, horse racing and non-profit organizations' games of chance were the only legal forms of gambling in New York state, if Native American casinos are excluded. Del Lago Resort Casino, near Seneca Falls, opened just a week earlier than Rivers, and has fallen short of revenue projections to the point where Moody's on Jan. 10 downgraded the credit rating of its owner, Lago Resort and Casino LLC, due to its debt. Rivers has also fallen short of revenue projections, but it doesn't have any publicly traded debt and is not rated by Moody's. A number of observers in recent months have noted that the casino has fallen short of initial revenue projections provided to city and county leaders. "Despite ramp-up challenges, del Lago and Rivers have taken a big chunk of gaming revenue from their closest competitors," the report said. "This trend, where newcomers are stealing share from incumbents, is consistent with what has been occurring throughout the U.S. gaming markets, particularly in the Northeastern portion of the U.S.," it continued. "We expect this to continue in the eastern part of upstate New York, where another large casino, Resorts World Catskills, is scheduled to open." Resorts World, which was to open in March, last week announced plans to open on Feb. 8, several weeks ahead of schedule. Since del Lago opened, the report found that Finger Lakes Gaming and Vernon Downs both saw 14-15 percent revenue drops, while there's been an unknown impact on Turning Stone Casino in Verona, since the Oneida Nation casino isn't required to publicly disclose any information. In the Capital Region, the Saratoga Casino is Rivers' primary competition. "The opening of Rivers Casino had a material negative impact on its closest competitor, Saratoga Springs, which is located about 25 miles north of Rivers," Moodys concluded. Through the first nine months of its operation, the report found Rivers generated $117 million in gross gaming revenue, while Saratoga's gross gaming revenue, over 12 months, dropped 14 percent, from $168 million to $144 million. Before Rivers opened, Saratoga Casino officials acknowledged their business could be hurt, and the opening of a new luxury hotel in 2016 was in large part a response to the pending competition. Saratoga Casino did not respond to a request for comment. The $1.2 billion Resorts World facility will change the equation again. Moody's said it expects that "Rivers will experience some negative impact once Resorts World opens." While Resorts World, in Monticello, will be the closest New York casino to the New York metropolitan area, Moody's expects it, too, to struggle, given the number of establishing gaming competitors in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. "Similar to the challenges facing del Lago and Rivers, the success of Resorts World relies on growing the gaming market and attracting players from the existing competitors," Moody's said. A spokesman for Rivers Casino & Resort said the facility declined comment. By Stephen Williams Reprinted with permission of The Dialy Gazette

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