Monday, March 1, 2010

Casinos: Las Vegas Sands to Move Out of Pennsylvania? Into Florida?

Confusion, confusion, confusion! What on earth is going on at Sheldon Adelson's empire these days?

First off was some explosive news over the weekend that Las Vegas Sands is looking to sell the Sands Bethlehem casino that they had just started building last year. The casino has been open only for a few months, and works hasn't even begun yet on the planned hotel part of the project.

So today, the official word out of LVS is that they are NOT planning to sell Sands Bethlehem.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. today denied "rumors" that it plans to sell its Pennsylvania casino because of disappointing results there.

The Express-Times newspaper in Pennsylvania on Saturday reported that, according to a source, the Las Vegas company hopes to sell its Bethlehem casino.

But Las Vegas Sands said today in a press release it's applied to add table games to the 3,250-machine slot parlor and is preparing to resume construction on a 300-room hotel there.

"Las Vegas Sands Corp. said today that recent rumors of the company's supposed interest in selling its Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem property, or indefinitely delaying the completion of the hotel and other components of the development, are unfounded," the company said in a statement.

With $4.5 billion in net revenue in 2009, Las Vegas Sands collected most of that in Macau and Las Vegas and is preparing to open a $5.5 billion resort in Singapore. The Bethlehem casino, which opened in May, produced $141.8 million in revenue last year.

"With the addition of table games, Sands Bethlehem will become the most complete and convenient gaming destination for millions of New York City and northern New Jersey residents and, at the same time, enhance the profitability of the property starting in the foreseeable future," Las Vegas Sands Chairman and Chief Executive Sheldon Adelson said in today's press release.

OK, so what are we to take from this? Obviously, Sands Bethlehem hasn't yet turned a profit and hasn't been as successful as LVS was originally hoping for. Oh yes, and Sheldon Adelson has said repeatedly that his company is now "an Asian company doing business in America", so it seems to make sense for LVS to focus more on its budding casino projects in Macau and Singapore.

However, one can argue that Sands Bethlehem hasn't had a chance yet to reach its full potential. After all, the hotel hasn't been built yet. The shopping mall hasn't been built yet. The conference center, with its promised arts & cultural center and local PBS TV studio, hasn't been built yet. Sands Bethlehem is supposed to be a "destination resort", but LVS hasn't yet finished the "destination" or the "resort".

Oh, and did I mention that Pennsylvania has just legalized casino table games and Sands Bethlehem can now install them in the casino?

So we don't know yet what really really know about LVS' plans for Pennsylvania... But we now know they're showing interest on the other end of The Eastern Seaboard.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida will be at the center of the debate when lawmakers return to the issue of gambling this year.

Though little has changed for the tribe in the past year -- it still runs blackjack and other casino games without a valid state gambling agreement -- its influence is being felt in all corners of the state.

Other players in the gambling scene, spurred by the prospect of the state giving the tribe a monopoly outside of South Florida, are pushing to add more games and more gambling options in Florida.

• The state Division of Parimutuel Wagering gave permission for the state's seven parimutuel casinos to start using a slot machine-style blackjack game.

• Hialeah Park resumed live racing at the historic track with quarter horses.

• One of the largest casino operators in Las Vegas, Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands, has hired a lobbyist to explore the prospect of resort-style casinos in Florida.

• The Florida House, with a history of opposing the expansion of gambling, is pushing legislation to lower the tax rate on slot machines at parimutuels.

• The operators of international online poker sites are asking legislators to pass a law to allow online poker games within the state.

• And perhaps the biggest change of all: The federal government, after nearly three years of taking a hands-off approach to Florida's gambling scene, has indicated it will decide whether to shut down or sanction the Seminole Tribe's table games, which were ruled illegal in Florida by a 2008 Florida Supreme Court decision.

``There is a heightened level of involvement and diligence occurring on the part of federal government,'' said Rep. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who has headed legislative attempts to craft a gambling compact with the tribe.

The issue in Florida is over the Seminole Tribe and how much of the gaming market the state will allow them to control. Previously, the state legislature has been dominated by anti-gambling "Christianist right" Republicans who have toed the religious right line on limiting casino growth in Florida. But now with the Seminole Tribe operating table games without a necessary agreement and the feds likely to direct them to work out a new agreement with the state, there no longer looks to be a "Moral Majority" in Tallahassee as state legislators see massive "Ka-ching! Ka-ching!" dollar signs in using this situation to expand legal gambling across Florida and allow more operators, like Las Vegas Sands, to jump into the market.

Seriously, it will be a game changer... A game changer for Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Biloxi, Tunica, California, and the entire American gaming industry if Florida loosens its anti-gambling laws and allows casinos in or near the state's major tourist attractions like Miami and Orlando.

I guess we'll see how LVS is trying to take advantage of this... And for that matter, if the other big casinos follow suit...

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