Vegas insanity; Penn’s bad boy; Lake Mead in peril - Willow Manor (2023)

Vegas insanity; Penn’s bad boy; Lake Mead in peril - Willow Manor (1)

Imagine an 8.5-mile Las Vegas Strip. You may not have to because “experts” say “it’s in the cards.” What’s the cause of this crazed optimism? No, it’s not the economy. The prospect of a baseball stadium at Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard bookended by a basketball one at Blue Diamond Road is spurring such fantasies of untrammeled growth. Already, Dream Las Vegas has leapfrogged Mandalay Bay as the nominal southern terminus of the Strip and Station Casinos has undisclosed designs on a major site immediately below South Point. Former MGM Resorts International spokesman Alan Feldman thinks developers could get so carried away, they’ll extend the Strip all the way down to M Resort but “At some point, water is going to be a limiting factor. It almost already is.”

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Feldman’s is a voice of sanity in a wilderness of irrational exuberance, giddy from record earnings. Remember the last time that casino developers were talking about ideas on this scale? That’s right: Just before the Great Recession. That left some projects high and dry, like Olympia Resort, next door to M (and never built), and Station’s $11 billion Viva (ditto), a bigger, fuglier, more expensive version of CityCenter, the latter of which cost MGM quite a pretty penny in writedowns by the time Jim Murren was cashiered. Back at Station, executives have gone off their meds again, talking about doubling the company’s Vegas footprint in eight years, regardless of feasibility or the elasticity of the locals market. Station is uniquely ill-positioned to ride out a Las Vegas turndown and if the Fertitta Brothers continue to believe their own hype they’re going to be like the dog that caught the car.

Vegas insanity; Penn’s bad boy; Lake Mead in peril - Willow Manor (2)
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Penn Entertainment now wholly and literally owns the Dave Portnoy problem. It exercised its option to buy out Barstool Sports, spending $387 million to do so. We don’t expect any substantive changes, as Penn’s interest in Barstool was motivated by a desire to use the latter’s brash media presence as a substitute for marketing spend. For this, Portnoy’s “cult-like following” (sexual-abuse baggage and all) is crucial, as are his 72,000 customers for a company that had $300 million in revenue last year. However, Portnoy is being investigated in both Indiana and Nevada. Should either of those states find him unpalatable, Penn is faced with an interesting fish-or-cut-bait scenario. Penn CEO Jay Snowden‘s bromance with Portnoy is so intense, he’d probably choose to go down with the Barstool ship. We’ve got at least until February to find out the answer.

Vegas insanity; Penn’s bad boy; Lake Mead in peril - Willow Manor (3)

Caught between lower visitation and less customer spending, Louisiana casinos slumped 8% from last year in July, for a total gross of $204 million. At least sports betting revenue is finally respectable, with books winning $21 million on $118 million in handle, a whopping 17.5% hold. In Lake Charles, the Golden Nugget narrowly bested L’Auberge du Lac, with $31.5 million (flat) to L’Auberge’s $31 million (-2%). Delta Downs dipped 2% to $16 million. Baton Rouge was a scene of carnage, with double-digit declines all around. L’Auberge Baton Rouge was out front with $14.5 million but down 12%, while Hollywood Baton Rouge tumbled 26% to $4.5 million and Belle of Baton Rouge, finally rid of Caesars Entertainment‘s malign neglect, dropped 17% to $1 million. Two outlying Boyd Gaming properties, Amelia Belle (pictured) and Evangeline Downs, also suffered. Amelia Belle’s $3 million was -10% and Evangeline Downs’ $6 million represented a 16% declivity.

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In New Orleans, only Treasure Chest was revenue-positive, up 2% to $8 million. Harrah’s New Orleans led with $22.5 million but fell 12%. Boomtown New Orleans grossed $10 million, down 6%, and Fair Grounds slipped 1% to $4 million. As for Shreveport/Bossier City, Penn’s Margaritaville continues to reign supreme, flat at $17 million. Second place went to Horseshoe Bossier City‘s $13.5 million (-9%) while Bally’s Corp. continues to struggle at Bally’s Shreveport, plummeting 28.5% to $8 million. The remainder of the pack was Boomtown Bossier ($5 million, +3%), Sam’s Town Shreveport ($4 million, -33.5%) and problematic Louisiana Downs ($3 million, -32%). Talk about your haves and have-nots.

Lake Mead is all over the news. The water crisis in the Colorado River basin is so bad that it’s got some Larry Lightbulb types musing about siphoning off the Mississippi River to keep the lights on in Sin City. Even if it works, it’s 30 years distant, much too late to do any good. And, as one Audubon Society spokesman put it, “you’d be swapping oneecological catastrophe for another.” Yet this is actually one of the more sensible ideas bouncing around on the Internet, as daffy notions are wont to do. Even so, the “drastic” solution recently announced by Biden administration may not be drastic enough to save Lake Mead. As things stand, the lake’s 1,041-foot depth is uncomfortably close (100 feet) to the level at which Hoover Dam could no longer generate power. Las Vegas eschatology holds that the demolition of the dam would be an End Times signifier. Heck, it just takes a continued drop in lake levels and it’s Game Over, no divine intervention required.

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To take our minds off the crisis, the news media fixates on the latest grisly disclosures as the lake recedes. Dead bodies continue to appear, along with hitherto sunken boats. This year’s body count stands at five. Is it evidence of another Mob hit? Too soon to say. Meanwhile, rather than deal with reality, aqua-politics devolves into fantasy. As Universityof Saskatchewan hydrology professor Jay Famiglietti says, “People are spoiled in the United States. We’ve had relatively rich resources for so long,we’ve never really had to deal withthis before, andwe don’t want to change.”

Vegas insanity; Penn’s bad boy; Lake Mead in peril - Willow Manor (4)

Jottings: Raising the specter of “frivolous lawsuits” putting card rooms out of business, the California Republican Party gave the back of its hand to Proposition 26, which would legalize tribal sports betting. Going on all-in on the anti-wagering bandwagon, the GOP also opposed Big Gaming’s Proposition 27, which also got the endorsement of Major League Baseball and the wrath of the California Teachers Association … The takeover of MGM China by Pansy Ho is all but complete. If its concession is re-tendered, Ho will become managing director. MGM just pumped $594 billion into its Chinese subsidiary to meet Macao‘s licensing requirements … BetMGM half-owner Entain is teetering on the brink in the United Kingdom, having been deemed inadequate in its efforts to stem problem gambling and prevent money laundering. This presents a potential opportunity for MGM Resorts International, which—given a license-impaired Entain—could pick up the other half of BetMGM for a song … Congratulations to slot wizard Gavin Isaacs, former casino CEO Virginia McDowell and Everi Chairman Michael Rumbolz on being inducted into the Gaming Hall of Fame. “Gavin, Virginia and Mike have each helped transform the gaming industry in their own significant ways,” remarked American Gaming Association President Bill Miller, with whom we quite agree … Star Entertainment posted an annual loss of almost $200 million, mostly thanks to health restrictions and a massive writedown on its Sydney casino. Couldn’t happen to a nicer company … The temporary casino at Grand Island Fonner Park in Nebraska will break ground next month and be ready by Thanksgiving, owners say. The temporary facility will make do for two years until the permanent racino is ready … Hotel-room prices are cooling over Labor Day weekend. But don’t worry: You’ll more than make up for it in what you pay for airfare.

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Quote of the Day: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”—Nelson Mandela


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