Some questions worth asking

Why is it illegal to pump your own gas in New Jersey?
 
What is the name of the little man with the suit and top hat from the game Monopoly?
 
Who invented the deck of playing cards and when?
 
In poker, what beats what?
 
When playing cards, why are a pair of aces and a pair of eights sometimes called a “Dead Man’s Hand”?
 
What exactly is numbers running?
 
Why is a rabbit’s foot considered lucky?
 
Just some food for thought…and maybe material for the next quiz.  At the very least, you have some nice conversation starters here.

Misguided loyalty?

As I reported earlier, the Venetian was rather quietly fined a while back for several violations, including the rigging of a contest–a game of chance.  I would think this would tend to discredit the legal casino industry in Nevada and would provoke a few license revocations, but it actually only garnered a million-dollar fine. 
 
Well, one employee responsible has been lectured by the Gaming Control Board.  From the LV Sun:

Roger Chuen Po Mok, formerly the senior vice president of Asian marketing for The Venetian, acknowledged that what he did was wrong in an emotional appearance before the state Gaming Control Board. Flanked by attorney Bill Curran, Mok — identified publicly for his role in the incident for the first time — said he schemed to rig drawings for prizes out of loyalty to his employer and his desire to please a good customer.
Mok and three others were fired after the scheme was uncovered in 2002. Earlier this year, The Venetian was ordered to pay a $1 million fine after a 12-count complaint against the resort was settled.
“Some poor choices were made in being loyal to my employer,” Mok read from a prepared statement.
Regulators never named the employees who were responsible for the rigging of the drawings for a Mercedes-Benz sports utility vehicle and two gambling chips, valued at $20,000 and $10,000, during a 2002 Chinese New Year celebration.
Mok said he rigged the drawing because a high-roller he was hosting lost $5 million gambling and the employee “didn’t want to see him go home empty-handed.”

But that’s not all.  Mok was also rapped for trying to cover up:

“What you did not only discredited you, but it discredited the state of Nevada,” said board Chairman Dennis Neilander.
Board member Bobby Siller said while the scheme to rig the drawing was a major judgment error, Mok worsened it by lying to state gaming investigators summoned by The Venetian. Siller compared the additional damage inflicted by attempting to cover up the scheme with the trouble former President Richard Nixon brought upon himself during the Watergate burglary investigation.
“You are now living with the consequences of your actions,” Siller said. “There were consequences to your employer, which had to pay a severe fine, and there were consequences to your co-workers, who were fired along with you.”

 
Venetian contest rigger lectured by regulatorsLet me put this into personal perspective.  When I worked in a casino doing security, I was in mortal dread of having my license revoked, which could have happened for virutally anything, it seemed.  To this day, if I am walking in a casino and I see a quarter on the ground, I will not pick it up, because if I had been seen doing so as an employee I would have been immediately fired and had my license yanked.
 
Gaming violations are very serious, because they threaten the integrity of the business.  If the games of chance aren’t really run by chance, why bother playing? 
 
I didn’t read anywhere in the article that investigators had conclusively proved that Mok was alone planning and executing the contest-rigging scheme.  The phrase that bothers me is: “he schemed to rig drawings for prizes out of loyalty to his employer.”  Does that mean that someone higher up asked him to do so?
 
We may never know the complete story, but this telling of it seems a bit…incomplete.

Merger update

Here’s a great capsule summary of the Harrah’s/Caesars merger proposal, and a breakdown of Harrah’s Caesars, MGM MIRAGE, and Mandalay Resort group, from Yahoo Finance:

Casino operator Harrah’s Entertainment is close to buying bigger rival Caesars Entertainment in a $10 billion deal that would form the world’s largest casino empire with $8.8 billion in annual revenue and as many as 54 casinos.

The merger would be the gambling industry’s second major takeover in a month – MGM Mirage last month agreed to buy Mandalay Resort Group for $4.8 billion plus debt.

A list of properties owned by and select financial information on all four companies follows:

PROPERTIES AND BRANDS:

CAESARS ENTERTAINMENT INC.: Operates 28 properties in five countries and 26,000 hotel rooms. Brands include Caesars, Bally’s, Paris, Hilton, Flamingo and Grand Casinos. Properties include Bally’s, Caesar’s Palace, Flamingo and Paris Las Vegas in Las Vegas.

Atlantic City properties include Atlantic City Hilton, Bally’s Atlantic City and Caesar’s Atlantic City. Also operates properties in New Orleans, Mississippi, Indiana.

International locations include South Africa, Australia, Uruguay and Canada.

HARRAH’S ENTERTAINNMENT INC.: Operates 26 casinos in 13 states. Brands include Harrah’s, Harveys, Rio and Showboat. Properties include Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, Harveys Lake Tahoe, Harrah’s Reno, Harrah’s Las Vegas, Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino and Harrah’s Laughlin in Nevada.

Also operates properties in California, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina and New Jersey.

MANDALAY RESORT GROUP: Owns and operates Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur, Circus Circus and Slots-A-Fun in Las Vegas. Other Nevada properties include Circus Circus in Reno, Colorado Belle and Edgewater in Laughlin, Gold Strike and Nevada Landing in Jean and Railroad Pass in Henderson.

— Owns and operates Gold Strike, a casino in Tunica County, Mississippi.

— Owns 50 percent stakes in Silver Legacy in Reno, and Grand Victoria, a riverboat in Elgin, Illinois, and Monte Carlo in Las Vegas. Monte Carlo is jointly owned with MGM Mirage.

— Owns 53.5 percent stake in MotorCity casino in Detroit.

MGM MIRAGE: Owns and operates 12 casinos in Nevada, Mississippi, Michigan and Australia, and has stakes in two other casino resorts in Nevada and New Jersey.

— Owns the Bellagio, MGM Grand Las Vegas, Mirage, Treasure Island, New York-New York and Boardwalk casinos as well as 50 percent of the Monte Carlo on the Las Vegas Strip.

— Owns three golf courses as well as Whiskey Pete’s, Buffalo Bill’s and Primm Valley Resort in Nevada, Beau Rivage in Mississippi, and MGM Grand Detroit casinos.

— Owns a 50 percent stake in the Borgata casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey and a 25 percent stake in Triangle Casino, a local casino in Bristol, United Kingdom.

EMPLOYEES:

CAESARS ENTERTAINMENT has 52,000 employees.

HARRAHS ENTERTAINMENT has nearly 48,000 employees.

MANDALAY RESORT and its consolidated subsidiaries together employed about 28,000 people as of January 31.

MGM MIRAGE has more than 45,000 employees.

REVENUES, NET INCOME:

CAESARS ENTERTAINMENT: For the year ended Dec. 31, 2003, it reported revenue of $4.46 billion and net income of $46 million.

HARRAH’S ENTERTAINMENT: For the year ended Dec. 31, 2003, it reported revenue of $4.32 billion and net income of $292.6 million.

MANDALAY RESORT: For the year ended Jan. 31, it reported revenue of $2.49 billion and net income of $149.8 million.

MGM MIRAGE: For the year ending Dec. 31, 2003, it reported net revenue of $3.91 billion and net income of $243.7 million.

FACTBOX-Harrah’s, Caesars may merge to form No. 1

There are the numbers. Both boards have approved the merger.

This deal was not unforeseen, and I think that the only place where there will be real issues will be in New Jersey, and Harrah’s can probably avoid undue concentration there by selling the Hilton. After all, Donald Trump briefly owned four casinos, so there is a precedent for it.

For more information, see the New York Times or Bloomberg.com.

Indian gaming revenue

The National Indian Gaming Commission has released its figures for 2003 casino revenues:

National Indian Gaming Commission Chairman Phil Hogen announced today that national 2003 gross gaming revenues for Indian gaming facilities topped $16.7 billion, an increase of $2 billion or 13.7 percent over 2002 gross gaming revenues.

“The Indian gaming industry has grown significantly and steadily throughout the past decade,” said Chairman Hogen. “This growth has allowed tribes to create jobs, develop economically, build infrastructure within their communities and provide services for tribal members.”

The $16.7 billion figure is based on audited financial statements received by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) for gaming operations with fiscal years ending in 2003. The figure is based on statements received by June 30, 2004.

Additionally, the NIGC has broken-down the $16.7 billion by the agency’s six regions.
Region III, which includes California, accounted for approximately 50 percent of the total increase in revenues. Region III revenues increased by almost 28 percent for the year compared to 9 percent for the other regions.

NIGC Announces Indian Gaming Revenue for 2003

If you’re interested in more Indian gaming news, check pechanga.net, the top online source for Indian gaming news and information.

This is a big deal for the commerical casino industry too, because even though California revenues have exploded, Nevada gaming has not suffered too much. Certain markets have been harder hit than others, but on the whole the state’s gaming revenues are growing. I imagine that destination-type markets throughout the country would find the same pattern.

Bill and Jay’s Excellent Adventure

Metaphorically, of course. Since both Bill Harrah and Jay Sarno are deceased, I’m talking about the companies that claim them as founders: Harrah’s Entertainment and Caesars Entertainment. According to the Wall Street Journal, quoted here by Reuters, Bill’s company is going to acquire Jay’s, the second major gaming merger in a month:

Harrah’s Entertainment Inc.is near a deal to buy rival Caesars Entertainment Inc, in what would be the gambling industry’s second major takeover in a month, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
The terms of the proposed transaction were not immediately clear, the newspaper said. If consummated, the deal would make Harrah’s the biggest gambling company in the world with $8.8 billion in revenue and as many as 54 casinos, according to the Journal.

Based on Caesars’ closing stock price of $13.92 on Tuesday, the company has a market value of about $4.3 billion, not counting about $4.5 billion in debt, the Journal said.

Last month, MGM Mirage agreed to buy Mandalay Resort Group for $4.8 billion plus debt.

Harrah’s and Caesars, which owns Caesars Palace, Paris Las Vegas, Bally’s and other casinos, began talking after the MGM Mirage-Mandalay deal was reached, the Journal said, citing unnamed people familiar with the situation.

Buying Caesars Entertainment would give Harrah’s a stronger foothold on the Las Vegas strip, where the Harrah’s casino is not one of the top attractions, the Journal reported.

The Harrah’s acquisition plan, like MGM Mirage’s, was likely to attract scrutiny from antitrust regulators at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission or Justice Department, as well as at several states, the Journal said.

Harrah’s Said Near Deal to Buy Caesars

Of course, this is less about Bill Harrah and Jay Sarno than it is about Gary Loveman and Wally Barr, respective leaders of HET and CZR.

Is this deal a surprise? Not really. The media reported on rumors of it a month ago, as you can see right here.

What does this deal mean? For the Las Vegas Strip (unless HET sells off some properties), the company would own:

Harrah’s Las Vegas
Rio
Caesars Palace
Flamingo
O’Shea’s
Bally’s
Paris
The Horseshoe brand, which HET has wanted to put on a new property

This is a lot of casinos; you would now have the entire Strip south of the Venetian controlled by two companies, with two exceptions: the Tropicana and Aladdin/Planet Hollywood. And, of course, the Hawaiian Marketplace.

The comapnies also overlap in most of the other major American gaming markets: Reno, Tahoe, Tunica, the Gulf Coast, New Orleans, and of course Atlantic City.

In AC, HET would own between 5 and 7 casinos, depending on how you consider Bally’s Atlantic City:

Harrah’s Atlantic City
Showboat
Bally’s Atlantic City
–Claridge
–Wild Wild West
Caesars Atlantic City
Atlantic City Hilton

When you consider that the city has 12 or 14 casinos, this means about as big a concentration as MGM MIRAGE will have on the Strip, but with less room for growth.

Look for more on this news story. Like I said with the MGM/Mandalay merger, even if this one doesn’t go through right now, look for future consolidation to be the trend.

UPDATE: A new article from Reuters tagged the deal at close to $10 billion:

UPDATE 1-Harrah’s near $10 bln deal to buy Caesars

Breathe easy, Anaheim

Particularly if you own a pinball machine. From the LA Times:

Anaheim officials are doing a little housekeeping and whittling down the city’s bulky municipal code. Tonight, the City Council is scheduled to consider repealing or modifying several ordinances that officials call outdated, redundant or just plain silly.

The unlucky task of poring through decades of laws and thousands of ordinances fell to City Atty. Jack White, who said he had collected arcane gems that may come in handy only at cocktail parties or if he became a “Jeopardy!” contestant.

He knows, for example, that in the 1940s and ’50s, pinball was considered gambling.

The change in the law is welcome news for Terry McIntire, an owner of Orange County Game Distributors Inc., who said that if authorities cited him for all his pinball machines, “we would be old and gray by the time we got out” of jail.

In most cases, authorities realized the absurdities of these ordinances and stopped enforcing them years ago.

Pinball Desperados in Anaheim Will Be Allowed to Play at Full Tilt

During my research for Uneasy Convictions, I learned that many slot manufacturers evaded the Johnson Act, the 1950 law that halted the interstate shipment of slots, by switching to “amusement” devices whose “free games” could be redeemed for cash. In 1961, when RFK pushed for new anti-gambling laws (including the Wire Act), he also spoke out against pinball machines. So this was actually a pretty common theme of anti-gamblers in the 1950s and 1960s.

Even now, the line between “amusement” and gambling is thinner than we think. Is there that much difference between a slot machine and redemption games? Some would argue no.

Electronic scratchers

Scratch-off cards have become a huge money-maker for lotteries. It’s only natural that they will continue to evolve. From KCRG-TV9 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa:

This fall Iowa will become the first state to test an electronic version of a scratch-off lottery game.

A market trial for “Quarter Play” will start in October.

The game is a battery-powered card costing 20 dollars that will offer 80 plays of instant-type games.

Gambling critics say it’s just another expansion of the state’s one-billion-dollar a year gaming industry.
Electronic Lottery Game Planned for Iowa

Though the article was telegraphically short, I think this is a significant story. Like Cyber Slingo, New Jersey’s try at an “online” lottery that is not online, it pushes the boundaries of lottery-dom.

VLT easter eggs

Everyone likes easter eggs, hidden features in video games, DVDs, etc. Usually they are not that impressive–you can unlock hidden commentary or an alternate costume in fighting games. But an article in Canada’s National Post says that video lottery terminals also have easter eggs that can be exploited:

As the middle-aged mother from Illinois plunked away at buttons on the electronic poker machine, something unusual happened. The machine, usually so adept at parting gamblers from their money, fell under the spell of the player.

The woman had manipulated the video lottery terminal at an Edmonton casino into letting her win on command, recalls Zues Yaghi, a computer programmer and gaming machine expert who watched the scene.

“She had been doing it for four years and had put her kids through university, was driving a Mercedes 500. She was all decked out,” Mr. Yaghi recalled.

“She thought she was the queen of the underground…. It’s so easy, so easy to run 10 grand from these machines.”

Mr. Yaghi says the woman was tapping into what he and some other experts call an “easter egg”: a line of digital code allegedly embedded on to the machine’s computer chip by rogue programmers, allowing informed players to cheat the games out of their booty.

Mr. Yaghi reported the problem to gaming authorities after discovering it himself. But four years later, rather than being hailed a hero, he is living a legal nightmare over the issue, facing a $10-million libel suit filed by the American maker of the machine on which he first found an easter egg.

Meanwhile, he and other experts allege that some compromised machines are still out there today, raising questions about the fairness of a diversion on which Canadians spend billions of dollars a year.

‘Easter egg’ cheats cracking casinos?

In the old days of mechanical slots, owners had to worry about mechanics or locksmiths making a duplicate key; today, they have to consider the possibility that programmers have inserted easter eggs.
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Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an opinion piece I wrote about Pennsylvania’s recent slot machine bill’s approval:

Forum: Greetings from Slotsylvania

Obviously, this bill marks a historic milestone, and I think that we’re going to be seeing much more gaming expansion in the next few years.

Casino blocking monument?

We’ve all heard that new casino construction “destroys history,” and regular readers know that a casino company tore down my high school. As Perry White might say, “Great Caesar’s ghost!”

But here’s a story where potential casino construction is preventing the erection of piece of monumental architecture. From the Desert Dispatch:

The plan to build a monument to Route 66 made of crushed cars has been postponed indefinitely due to increased land speculation that an Indian casino may be coming to Barstow.

The Carthenon would be a pillared structure that would sit alongside Interstate 15 near Outlet Center Drive.

Wayne Soppeland, a local Realtor and the driving force behind the project, said the owners of three different parcels originally optioned to house the Carthenon are waiting to see whether or not a proposed Indian casino will come to Barstow.

“The [proposed] casino has put the whole project on hold,” he said. “Owners think their property might have some use for the casino.”

Washington-based artist C. Zaxxr Llewellyn designed the Carthenon with pillars of crushed cars. Solar power would light the structure at night. It is intended to connect with historic Route 66 and the car culture of Southern California.

The primary site lay near Outlet Center Drive and I-15, the secondary site near the Tanger Outlet Mall and the third site was in between the two others, he said.

The proposed casino resort, if approved, would be east of Interstate 15 and Lenwood Road and south of the Factory Merchants Mall. Its features would include 50,000 square feet of gaming space, a 180-room hotel, an entertainment venue, a gift shop, an RV park and a restaurant.

However, Soppeland said the Carthenon could still be built if the optioned land parcels were not used in connection with the casino.

“If we get the casino, the project would have more impetus to be completed,” he said.

He also said that most of the funds raised for the project have already been spent on preliminary materials, such as two Cadillac car fenders, engineering, and artwork.

Casino speculation delays Carthenon

Courtesy of Architectural Alliance, here is a rendering of the Carthenon:
Carthenon, from http://www.archallinc.com/gpage3.html
That looks absolutely…unique. I think this would be an incredible boon to any proposed casino project. In fact, I’m surprised that there isn’t a Carthenon slot machine already.

I’m most impressed that the sculpture will apparently cast no shadow, and that it will be accessed through a simple dirt path. I imagine that this monument does not meet the ADA standards.

If they’ve already got the Caddy fenders, what’s holding them up? It seems to not have too much more to it than those.

Here’s a contest: let’s see who can design the best faux monument and, using Photoshop, create a “rendering” of it. I’ll post the best responses. You can send them here.

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Slots, urban design, and destination dreams

Philly Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron doesn’t think much of the recently-passed slot bill. From Philly.com (reg. required):

The legalization of slot machines in Pennsylvania was sold to the public as a form of tax relief, although tax redistribution strikes me as a better term. Harrisburg will use part of the money deposited in the parlors’ one-armed bandits to reduce the Philadelphia wage tax. If current revenue projections hold, someone earning $40,000 a year would eventually save $160 annually in city taxes. As a further incentive, Philadelphia has been promised $636 million to expand the Convention Center.

But the city will have to pay dearly for this infusion of revenue. The slots bill, which was rushed through the legislature without the usual opportunities for public comment, strips Philadelphia of planning and zoning powers over its future casinos. Instead, a seven-member, state-run gambling control board will decide the big design issues, from the location of the casinos down to the location of their garage driveways.

The city’s lack of control is no small thing. With Saturday’s vote, Philadelphia became the biggest city in America to permit casinos. Unlike the gaming halls in Detroit, Milwaukee and New Orleans, ours will be wedged into a dense and still-thriving downtown. At least one slots parlor – and possibly two – appear headed for Market Street, in the high-profile stretch between City Hall and Independence Mall.

That’s barely two blocks from the residential neighborhoods of Washington Square and Chinatown. Yet slots parlors the size of those planned in Philadelphia, with 5,000 machines, can draw 40,000 gamblers in a 24-hour day.

Saffron argues her case on some interesting aesthetic grounds:

Casinos and good design go together about as well as oil and water. Because gambling operators want to keep patrons at their machines as long as possible, they aim to block out anything that hints of the outside world, such as clocks and windows. Virtually every downtown casino built in America in the last decade is a solid-walled box, surrounded by a vast supply of parking spaces.

What urban good will a big box do for an eclectic urban environment like East Market Street? For that matter, what good will a big box do for the Delaware River waterfront, where another slots parlor is expected?

Let me quote Gary Tuma, spokesman for Sen. Vince Fumo (D., Phila.), who largely wrote the slots bill: The casino applicants will be judged on “their potential for producing revenue.” Gambling was not conceived as a way of improving the urban environment….

In a perfect world, Philadelphia’s slots parlors would be planned as one component in a major revitalization of dowdy East Market Street. The area has been sadly neglected even though it is a key connector between the Convention Center and the tourist district around Independence Mall. It’s vital that the casino be attractive for gamblers and non-gamblers alike.

Changing Skyline | City’s losses outstrip its slot wins

I doubt that she read Suburban Xanadu, but I think that my book makes some of the same points. Obviously, casinos are, like any business, designed to maximize revenue. In that a casino is profitable, one can say that it is well-designed.

Does this mean that it is an asset to an urban neighborhood? Not necessarily. As I said in Suburban Xanadu, self-contained casino resorts–what you find on the Las Vegas Strip, on Indian reservations, and in Atlantic City–have not proved themselves to improve any kind of “urban” fabric. A casino designed to encourage genuine interaction with the neighborhood, though, certainly could.

Another view, from the Intelligencer, holds that slots parlors won’t make too much of an immediate impact:

They may like slot machines, but don’t expect busloads of seniors clutching rolls of quarters to head for Philly Park any time soon. Senior centers and tour bus operators, many of which organize regular trips to Atlantic City, say it will take a while for now-legal Pennsylvania slot machines to compete with the lure of a trip out of town – not to mention all those discounts.

“Part of it is going away,” said Emma Straccio, manager of the Lower Bucks Activity Center for Retired and Senior Citizens. “There are more things to do in Atlantic City: the boardwalk, the ocean, and there are a lot of promotions.”

At the same time, some local tour companies are making adjustments to prepare for the tide of as much as 61,000 slot machines arriving at select locations across the state, including Philadelphia Park in Bensalem.

Lion Tours, at four trips a day, six days a week, runs as many as 100 trips a month to Atlantic City, and about 80 percent of the participants are seniors, according to Richard Tisone, vice president of the Levittown company.

He said he will definitely feel the impact of the slots bill, but he added that if it’s good for the state’s economy, “as a businessman, I’m just going to develop a different market.”
It will take some time for slots in state to compete

People are finally talking about Atlantic City as a destination. Hopefully, for that city, this will force operators to invest in non-gaming attractions. In a nutshell, they have to create a south Las Vegas Strip-east rather than a Laughlin-east.

These efforts may be paying off already, because, according to the AC Press’s editorial page, “young people” now consider the resort a happening place:

Various reports in the news media this summer indicate that, lo and behold, Atlantic City is now considered hip by 21- to 35-year-olds. This is excellent news.

Trump Marina Hotel Casino started it a couple of years ago by booking acts with more appeal to young people than to the blue-haired set. Then the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa opened and capitalized on the Marina’s early success by aggressively reaching out to younger people.

And now, in the summer of 2004, between the fresh acts and the beach bars, the shopping and the nightclubs and, oh yeah, the casinos, Atlantic City is suddenly hot among young people. “Atlantic City is so underrated,” says Alex Gilli, 22, uttering words that the resort’s marketers have longed to hear for years.
But our advice to tourism officials: Shush …

It is truly wonderful news that a younger generation is finding Atlantic City to be hip and cool. But as all truly hip and cool people know, once a place (or a clothing style or a band or a particular piece of slang) is perceived by the general public to be hip and cool, it is – by definition – no longer hip and cool.

So keep doing whatever you’re doing that’s helping a new generation rediscover Atlantic City – but don’t talk about it much.

Yes, I’m sure that Las Vegas wishes that it had kept itself a well-kept secret. Once word got out that famous people went there, the city really went downhill.

Maybe the editorial is a way of justifying AC’s attempt to become a destination without launching the kind of ad campaign that Las Vegas has.

If you were from Atlantic City, as I am, you wouldn’t be surprised at inaction being trumpeted as a civic virtue.

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