PA slots > AC slots

There’s another negative milestone for Atlantic City slots: in December, they got less play than slots in Pennsylvania. From the AC Press:

Gamblers are putting more money into slot machines in Pennsylvania than they are in Atlantic City.The Gaming Industry Observer says December was the first month ever that slot-machine handle in Pennsylvania surpassed Atlantic City's.

Editor Joseph Weinert calls it a milestone that is a result of declining slots play in New Jersey and rising slots play in Pennsylvania.The difference was $2.1 billion in Pennsylvania to about $2 billion in New Jersey. On top of that, Weinert is forecasting an increase in Pennsylvania's slots revenue in 2010 and a drop in Atlantic City's.

However, Atlantic City casinos brought in more money total because of table games revenue there. Pennsylvania just legalized table games earlier this month.

via Pennsylvania slots revenue surpasses Atlantic City for first time – pressofAtlanticCity.com : Latest News.

There were some interesting comments on the article, including one about parking that says pretty much what I’ve been saying for a while, namely that Atlantic City casinos should not charge for parking. If you are driving to Atlantic City from the Philadelphia area, here are the tolls you’ll pay: $4 to get back into Philly, $6 roundtrip at the Egg Harbor toll plaza, and $1.50 roundtrip at the Pleasantville toll plaza. That’s $11.50, just to get to town. Factor in gas (probably 5-6 gallons, roundtrip, at $3 per) for another $15 or so. Then add a parking charge that can be as high as $25 if there’s a convention in town. We’ve got $27.50 total driving costs before the parking, and then another $5 to $25 on top of that. At a minimum, that’s $32.50 or so that the patron has spent to get to your casino.

Why should they pay more and spend more time getting to Atlantic City when they can get to a PA casino quicker? Even if they have fewer comps, they’ve just saved themselves the cost of a meal by cutting out those driving costs.

If I was running an AC casino’s marketing department, I’d seriously consider giving anyone with a PA driver’s license $30 in freeplay just for walking through the door and comp their parking. That might make it worth their while to make the drive. Sure, it’s a big giveaway, but at this point it should be clear that it’s necessary.

PA slot casinos have an effective tax rate of 55%. AC casinos have an effective tax rate of about 9%. Shouldn’t they be able to offer a better experience to players if they invest part of the 46 cents on the dollar more that they keep back into the facility or into marketing?

Faith-based gaming

I’ve explained, opined, asserted, declared, and suggested, but at last I’ve reached the stage in my career where I can quip. From the Daily Review:

After defeat at polls in 1974, a gaming referendum in New Jersey succeeded two years later thanks to an alliance between gaming interests and the Roman Catholic Church, explained David Schwartz, of the Institute of Gaming Studies [sic] at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
Priestly blessings at casino ribbon cuttings aren’t unheard of, but aren’t routine either, he said.
“I certainly see a lot of people praying in the casino after it opens,” Mr. Schwartz quipped.

Multi-faceted clergyman: Indicted priest with alleged mob ties has many friends, talents

I really don’t have too much to say about this one. Trust me, I’m not quitting my day job for a career as a stand-up comic who specializes in gaming-related humor.

PA hooked on slots?

Pennsylvania hasn’t had slots for long but already people are beginning to suspect that the state is dependent on the revenues the one-armed bandits bring in. From the Inquirer:

Pennsylvania’s new casino industry established itself as a commanding presence in the great budget showdown, leading some to wonder: Is the state already hooked on slots?

Less than a year old, the five slot-machine casinos pour $1.7 million into state coffers each day, evidence offered by legislators who hoped the facilities would remain untouched by the partial government shutdown.

When furloughs became a reality, the casinos – including Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack in Bensalem, and Harrah’s Chester Casino & Racetrack – were granted an injunction from Commonwealth Court that allowed them to stay open during yesterday’s one-day government shutdown.

Any closure would have “devastating effects on the employment, on the market share that our casinos have – and we have Atlantic City right down the street,” State Sen. Robert M. Tomlinson (R., Bucks) said last week.

Gambling revenue: The new mother’s milk | Inquirer | 07/10/2007

I posted this mostly because of the title. I just like the image of smoke-filled slot parlors as nurturing mother’s milk for the state’s budget.

Anti-casino archives

I’ve always hoped that, just as I spend most of my working (NOT waking) hours documenting and preserving the history of the gaming industry, there is someone, somewhere who is cataloging the decline and demise of gaming. My wish has come true. From the Evening Sun:

The battle fought over a failed proposal to build a casino near Gettysburg is now history. Literally.

Ben Neely, the collections manager of the Adams County Historical Society has been gathering items from No Casino Gettysburg and Pro Casino Adams County to document the recent controversy. He will place them in the society’s archives for study, and predicts they eventually could become an exhibit.

“There is a lot of emotional response from seeing these items,” Neely said. “We will wait for more time to pass before putting it on display.”

On Wednesday, he made a trip to Gettysburg Antiques at 15 Baltimore St. to pick up a neon sign that reads “No Casino” and has hung in the window since April 2005.

Neely is looking for items representing both sides of the debate that are unique and have “enduring historical value.”

The society archives contain a collection of items from the Gettysburg Electric Railway, a trolley system once built across the battlefield. It was eventually was taken by the National Park Service by eminent domain and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, who affirmed the seizure. The trolley system was taken down, and represented the conflict of entrepreneurs and preservationists in much the same way as the casino, Neely said.

The preservation of those artifacts help modern historians understand that controversy, and he hopes the casino artifacts will serve the same function.

Evening Sun – Casino fight secures its place in history

So Neely is the Anti-Monitor to my Monitor. The anti-casino people would see it the other way around, I’m sure. Or maybe he’s the Black Guardian to my White Guardian. Except I’d never send someone on a season-long hunt for the Key to Time; I’ d just ask their casino’s PR department to put the Center on their distribution list.

Seriously, it’s great that someone is doing the important work of preserving the artifacts of the Gettysburg casino campaign.

A costly error

I first heard about this story when I got a call from a Philly-area journalist looking for background. Since then, it’s really exploded. Apparently, a reader board atop a quarter Wheel of Fortune machine told a slots player that he’d won $102,000. Then, according to the patron, a casino rep told him it was all a big misunderstanding and gave him a buffet comp. Now, he’s getting his $102,000. He didn’t “earn” it by actually hitting a jackpot, but in an age when PR reigns supreme, what does that matter? From the Daily News:

The story began when Stephen Wilkinson, 56, called the Inquirer to tell them he’d been ripped off by Philadelphia Park Casino last Monday.

The story broke Wednesday and it went national, lifting off like the space shuttle. Other reporters, including me, descended like ravenous locusts.

The irresistible hook was Wilkinson’s statement that in place of the 102Gs, the casino offered him a couple of comps to the buffet.

Here’s what Wilkinson told me last week:

“I’m thinking to myself, they do have a nice steakhouse there. They didn’t even give me that. They’re giving me the buffet. That buffet must be one helluva buffet,” he said, laughing.

Instead of chowing down at the buffet, the retired carpenter filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania State Gaming Board, the first of its kind against Philadelphia Park. In this case, there was no prize for being first.

The casino’s story was that a message telling Wilkinson that he had won $102,000 was a “communication error” mistakenly flashed on the 25-cent Wheel of Fortune machine he was playing, and that his machine had not really hit the jackpot. The buffet, Philadelphia Park said, was offered to him to enjoy while they figured out what to do.

As is often true, perception is reality, and Philadelphia Park was getting hammered from coast to coast.

Philadelphia Daily News | 01/29/2007 | Stu Bykofsky | Casino caught in own wheel of misfortune

I love that headline. I also love how the casino execs backtracked, claiming the buffet was only offered so he could relax while they decided what to do.

This kind of thing actually isn’t that uncommon, and I would think that the “machine malfunction voids all pays” would take care of any legal liability (the ethical liability, though, is another story). From what I’ve heard, the jackpot message was delivered as part of a promotion that offers a maximum of $6,875 to a random player who’s got her club card inserted in a machine. It would have been impossible for the player, Mr. Wilkinson, to win $102,000 in that promotion.

But Wilkinson didn’t know that; I’m sure while it was unexpected, winning $102,000 wasn’t a total surprise. After all, the whole point of random reinforcement is that it is random. Players go home from casinos all the time with less than they’d hoped, so winning a little more than expected isn’t that far from the realm of possiblity.

If this hadn’t have happened during the first few weeks of slots in Pennsylvania, it might have been the subject of a quiet investigation by gaming regulators. Unless there were some extenuating circumstances, I don’t think this story would have been printed in a Nevada newspaper, though I could be wrong. But thanks to its timing, and its happening in a location with where slots are a novelty, it was quickly picked up by the press.

More power to Wilkinson for getting his jackpot. If I was running a casino (it’d probably only be open for a day or so, but it’d be a memorable one), I’d want everyone on the floor to be familiar with what I’ll call the “Wilkinson scenario.” They always said that you don’t want to win the argument and lose the customer; in this case, they won the argument but lost $102,000.

I’m going to get cynical for a moment, though, and add that they’ve probably gotten way more than $102,000 in free publicity. Newspapers around the country are reporting that Philadelphia Park is just giving money away, even to people who haven’t hit jackpots. This might be the most brilliant casino marketing ploy of the decade.

Foxwoods and SugarHouse in Philly

It’s a bad day for Donald Trump and Penguins fans, but a good day for some others: the Pennsylvania Gaming Board has chosen the winners for the two-years slot license derby in that state. From the Inquirer:

South Philadelphia and the Fishtown area to the north will play host to the city’s two slots casinos.

Foxwoods Casino on Columbus Boulevard, and SugarHouse Casino near Fishtown and Northern Liberties, were approved for slots licenses this morning by the Pennsylvania Gaming Board.

The board’s decisions, in two separate votes, are considered likely to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The ballots were cast just before 11:30 a.m. in a packed conference hall. The audience included Mayor Street.

Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia, a $560 million project in South Philadelphia, will be built on a 30-acre parcel off Columbus Boulevard, north of Home Depot and Target.

Developers say that by November 2008, they will have installed 3,000 slot machines, restaurants, shops, and a 2,000-seat entertainment complex. Investors include Quincy Jones, Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider, and 76ers president Billy King.

Sugarhouse Casino is a $550 million project on 22.6 acres on North Delaware Avenue at Shackamaxon Street. Plans call for 3,000 slot machines, restaurants, a plaza, and a pedestrian promenade. It would employ 1,090 people.

Investors include Chicago developer Neil Bluhm, lawyer Richard Sprague, former State Supreme Court Justice William L. Lamb, and auto sales magnate Robert M. Potamkin.

The board did not explain why they selected each applicant. A written explanation will be issued later.

The board was supposed to follow strict criteria when selecting the winners. Among them: whether applicants can maintain a successful, revenue-producing casino; how they would finance the casino; their history of promoting diversity; and their impact on the communities in which they plan to build.

The move puts casinos on the northern and southern ends of the city’s central waterfront.

Philadelphia Inquirer | 12/20/2006 | Foxwoods and SugarHouse Approved

In other news, Las Vegas Sands will build a standalone slots casino in Bethlehem, a city that has promoted itself as “Christmastown, USA,” or something along those lines. Is a Christmas-themed casino in the cards? All signs point to “no.” And Majestic Star’s Don Barden gets the Pittsburgh license, meaning that the Isle of Capri deal to build a new arena for the Penguins is moot. I can think of no better way to add insult to injury for Pens fans than for Barden to build an arena near Fitzgerald’s in downtown Las Vegas (which he also owns) and then lure the Penguins to Las Vegas. Seriously, though, I think that both the NHL and the franchise have a plan B, so the Pens won’t necessarily be turning up in Kansas City or Hamilton, Ontario any time soon.

I don’t know what a Sugarhouse is, but it sounds like a diabetic’s nightmare, or someplace near the Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe. Seriously, it sounds like something you’d find in Storybook Land. If you’re not familiar with the happiest place in Egg Harbor Township, or just want to hear the best creepy clown music ever, click the link. Of course, while I’m poking good-natured fun here, I’ll point out that it costs about $550 million more than anything I’ve ever built or named. I’m sure that they did all kinds of market studies before they came up with the name.

The reality of 6000 slot machines only 60 miles away might just make up some Atlantic City operators who’ve been dragging their feet. It’s time for the “Casino Capital of the East” to take a page from Las Vegas’s book and diversify into non-gaming tourism. The impact might have been mitiaged if Trump or Pinnacle had snared a Philadelphia license, but this looks serious. If you’re a glass half empty person, it’s a problem, but for the optimist, it’s an opportunity.