Top 10 random thoughts and observations from the casino gaming industry
By Gary Trask
10. Gaming and eSports numbers still on the rise
It might be my age, but I am continually amazed by the popularity and large numbers being attributed to gaming and eSports.
According to a recent study by WalletHub, gaming represents nearly a billion players contributing to a more than $100 billion industry. That means video games beat out global movie ticket revenue last year by $62.5 billion.
This same WalletHub report ranked the top 100 cities in the U.S. for gaming, using 20 key indicators of "gamer-friendliness" such as average internet speed, video game stores per capita and number of eSports tournaments. The top five cities, in order, were Orlando, Seattle, Austin, New York and Atlanta.
It came as a surprise not to see Las Vegas, which came in seventh, in the top five, considering all that the Nevada casinos have done to embrace eSports over the last few years.
Oh, and if you're a gaming fan living in Detroit, we pass along our condolences. The Motor City ranked dead last on the list at 100.
9. The Landmass Burger lands at The Beau
As you may have read here back in the spring, I was fortunate enough to spend a week in early May in one of my favorite destinations: the Mississippi Gulf Coast. One regret I have from that trip was not getting a chance to try the new Landmass Burger being showcased at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, the stunning, waterfront MGM Resorts International property in Biloxi.
The new menu item is the handiwork of Executive Chef Kristian Wade, and it has been entered into the James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project, a nationwide contest to find the best "blended burger."
According to Wade, his new burger features a "succulent blend" of New Orleans barbecue sauce and Alabama white sauce with ground meat and finely chopped mushrooms and gets its name from a Weather Channel forecaster's description of the Mississippi Gulf Coast – the landmass between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama. The Landmass Burger also features a "smoky, grilled double-patty, American cheese, Mississippi Tomato Fondue, carmelized onions and crispy bread and butter pickles."
"With the population growing at the rate it's growing, we're going to be in trouble if we don't change the way we cook and we eat," Wade told Casino City. "So what we're doing here is taking a protein-based product and incorporating vegetables. We're cutting 25% of the protein out of the Landmass Burger, but the end result is no different than what you would expect from a completely protein-based item."
The 41-year-old Wade grew up in the Biloxi area and has been at Beau Rivage for 19 years, working his way from grill cook to executive chef.
He said the feedback he has received about the Landmass Burger has been outstanding. Voting is open until July 31 at https://www.jamesbeard.org/blendedburgerproject/vote, and everyone who casts a ballot is entered to win an all-expenses paid trip for two to the 2018 Blended Burger event at the James Beard House.
8. Bellagio fountains rumor
The man who designed Beau Rivage, Steve Wynn, is also responsible for the dancing water fountains outside the Bellagio, which have become a true Las Vegas icon since they were unveiled in 1998.
A rumor circulated earlier this spring that MGM was discussing replacing the 22-million gallon, 8.5-acre site of the fountains with a boutique shopping area. I was happy to see MGM deny this report, which was first seen in the Las Vegas Review Journal, and hope the company sticks by its statement.
Call me a corny traditionalist, but I would miss seeing those fountains and the attention they attract from everyone walking The Strip. Sure, I understand that nongaming revenue is on the rise at all resort casinos and the space where the fountains sit is prime real estate. But some things should be considered sacred, and the Bellagio fountains are one of them.
7. VSiN a "must-listen"
If you're an ardent fan of the sportsbook scene like yours truly, the new Vegas Stats and Information Network, known as VSiN, is a welcome addition to the plethora of sports gambling information out there.
The studios for the roster of dedicated SiriusXM Radio shows sits smack dab in the middle of South Point Hotel Casino and Spa, home of two veteran sportsbook directors with seven decades of experience — Jimmy Vaccaro and Chris Andrews.
The lineup is spearheaded by former TV play-by-play man Brent Musburger's "My Guys In the Desert" show, heard 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific time. During his career in the booth that spanned four decades with CBS, ABC and ESPN, Musburger was known for his "read-between-the-lines" mentions of the pointspread, but there's no such beating around the bush on VSiN. All of the shows are centered around the almighty point spread.
While Musburger is the most well-known host at VSiN, the other shows are also entertaining and informative and certainly worth a listen. In addition to SiriusXM, the programming can be heard at VSiN.com. And with football season right around the corner, the new network and the content on its website will become even more of a "must listen" for this sports bettor.
6. NBA Playoffs crush bookmakers
While we're on the subject of sports betting, there were some frightening numbers for the sportsbooks released by the Nevada Gaming Control Board last week regarding basketball.
Thanks to a slew of favorites and overs cashing in — a popular combination for public bettors — during the NBA Playoffs, led by the eventual champ Golden State Warriors, the guys on the "other side of the counter" lost $4.4 million on hoops in May, the biggest one-month loss in the history of the state.
But before you shed a tear for the bookies, take note that overall it was still a winning month to the tune of $2.9 million, thanks to a $6.63 million profit in baseball.
A run of favorites covering also cost the sportsbooks dearly during football season, when bookmakers lost $8.25 million on the gridiron in January — the second-worst in-season monthly loss in history, beat only by November 2005.
5. Westgate SuperBook adds new football contest
The folks at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino have upped the ante for their renowned Football SuperContest this year.
In addition to the regular Football SuperContest, which hit a new record of entrants last year for the seventh straight year in 2016 when 1,854 football fans took their shot at picking five NFL games each week against the spread, a new SuperContest Gold is being introduced.
The entry fee for the Gold contest is $5,000 and unlike the $1,500 SuperContest, which pays the top 50 places and includes a few mini-contests, it will be a winner-take-all format. There is only one entry allowed per person and the format for picking games is the same as the SuperContest.
Westgate Vice President of Race and Sports Operations Jay Kornegay is hopeful that the SuperContest will reach the magic number of 2,071 entrants this year, which would mean the first-place prize winner will clear $1 million for the first time.
Last year, a 32-year-old Las Vegas Starbucks barista took down first place in the SuperContest and collected a check worth $907,699.
4. Wynn sportsbook expansion
The Westgate is one of the many sportsbooks in town that have undergone lavish renovations in recent years, proving that these venues are no longer "loss leaders" in the casino industry.
The latest casino to pour money into its sportsbook venue is Wynn Las Vegas, which was already a favorite of mine, but is now taking the next step and adding new video screens, among other things. In addition, sister property new Encore will also add a new sportsbook. Just last year, Wynn opened a new poker room to rave reviews.
Wynn Race and Sportsbook Director Johnny Avello is one of the very best in the business, so when you take the top-notch customer service and add the state-of-the-art technology, you know it's going to be a terrific venue. The new book is schedule to open in August and it's a safe bet it will be one of the first stops we make upon landing in Las Vegas this fall.
3. Positive news for sports betting continues
One more sports betting item before we move on. On the heels of New Jersey getting a huge victory when the Supreme Court announced this week it will hear the state's appeal in its case to bring regulated sports betting to casinos and racetracks, there has been a lot of positive momentum for the industry as of late.
In the past year alone, for the first time, Nevada sportsbooks were allowed to take wagers on the NBA and NFL Draft as well as MVP races and the Heisman Trophy. But if you think betting on politics, a favorite pastime overseas, is in the cards anytime soon here in the U.S., guess again.
Jimmy Vaccaro, a true legend in the sportsbook business, told me when I visited with him earlier this year that it will "never, ever" happen due to federal regulations.
That's too bad. Because Jeff Sherman, a bookmaker at Westgate, once predicted to Casino City that if betting on U.S. politics were offered in Nevada, the enormousness of the handle would "blow the Super Bowl away."
2. WSOP has a serious problem
Looking forward to getting back to Las Vegas next week to provide Casino City readers some inside-the-ropes World Series of Poker coverage. This year's WSOP has been an entertaining one from afar, with plenty of big names winning bracelets and a hotly contested Player of the Year race that includes the likes of Daniel Negreanu as contenders. Anticipation is building for the Main Event, which for the first time since 2007, will crown a champion in July instead of November.
But one serious and lingering problem coming out of the Rio this year (other than the disturbing news that a rare disease had run its course through the property) is the constant chatter on social media by players about the poor quality of the cards and the threat of marking them as they are being dealt.
All the cards are marked . At least half the deck have marks of some kind . Good luck with spotting them.— Calen McNeil (@BigwheelMcNeil) June 14, 2017
At this writing, WSOP officials have remained "mum" about the controversy. I would expect some sort of statement or resolution soon, because there's nothing that can hurt the integrity of the game more than the suspicion of marked cards.
1. "Kid Poker" is the real deal
Speaking of Negreanu, there's good reason why he's the undisputed most popular player in poker. He's extremely likable and entertaining, and he knows how to build a brand.
This year, the six-time WSOP bracelet winner, who is the all-time leading money winner in poker with over $33 million in earnings, started a daily video blog on YouTube. While he said the purpose of the vlog is to bring his fans with him through the grind of playing in the WSOP, there is much more than just poker as the cameras follow him from his bedroom to the pool to the gym and to his soccer games, as well as the WSOP floor.
Each episode runs around 20 minutes or so, and they have been attracting as many as 120,000 views each. It sounds cliché, but Negreanu is, by far, the best ambassador in the game, and — take it from someone who has watched him at the poker table from just steps away and seen him interact with his fans — he is the real deal. It's not an act, and it's refreshing to see a true superstar continue to be all about the game and the fans.