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Inside Gaming: Locals Casinos in Safe Game of Catch-Up

13 Feb 2006

By Rod Smith

The devil is in the details. While it may look like the development of locals casinos is out of control, analysts say there are fewer gaming positions per Las Vegas resident today (25) than there were 10 years ago (32). That suggests operators such as Station Casinos and Boyd Gaming Corp. really are playing a very safe game of catch-up. That's especially true since each resident is also playing 5 percent more often than 10 years ago. Population growth and the record discretionary income of new baby boomer residents seem to be making locals casinos a sure bet.

Condominium sales cancellations could cause a spate of lawsuits and arbitration cases, buyers groups say. The risk of generating litigation is particularly steep in Las Vegas, where construction costs are accelerating above the national norm. The common argument seems to be that since sales agreements were signed, say a year ago, the prices of comparable units have escalated. That means a buyer who wants a comparable condo will have to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars more now and, in a blame game, an increasing number of buyers want canceling sellers to bear their cost.

What's next for the Strip? With Boyd Gaming Corp.'s announcement of its $4 billion Echelon Place development behind us, rumors are focusing on what Harrah's Entertainment is planning for its center Strip properties and when it is likely to go public. Analysts are saying to expect an announcement sometime this year. Industry insiders are saying the challenges are monumental and that a wide variety of options are still under consideration, most of which include imploding the Imperial Palace.

So why are major developers still so focused on breaking ground in Las Vegas? Bruce Eichner, who is building the $1.8 billion Cosmopolitan, says Las Vegas offers opportunities to develop on a scale found no where else. Also, "international politics has contributed to the (current) popularity of Las Vegas," he said. "Iraq, the declining popularity of the U.S. in the international community, the declining value of the dollar, ... concerns about safety and terrorism all have resulted in people being much more comfortable (here)."

Ryanair, Europe's original low-fare airline, is laying its cards on the table. It recently launched a program of selling lottery cards on board. The huge success of that program is leading Ryanair to work on plans for onboard gambling. Imagine gambling to and from casino destinations such as Las Vegas or even destinations such as Honolulu, where gambling is otherwise forbidden. Chalk one up for the Europeans.

Gaming Wire Editor Rod Smith can be reached by e-mail at rsmith@reviewjournal. com or by phone at 477-3893.

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