Indy Gaming: Companies still finding the public markets a willing source to fund new debt

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Gaming newsletter, a weekly look at gaming matters nationally and internationally and how they tie back to Nevada.

If a colleague or associate emailed this newsletter to you, please click here to sign up and receive your own copy of Indy Gaming in your inbox. — Howard Stutz


Macau’s slumping gaming market didn’t stop Las Vegas Sands from floating more than $1.93 billion in new debt through its Hong Kong-based subsidiary that operates the company’s holdings in the region.

But they weren’t alone in tapping into the investment community last week.

Real estate investment trust VICI Properties (which announced plans to acquire rival MGM Growth Properties last month) issued 115 million shares of stock priced at $29.50 on the New York Stock Exchange, raising more than $3.39 billion. And Caesars Entertainment said it was raising $1.2 billion in new debt.

The three companies have different reasons for shaking up their balance sheets, such as paying down debt or funding expansion efforts.

Caesars, for example, launched Caesars Sportsbook last month through a national advertising campaign. The company plans to spend more than $1 billion to grow its sports betting and online gaming business and acquire new customers.

Ahead of the debt raise, Caesars said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that its revenues for the first two months of the third quarter (July and August) were between $1.8 billion and $1.85 billion. The company’s Las Vegas resorts accounted for 37 percent of that total.

“We continue to see Caesars as well-positioned for a leisure-based Strip recovery,” Truist Securities gaming analyst Barry Jonas wrote in a Sept. 9 research note. He added that Caesars’ regional gaming presence in 16 states could protect the company from any “reasonable COVID-19 resurgence.”

Caesars announced its debt raise two days after agreeing to sell the non-U.S. operations of United Kingdom gaming operator William Hill for $3.04 billion to Gibraltar-based online gaming giant 888 Holdings. The casino operator plans to use nearly $2 billion from the sale to pay down debt, resulting in net proceeds of $1.2 billion. Caesars had $14.7 billion in debt at the end of June.

Sands focusing on Asia

Las Vegas Sands is waiting on regulatory approval for the company’s previously announced $6.25 billion sale of its Las Vegas Strip holdings to a combination of VICI and Apollo Global Management.

The debt offering on behalf of Sands China is expected to close Sept. 23, and the company plans to use the proceeds and cash on hand to redeem $1.8 billion in debt that comes due in 2023. The newly acquired debt has a range of maturity dates – $700 million due in 2027, $650 million due in 2029 and $600 million due in 2031. At the end of June, Las Vegas Sands had total debt of $14.42 billion.

Similar to Caesars, Sands provided investors some insight into its Macau operations during July and August in an SEC filing. Its Macau resorts lost $108 million during the two months, which the company blamed on tighter border restrictions that slowed visitation between the Special Administrative Region and mainland China’s Guangdong Province, a key feeder market to Macau’s casinos.

Macau’s total gaming revenue is down 69 percent through the first eight months of 2021, compared to 2019. Analysts said COVID-19 outbreaks across mainland China caused the downturn. As a whole, Macau casinos produced just $554 million in gaming revenue during August, the market’s lowest single-month total since September 2020.

“Admittedly, it’s tough to be near-term bullish on the Macau sub-sector,” JP Morgan gaming analyst Joe Greff told investors in a Sept. 8 research note.

After the sale of the Venetian, Palazzo and Sands Expo and Conference Center, Las Vegas Sands won’t have any holdings in Las Vegas and will be an Asian facing company with six casinos in Macau and the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.

“Investors who are patient should like (Las Vegas Sands’) laggard profile, both in the share price and fundamental recovery,” Greff wrote in his research note. “The key issue for both Macau and Singapore is travel mobility, which is going to be directly tied to infection and vaccination rates and ensuing travel policies changes, all of which are tough to predict.”

Las Vegas Sands has opened the first phase of The Londoner Macau, which is a $2.2 billion renovation of the Sands Cotai Central complex. The company is also spending $3.3 billion at the Marina Bay Sands to add an all-suite hotel tower, additional convention and meeting space and other non-gaming amenities.

In the SEC filing, Las Vegas Sands noted it had more than $2.56 billion on its balance sheet — $556 million in cash and $2 billion of borrowing availability.

“We view this liquidity position as more than ample to ride out a tough short-term travel impacted period,” Greff said.

Pedestrians walk towards the Palazzo with the under-construction MSG Sphere in the background on Sunday, May 30, 2021. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

VICI buying up the Strip

VICI said it plans to use the proceeds from the stock sale to help fund its part of the Las Vegas Sands purchase. The REIT also is paying $4 billion to acquire 63 acres along the Strip and the 19 acres that house the under-construction $1.8 billion MSG Sphere project. Apollo is paying $1.25 billion to acquire the Venetian Operating Company.

VICI’s $17.2 billion acquisition of MGM Growth includes ownership of the land housing nine gaming and non-gaming properties operated by MGM Resorts International.

Macquarie Securities gaming analyst Jordan Bender told investors in a Sept. 10 research note that the market is unconcerned about any additional debt VICI will have to add to its balance sheet. At the end of June, VICI had total debt of $6.9 billion.

“Management continues to prove its ability to grow the business in an accretive manner while growing revenues,” Bender said. VICI is predicting its current deals, which are expected to close in 2022, will give the company expected annual revenues of $2.8 billion. In 2019, VICI’s total revenues were $900 million.

“We expect (VICI’s) dividend to grow by roughly 30 percent over the same period,” Bender said.

Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Carlo Santarelli, in a research note Monday, said VICI is “underappreciated” relative to other REITs. However, following the acquisition of Sands and MGM Growth, Greff suggested VICI will be among the largest REITs in terms of annual cash flow in the RMZ, a market capitalization index.

“(It’s size) will put the company on additional radars and drive incremental value for existing shareholders,” Santarelli said.

Viva Las Vegas? Seminole Gaming CEO taking part in G2E keynote panel

Seminole Gaming CEO/Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen in front of the Guitar Hotel at the Hard Rock Hollywood in Florida. (Courtesy photo)

The appearance of Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen on a Global Gaming Expo keynote panel next month could touch off questions about potential Las Vegas expansion plans for the Florida tribal gaming operation.

Allen, who is also chairman of Hard Rock International, is speaking alongside Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox and MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle during G2E on Oct. 6 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center. CNBC anchor Contessa Brewer will moderate the discussion.

The session is billed as a conversation about the ever-evolving commercial and tribal gaming landscape. In that vein, the talk could cover the recent tribal gaming push into Las Vegas.

The Seminole Tribe has owned Hard Rock International since 2007 and has grown the brand into a worldwide gaming, hospitality, dining and entertainment presence. Hard Rock currently has 14 casino properties in the U.S., Canada and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

The tribe lent the Hard Rock name and brand to an off-Strip property that went through several management changes over the course of more than two decades. The property has since been rebranded as Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.

Speculation about a new Hard Rock Las Vegas arose in March 2020 when Hard Rock announced it had acquired the rights to the name Hard Rock Hotel Casino Las Vegas, along with the former property’s music memorabilia, signage and merchandise, intellectual property rights for affiliated restaurant and entertainment trademarks, and website domain names.

Allen, who has spent more than 20 years with Seminole Gaming, said in a February interview it was important to the company to control the brand but offered no hints of a Las Vegas landing site.

“We’re not involved in any transaction at this point,” he said.

After that interview, Connecticut-based Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment – the business arm of the Mohegan Indian Tribe – began operating the 60,000-square-foot casino space inside Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, becoming the first tribal gaming enterprise licensed by Nevada gaming regulators to operate a casino within the Strip corridor.

In May, Southern California’s San Manuel Band of Mission Indians said it would acquire the off-Strip Palms Casino Resort for $650 million from Red Rock Resorts. The transaction is expected to close by the end of the year pending regulatory approval.

Seminole Gaming operates six of the state’s seven tribal casino properties, including Hard Rock Tampa and Hard Rock Hollywood near Fort Lauderdale. In 2019, Hard Rock opened the $1.15 billion Guitar Hotel expansion at the Hollywood resort. The 638-room tower is shaped like the body of a guitar.

Other items of interest

Stanley Mallin, AGA Hall of Fame member. (Photo Courtesy AGA)

Stanley Mallin, the long-time business partner of Las Vegas casino personality Jay Sarno, died Saturday in Las Vegas at age 98. Mallin, who was inducted into the American Gaming Association's Gaming Hall of Fame in 2019, was an essential executive in the opening of two Strip resorts conceived by Sarno: Caesars Palace in 1966 and Circus Circus in 2008. The bombastic and larger-than-life Sarno was the face of the Strip developments while Mallin was the quiet behind-the-scenes operator who managed the properties in the 1960s and 1970s. Sarno was part of the Gaming Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1989, but it took 30 years to enshrine Mallin. Oliver Lovat, CEO of gaming industry advisor Denstone, said Mallin was “the last of the great Las Vegas pioneers.” On the Strip, Mallin is still memorialized. Stan Mallin Drive runs parallel to Jay Sarno Way, with both connecting from Frank Sinatra Drive into the back end of Caesars Palace.

Gaming equipment provider International Game Technology has moved its online gaming and sports betting businesses into a newly formed Digital & Betting operating segment. The two businesses were originally part of the company’s Global Gaming division. The move gives IGT three business sectors: Global Lottery, Global Gaming and Digital & Betting. IGT is headquartered in London but has significant production, sales and marketing divisions in Nevada. IGT CEO Marco Sala said Enrico Drago will serve as CEO of the Digital & Betting division. Drago, 44, previously had oversight of IGT’s online gaming, online lottery and sports betting operations. "These businesses have become strategically important to IGT as they afford us the opportunity to leverage the global reach and strong customer relationships of our Global Gaming segment,” Sala said. “The new structure gives us more flexibility in our product and solutions portfolio.”

Trey Wingo and JB Smoove. (Photo Courtesy Caesars Sportsbook)

Former ESPN anchor Trey Wingo made his first appearance last week as the chief trends officer and brand ambassador for Caesars Sportsbook. The sports betting arm of Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment launched operations in Arizona earlier this month. Wingo, who left ESPN in 2020 after 23 years with the network, was at Chase Field in Phoenix with Caesars officials, Arizona Diamondbacks representatives, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and actor J.B. Smoove, who stars as “Caesar” in the company’s nationwide advertising campaign. Wingo, who hosted NFL Live and for the NFL Draft for the network, will create original sports betting content and analysis for Caesars that will be broadcast across the company’s media channels. Wingo is among a growing roster of former athletes, media personalities, and celebrities who are now “brand ambassadors” for sportsbook operators who oversee the activity that is now legal and operating in 26 states and Washington D.C. “I want to tell the stories behind the odds,” Wingo said.

Caesars Sportsbook did have one hiccup on Sunday. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, an outage halted mobile sports wagering in Nevada just before kick-off for the 10 a.m. NFL games. On Sunday afternoon, once power to the apps was restored, Caesars gave two free $25 wagers to its customers and apologized for the inconvenience via email.

BetMGM has come up with a new solution for customers to fund their sports wagering accounts: gift cards. BetMGM, a 50-50 partnership between MGM Resorts International and Entain Plc, said a partnership with payments firm TAPPP will allow gift cards in $25 and $50 denominations to be sold at major convenience and grocery retail chains in states that offer legal sports betting. Currently, the cards are sold in 6,000 locations in eight states. "One of the biggest pieces of feedback we get from our customers is that they want a simple and convenient way to fund their accounts," BetMGM Head of Payments Maria Tomlinson said in a statement. The gift cards help avoid deposit failures, she said.

Vaccine mandates: Tracking the policies put in place by private, public entities

Businesses with 100 or more employees will be required to mandate vaccination or weekly testing for their workers under a new rule announced by President Joe Biden on Thursday.

But many Nevada businesses and public institutions have already put their own employee vaccine mandates in place, with more in the works as the federal government finalizes the new rule and fleshes out its finer points. Some have gone further by requiring vaccinations not just for employees but as a condition of entry for members of the public, including at conventions, athletic events and concerts.

At the same time, some rural governments have passed resolutions banning vaccine mandates to varying degrees.

Read below for more information about what entities already have mandates in place and which policies go beyond the new federal requirement.

🔵 = full vaccine mandate

🟢 = vaccine or testing 

🟡 = new hire vaccination only 

🔴 = vaccine mandate ban

K-12 schools

🔵 Clark County School District (employees): The school board authorized the Clark County School District to mandate the vaccine for employees, though it remains subject to negotiations with employee bargaining units before it is implemented. For now, the district has a vaccination-testing program in place, with unvaccinated employees required to get tested weekly. Read more here.

Higher education

🔵 Nevada System of Higher Education (employees): The Board of Regents voted Sept. 10 to authorize the chancellor to develop a vaccination requirement for all system employees on or before Dec. 1. The full mandate won't take effect until the chancellor's office presents the specifics of the plan and the board takes another vote. Until then, system employees are required to show proof of vaccination or test for the virus weekly under a policy laid out for all state employees by the governor’s office, which took effect on Aug. 30. Read more here.

🔵 Nevada System of Higher Education (students): The Board of Health voted on Aug. 20 to require all students at NSHE institutions enrolling in in-person classes in the spring 2022 semester to show proof of full vaccination by Nov. 1, 2021. Read more here.

Gaming, tourism and events

🔵🟢 MGM Resorts International (employees): The company became the first major gaming company in the U.S. to announce a vaccine mandate for salaried and new employees on Aug. 16. The company is considering extending the mandate to existing hourly employees, which are currently required to either get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. Read more here.

🟢 Wynn Las Vegas (employees): The company announced on April 8 that all employees are required to get the COVID-19 vaccine or get tested weekly for the virus. Read more here.

🟢 Las Vegas Sands (employees): The company has required non-vaccinated employees of the Venetian, Palazzo and Sands Expo Conference Center to submit to weekly testing since July 26. The testing is done on-site, and the cost is covered by the company.

🔵 Westgate Las Vegas (employees): The company announced on Sept. 10 that starting Oct. 15 proof of vaccination will be required for all team members, according to KLAS. Read more here.

🟡 Resorts World (employees): Starting Sept. 12, the company will require proof of vaccination as a condition employment for all new hires, both hourly and salaried, according to KLAS. Read more here.

🔵 Las Vegas Raiders (attendees): The Las Vegas Raiders announced on Aug. 16 that attendees of all home games would be required to be either partially or fully vaccinated. Read more here.

🔵 World Series of Poker (employees/participants): The World Series of Poker, which is owned by Caesars Entertainment, announced in August all participants in the upcoming tournament in Las Vegas are required to provide proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to registration. The event is scheduled for Sept. 30 through Nov. 23. A mandate was also given for World Series of Poker employees.

🔵 Conventions (attendees): Several conventions have mandated proof of COVID-19 vaccinations for all attendees, including the Global Gaming Expo (Oct. 4-7) and the Consumer Electronics Show (Jan. 5-8, 2022). The National Association of Broadcasters (Oct. 9-13) had mandated vaccine proof but announced on Sept. 15 it had canceled the conference.

🟢 Life is Beautiful (attendees): Organizers of the Downtown Las Vegas music festival announced on Aug. 11 that attendees must be vaccinated or present proof of a negative COVID-19 test. The three-day music festival starts Sept. 17. Read more here.

State government

🟢 State of Nevada (employees): State officials announced a vaccination-testing program for state employees on July 21. Unvaccinated workers are required to get tested weekly. Read more here.

🔵 Department of Corrections (employees): The Board of Health voted on Sept. 10 to require state employees and contractors working in state-run detention facilities to get vaccinated. They have until Nov. 1 to get the shot. Read more here.

🔵 Department of Health and Human Services (employees): The Board of Health voted on Sept. 10 to require state employees and contractors working in state-run health care facilities. They have until Nov. 1 to get the shot. Read more here.

Local government

🟡 City of Reno (employees): City officials announced in August that new employees hired on or after Sept. 2 must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Unvaccinated employees are required to wear a non-medical grade N95 mask when working where other people are present, while vaccinated employees may wear a cloth or surgical mask. Read more here.

🟡 Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (employees): Sheriff Joe Lombardo told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in mid-August that new hires are required to get the vaccine. The requirement does not apply to existing employees. Read more here.

🔴 Lander County and White Pine County (employees/general public): The two rural counties have passed resolutions banning all businesses, entities and organizations from requiring vaccines as a condition of employment or entry. Read more here.

🔴 Elko County (general public): The county passed a resolution on July 21 banning the use of “vaccine passports” by any county agency and “strongly discouraging” the use of such passports by other agencies and businesses in the county. The term “vaccine passport” generally refers to any kind of proof of vaccination submitted to participate in an activity or enter an establishment. Read more here.

Federal government

🔵 U.S. Government (employees): President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Sept. 9 requiring vaccination for all federal workers and contractors who do business with the federal government, with no option to be regularly tested for COVID-19 to opt out. Read more here.

Health care

🔵 Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican Hospitals: Hospital officials announced on Aug. 12 that all employees would be required to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1. Read more here.

🔵 Health care workers: Under new federal requirements, all health care workers in hospitals and other health care settings will required to be vaccinated. Read more here.

Megan Messerly, Howard Stutz, Jacob Solis and Sean Golonka contributed to this report. 

This vaccine mandate tracker will be updated as more information becomes available. See something missing here? Email megan@thenvindy.com to submit it for consideration to be added to the tracker.

Read more of our pandemic coverage here. You can also find the latest COVID-19 data on our data page.

Indy Gaming: Former Strip investor Paulson partners with MGM Resorts on Puerto Rico sports betting

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Gaming newsletter, a weekly look at gaming matters nationally and internationally and how they tie back to Nevada.

If a colleague or associate emailed this newsletter to you, please click here to sign up and receive your own copy of Indy Gaming in your inbox. — Howard Stutz


MGM Resorts International partnered with an old friend to gain a foothold into Puerto Rico’s planned sports betting business.

However, it might take until next year before BetMGM oddsmakers will set the first line in the unincorporated U.S. territory.

Through BetMGM, its 50-50 joint venture with Entain Plc., MGM Resorts said last week it will launch retail and online sports betting at Casino del Mar at La Concha Resort in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital city. The agreement is BetMGM’s first venture outside the mainland U.S., where the company operates in a dozen states.

BetMGM is expected to launch mobile sports betting operations in Arizona on Thursday in conjunction with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, which includes a retail sportsbook at 63,400-seat State Farm Stadium in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale. The company is also expected to soon expand sports betting into Canada.

In a presentation to investors in April, BetMGM CEO Adam Greenblatt said the company was on track to be operating in 20 states by the end of the year and will produce $1 billion in net revenues by the end of 2022.

Puerto Rico is months away from being part of that equation.

Global Market Advisors Partner Brendan Bussmann, who has been following the Puerto Rico process, said it may take until the week of Super LVI next February before the territory has its process in place. He said Puerto Rico will also require sports bettors to register at that casino, which is an additional challenge to the market.

“There is still a lot of ground to cover with the approval of the regulations, licensure and launch of the market,” Bussmann said,

La Concha Resort has 248 oceanfront rooms and a 235-suite hotel tower. Casino del Mar is Puerto Rico’s newest gaming establishment. The properties are owned by Paulson & Co., a New York investment fund controlled by billionaire John Paulson.

Paulson is a familiar name in the Las Vegas gaming and real estate markets from his investments over the last decade.

In June 2010, his hedge fund took a 9 percent ownership in MGM Resorts through a $480 million stock purchase. At the time, the stake trailed only the 37 percent controlled by MGM founder Kirk Kerkorian, who was then a member of the company’s board, and the 9.9 percent interest owned by Dubai World, the investment arm of the Persian Gulf emirate that was MGM Resorts’ partner in CityCenter.

At the same time, Paulson spent $40 million for a 4.6 percent ownership in Boyd Gaming and exchanged $710 million in bonds for a 9.9 percent ownership in Harrah’s Entertainment.

Then-MGM Resorts Chairman and CEO Jim Murren and Paulson had long been acquaintances in New York when both were Wall Street analysts. Murren said in a 2010 interview that Paulson is “one of the purest analysts I know.” 

“There is nothing mysterious about his objective. He wants to make money and he is betting on companies that would benefit from an economic recovery,” Murren said.

Paulson supported MGM Resorts’ efforts to create real estate investment trust MGM Growth Properties in 2015, which separated management of the hotel-casinos from ownership of the real estate. MGM Growth is being bought by rival gaming REIT VICI Properties in a $17.2 billion deal announced last month.

In 2012, Paulson spent $17 million to purchase 875 acres of the struggling 3,600-acre Lake Las Vegas master-planned community in Henderson. The firm acquired additional acreage over time, including the Reflection Bay Golf Club in 2014.

Much has changed in Paulson’s gaming universe over the last six years.

According to the company’s most recent Securities and Exchange Commission 13F filing, Paulson & Co. no longer owns any MGM Resort shares. In August, the fund acquired 1 million shares of casino operator Bally’s Corp., which operates the recently launched BallyBet, an online sports betting business that competes with BetMGM.

Paulson initially invested into the Puerto Rican tourism industry in 2014.

“Sports are part of the everyday life in Puerto Rico, with a huge following and a passionate fan base in almost every sport,” Paulson said in a statement announcing the partnership with BetMGM. “As such, it's natural that we are the first market outside the continental United States in which our guests will be able to place bets with BetMGM.”

The territory legalized casinos in 1948 along with other forms of gaming, including cockfighting. In 2019, the Puerto Rico Legislature approved both land-based and online sports betting, and outlawed cockfighting. The territory fell under the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling that opened the U.S. to legal sports betting.

However, COVID-19 and economic difficulties slowed the process. Parts of the island have also been slow to recover from 2017’s Hurricane Maria.

Puerto Rico is roughly 1,000 miles southeast of Miami and attracts between 3 million and 4 million annual visitors, the bulk of whom come from the U.S. The territory has a residential population of nearly 3.3 million.

Bussmann said Puerto Rico’s tourist attractions offer U.S. gaming customers unique incentives.

“Would you rather watch and wager on the Super Bowl or March Madness in the cold and snow, or on a beach or a golf course in Puerto Rico?” Bussmann asked.

Earlier this year, Connecticut’s Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation said it would help reopen the casino at Puerto Rico’s Fairmont El San Juan Hotel under the tribe’s Foxwoods brand.

In a statement provided by MGM Resorts, Puerto Rico Gaming Commission Executive Director Orlando A. Rivera Carrión said the addition of BetMGM helps the territory in “implementing a public policy that encourages the development of new jobs and maximizing the income and resources of the Government of Puerto Rico.”

An interior view of the planned Caesars Sportsbook at Chase Field in Phoenix. (Courtesy photo)

Report: Caesars close to selling William Hill’s non-U.S. businesses

Caesars Entertainment is close to finalizing the sale of William Hill’s European sports betting and online gaming holdings, which the casino company acquired in April when it purchased the gaming giant for $4 billion.

Caesars officials made no secret of the company’s desire to concentrate solely on William Hill’s U.S. operations. Through a 2018 deal, Caesars already owned 20 percent of William Hill and saw value in having 100 percent of the sports betting and online gaming business.

“We control our own destiny and what I continue to believe is an extraordinarily exciting opportunity for the company,” Caesars CEO Tom Reeg said in May.

Last month, Caesars announced the nationwide launch of Caesars Sportsbook, the company’s retail and online sports betting business that is nearing operations in 20 states. Reeg said Caesars would spend more than $1 billion over the next 18 months to grow the business.

Caesars Sportsbook has announced several sports betting partnerships with multiple entities, including the naming rights to the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans. The company is also one of three official sports betting partners with the National Football League.

The growing U.S. market is the reason the international side of William Hill didn’t fit into Caesars’ plans.

Bloomberg News reported last week that Gibraltar-based online gaming giant 888 Holdings and New York hedge fund Apollo Global Management were the finalists in the bidding war after Luxemburg-based CVC Capital Partners withdrew from the process. 888 reportedly had the highest bid, but both firms are still in talks with Caesars.

Caesars plans to use the funds from the sale to pay down a portion of its long-term debt, which stood at $14.7 billion at the end of June.

“It should come as no surprise that we will begin to aggressively pay down debt,” Caesars Chief Financial Officer Brett Yunker said in May. The company also plans to sell at least one of its Strip resorts next year to pay down debt.

In May, Reeg was clear the company had little desire to operate online gaming outside the U.S.

“One of my pet peeves when I was an investor (was) companies that didn't know what they were good at,” Reeg said. “I can't tell you we're good at running a non-U.S. digital business. I can tell you that there are almost certainly people out there that will do it better than us and see opportunity there.”

Reeg put a halt on international casino expansion when Caesars’ $17.3 billion merger with Eldorado Resorts was announced in June 2019. He said the company would end its decade-long quest to land an integrated resort license in Japan, and told analysts earlier this year the company ended its partnership in a casino-resort venture in South Korea.

“I can deploy that capital into businesses that I know will drive better returns to shareholders,” Reeg said. “So, no, we've not had a moment's pause in terms of selling the non-U.S. business.”

However, Caesars still has nearly a dozen international operations – gaming and non-gaming – in Canada, the United Kingdom, Dubai and Egypt. 

Other items of interest:

AGA CEO Bill Miller. (Photo courtesy AGA)

When the NFL season kicks off Thursday, eight more states than a year ago will have legal sports betting. With another five states expected to launch during the season, a growing number of NFL fans will have increased access to legal sports betting opportunities. The American Gaming Association said Tuesday it expects 36 percent more Americans will legally wager on NFL games than a year ago. Research conducted by the Washington D.C trade organization found that 45.2 million Americans plan to wager on the NFL this year. “When the 2021 NFL season begins, more than 111 million American adults will be able to wager safely with regulated sportsbooks in their home states rather than with the predatory illegal market,” said AGA CEO Bill Miller. Sports betting is currently legal in 32 states and Washington, D.C., with 26 jurisdictions already operating. Arizona, Washington and South Dakota are expected to launch by this weekend. Currently, 16 of the 23 states with NFL teams have legal sports betting.

Note: AGA CEO Bill Miller and MGM Resorts CEO Bill Hornbuckle are participating in a panel discussion on the future of online gaming at IndyFest 2021, Oct. 2-3. For more information, follow this link.

Sightline Payments co-founder Omer Sattar was named the Las Vegas-based company’s co-CEO last week. He will work alongside co-CEO Joe Pappano. In this new role, Sattar will oversee internal operations including product and compliance. Pappano will continue to lead Sightline’s strategy, sales, client services and marketing. Sattar co-founded Sightline Payments in 2011 and has served as executive vice president. He helped drive digital payments acceptance in gaming, including the company’s deals with Resorts World Las Vegas and Boyd Gaming. Sightline has received some $400 million in funding over the past 10 months. “The past year has been transformative for Sightline, and we have no intention of slowing down our progress to revolutionize payments in the gaming and hospitality industries,” Sattar said. Pappano said the timing of the move, “allows Sightline to focus our resources on meeting the incredible demand we are seeing in the market.”

Photo of The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas
The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas. Allen McGregor/Courtesy under Creative Commons

The ownership of the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas may be changing. New York-based investment firm Blackstone is said to be shopping the Strip resort with an asking price of $5 billion. Sources told Bloomberg that Apollo Global Management, which is buying the Venetian and Palazzo operations from Las Vegas Sands, has an interest in the hotel-casino. Blackstone put the Cosmopolitan on the market in 2019 and was reportedly seeking $4 billion. The Cosmopolitan opened in 2010 at a cost of $3.9 billion when it was owned by Deutsche Bank. Blackstone paid $1.73 billion for the property in 2014.

Macau casinos produced $554 million in gaming revenue during August, the Chinese gaming market’s lowest single-month total since September 2020. Macau’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau said the figure was a nearly 48 percent decline compared to July’s numbers and 76 percent below August 2019. Through the first eight months of 2021, Macau’s gaming revenue is down 69 percent compared to 2019. Analysts said COVID-19 outbreaks across mainland China caused travel restrictions to and from Macau. “While we continue to be encouraged by visitation trends during periods of less restrictive travel mandates, until we see stronger correlation into higher gaming revenue, we feel like it makes sense to be more conservative with our assumptions,” Stifel Financial gaming analyst Steven Wieczynski wrote in a research note. “As we have indicated before, we believe investors just have to write off 2021 and start to focus on 2022. With additional virus lockdowns potentially in play, we believe any material recovery is now a 2022 story.” Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts International operate casinos in Macau.

Wisconsin may soon have its first legal sports betting operation. Las Vegas-based International Game Technology (IGT) said last week it had signed an agreement to provide the sports betting platform to the Oneida Casino on the Oneida Nation Reservation in Green Bay. The Oneida Nation is the first tribe in Wisconsin to receive approval from the state to operate sports betting. Wisconsin is one of nine states that legalized sports betting but has yet to launch operations. The Oneida Casino will offer both a retail sportsbook and mobile sports betting. "We're committed to supporting Oneida's sports betting vision,” said IGT Senior Vice President Enrico Drago. Oneida General Manager Louise Cornelius said the casino looks forward “to partnering with IGT'' and “becoming the first casino in Wisconsin to operate a sportsbook.”

Quotable:

“Based on commentary from management teams and our checks, we are expecting the remainder of the year to see solid trends for Las Vegas. July gaming revenue was up 46 percent versus July 2019 and assuming typical seasonality for August and September, we believe third quarter 2021 gaming revenue will be up better than 30 percent.”

Macquarie Securities analyst Chad Beynon in a research note discussing the potential for a recovery of business on the Las Vegas Strip that was lost because of COVID-19.

Indy Gaming: Major Strip casino operators snubbing downtown Chicago gaming project

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Gaming newsletter, a weekly look at gaming matters nationally and internationally and how the events tie back to Nevada.

If a colleague or associate emailed this newsletter to you, please click here to sign up and receive your own copy of Indy Gaming in your inbox. - Howard Stutz


Chicago gave potential casino developers another two months to submit a proposal for an integrated resort in the downtown area of the nation’s third-largest city.

The extra time, however, won’t change the opinions of Las Vegas’ largest gaming companies, who have taken a pass on the Chicago opportunity.

"Extending the deadline for interested bidders will allow the city to collect as many robust, impactful and transformative proposals as possible,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement released Friday. “I look forward to seeing these bids roll in and working very closely with whichever team is ultimately chosen to develop Chicago's first-ever casino."

In reality, the mayor may only see a handful of offers.

The proposals won’t come from MGM Resorts International, Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts and Caesars Entertainment. The four large Strip operators decided against submitting bids for a project that Lightfoot and other Chicago leaders said was designed to attract Las Vegas Boulevard’s best-known occupants.

What has scared them away is the tax structure for the deal – 40 percent on gaming revenues – and competition in Illinois, a state that currently has 10 casinos and more than 40,000 video gaming terminals operating in 7,670 locations.

Four casinos in nearby northwest Indiana draw business from Chicago-area residents. Meanwhile, the city of Waukegan, just 35 miles north of downtown Chicago, is considering bids for a gaming development from three casino operators, including Las Vegas-based Full House Resorts. Waukegan is one of five locations slated for a casino project as part of Illinois’ 2019 gaming expansion legislation.

The word “oversaturated'' best describes gaming in the state.

That’s not to say expansion is slowing. The state’s venture into sports betting created some unique partnerships, including a deal announced last year between the Chicago Cubs and DraftKings that will land a sportsbook at historic Wrigley Field.

According to ESPN, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks unanimously voted last week to approve the plans for a two-story sportsbook adjacent to the landmark stadium.

Illinois-based Rush Street Gaming, which operates Rivers Casino in Des Plaines – just 20 miles north of downtown Chicago —  seems to have the hometown edge. But Lightfoot, back in April when the request for proposals effort was launched, was hopeful the Strip would come knocking.

The idea seemed inevitable based on the response the city saw when it announced a request for information on ideas for the integrated casino resort.

The MGM Grand hotel and casino sign
The MGM Grand hotel/casino and New York/ New York as seen on Monday, March 20, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

According to the summary that was released in December, MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts, along with Hard Rock International and Rush Street, were among 11 companies, real estate developers, consultants, and a neighborhood group that provided input to what the city termed as the first step in the planning process.

The attraction was there – a metropolitan area of 9.5 million people and annual visitation of another 60 million people.

Among the opportunities for the winning bidder is a license to operate a temporary casino for up to 24 months – which is subject to a 12-month extension – until the permanent casino opens.

Also, the casino operator can operate slot machines at the city’s two major airports – Chicago Midway International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International. Between the casino and the airports, the combined number of gaming positions (table games and slot machines) allowed is 4,000.

But it wasn’t enough for the Strip companies.

MGM Resorts was the first to drop out.

“Chicago is just complicated,” MGM Resorts CEO Bill Hornbuckle said this spring. “The history there in Chicago, the tax and the notion of integrated resort at scale don’t necessarily marry up. We’re not overly keen or focused at this point in time there.”

Las Vegas Sands CEO Rob Goldstein never mentioned Chicago when asked in July about potential casino developments around the country, instead citing New York City, Texas and Florida – even though none of those locations are currently considering casino expansion.

Wynn Resorts spokesman Michael Weaver reiterated his company’s position that was made last month to the Wall Street Journal.

“We will not participate in the RFP for Chicago,” he said in an email Monday to The Nevada Independent.

Last week, Caesars Entertainment CEO Tom Reeg was equally blunt when asked about a Chicago integrated resort during his company’s quarterly conference call.

“I’ve got no interest in Chicago,” Reeg said. Instead, he touted the company’s planned Harrah’s casino at a racetrack in Columbus, Nebraska.

Chicago is not deterred.

The city’s upbeat statement that accompanied Lightfoot’s remarks said the extension gives potential bidders “more time to fully assess the Chicago casino opportunity; conduct additional due diligence; assemble more competitive bid packages; and explore financing opportunities.”

That might not solve the problem with lack of interest.

The sportsbook at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. (Photo courtesy Caesars Entertainment)

Analyst, unenthusiastic on sports betting, praises recent moves

In July, Stifel Financial gaming analyst Steven Wieczynski was hesitant to endorse the effort by Las Vegas Sands to expand into sports betting through the company’s recently announced push into digital gaming.

“What we don’t want to see Las Vegas Sands do is chase this sports betting/iGaming euphoria, which is going on right now,” Wieczynski told investors following the company’s second-quarter conference call. “Given their lack of a domestic presence, we believe they would just be overpaying for an opportunity which would probably not be overly relevant to their cashflow base at the end of the day.”

Stifel Financial gaming analyst
Steven Wieczynski. (Photo courtesy of Stifel)

Last week, the Baltimore-based analyst had an opportunity to weigh in on two other billion-dollar sports betting efforts. But his lack of enthusiasm for the storyline – “We aren’t the biggest sports betting bulls as we have indicated numerous times” – altered slightly.

Caesars Entertainment plans to spend $1 billion to expand its sports betting and iGaming presence in the U.S. as it integrates the company’s customer loyalty program within an online presence acquired through its nearly $4 billion purchase of William Hill in April. Meanwhile, Penn National Gaming said it was spending $2 billion to acquire Canadian sports betting provider theScore to capitalize on an emerging market north of the border.

“Will investors feel comfortable having Caesars invest that much to grow their sports betting/iGaming business?” he asked in a research note. “This will be the most debatable subject around this story moving forward given the mixed results we have witnessed from other sports betting entities.”

But Wieczynski found positives in both announcements.

He said Caesars, which operates 16 casinos in Nevada, isn’t planning to spend more than 10 figures just on acquiring customers.

“We believe only a small percentage is being allocated toward that and we continue to hold the belief that Caesars is in the best position from a customer acquisition standpoint given their massive Total Rewards program,” Wieczynski said.

Prior to earnings, Caesars unveiled a rebranding of its combined legacy and William Hill operations in the U.S. as Caesars Sportsbook. The company expects mobile wagering to be live in 14 states by the end of the year and has an advantage heading into the upcoming football season as one of three official sports betting partners of the National Football League.

“While we aren’t the biggest believers in the sports betting opportunity, we are the biggest believers in this management team and trust their judgement that this investment will pay massive dividends down the road,” Wieczynski said, adding Caesars exceeded all forecasts for cash flow following last year’s $17.3 billion buyout by the former Eldorado Resorts.

“We are hoping the same comes true a couple years down the road, that this ‘new’ opportunity can produce more than their current $500 million to $1 billion (cash flow) projection,” Wieczynski said.

As for Penn National, Wieczynski said acquiring theScore is more than just about capitalizing on the Canadian sports betting market. Integrating the platform created by theScore with Penn’s current U.S sports betting operations with Barstool Sports will be an added boost.

“For many investors we talk to, the one thing missing from the Penn online story thus far has been a full, in-house technology stack,” Wieczynski said. “Not only did Penn check that box today, they also greatly expanded their content/brand-based top of funnel customer acquisition opportunities and secured a likely leading position in Canada.”

He said theScore reportedly had interest from other buyers without needing the supplemental technology.

“We expect Penn to derive significant value from the content/brand and positioning in Canada alone, with upside on the margins from taking remaining technology in-house,” Wieczynaki said.

Penn is in the process of expanding its Barstool Sports betting presence to at least a dozen states by the end of 2021, but Nevada is not part of the growth plan. The company operates M Resort in Henderson and two small casinos in Jackpot near the northeastern Nevada border with Idaho, but is giving up its management of Tropicana Las Vegas, possibly by late fall.

Penn sold the Tropicana Las Vegas, which it has owned since 2015, to Gaming and Leisure Properties at the outset of the pandemic last year. The real estate investment trust leased the Strip resort back to Penn, but the operations are being sold to Bally’s Corp.

Other items of interest:

AGA CEO Bill Miller. (Photo courtesy AGA)

The American Gaming Association said Tuesday the casino industry nationwide is on track to eclipse 2019’s record revenue total of $43.6 billion after just six months. The Washington D.C.-based trade organization said casinos nationally collected just under $25 billion in gaming revenues, an increase of 15.3 percent from this point in 2019. The AGA credited sports betting revenues of $1.8 billion through June, which has already surpassed 2020’s yearly total revenues of $1.5 billion. AGA CEO Bill Miller added that brick-and-mortar casino gaming, “the backbone of this industry,” had record slot machine and table game revenues. Nevada, according to the Gaming Control Board, has seen gaming revenues increase 1.5 percent through June compared to 2019, but with zero help from the Strip, which is down 11.3 percent in the year’s first four months.

Accel Entertainment CEO Andy Rubenstein said the company’s $140 million acquisition of Nevada slot machine route operator Century Gaming would be delayed until the first half of 2022 due a “large backlog of licensing applications.” The Illinois-based company had hoped to close the transaction by the end of this year. Century is the second-largest route operator in Nevada and the largest in Montana. Rubenstein said during Accel's second-quarter earnings release last week that the backlog is in “several states.” Century also provides games in South Dakota, West Virginia and Louisiana. Accel is Illinois’ largest slot machine route operator with 2,527 locations and 13,177 video gaming terminals. The company said its revenue total of $202 million was the company’s highest-ever for a single quarter. Gaming legislation in 2019 allowed Illinois slot routes to offer higher betting limits and add a sixth game per location.

Scientific Games is looking to sell its lottery business and sports betting operations, but don’t look at International Game Technology as a potential buyer. During IGT’s second quarter conference call last week, Truist Securities gaming analyst Barry Jonas asked CEO Marco Sala how the potential deal relates to the rival company. “We are focused on serving governments and licensed private operators as a [business-to-business provider]. And this role can expand that to comprise a full house lottery operation where appropriate.” Scientific Games is looking to use a sale to reduce a daunting $9.2 billion in long-term debt.

On the same day DraftKings stole the sports betting headlines with its $1.56 billion acquisition of Golden Nugget’s online and sports betting operations, two rivals had their own announcements. BetMGM announced two deals to give the company access into Arizona’s sports betting market that is expected to launch this fall. The sports betting arm of MGM Resorts International said it will place sportsbooks in three Phoenix-area casinos operated by the Gila River Indian Community. Also, the company signed a deal with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals to build a sportsbook at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, which is near Phoenix. The deals also include mobile sports betting access through BetMGM. While the tribal casino sportsbooks will open this fall, the stadium sportsbook is targeted for 2022.

Also, WynnBet, Wynn Resorts’ sports wagering entity, signed 15-time NBA All-Star and media personality Shaquille O'Neal as a brand ambassador. O’Neal will be featured in WynnBET's advertising campaigns and will attend in-person events for fans. To comply with NBA rules, O’Neal will sell his ownership stake in the Sacramento Kings.

Speaking of DraftKings, the company is a major proponent of remote registration for sports betting, where a customer doesn’t need to visit a casino in order to sign up. Most of the major mobile sports betting states, such as New Jersey and Michigan, have remote registration. Mobile sports betting is often 80 percent to 90 percent of all wagers in those states. Nevada, where more than 60 percent of all sports wagers are made on mobile devices, does not allow remote registration. Las Vegas locals gaming companies have fought any change in the regulation. Could DraftKings move the needle in favor of a change? “The presence of DraftKings in Nevada will add another voice to the chorus calling for the authorization of remote sports betting registration and online casinos in the state,” Eilers & Krejcik gaming analyst Chris Grove said. “On the other hand, the entrance of DraftKings may further entrench stakeholders who are opposed to expanding online gambling in Nevada. On balance, it's likely to move the state closer to an expansion of online gambling, but not necessarily to a material degree.”

Indy Gaming: Nevada sportsbooks headed toward a record year even as more states legalize the activity

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Gaming newsletter, a weekly look at gaming matters nationally and internationally and how the events tie back to Nevada.

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Sports betting is legal and regulated in more than half of the U.S.

But despite the competition, Nevada’s sports betting industry has thrived.

If the first six months of 2021 are an indicator, Nevada sportsbooks are on pace to shatter the state’s annual records for wagers and revenues that were recorded in 2019. Through June, sportsbooks collected $3.3 billion in bets, an increase of 32 percent compared to 2019. Total sports revenue of $207 million is already 56.2 percent ahead of the 2019 total.

Only three states – New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Illinois – have recorded higher sports betting revenue figures than Nevada through the first half of 2021. Only New Jersey has seen higher sports wagers with $4.1 billion through June.

Eilers & Krejcik gaming analyst Chris Grove said the growth of legal sports betting nationally in the last three years, following a 2018 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court opening the activity to states beyond Nevada, could be similar to the expansion of poker in the last decade.

“It's possible that increased interest in sports betting will grow the national revenue pie sufficiently to allow Nevada to grow alongside states where sports betting has recently been legalized,” Grove said. “That, of course, relies on the state's casinos continuing to build and expand one-of-a-kind sports betting experiences.”

In 2019, Nevada sportsbooks took in $5.319 billion in wagers, the 10th consecutive all-time state record. Revenues collected by the books from those wagers totaled a record $329.1 million. 

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the state’s first annual decline in sports betting in more than a decade. Total wagers fell to $4.3 billion in 2020, and revenues dipped to $262.8 million.

But last week’s release of the state’s monthly gaming revenue figures by the Gaming Control Board confirmed the state’s sports betting industry is back on track.

Twenty-two states and Washington D.C. have legal and regulated sports betting. Another 10 states could launch as soon as this year in time for the college football and NFL seasons.

California voters will consider a referendum in 2022 to allow tribal casinos and racetracks to offer retail sportsbooks. In Florida, an agreement between the governor and the Seminole Indians could bring sports betting to the tribe’s casinos. However, several groups are contesting the legality of the revised compact.

Grove said it was inevitable that Nevada sports betting figures would be eclipsed by New Jersey and other jurisdictions, because of the state's relatively small population. Sportsbooks at Northern New Jersey racetracks and the state’s approval for remote mobile sports wagering draws business from populous New York City.

“There's little to suggest that the growth of sports betting in other states is causing a decrease in Nevada's sports betting revenue,” Grove said.

Record high sports bettings totals in 2021 have also been assisted by the changed calendars for several sports leagues pushing games into 2021 and benefiting sportsbooks. The result was a record for June in both wagers ($545.2 million) and revenues ($29.2 million).

“The strong monthly totals were bolstered by an unusual sports calendar that saw NBA playoffs action, which typically ends in early June, throughout the entire month,” Grove said.

Mobile sports wagering has accounted for more than 60 percent of all the sports bets placed in Nevada this year. Global Market Advisors Partner Brendan Bussmann suggested mobile wagering would grow if Nevada gaming regulators allowed remote registration, an effort opposed by Station Casinos.

“One of the biggest opportunities for Nevada to drive additional sports betting revenue is to remove the in-person requirement,” Bussmann said. “Technology continues to provide advancement for knowing your customer and anti-money laundering initiatives. Geolocation for sports betting and iGaming in other states have surpassed Nevada’s current regulatory structure. It’s time for us to push forward.”

The absence of DraftKings and FanDuel is another dynamic in Nevada’s sports betting universe.

The companies, which jumped into legal sports betting following the Supreme Court ruling, are considered the nation’s top two sports betting operators. DraftKings is in 14 states and FanDuel is in 10 states, which includes a partnership with Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming Corp. in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Mississippi.

The companies gained a larger national presence in April when they were selected as official sports betting partners of the National Football League along with Caesars Entertainment. The designation gave the businesses exclusive rights to utilize NFL trademarks within their operations and engage with fans through NFL-themed free-to-play games.

Prior to 2018, the companies operated as daily fantasy-centric businesses and had trouble gaining acceptance from the traditional sports betting community. In October 2015, Nevada gaming regulators told DraftKings, FanDuel, and other daily fantasy suppliers they had to be licensed as sports betting operators if they were to continue providing the activity in the state.

Neither has made inroads into Nevada’s casino market. DraftKings maintains a large office presence in the Town Square complex on south Las Vegas Boulevard for its nationwide back-of-the-house support services. Boyd has a 5 percent ownership stake in FanDuel, but the partnership doesn’t include the company’s 10 Las Vegas-area casinos.

In April, Boyd CEO Keith Smith was non-committal concerning a potential move into Nevada for FanDuel in connection with the company’s casinos in the Las Vegas Valley and downtown.

“It’s a possibility in the future, but for now the relationship is with the non-Nevada properties,” Smith said following Boyd’s quarterly earnings conference call. “The reason we did the deal is that we knew they were a winner, long term.”

The 57,400-seat Arizona Stadium in Tucson, home of the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl, is seen in 2016. (Howard Stutz/The Nevada Independent)

College football bowl game naming rights is a new outreach for sports betting

Barstool Sports, a digital media platform that serves as the sports betting extension for regional casino operator Penn National Gaming, has a new business venture – name sponsor for a college football bowl game.

The announcement last week that the Arizona Bowl in Tucson will be renamed the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl starting Dec. 31, marked the first time a sports betting brand was being paired with a college bowl game. Terms of the multi-year deal were not announced.

“The Barstool and Arizona Bowl partnership is a first of its kind collegiate-level opportunity to integrate content and a sports betting brand,” said Maryland-based sports betting consultant Sara Slane. “It is a creative way to blend the two without doing a direct deal with a college team. I expect additional cutting-edge integrations as NIL (name, image, likeness) college modernizations continue to progress.”

According to the Arizona Daily Star, Barstool founder David Portnoy said sponsoring a college football bowl game "has always been a dream of mine." 

The New Year's Eve game between teams from the Mountain West and Mid-American conferences will be played at the 57,400-seat Arizona Stadium on the campus of the University of Arizona and broadcast on Barstool’s digital streaming platforms.

Barstool’s personalities produce hours of sports-related videos, podcasts and social media posts covering news, lifestyle and gambling information for various digital outlets. Portnoy said the group would be in Tucson for the game.

Penn National, which operates 42 gaming properties in 20 states, spent $163 million in January 2020 to acquire 36 percent of Barstool to utilize the brand as the company’s sports betting venture for both retail and online operations.

With more than 66 million followers, the Barstool demographic was viewed as a way to attract a younger demographic to Penn, whose customer base is predominantly an older audience.

Penn National operates M Resort in Henderson and two small casinos in Jackpot near the northeastern Nevada border with Idaho.

At the outset of the pandemic last year, Penn sold the Tropicana Las Vegas, which it has owned since 2015, to Gaming and Leisure Properties. The real estate investment trust leased the Strip resort back to Penn, but the operations are in the process of being sold to Bally’s Corp.

Penn is expanding the Barstool sports betting presence to 10 states, but Nevada is not part of the growth plan.

The Barstool mobile wagering app is live in four states – Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Other deals in the pipeline, including Arizona, where Penn National signed a deal with the Phoenix Raceway to build a Barstool sportsbook at the track and launch mobile sports betting throughout the state.

Nevada has a connection to the Arizona Bowl through UNR, which is the only school to have twice played in the contest. The Wolf Pack won the first Arizona Bowl in 2015, beating Colorado State 28-23. In 2018, UNR beat Arkansas State, 16-13.

Other items of interest:

Screenshot of the Caesars Sportsbook App. (Courtesy Caesars Entertainment)

Caesars Entertainment has rebranded its sports betting operation as Caesars Sportsbook and unveiled a new mobile sportsbook app under the same name. The change was expected after Caesars paid almost $4 billion in April to acquire United Kingdom-based William Hill. Caesars plans to sell William Hill’s non-U.S. operations. Caesars already owned 20 percent of William Hill U.S. through a previous transaction. The Caesars Sportsbook mobile app is now live in eight states (Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia), with three states (Arizona, Maryland and Louisiana) pending regulatory approval.

In Nevada, Illinois and Washington, D.C., where customers are required to be at or near a Caesars sportsbook retail location to register, bettors will have access to the Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill app. A Caesars spokeswoman said Nevada sportsbooks operated by William Hill outside of Caesars-owned resorts will remain under the William Hill brand and the William Hill Nevada app will remain active.

Macau gaming revenues hit $1.1 billion during July, well below the region’s pre-pandemic numbers of roughly $3 billion a month. Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts, and MGM Resorts International are the only Nevada casino operators in the Macau market. Macau’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau said on Aug. 1 the figure was down 66 percent compared to July 2019 and 29.2 percent from two months ago. Through the first seven months of 2021, Macau gaming revenues are down 67 percent compared to 2019. During 2020, Macau experienced six straight months of 90 percent gaming declines. Stifel Financial gaming analyst Steven Wieczynski said he was encouraged by visitation trends during periods of less restrictive travel mandates to and from the Chinese Special Administrative Region. But that hasn’t resulted in gaming revenue increases. “At this point we believe investors just have to write off 2021 and start to focus on 2022. With additional virus lockdowns probably coming, we believe any material recovery is now a 2022 story,” Wieczynski said.

Bet MGM and online news network Cheddar News are launching Cheddar Bets, a weekly program that combines sports betting and the financial markets. Airing Thursdays at 1:30 p.m. P.T. beginning August 19, Cheddar Bets will look at the sports calendar through a sports betting perspective and how the action could influence Wall Street. BetMGM oddsmakers will appear on the program. “Through Cheddar Bets we'll provide informative and entertaining programming to engage new audiences,” said BetMGM Chief Revenue Officer Matt Prevost.

San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane denied allegations this weekend that he bet on NHL games, including against his own team. The charges, which the NHL said they would investigate, were made on social media by his estranged wife. Kane, writing on Twitter, said, “I have NEVER gambled/bet on Hockey, NEVER gambled/bet on a Sharks game, NEVER gambled/bet on any of my games and NEVER thrown a hockey game.” Kane was the defendant in a 2019 lawsuit filed by the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas over alleged non-payment of $500,000 in a line credit he received from the Strip resort to gamble at the property. The lawsuit, which was dropped by the casino, led to some “only in Vegas-style” taunting by Vegas Golden Knights fans when the Sharks played at the T-Mobile Arena. During the game, when Kane took to the ice, fans chanted loudly, “Pay your markers.”

The Reno City Council agreed to sell two downtown land parcels to Jacobs Entertainment after the owner of the Sands Regency increased the purchase price of the sites and offered the city a profit-sharing agreement. According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, the parcels will be part of the Reno Neon Line, a mixed-used development proposed by the company to renovate a rundown area of the downtown corridor that will include housing, retail, lodging, dining and gaming.

Quotable:

"Being part of the BetMGM family is dope and an honor. Plus, with ambassadors like Barry (Sanders), (Wayne) Gretzky and Jalen (Rose), I think da' kid is in good company, ya know what I mean?"

-Former NFL running back and new BetMGM brand ambassador Marshawn Lynch in a statement released by the company

Indy Gaming: Las Vegas left behind as Sands charts future in Macau, Singapore and online

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy Gaming newsletter, a weekly look at gaming matters nationally and internationally and how the events tie back to Nevada.

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Las Vegas Sands is on its way to becoming just Sands.

The pending $6.25 billion sale of the Venetian, Palazzo, Sphere entertainment project and Sands Expo and Convention Center, announced in March, is expected to close later this year or in early 2022.

The transaction ends the company’s presence on the Strip that began in 1989 when the late Sheldon Adelson acquired the Rat Pack-era Sands Hotel for $110 million.

The deal doesn’t end the company’s interest in the U.S. gaming market, but the prospects are minimal.

Chairman and CEO Rob Goldstein said last week that the push for a New York City integrated resort opportunity was “shut down” because certain key issues weren’t resolved. In Texas, lawmakers once again rejected a Sands-backed casino gaming proposal during the recent legislative session. The issue can’t be raised there again until 2023.

But Florida is offering new possibilities. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Sands is spending $17 million to fund a 2022 ballot referendum that could bring the state three non-tribal gaming run casinos.

“In the U.S., that’s all at this point we’re looking at,” Goldstein said.

That lack of a U.S. presence concerns Stifel Financial gaming analyst Steven Wieczynski, especially if Sands is serious about online gaming and sports betting. The company said earlier this month it had put a team together to explore a business-to-business entry into the digital gaming world.  

Sands, Wieczynski said, has a strong balance sheet with $6 billion in cash and another $6.25 billion coming from the Las Vegas transaction. He expects the company to return to paying shareholder dividends. However, he said, clarity is needed about the company’s core operating markets in Macau and Singapore.

Wieczynski said the digital world might not be the best investment for Sands.

“What we don’t want to see Las Vegas Sands do is chase this sports betting/iGaming euphoria, which is going on right now,” Wieczynski told investors. “Given their lack of a domestic presence, we believe they would just be overpaying for an opportunity which would probably not be overly relevant to their cashflow base at the end of the day.”

Goldstein isn’t deterred about the company’s late start in the online gaming business sector, though.

“It’s pretty slow to get there. But I think three years to five years from now you’ll see a real positive outcome,” he said.

The primary attention for Sands will be – and currently is – focused on resorts in Macau and Singapore. Goldstein said as much on the company’s second-quarter conference call.

Despite somewhat choppy news – pandemic-related travel restrictions continued to slow the recovery in Macau and the discovery of a COVID-19 cluster in Singapore forced a two-week shutdown of the Marina Bay Sands’ casino area – Goldstein and Sands President Patrick Dumont remain bullish on the two destinations.

“The timing is uncertain of a return to a more normal environment in Asia,” Goldstein said. “But the outcome is not uncertain. It’s going to happen,” Goldstein said.

Sands made zero changes to its plans to expand and renovate two key properties.

In Macau, the company is spending $1.35 billion to transform Sand Cotai Central into The Londoner, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year. A $3.3 billion expansion of Marina Bay Sands, which includes a 1,000-room all-suite hotel, a sports and entertainment arena and additional convention space won’t be completed until 2025.

“We remain very committed to Singapore to withstand our presence and footprint,” Goldstein said. “Obviously, COVID has thrown a monkey wrench, a big monkey wrench, into this whole thing.”

On the call, Goldstein cut off any talk about using the proceeds from the sale of the Las Vegas properties to fund a renewed effort in Japan. Sands departed from the bidding process in May 2020 after once vowing to spend $10 billion to $12 billion on a casino resort in Tokyo or Yokohama.

“We tried very hard. We left with a feeling that there was just too much uncertainty for us,” Goldstein said. “We can always revisit something based on a change in circumstance, but at this point, we remain on the sidelines.”

A rendering of downtown New Orleans skyline with how the Superdome looks with the Caesars logos in the foreground. (Photo courtesy Caesars Entertainment)

Superdome naming rights come as Caesars renovates New Orleans resort, launches sports betting

Caesars Entertainment is spending $325 million over the next few years to transform Harrah’s New Orleans into Caesars New Orleans. The plan is to give the resort near the French Quarter a second hotel tower, a redesigned interior and exterior, and new amenities.

Caesars is also looking to launch sports betting in Louisiana in time for the kickoff of the NFL and college football seasons.

So why not seek to attach the company’s name to the state's largest sports venue?

The Las Vegas-based casino company and the NFL’s New Orleans Saints formally announced a 20-year agreement on Monday that will brand the downtown stadium as Caesars Superdome.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported the naming rights deal was worth $138 million, a price tag that is in line with other stadiums in midsize cities. But the figure, the newspaper said, was far less than stadium naming rights in major markets such as Los Angeles and Houston.

The naming rights for Allegiant Stadium, home to the Las Vegas Raiders, were secured for between $20 million and $25 million a year by the Las Vegas-based parent of Allegiant Air, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in 2019. Neither the Raiders nor the airline has disclosed the financial terms nor the time frame. At 20 years, $20 million per year would be $400 million.

The Superdome, which has been the home of Saints football since 1975, is expected to host Super Bowl LIX in 2025. The stadium has hosted seven Super Bowls, a record for any U.S. venue. In 2022, the Superdome will host the 2022 NCAA Men’s Final Four, the annual Sugar Bowl and College Football Playoff contests.

In addition to its New Orleans casino, Caesars operates four additional casino resorts in Louisiana – Belle of Baton Rouge, Isle of Capri Lake Charles, Harrah’s Louisiana Downs in Bossier City and Horseshoe Bossier City.

Caesars CEO Tom Reeg said the company wants to expand its presence across the state.

“We’ve had a strong relationship with the New Orleans Saints for nearly two decades and we are thrilled with the opportunity to strengthen it and celebrate our commitment to the city, the state, and the entire Gulf Coast region,” Reeg said in a statement. “We understand that the Caesars Superdome is more than an iconic venue, it’s the symbol of a resilient and innovative community.”

Caesars Superdome, a partnership between the Saints, the State of Louisiana and the Superdome Commission, is undergoing a $450 million renovation that includes the addition of field level suites behind the end zone.

Other items of interest:

Second-quarter earnings season gets underway this week with five casino operators and gaming-centric real estate investment trusts. Truist Securities gaming analyst Barry Jonas said the most interesting news could come out of MGM Growth Properties, the gaming REIT that is 42 percent owned by MGM Resorts International. The REIT lost out on the acquisition of CityCenter to Blackstone earlier this month, but that could actually be a positive for the company, Jonas said. “MGM Growth management will now have to do third party deals outside of its single tenant of MGM to grow.” However, Jonas also noted MGM Resort’s interest in selling down its stake in the REIT “would potentially negatively impact valuation” if there is a secondary sale on the open market.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in April she hoped companies that ultimately bid on a potential $1 billion casino-resort in the nation’s third-largest metropolitan area will have Las Vegas on their return address. According to the Wall Street Journal, that isn’t likely to be the case. Shortly after Chicago announced its request for proposal, MGM Resorts International said it would pass on bidding on the project. Same with Wynn Resorts. Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming is still working to “evaluate” the opportunity, while the Seminole Indian Tribe-owned Hard Rock International isn’t commenting. “The challenge with Chicago is the sun and the moon and the stars really have to align to make it work,” Global Market Advisors Partner Brendan Bussmann told the newspaper.

Casino operator Bally’s Corp. preannounced second-quarter earnings on Monday after the Rhode Island-based company lined up financing for its planned $2.7 billion acquisition of United Kingdom online gaming and gambling platform Gamesys Group Plc. Bally’s said the company’s “better than expected operating performance” won’t require funding from real estate investment trust Gaming and Leisure Properties, which agreed to provide up to $500 million. GLPI is selling Bally’s the operations of Tropicana Las Vegas and has acquired the real estate of the company’s casinos in Colorado and Illinois. Bally’s recently acquired MontBleu Resort in Lake Tahoe and renamed the hotel-casino Bally’s Lake Tahoe.

Cortez Masto, Susie Lee again lead second quarter fundraising tallies as 2022 money race ramps up

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto speaking into a microphone behind a podium

Nevada’s incumbent Democrats padded their campaign war chests through the second quarter, with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Rep. Susie Lee leading their respective fields, according to data reported this week by the Federal Election Commission. 

Cortez Masto raked in nearly $2.8 million, exceeding her first quarter fundraising by nearly half a million dollars. Lee, meanwhile, raised more than $615,000, an amount roughly equaling her own first quarter numbers. 

With just under a year remaining before next year’s primary elections, fields in every race remain relatively small. Still, a handful of new entrants have emerged in the state’s key congressional battlegrounds, including three Republicans each in District 3 and 4 (both held by Democrats), and a primary challenger to Democratic Rep. Dina Titus in the deep blue District 1. 

Below are additional campaign finance numbers for each candidate who filed with the FEC as of Friday, broken down by congressional race and ordered from greatest cumulative fundraising to least. 

Catherine Cortez Masto (D) - incumbent

With no declared challengers through the entirety of the second quarter, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto boosted her campaign warchest with more than $2.7 million in contributions. Even after spending nearly $900,000, that sum lifted her cash on hand to nearly $6.6 million.

Cortez Masto’s campaign touted that cash on hand cushion as a crucial advantage this week, though the race to take or hold her seat in the Senate will likely draw millions more in fundraising for both major parties as next year’s general election approaches.

Still, her quarterly fundraising total was the lowest of any of the four Democratic Senate incumbents running in states rated as “Lean Democratic” by the Cook Political Report, a group of candidates that also includes Kelly ($6 million raised), Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock ($7.2 million) and New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan ($3.3 million). 

A vast majority of her second quarter fundraising — more than $2.3 million — came from individuals. Another $342,000 came from PACs, with the remainder flowing from committee transfers ($101,000), expenditure offsets and other receipts.

Almost a quarter of Cortez Masto’s spending — more than $218,000 — went to expenses related to fundraising mailers, including consultants, printing and postage, with even more ($343,000) dedicated to online fundraising expenses. 

Two Republican candidates, Sharelle Mendenhall and Sam Brown, formed campaign committees in July and did not report fundraising in the second quarter, which ended in June. 

Susie Lee (D) - incumbent 

Frequently the top House fundraiser in Nevada, Democratic Rep. Susie Lee once again led the state’s congressional candidates in the money race with more than $615,000 in second quarter contributions, pushing her cash on hand to nearly $955,000. 

Almost three-quarters of Lee’s fundraising, about $447,000, came from individual contributions, with another $156,000 coming from PACs. Much of the total also came from big-money donations, including eight contributions of the $5,000 maximum from PACs, and another 85 contributions of the maximum $2,900 for individuals (all totaling for a combined $286,500).

Lee’s spending last quarter neared $144,000, with sizable chunks of that money flowing to consultants — who combined for $45,700 in expenses — and advertising, including $20,000 for a digital ad campaign from Washington, D.C.-based firm Break Something. 

April Becker (R)

A one-time 2020 Nevada Senate hopeful-turned congressional challenger, April Becker led the district’s field of Republicans last quarter with nearly $251,000 in contributions, as well as roughly $259,000 cash on hand. 

Almost all of Becker’s fundraising came from individual contributions, with some major donors including several linked to the Meruelo Group — including maximum $5,800 contributions from Alex Meruelo, his wife Liset, and Meruelo Enterprises Vice President Luis Armona — and members of the Station Casinos-owning Fertitta family, including $5,800 contributions from Frank Fertitta III, Jill Fertitta, Lorenzo Fertitta and Teresa Fertitta. 

Becker also far outspent her rivals, dropping nearly $123,000, including more than $84,000 on expenses related to consulting or advertising. Of that money, more than $17,000 went to Las Vegas-based consulting firm November Inc., and nearly $19,000 went to October Inc.

Mark Robertson (R)

Another early entrant into the District 3 race, veteran Mark Robertson trailed Becker with $104,000 in contributions and nearly $117,000 in cash on hand. 

Nearly all of his fundraising, roughly $97,000, came from individual contributions, with another $3,000 coming from PACs and $3,600 coming from candidate loans. Many of Robertson’s biggest donors were Las Vegas-based business owners, including America’s Mart owners Nick and Kristy Willden ($5,800 each), Sunrise Paving’s Glenn and Jill Warren ($5,800 each) and Patrick’s Signs CFO Tiffani Dean ($5,800). 

Robertson reported spending only $31,000 last quarter, with much of it split between consulting, advertising and event fees. 

Noah Malgeri (R)

The newest Republican challenger in the field who entered the race in early June — just before the quarter ended — Republican attorney and business owner Noah Malgeri trailed the rest of the field with nearly $39,000 in second quarter fundraising and $32,400 cash on hand. 

That money stems mostly from more than $31,100 in candidate loans, buoyed by another $7,750 in individual contributions. 

Of the $6,300 Malgeri spent last quarter, almost all of it ($6,033) went to Las Vegas-based firm McShane, LLC. 

One other candidate, Republican Reinier Prijten, briefly filed in April before formally terminating his campaign committee in May.

Steven Horsford (D) - incumbent

Touting record off-year fundraising for a single quarter, Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford pulled in more than $581,000 last quarter, boosting his cash on hand to more than $1.2 million — a massive sum larger even than Nevada’s usual fundraising frontrunner, Susie Lee, and almost eight times as much money as his next nearest Republican competitor. 

A slight majority of Horsford’s fundraising ($305,800) came from individual contributions, with the remaining $275,000 coming from PAC money. Like Lee, Horsford also saw most of his money flow from big-dollar fundraising and maximum contributions, including 15 $5,000 maximum contributions from PACs, and another 127 individual contributions between the maximum $2,900 and $2,000. 

Together, those major contributions combine for more than $414,000. 

Horsford’s campaign spent more than $127,000 through the quarter, including more than $11,000 on online advertising and more than $22,000 on consulting.   

Sam Peters (R)

The runner-up in last year’s Republican primary in District 4, veteran and insurance salesman Sam Peters entered this year’s race with a fundraising edge on his Republican rivals. That edge continued into the second quarter, where he raised more than $119,000 and was left with more than $155,000 cash on hand. 

Peters saw a handful of maximum individual contributions through the quarter, with most coming from retirees or real estate-related donors. 

Peters was the only Republican spending large amounts last quarter, dropping more than $76,000. A sizable chunk of that spending, almost $34,000, went to Las Vegas-based consulting firm McShane, while another $18,700 went to credit card fees. 

Carolina Serrano (R) 

Though she was a relatively late entrant into the race, only forming her campaign committee in June, former Trump campaign staffer Carolina Serrano still banked more than $49,000 last quarter and enters the third quarter with more than $42,000 left on hand. 

A majority of that fundraising came from a handful of big names (both current and former) in the gaming industry. That includes maximum $5,800 contributions from former Wynn CEO Steve Wynn and his wife, Andrea, as well as another $5,800 from Meruelo Group President Alex Meruelo, $4,200 from his wife Liset, $5,800 from Meruelo Group Executive Vice President Luis Armona and $4,200 from his wife, Margaret. 

Together, those six contributions alone total $31,600, or roughly two-thirds of all the money Serrano raised. 

Serrano spent comparatively little last quarter — just $6,200 — though nearly all of it came through a $5,000 digital ad buy.  

Tony Lane (R)

A former player for the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in the mid-90s and now a Las Vegas business owner, Tony Lane raised the least of any Republican in the race with just $3,942. He spent nearly all of it — $3,362 — leaving just under $580 cash on hand. 

One other candidate, non-partisan John Johnson, did not report fundraising for this period, despite forming a campaign committee in February. 

Dina Titus (D) - incumbent

Facing what could be her first serious primary challenge since winning District 1 in 2012, Democratic Rep. Dina Titus roughly tripled her fundraising from the first quarter to the second, raking in more than $152,000 and lifting her cash on hand to more than $463,000. 

Of all Nevada’s federal-level midterms next year, Titus’ race could become the center of a split between the establishment wing of the state party and a surging group of left-wing activists. 

Those activists won a key victory in March of this year, electing a slate of progressives to party leadership positions. Ahead of that loss, the party apparatus hemorrhaged staffers and hundreds of thousands in money was transferred from state party accounts to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. 

Establishment Democrats have since launched a new campaign apparatus, the Nevada Democratic Victory campaign. 

Titus’ fundraising was almost even split between individual contributions ($80,000) and PAC money ($72,000), with some of Titus’ largest fundraisers including Las Vegas mega-donor Stephen Cloobeck ($2,800), Las Vegas-based attorney and political director for the state Senate Democrats Alisa Nave ($5,600) and Las Vegas-based doctor and frequent Democratic donor Nic Spirtos ($5,800).

Titus spent little in comparison to her fellow incumbents, logging just under $29,000 in expenditures last quarter. Most of that money, almost $20,000, went to consultants, including more than $12,000 for fundraising consulting. 

Amy Vilela (D)

A third-place runner up in the 2018 race to fill the open seat left in District 4 by the departure of Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen (a race ultimately won by Steven Horsford), Amy Vilela has entered 2022’s primary for District 1 as a progressive challenge to the establishment-backed Titus.

Touting her efforts for the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2020 and, more recently, an endorsement from progressive Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, Vilela posted nearly $82,000 in second-quarter fundraising, with almost $58,000 cash on hand. 

All of that fundraising came from individual contributions, and all came through the online Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue. As a result, much of her fundraising came from out-of-state. Of 56 unique contributors to Vilela’s campaign, just 10 listed a Nevada address.

Vilela reported just $23,300 in spending, with almost all of it dedicated to operating expenses, including $2,500 spent on consulting. 

Mark Amodei (R) - incumbent

As he has continued to leave the door open for a possible run at the governor’s mansion, Republican incumbent Mark Amodei nearly outspent his fundraising through the second quarter, burning through more than $88,000 of the $90,000 raised, leaving roughly $325,500 cash on hand. 

Outside one $2,900 contribution from Cashell Enterprises CEO Rob Cashell Jr., most of Amodei’s major donations came from PACs or corporate donors. That includes $5,000 from Las Vegas Sands, $5,000 from the Credit Union Legislative Action Council, and $2,500 each from NV Energy, the American Bakers Association, construction materials company CalPortland and the law firm Holland & Hart. 

Some of Amodei’s spending went to a number of contributions to other Republican incumbents, including $1,000 each for Iowa Rep. Ashley Hinson, New York Rep. Claudia Tenney, Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson, Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, and California Rep. David Valadao. 

However, Amodei also spent large sums on consulting ($37,500) and “contributor relations” expenses ($15,400). 

One other candidate, Democrat Aaron Michael Sims, formed a campaign committee in the second quarter but did not file a campaign finance report as of Friday morning.

Former internet gaming adversary Sands seeks to become a ‘strategic investor’ in the business

Las Vegas Sands, which long opposed online gaming legalization in the U.S., announced Monday it plans to enter a business the company’s late billionaire founder Sheldon Adelson spent millions of dollars over the years to quash.

A veteran investment executive will head up Las Vegas Sands’ efforts to break into the growing digital gaming technologies market, a move viewed as an initial step into an arena that includes internet casino gaming and online sports betting.

In a statement, Las Vegas Sands said it is looking to become a “strategic investor” that is primarily focused on the business-to-business space.

More than half of U.S. states have legalized sports betting, the majority of which offer mobile and online sports betting alternatives. Internet casino gaming is legal and available in five states.

Nevada gaming regulations currently allow for real money online poker, but they could be changed by state gaming regulators to permit wagering on internet slot machines and table games. Mobile wagering in Nevada accounted for 62 percent of all sports bets placed during May, according to the Gaming Control Board.

Las Vegas Sands first teased its interest in online gaming in late January and a little more than two weeks after Adelson passed away, but didn’t provide much in the way of details until Monday.

Investment speculation centered on the company acquiring a major sports betting or online gaming provider. That move, said Eilers & Krejcik Gaming analyst Chris Grove, would conflict with the hiring of Davis Catlin by Las Vegas Sands as a senior managing director.

“The announcement definitely leans more in the direction of a (business-to-business)-focused company versus a company with a heavy direct-to-consumer angle,” Grove said in an email. “I think there's definitely a world where Sands makes a series of smaller bets in younger companies and builds something new from that foundation versus trying to accomplish their goals with a single splashy acquisition.”

Catlin spent 14 years with Sands Capital Management, an Arlington, Virginia-based investment firm that is not connected to Las Vegas Sands. The company, which has managed more than $77 billion for clients according to its website, was founded in 1992 by Frank Sands, Sr., who died in March.

In a statement, Las Vegas Sands said Catlin led his former firm's investments in both public and private companies in digital gaming.

“Digital gaming and other related offerings are still very much in the early stages of development, and we believe there is an outstanding opportunity for us to invest in the technologies being developed,” said Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Rob Goldstein.

The move follows the announced $6.25 billion sale in March of the company’s Las Vegas gaming holdings, including the Venetian and Palazzo resorts, Sands Expo and Convention Center, and the under-construction Sphere entertainment venue. The transaction is expected to close by the end of the year and would leave Las Vegas Sands as an Asian-centric casino company with properties in Macau and Singapore.

Las Vegas Sands first teased its interest in online gaming in late January, just weeks after Adelson’s death and the appointment of Goldstein, a longtime company executive, into the billionaire’s former roles.

Goldstein said during the company’s fourth-quarter conference call that Las Vegas Sands was exploring the potential of entering the sports betting, digital and iGaming marketplace.

He didn’t give any details at the time, nor did he provide any additional information in April during the company’s first-quarter earnings conference call.

“We are exploring multiple opportunities … and we’ll update you at the appropriate time,” Goldstein said.

Monday, the CEO said an investment team, led by Catlin, “will provide meaningful opportunities to make investments that will generate significant long-term benefits for the company.” Goldstein said Las Vegas Sands will be “patient and (is) investing for the long-term.”

‘Spending whatever it takes’

Adelson, who died on Jan. 11 at age 87 following a long battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, long expressed disapproval about internet gaming. He believed the activity would diminish revenue at traditional casinos and could lead to increased problem- and underage-gambling.

Adelson spent millions of dollars funding like-minded grassroots organizations in efforts to kill any hint of favorable state-by-state legislative activity to legalize online gaming. Adelson funded the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling and also backed congressional efforts to restore the Wire Act to its pre-2011 interpretation.

“He never questioned its viability,” Goldstein said in January of Adelson’s opposition to online gaming. Rather, Adelson had “ethical concerns” about online gaming and how to police it against younger age players, he said.

Las Vegas Sands was the only major casino company that opposed legal internet gaming and caused a rift within the gaming community.

That influence, however, led to the Department of Justice’s 2019 reversal of its eight-year-old interpretation of the Wire Act, which favored regulated online gaming. Lobbyists for Adelson, according to the Wall Street Journal, drafted the memo that was sent to top Justice Department officials in 2017, which made a case that the 2011 opinion on the Wire Act was in error.

Following the second reinterpretation, New Hampshire officials sued the Justice Department and the state won on both the federal district court and circuit court levels. In June, the Justice Department let a deadline expire without appealing the favorable New Hampshire ruling, ending the case.

Slow approach

According to the American Gaming Association, revenues from online gaming in the U.S. topped more than $1.39 billion through the first five months of the year, a 180 percent increase over the same five months of 2019. The five states with full online casino gaming – Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia and Michigan – combined for $310.5 million in revenues in May, slightly below the all-time single-month high of $311.3 million set in March.

Most analysts were quiet on the Sands’ announcement Monday. Shares of the company’s stock price closed at $51.02 on the New York Stock Exchange, down 31 cents or 0.6 percent.

In April, analysts said the company was utilizing a correct methodology toward online gaming.

“Given it still remains an embryonic market, Las Vegas Sands is taking a smart and targeted approach, whereby they could leverage their balance sheet to pursue either (mergers and acquisitions) or organic growth opportunities within the U.S. or abroad,” Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Carlo Santarelli said at the time.

Cortez Masto, Lee top prior first-quarter fundraising tallies as congressional campaigns eye 2022 midterms

Congressional representatives across the state reported race-leading fundraising hauls this week, positioning each with an early money advantage more than a year in advance of next summer’s primary elections. 

Leading all fundraising was Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, (D-NV), who reported more than $2.3 million in fundraising ahead of what is expected to be a competitive re-election bid. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who is not up for reelection until 2024, reported $341,794.

In the House, District 3 Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) led the state’s delegation with $607,407 raised through the first quarter; District 4’s Steven Horsford (D-NV) followed with $363,210; District 2’s Mark Amodei (R-NV) reported $77,749; and District 1’s Dina Titus (D-NV) reported $48,080.

With so much time left before the formal filing deadline for congressional elections next spring, the field of challengers in each district remains relatively small. Even so, two Republican challengers in the state’s two swing districts reported six-figure fundraising hauls, including Sam Peters in District 4 ($135,000) and April Becker in District 3 ($143,000).

Below are some additional campaign finance numbers for each candidate, broken down by district from greatest cumulative fundraising to least. 

Catherine Cortez Masto (D) — incumbent

Ahead of her first-ever bid for re-election as a U.S. senator and as Democrats prepare to defend their razor-thin margin in the Senate, Cortez Masto reported $2.3 million in fundraising, boosting her cash on hand by roughly 55 percent to nearly $4.7 million. 

A vast majority of that money, about $1.8 million, came from individual donors, including roughly $1.35 million in itemized contributions and $460,000 in small-dollar unitemized donations. Cortez Masto also raised an even $349,000 from PACs, more than $51,000 from political party committees and nearly $86,500 from other fundraising committee transfers.  

With a fundraising total orders of magnitude larger than any other candidate in Nevada through the first quarter, Cortez Masto also has by far the most individual donors of the entire field with thousands of itemized contributions reported, including several dozen contributions of the legal maximum. 

By law, individuals can contribute up to $2,900 per candidate per election (i.e. for the primary and for the general) in federal elections, while PACs and other committees can contribute up to $5,000 per election. Major donors will often contribute that maximum twice, once for the primary and again for the general, up front, giving candidates between $5,800 and $10,000.

Among the many donors who maxed out their contribution to Cortez Masto were a handful of Nevada regulars, including businessman and major Democratic donor Stephen Cloobeck ($2,900 in the first quarter, $5,800 overall) and MGM Resorts International ($5,000).

With nearly $663,000 spent this quarter, no Nevada politician came close to Cortez Masto in outlays. Most of that money, $382,206, went to nine firms involved in fundraising operations, including mailers ($213,406) and online ($168,800). 

Jacky Rosen (D) — incumbent

With more than three years before she’ll face voters again, Rosen reported a comparatively modest $341,794 in contributions last quarter, but her campaign has more than $1.85 million in cash on hand. 

Of that money, most ($226,165) came from individual contributions, with the rest flowing largely from PACs ($14,000) and authorized committee transfers ($97,600).

Among the several dozen donors giving Rosen the legal maximum were Las Vegas Sun owner Brian Greenspun ($5,800) and his wife, Myra Greenspun ($5,800); Niraj Shah, CEO of the furniture retailer Wayfair ($2,900); and a leadership PAC linked to former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, the Seeking Justice PAC ($5,000).  

Most of the $137,000 spent by Rosen was for regular operating expenditures, though her campaign twice spent $5,000 for online advertising from New York-based firm Assemble the Agency. 

A district that covers much of the southern half of Clark County, including some of the Las Vegas metro’s wealthiest suburbs, District 3 has switched hands between the two major parties three times since its creation in 2002. 

For three cycles, that control has been maintained by Democrats, following a narrow win by Rosen in 2016, and subsequent victories by Lee in 2018 and 2020. Still, a narrow victory in the district by Donald Trump in 2016 and small voter registration gaps have marked District 3 as one of a few-dozen nationwide that may become key to deciding which party controls the House after the 2022 midterms.

Susie Lee (D) — incumbent

Frequently the top-fundraiser among Nevada’s House delegation, Susie Lee continued her streak last quarter with $607,407 in contributions. After Lee largely depleted her campaign reserves in a pricey bid to keep her seat last year, that first-quarter fundraising has left her campaign with just over $484,000 in cash on hand. 

Nearly all of that money — $493,070 — came from individual contributions, with the remaining $114,000 coming from big-money PAC contributions. 

Among those individual donors were several dozen contributing the $2,900 maximum. Those big money donors were largely local business leaders — including Cashman Equipment CEO MaryKaye Cashman, MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle and former MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren — though the group also included television showrunner and producer Shonda Rhimes.

Among PACs that contributed the $5,000 maximum were a mix of business interests (including PACs related to Las Vegas Sands and MGM Resorts International), and unions (including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and SMART, the sheet metal and transportation workers union, and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.) 

Lee reported spending nearly $146,000 last quarter, an amount second only to Cortez Masto among the delegation members. Most of that money went to campaign consulting and staffing costs, with the single largest chunk — $32,000 spread over five payments — going to Washington, D.C.-based digital consulting firm Break Something. 

April Becker (R)

After her unsuccessful run for the Legislature in 2020, attorney April Becker is challenging Susie Lee (D) for her seat in Congress. In the first quarter of 2021, Becker raised $143,444 mostly from individual contributors. 

Becker received $2,000 from PACs, such as the Stronger Nevada PAC and (although not officially endorsed by) the campaigns for fellow Republican politicians, former Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei. 

Several of her big individual contributors included family members; donations from individuals with the last name Becker totaled $29,500, nearly a fifth of the total contributions. Local business owners also contributed to Becker, including some car dealership owners: $5,000 from Gary Ackerman of Gaudin Motor Company; Cliff Findlay and Donna Findlay of Findlay Automotive each donated the maximum of $2,900, totaling $5,800; and Donald Forman of United Nissan Vegas gave $5,800.  

Co-owners of the Innovative Pain Care Center, Melissa and Daniel Burkhead, each gave $5,800 totaling $11,600. Other contributors included several medical professionals, real estate investors and attorneys.

In the first quarter, Becker kept most of the money collected, $131,460, reporting spending only $11,983 on more fundraising efforts. 

Mark Robertson (R)

Also hoping to challenge Susie Lee, Army veteran Mark Robertson raised $61,631 in his first time running for a political seat. The sum includes $7,451 he loaned his campaign.  

Although he collected less than half than Becker in the first quarter, retirees were large contributors to his campaign, some nearly reaching the $5,800 maximum for both the primary and general elections. 

Several local architects, engineers and construction contractors were also among the contributors, including $5,000 combined from Kenneth and Michelle Alber of Penta Building Group, $3,000 from Brock Krahenbuhl, a contractor for GTI Landscape and $3,000 from Wayne Horlacher of Horrock Engineers. 

Robertson reported spending $25,148, including $5,250 on campaign consulting, $3,138 on office supplies and $3,270 on video and print advertising production services. After the expenditures, Robertson is left with $44,034 cash on hand. 

A geographically massive district — larger than some states — that encompasses parts of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and much of the state’s central rural counties, District 4 has been held by Democrats for all but one cycle since its creation in 2011. That exception came in 2014, when Republican Cresent Hardy unseated then-freshman Democrat Steven Horsford in an upset. 

Horsford retook the seat in 2018, defeating Hardy in an open race after incumbent Democrat Ruben Kihuen declined to mount his own re-election bid amid a sexual harassment investigation. Horsford later won re-election in 2020, beating Republican Jim Marchant by 5 percentage points. 

Steven Horsford (D) — incumbent

With $363,209 in reported fundraising, Horsford boosted his campaign war chest by more than 50 percent last quarter, lifting his cash on hand to $757,142. 

That fundraising was driven mostly by $205,883 in individual contributions, though Horsford also brought in a much larger share of PAC contributions ($157,251) than his delegation counterparts.

Among Horsford’s single-largest contributors was Las Vegas Sun owner Brian Greenspun and his wife, Myra, who both contributed the $2,900 maximum for the primary and general elections, or $11,600 combined. 

Horsford’s biggest PAC contributions came from a mix of political committees linked to the Democratic Party, unions and corporations. That includes $10,000 from the Congressional Black Caucus PAC (of which Horsford is a member), $5,000 from the public employees union AFSCME and $5,000 from MGM Resorts International.   

A vast majority of the $102,000 spent by Horsford’s campaign last quarter went to operating costs, salaries and consultants, though — like his fellow incumbents — a sizable portion ($21,000) still flowed to a pair of fundraising and finance compliance consultants. 

Sam Peters (R)

After finishing second in last year’s Republican primary for District 4, veteran and local business owner Sam Peters led Republican fundraising efforts in the district this quarter. Peters’ campaign raised more than $135,000, which came entirely from individual contributions.

Those contributions were driven largely by retirees, as two-thirds of the 100 big-money contributions over $200 came from donors listing themselves as retired. Peters’ campaign was also boosted by a few maximum or near-maximum donations, including $5,800 from Frank Suryan Jr., CEO of Lyon Living, a residential development company based in Newport Beach, California, and $5,800 from Suryan’s spouse.

After spending a little more than $24,000, mostly on campaign consulting and fundraising services, Peters ended the quarter with nearly $115,000 in cash on hand, nearly double the amount he had at the end of the first quarter of 2021.

A district that includes Reno and much of rural Northern Nevada, District 2 has for two cycles been the only federal seat in Nevada still held by a Republican. The one-time seat of former Sen. Dean Heller and former Gov. Jim Gibbons, both Republicans, the seat has been held by incumbent Republican Mark Amodei since 2011, when he defeated Democrat Kate Marshall in a special election to replace the outgoing Heller. 

Mark Amodei (R) — incumbent

After Amodei spent close to a thousand dollars more than he raised through the first three months of 2021, his campaign war chest sits at $323,347 entering the second quarter.

His fundraising of nearly $78,000 came largely from big-money contributions totaling more than $50,000, including roughly 30 donations between $1,000 and $2,000. But Amodei was also boosted by several maximum or near-maximum donations from Margaret Cavin, owner of plumbing company J&J Mechanical in Reno ($5,600), and Uwe Rockenfeller, president of Boulder City-based engineering firm Rocky Research ($5,800).

Amodei’s fundraising was also boosted by a few large contributions from political committees, including $5,000 donations from PACs affiliated with MGM Resorts International and New York Life Insurance, $3,500 from a PAC affiliated with the aerospace company Sierra Nevada Corporation and $2,500 from Barrick Gold, a mining company.

Amodei’s spending was distributed across a wide range of categories, as he spent $7,625 on radio advertising, $4,000 on campaign consulting, nearly $20,000 on fundraising consulting, $12,750 on accounting services and more than $7,500 on meals and entertainment for contributor relations — including nearly $700 paid to cigar companies and more than $2,000 spent at Trattoria Alberto, an Italian restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Located in the urban center of Las Vegas, the deep blue District 1 has been held by incumbent Democratic Rep. Dina Titus since 2012. Titus won the seat after losing a previous re-election bid in nearby District 3 in 2010, which she had held for one term after a win over Republican Rep. Joe Heck in 2008.

Dina Titus (D) — incumbent

With no clear challengers in the district, Titus finished the first quarter with the least money raised of any Nevada incumbent — she received $48,080, which was $1.85 less than she raised through the same period last year.

More than half of those funds were given by four PACs that contributed a combined $25,000. The American Institute of Architects’ PAC, a PAC associated with the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers PAC gave $5,000 each, a pro-Israel PAC called Desert Caucus donated $10,000.

Titus also received $14,280 from individuals, including a $1,000 contribution from former Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin and a maximum contribution of $5,800 from Uwe Rockenfeller, president of Boulder City-based engineering firm Rocky Research.

After spending $37,000 in the quarter, Titus brought her cash on hand total to almost $340,000.

Follow the Money: Breaking down the biggest legislative campaign contributions from the 2020 cycle

Nevada Legislature building

Even amid a crushing global pandemic and the worst economic crisis to hit the state since the Great Recession, more than $10.6 million in big-money campaign contributions flowed to 61 Nevada lawmakers through the two-year 2020 campaign cycle. 

Of that money, nearly half — roughly $5.1 million — came from just five industries: real estate and development, unions and labor groups, health care groups, other candidates or politicians and business interests. 

Even in Nevada, which boasts a non-professionalized citizen Legislature, legislative candidates routinely raise tens-of-thousands of dollars per cycle, and those in the swingiest districts often raise six-figures or more. 

And though candidates tout the many small-dollar gifts to their campaigns, the vast majority of any warchest is filled almost entirely by big-money spending on the part of political action committees, corporations, wealthy individuals and political groups. 

To break it all down, The Nevada Independent categorized more than 7,700 individual contributions greater than $200 — a cutoff that excludes most small-dollar individual contributions, but still captures nearly all money raised by Nevada legislators. 

This data set does not capture every contour of the state’s campaign finance landscape. Of note, it excludes contributions to losing candidates, as well as those contributions under the $200 threshold. 

The data also excludes two lawmakers who were elected in 2020, but resigned before the legislative session began: Sen. Yvanna Cancela (D-Las Vegas), who left to take a post in the Biden Administration's Department of Health and Human Services, and Asm. Alexander Assefa (D-Las Vegas), who resigned amid a criminal probe into alleged campaign funds misuse and a residency issue. 

Still, taken as a whole, the data provides a collective picture of how Nevada's biggest industries fund campaigns for state office. 

Over the coming weeks, The Nevada Independent will dive deep into the specific spending of each industry — including how that money was spent and on whom. 

Below are highlights of the data reflecting contributions and who made them. For toplines on which lawmakers received the most money, you can read the first installment of our Follow the Money series here

Spending by the biggest industries

Of more than 30 industries, real estate and development companies led by far with a combined $1,346,644 contributed to nearly every lawmaker elected last year. That money was distributed by more than 240 companies, PACs and individuals, who collectively gave 965 contributions to 60 different legislators. 

Labor unions and the health care industry were the only other categories to crack the million-dollar threshold. 

In total, 63 individual unions, labor groups or related individuals gave 52 lawmakers $1,028,892 — nearly 10 percent of all money contributed through 2020. More than 150 health care companies, PACs and individuals likewise contributed $1,002,401 in total. 

Other major industries or donor groups include other candidates or politicians ($931,700), business interests ($841,300), the gaming industry ($769,100) and law firms, lawyers and other legal groups ($607,330).

Among the industries or groups tracked in The Indy’s analysis, just four gave less than $100,000: Education groups ($98,271), marijuana companies ($86,500), tribal groups ($30,500) and agricultural companies ($10,950). 

The biggest single donors

Of the more than $10.6 million donated to Nevada lawmakers through last year, nearly a fifth — about 19 percent — came from the 13 single contributors who gave more than $100,000. 

Much like national campaign finance laws, Nevada laws do not limit the amount of money that can be contributed directly to PACs, rather than candidates. As a result, by far the biggest spenders of any given cycle, 2020 included, are industry PACs, themselves funded by dozens of individuals and corporations, both small and large.

The biggest single spender among that group was the Nevada Realtors PAC, which spent $397,000 across 155 contributions to 57 legislators. That sum nearly doubles the next closest single-contributor, the trial lawyer PAC Citizens for Justice Trust, which gave $203,500 to 36 legislators. 

The remaining list of big-spenders also includes some of the largest companies in Nevada and a handful of the most powerful nationwide industry groups and unions. Statewide utility NV Energy gave lawmakers $167,500; a PAC associated with health care company HCA gave $142,500; the pharmaceutical industry group PhRMA likewise gave $140,500, while Zuffa — parent company to the Ultimate Fighting Championship — gave $128,000. 

Who gave the max

In Nevada, single-donor contributions are limited to a maximum of $10,000 per election cycle per candidate, with a further limit of $5,000 per election (i.e. $5,000 each for the primary and the general). 

And though these maximum contributions make up just a fraction of the total number of individual donations made — just 529 out of more than 7,700 — they also often make up a sizable portion of any given candidate’s fundraising, especially considering the median legislative fundraising haul of about $117,800 through the 2020 cycle. 

Including contributions of both $5,000 and $10,000 lump sums, the Nevada Realtors led the way once more with $5,000 gifts for 12 legislators and $10,000 each for Republican Assembly members Andy Matthews and Heidi Kasama and Sen. Carrie Buck. 

Citizens for Justice Trust came next, contributing $5,000 to seven lawmakers, and $10,000 to five, all Democrats: Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, Asm. Steve Yeager, Asm. Edgar Flores, Asm. Elaine Marzola and Asm. Howard Watts. 

Other major maximum-donors likewise include a number of the biggest overall spenders: Nevada Gold Mines, the Home Building Industry PAC, the Nevada Health Care Association PAC, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, health care corporation HCA and the public employee’s union, AFSCME, all gave at least 10 contributions of $5,000, and all gave at least one $10,000 contribution. 

Contributions by party

Though most industries give freely to members from both parties, those contributions are frequently — and predictably — distributed unevenly. 

For instance, 25 legislative Republicans received far more money from real estate groups ($810,194 in total) compared to 35 Democrats ($536,450). Likewise, union and labor contributions went almost entirely to Democrats, who received 94 percent of all union contributions.  

Other major splits also appeared in health care contributions ($600,601 to Democrats, $401,800 to Republicans); business contributions ($519,350 to Republicans, $321,950 to Democrats); gaming contributions ($426,300 to Republicans, $342,800 to Democrats) and legal industry contributions ($470,450 to Democrats, $136,879 to Republicans). 

Tim Lenard, Riley Snyder and Sean Golonka contributed to this report.