The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) canceled next month’s trade show and conference at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Wednesday, saying the recent surge in the COVID-19 Delta variant has “presented unexpected and insurmountable challenges.”
Strip convention and meetings operators had expressed concern recently that rising COVID-19 case numbers in the past few weeks could slow the Strip’s economic recovery. In July, Strip casinos recorded their highest single-month gaming revenue total ever — $793.7 million.
MGM Resorts International CFO Jonathan Halkyard told attendees at the virtual Bank of America lodging and hospitality conference on Sept. 9 that the company had seen a few convention cancelations, but otherwise provided a positive outlook on business for 2022.
A Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) spokeswoman said the agency has not received cancelations from any other scheduled shows.
Chris Meyer, a consultant to the convention and meetings industry and former LVCVA sales executive, said Wednesday the loss of the broadcasters' convention draws attention because of its size — nearly 100,000 attendees.
However, Las Vegas is still attracting smaller group meetings. In 2019, the city hosted 22,000 meetings with more than 70 percent having less than 200 attendees.
“The big stuff draws the attention and everybody recognizes the large trade shows,” Meyer said. “What I’m hearing from the (convention) sales folks is that a lot of smaller groups are still coming in the fourth quarter (October through December).”
Meyer noted that two parallel large trade shows are still on the books for the first week of November. The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show will take place Nov. 2-5 at the Convention Center. The companion Automotive Aftermarket Product Expo (AAPEX) will take place Nov. 2-4 at Caesars Forum and Sands Expo.
Pre-pandemic, the shows would attract upward of 130,000 attendees, Meyer said. He didn’t want to predict the size of this year’s given the fluid COVID-19 situation.
“I’m still predicting Las Vegas will host the largest (trade show) event in North America (through the SEMA and AAPEX shows) this year,” he said.
The National Association of Broadcasters event was one of several conferences that had mandated all attendees show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. Two of the conference’s largest exhibitors, Sony Electronics and Canon, decided to withdraw from the event in the past week, which may have precipitated the cancelation.
The show attracted 90,000 attendees to its last in-person event in 2019, and had an economic impact of $153.3 million on Las Vegas, according to the convention authority. The agency did not provide an economic impact number for the now-canceled October show.
MGM Resorts operates three of the Strip’s largest event facilities at MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and T-Mobile Arena. The company also manages substantial convention and meeting space at its 11 gaming and non-gaming properties, including Aria and Bellagio.
Halkyard said the company is “seeing a near-record lead generation as it relates to group business for 2022.” He noted midweek business that canceled last month and through the end of the year has been “largely filled by transient and leisure customers like we saw in the summertime. None of this gives us any reason to think that 2022 will be any different than we thought it would be a couple of months ago.”
Convention and meeting attendance in Las Vegas during 2020 was decimated by the pandemic. The total number of delegates during the year fell to a little more than 1.7 million, a decline of 74 percent from the more than 6.6 million meeting attendees in 2019.
Through July, the convention authority has recorded a zero for the number of convention attendees in 2021 despite several shows taking place, including the World of Concrete conference at the convention center in June. No estimates have been given for the first major trade show since the pandemic, which drew 60,000 people in January 2020.
The LVCVA said July drew 3.3 million visitors to Las Vegas, with hotel occupancy exceeding 79 percent and 88.1 percent occupancy on weekends. For the first seven months of the year, visitor volume is nearly 16.8 million, down 32.4 percent from the same point in 2019.
Southern Nevada’s average daily room rate was $152 in July with revenue per available room, a financial indicator, exceeding the 2019 comparable levels for the first time in more than a year and hitting an average of $120.79.
Early on in 2021, Las Vegas convention and meeting officials were hopeful any business during the year would fuel conference bookings during 2022.
In a statement posted to its website, National Association of Broadcasters officials said, “It has become apparent in the face of these challenges that we can no longer effectively host NAB Show or our co-located events, the Radio Show and Sales and Management Television Exchange, in person.”
The organization said it was moving forward with plans for its show in April, which is the event’s traditional annual time slot. The NAB canceled its 2020 show because of the pandemic.
“We deeply value our three-decade long partnership with NAB and will greatly miss seeing the NAB community this fall,” Convention Authority CEO Steve Hill said in a statement. “We eagerly await the show’s return in April.”
Meyer said the cancellation didn’t surprise him, given the October scheduling, which he thought would put a financial strain on some of its companies and attendees, who would have to return in six months.
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
🔵 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.
🔵 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 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.
🟡 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 morehere.
🔴 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.
🔵 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.
🔵 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
The Henderson gym owner wishes she didn’t have to require her staff and kids to wear hot, stuffy masks during practice. She doesn’t want to be thinking about her employees’ vaccination status. She’s a gymnastics coach, not a doctor, epidemiologist or virologist.
But she also doesn’t want to see any of her youngest gymnasts, not yet eligible for the shot, fall ill with COVID-19. She doesn’t want another employee out on quarantine. She doesn’t want to see her gymnastics team lose its third dad in a year and a half to the virus.
For the last several weeks, Rice has been gently nudging her employees to get vaccinated. She has sent emails sharing vaccine research and data. She has told her staff she prefers they get the shot. She isn’t hiring anyone new that is unvaccinated.
The nudging has only gone so far, though. Rice estimates there are about 15 unvaccinated holdouts among 90 employees between her family’s Henderson and Summerlin gyms.
When one told Rice she believed there was still too much “mystery” around the vaccine, Rice tried to persuade her with an analogy.
“I just said, ‘I think when you’re thinking about being an expert, I’m an expert in the field of gymnastics, so people can ask me questions about that. But we are not experts in epidemiology or science in any way. We have to defer to people who study this for a living,’” Rice said. “‘A parent can’t come in and tell me the better way to teach this gymnastics move. They don’t know. That’s how it should be with this.’”
Rice has drafted a letter, one she’s leaning toward sending. In it, she has outlined a new company policy: that employees get the shot or be tested weekly for the virus.
Her coaches, some of whom have been with her for the last 15 to 20 years, are like family, Rice said. But she is also a firm believer in the vaccine.
“We’re trying really hard to do it slowly and really think through it and make a good decision that takes into consideration the staff we really love,” Rice said. “We’re not wanting to kick a member of our family out, but I believe in this being a safety issue. So, then do you follow that principle, or do you follow the principle of supporting your family?”
It is a question some small business owners supportive of the vaccine in Nevada and across the nation have been asking themselves in recent weeks as the Delta variant continues to spread and the vaccination campaign inches forward.
The considerations are complex: Some, like Rice, fear losing longtime employees. Some worry about whether a vaccine mandate will stymie their ability to hire new employees in an already-competitive labor market. Others are grappling with whether they feel comfortable requiring their employees to get the shot, even though they support vaccination.
They are thinking through the consequences of not requiring their employees to get vaccinated, too. Companies have reduced hours or scaled back operations as a result of employees testing positive or quarantining. They worry about the worst-case scenario — that the situation gets so bad again that they’re forced to close their doors like they did in March 2020.
For some, it’s more than all of that: They don’t want to see employees they care about as humans — not just workers — fall ill, or worse. It’s more than just business sense; it’s also about protecting them.
“We had one of our staff member’s husbands go in the hospital for a while, and they were really worried about him,” Rice said. “It just creates so much stress.”
While a wave of large corporations announced employee vaccine mandates over the summer, some had hoped full approval of the Pfizer vaccine last month would promptly set off an even larger wave of mandates, including among small businesses.
There is no tally of how many Nevada businesses have implemented employee vaccine mandates to date, but interviews with business owners, human resources representatives and chamber leaders over the last two weeks suggest they’re currently more an exception than the rule.
That will soon be changing, though.
President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that all businesses with 100 or more employees will be required to mandate vaccination or weekly testing for their workers, a policy expected to affect as many as 100 million Americans, though it has already faced political pushback and threats of litigation. The smallest businesses, including Rice’s, aren’t subject to the new mandate, though the new federal rule may encourage some to voluntarily follow suit.
The new mandate aside, businesses large and small will still be faced with the question of whether to go further and require all employees to get the shot, eliminating any testing option. Public health experts say vaccination-only policies are the gold standard for virus mitigation, as vaccines remain the most effective method of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Several private and public sector entities have already adopted or are in the process of adopting such policies, including the federal government, which announced a vaccination-only policy for all federal workers and contractors on Thursday. In Nevada, MGM Resorts, the Clark County School District, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Nevada System of Higher Education all have implemented or are in the process of implementing similar policies for some or all of their workers.
If scientists, public health officials, family doctors, public information campaigns and the lure of cash prizes can’t convince people to get vaccinated, the thinking goes, maybe a mandate from their employer will.
In the vaccination campaign, mandates may just be the final frontier.
‘The right thing’
Tisha Overman, who runs a small engineering firm in Las Vegas with her husband, was surprised by the reaction she got last month when she told her employees they had to get vaccinated: None.
She knew there were a couple holdouts among TERPconsulting’s staff of 30, but she had also been open about the fact that a vaccine mandate might be coming, dependent on the COVID-19 vaccine receiving full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. As soon as that approval came, she sent a message to her team letting them know that vaccines were required and asked staff to forward her a copy of their vaccine cards within a week. She told them she was available if they had any questions.
There were no questions.
“I was fully expecting to have a dialogue. I was fully expecting to have to educate myself on exemptions and what’s appropriate for exemptions, but it didn’t come up at all,” Overman said. “The small number of people who had not been previously vaccinated got vaccinated immediately after the announcement.”
The vaccine mandate, Overman said, has been a “definite positive” for their business, both because they believe in the importance of vaccination to keep themselves and their employees safe and because a number of their clients are requiring staff to be fully vaccinated in order to visit job sites. (TERPconsulting’s clients span a number of different industries, including health care, education and hospitality.)
“Both things can be true at the same time,” Overman said. “You can try to do the right thing and believe the right thing is the financially viable thing.”
The pandemic hasn’t been an easy ride for business owners. Though Overman said they were “incredibly lucky” to be in a construction-adjacent business that was allowed to operate during the spring 2020 shutdown, she highlighted the interconnectedness of business in Southern Nevada, where the hospitality industry reigns.
“As business owners, and just as members of the community, we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to not go through another shutdown, and that means following the rules and trying to keep the economy going,” Overman said. “We have an altruistic community feeling about it, but we also have a very realistic business feeling.”
As small businesses in recent weeks started to think through what implementing vaccine mandates might look like, some turned to their local chambers of commerce for help. Prior to the federal government's announcement, chambers hadn’t been pushing business owners either way. Instead, they were informing them that vaccine mandates are allowed under state and federal law and helping them navigate the mechanics of how to enforce them, sometimes using their own vaccine mandates as a model.
The term “vaccine mandate” is used broadly, though there are actually a number of ways to approach a mandate: Vaccination for all employees, vaccination plus weekly testing for unvaccinated individuals and vaccination for new hires only.
Under the new federal rule, all businesses with 100 or more employees will be required to have a vaccine plus weekly testing policy in place, at the minimum, though businesses could choose to go further by requiring vaccination either for all employees or for new hires, with no testing opt-out. Small businesses, which aren’t subject to the new rule, will continue to face the same dilemmas over whether to implement vaccine mandates.
While some have argued against vaccine mandates as overly burdensome, Ann Silver, CEO of the Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce, framed them as another requirement employers might enact as a condition of employment, similar to a background check or drug screening.
“Every individual business owner may have a political view, religious view, social view, moral view about vaccines, and I’m not inquiring about that. I’m just letting them know they can require it if they wish to,” Silver said. “The more I can spread that word, the more the chance that businesses pick up that opportunity.”
Silver, in an interview last month, said she didn’t know how many of the chamber’s 2,300 members had put in place or were considering employee vaccine mandates, though she said she was pleased that the chamber’s entire leadership class — which represents a couple dozen businesses in the region — said they had gotten the shot.
“That’s a good indicator. They’re all coming from different businesses and industries,” Silver said. “Whether it was required or they did it on their own, I was thrilled to see that 100 percent compliance.”
While some had hoped the recent full approval of the Pfizer vaccine would spark a wave of employee mandates, it didn’t play out that way in practice. Chamber leaders, in recent interviews, said they hadn’t seen an uptick in inquiries from member businesses about employee vaccine mandates as a result of the Pfizer approval.
Federal officials are now trading hope for a mandate.
“We’ve been patient,” Biden said on Thursday, speaking directly to the unvaccinated. “But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us.”
Prior to Biden’s announcement, Mary Beth Sewald, CEO of the Las Vegas Chamber, said what seemed to have an impact on small business interest in vaccine mandates were the decisions large employers, including those in the casino industry, made. While many of Las Vegas’s biggest resorts have long had vaccination and testing programs, MGM Resorts was the first major gaming company to establish a full vaccine mandate with no testing opt out. (That policy is, for now, limited to salaried employees and new hires.)
“[The resorts] are definitely leading the way, and they’ve kind of pulled the Band-Aid off creating these policies to keep people safe,” Sewald said. “The big picture, really, is we want to reduce the number and trend of COVID cases, and the best way for us to do that is to create a safe environment through vaccinations, negative COVID tests, mask wearing and continuing the social distancing.”
But it’s been a slow process. In an interview before the White House’s announcement, Sewald said that while some businesses have already implemented vaccine mandates, others are still ramping them up and putting plans in place.
“It’s really about finding the right balance for their employees and for their customers as well,” Sewald said. “Having a policy that requires proof of vaccination or weekly COVID tests for their employees, it really does make a lot of sense in keeping the workplace safe.”
Vaccine mandates are easier said than done, even for business owners who strongly support vaccination, something that helps explain why employee vaccine mandates weren’t more common before the Biden administration moved in that direction this week.
Take Tom Young, brewmaster and owner at Great Basin Brewing, who is getting ready to host the brewery’s fourth on-site vaccination event, called “Shot and a Beer,” on Thursday. Young is hoping this one will be a particular draw, with vaccines administered inside the brewery itself, next to tanks of beer.
“We’re working hard to make this planet a better place one pint at a time,” Young said. “That sounds kind of silly and stupid and far-fetched, but it's something where you have to walk the walk.”
As dedicated as the brewery has been to supporting Northern Nevada’s vaccination effort, Young said there are still a handful of holdouts on his staff — about 10 people out of 120.
Young, in an interview last week, said the brewery had discussed establishing an employee vaccine mandate, though he would rather staff get the shot of their own volition. (All staff get rewarded with a free six pack of beer as soon as they’ve gotten their second shot.)
But from a strict business standpoint, the benefits of an employee vaccine mandate are clear, Young said. He has personally experienced the crunch of having several staff members out sick with COVID, and he also feels a responsibility generally to protect the members of the public who come into the brewery.
He also remembers what the shutdown last spring was like, when he had to lay off 55 of 115 employees. He says it’s one of the hardest things he’s had to do.
There’s also the real, human cost. Young said he recently learned a 65-year-old musician who had played at the brewery passed away from COVID being on a ventilator in the intensive care unit.
Last week, Young said he was mulling a modest vaccine mandate that would require all new staff to be vaccinated. But the Thursday announcement appears to have made the decision for him, though he is waiting to see the full details of the new rule and how it might take into consideration full- and part-time employees.
“The data is clear. Scientific endeavors overwhelmingly point to the value of getting more and more folks vaccinated. It is our best weapon so far to curb the spread,” Young said in an email following the White House’s announcement. “We will staff up for our Thursday Shot and a Beer event, inviting all procrastinators and those whose excuses have been exhausted and get started with the Pfizer first or second shot or the one and done Janssen vaccine. It is the right thing to do.”
For many businesses, the already-difficult labor market, which has caused staffing shortages, adds an extra layer of complexity to the decision, particularly when it comes to considering vaccine-only mandates. In an interview last week, Mary Beth Hartleb, CEO of human resources firm Prism Global Management Group, said that’s why she hasn’t been recommending employee vaccine mandates to her clients.
“I think you really need to take into consideration our extremely, extremely difficult labor market right now. I’ve never seen it like this in 30 years doing this type of work,” Hartleb said. “When you look at that, are you really going to hold somebody to a vaccine when there’s other things you can do to keep people safe, etc., and lose all that institutional knowledge, have to replace these positions, train people? I mean, that’s an incredible cost to a business.”
Fears about losing workers to vaccine mandates may be overstated, though, and changing with time. Though polling on vaccine mandates varies depending on how the question is asked, a recent Axios-Ipsospoll found that 43 percent of unvaccinated Americans would get the shot if their boss required it, up from 33 percent a month ago. Nationally, only about 14 percent of Americans say they definitely won’t get the COVID-19 vaccine, while another 10 percent are still in the “wait and see” phase and 3 percent say they’ll get it if required, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s vaccine monitor survey.
(On the other hand, a Gallup poll in August found that 38 percent of U.S. employees would either oppose or strongly oppose their employer requiring all employees to get the shot, and a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 72 percent of unvaccinated people whose employers don’t currently have mandates said they would quit if they couldn’t get a medical or religious exemption to the requirement.)
At least in some instances, job seekers may see employee vaccine mandates as a benefit. Such was the case for Amber Seifert, who left her job with an HVAC company to work for the Boys and Girls Club of Truckee Meadows in August.
Seifert estimates she was one of just about a quarter of employees at her old job who had gotten the shot, as vaccinated employees were allowed to go without a mask if they submitted a copy of their vaccine card to the company. It created an uncomfortable situation, she said, where everyone knew who was vaccinated and who wasn’t.
“Previously, it was kind of like, ‘Oh, you’re vaccinated. So that’s what you think about this and that’s how you believe about this,’ making it political,” Seifer said. “It’s definitely relieving to be working somewhere where the vaccine is required because it’s not polarizing. There’s not going to be a stigma on you because you’re vaccinated. Everybody just is.”
Seifert takes the issue particularly seriously because she contracted COVID-19 last fall. While her primary symptoms were body aches, fever, fatigue and loss of the sense of taste and smell, the virus caused optic nerve damage that required her to get an MRI, a spinal tap and drop 20 pounds in three months or face having a shunt inserted into her brain.
“Everything is okay now, but it’s just been a lot to deal with,” Seifert said.
Scott Muelrath, CEO of the Henderson Chamber of Commerce, believes some people who have been putting off getting the shot while unemployed may voluntarily decide to get vaccinated upon returning to the labor force.
“You could see people coming back into the job market and that could be a reason why they choose to get vaccinated and they haven’t thus far,” Muelrath said. “That maybe could result in an uptick in vaccinations.”
After Thursday’s announcement, many business owners will no longer have a choice in establishing some level of a vaccine mandate. Muelrath, in an email, described the decision as “not unexpected.”
“This adds the further directive and clarity that will spur people to action as to being vaccinated, whether they like it or not,” Muelrath said. “And one step closer to making it required for all, no doubt – no matter what the business size.”
The Vegas Chamber, in a statement on Friday, said that while many Las Vegas companies, including the chamber, have implemented vaccination-testing policies, it was concerned about the new vaccine mandate happening by presidential executive order without debate outside of the legislative or regulatory process.
“While many companies are voluntarily taking proactive measures to fight the spread of COVID, mandating them to do so through Executive Order sets a worrisome precedent and creates a slippery slope for future potential mandates on employers and employees,” the chamber said.
Meanwhile, owners of the smallest businesses, unaffected either way by the federal mandate, will have to base their decisions on the complex calculation of whether it would be better to weather the toll that a COVID outbreak would have on their workforce or mandate the vaccine and risk losing a portion of their employees. Which scenario would have the greater impact on their ability to keep their doors open?
“What’s the point of all this money given out to help businesses get back on their feet if a customer is walking in and possibly in a contagious state … you’re then saying, ‘Okay, now I have no choice but to quarantine them and basically shut down,’” Silver, head of the Reno + Sparks Chamber, said. “I think the mask and vaccine capability should be strengthened by a communal decision that we want to continue commerce in our daily lives.”
‘Shifting the assumption’
For those involved with the state’s COVID-19 vaccination effort, there’s a glimmer of hope that employee vaccine mandates will move the needle on the overall vaccination effort.
“The business community, they are a critical part of this effort,” Heidi Parker, executive director of Immunize Nevada, Nevada’s only statewide immunization-focused nonprofit, said.
Dr. Andy Pasternak, a family medicine doctor in Reno, said employee vaccine mandates — or even just talk about potential vaccine mandates — are one more thing that will encourage people to think about getting the vaccine. And for those who are, he encourages them to talk with their doctor before doing so.
“I have had a few people that are like, ‘Okay, my employer is mandating this now, which vaccine do you think would be right for me?’” Pasternak said. “There are some differences, so I like to talk to them about which one might be the best for you.”
Amid all the hand-wringing over vaccine mandates, Ellie Graeden, founder and CEO of Talus Analytics and an adjunct faculty member at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security who has been consulting with the state on its COVID-19 response, noted they actually aren’t as foreign as people might imagine.
Vaccination, Graeden noted, is the default for kids, who are required to get certain shots to attend school. There isn’t a mechanism in place to broadly require adults to get vaccines, she said, because they have already gotten them as kids.
“The only reason that we haven’t had the conversation about mandates for adults is because we already dealt with our mandates when we were kids,” Graeden said. “This is the first new disease where we’re actually needing to talk about how you get that first wave of vaccines into the adult population.”
Making vaccinations mandatory, Graeden said, may actually reduce some of the stigma around getting the shot and what vaccination might mean about someone’s personal political leanings or beliefs.
“I think that’s a real value with these mandates. You’re shifting the assumption from being, ‘Oh, this is your choice, you’re doing it because you believe in it,’ to ‘I have to,’” Graeden. “That actually does shift the discussion as well and I think actually depoliticizes it in a lot of ways.”
Employee vaccine mandates may also just be the start. While vaccination mandates for the general public are still uncommon in Nevada — unlike in San Francisco and New York, where vaccination is required for indoor bars, restaurants and gyms — they do exist.
The Las Vegas Raiders are requiring proof of vaccination to attend all home games at Allegiant Stadium, while organizers of the Life is Beautiful festival have required guests to have proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry.
Conventions, meanwhile, are adopting their own policies: Attendees of the HIMSS21 Global Health Conference & Exhibition last month were required to be fully vaccinated in order to attend, while two future conventions – the National Association of Broadcasters and the Consumer Electronics Show – announced in August their own attendee vaccination policies.
At the same time, a Gallup survey released this week found that 61 percent of Americans favor vaccination requirements for air travel, 53 percent for dining out and 56 percent in office or work settings.
“I do believe commerce is the answer here … It often takes some brave person that says, ‘This is what I’m going to do, and the rest of you be darned,’ and others will follow,” Silver, the head of the Reno + Sparks Chamber, said. “It takes a real leader to be brave and have strong shoulders to say, ‘This is what’s necessary, and I’m going to do it.’”
This, public health experts say, is why the private sector’s involvement is key to the vaccination effort. It means that mandates aren’t really mandates at all.
Don’t want to work for this company? No problem. Don’t want to attend this concert? No problem. Don’t want to attend a Raiders game? No problem.
The choice is yours.
For more information, check out The Nevada Independent’s vaccine mandate tracker here. You can also more pandemic coverage here and find the latest COVID-19 data on our data page.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.
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
Sightline Payments Executive Vice President Omer Sattar compared the initial use of digital payment technology on casino floors to the rollout two decades ago of the now familiar ticket in-ticket out system on slot machines.
Acceptance by players was initially mixed.
Customers missed the clinking of coins into a tray and didn’t understand why they received a voucher when they cashed out from a game after feeding the machine real dollar bills. Slot players had to be taught to take the ticket to a kiosk or casino cage for payment. They also needed instruction on using the receipt at another gaming device.
“There was a lot of learning and education for both players and casino staff,” said Sattar, a co-founder of Las Vegas-based Sightline, a financial technology company that launched more than a decade ago.
Today, casino customers are hard-pressed to find coin-operated slot machines other than downtown in the historical second-floor gaming area at the D Las Vegas, inside the El Cortez and at a handful of rural Nevada properties.
The expanding use of digital wallets and cashless gaming in casinos will require a similar educational effort to the ticket in-ticket out system. But Sattar believes the technology will soon become commonplace.
Last week, Sightline completed $244 million in financing that will fund the company’s training efforts for casino staff, pay for technology upgrades and expand usage of digital payment products. Earlier this year, Sightline completed a separate $100 million funding round that was partly utilized to acquire a digital platform for customer loyalty programs.
“Educating frontline casino staff is key to rolling out digital payment products,” Sattar said. But that’s just part of the effort. “It’s a one-two punch. Not only do we have to build out our core product, but in rolling it out, we need to provide technology upgrades across the casino floor.”
The good news is that unlike the rollout of ticket in-ticket out technology, gaming customers in 2021 are accustomed to paying for many products and services through digital wallets or credit cards linked to mobile devices.
“We use apps for everything, but the functionality of most casino apps has been confined to checking loyalty points or viewing maps of the casino floor,” Sattar said.
With digital payment systems expanding everywhere, upgrades to casino apps are necessary improvements, he said.
The American Gaming Association’s nearly two-year advocacy effort to modernize the industry and move casinos away from cash-centric gaming into a digital payment world was fast-tracked by COVID-19. Research conducted last year by the Washington D.C.-based trade organization found that more than 60 percent of casino customers wanted cashless or digital payment options.
Sightline’s initial business was to provide payment systems and processes for legal online gaming. It grew quickly through the 2018 legalization of sports betting. States adopted mobile sports wagering along with retail sportsbooks.
Sightline’s recent funding came from Cannae Holdings, the investment arm of Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley, along with Resorts World Las Vegas owner Genting Group of Malaysia, Point Break Capital Management and Walter Kortschak, the company’s founding investor. Previous funding came from hedge fund Searchlight Capital Partners.
“I think of Sightline as a company bridging the past and the future of the gambling industry,” Eilers & Krejcik Gaming analyst Chris Grove said. “I think the industry needs more of those bridges in order to strike a balance between continuing to serve the customers of today while welcoming the customers of tomorrow.”
Macquarie Securities analyst Chad Beynon credited Sightline, along with publicly traded gaming equipment providers Everi Holdings, International Game Technology and Scientific Games, for helping the gaming industry “advance the customer experience” with cashless and mobile wallet technologies.
“The pandemic has certainly served as an accelerator for gaming technology and cashless is one of the most important advancements the industry has seen for years,” Beynon said.
Sightline was valued this month by its investors at $1 billion, making it Nevada’s first “unicorn,” a financial term referring to private technology companies with an appraisal of $1 billion or more.
In a statement, Foley said he was “more bullish than ever about Sightline’s ability to be at the forefront of the digital transformation afoot in the North American gaming, sports, and entertainment ecosystem.”
Foley commended Sightline for its part in the June 24 opening of the $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas. The company was one of five gaming technology providers involved in the roll-out of cashless gaming capabilities for the new Strip property’s slot machines, table games and the sportsbook.
Sattar said Sightline gained a valuable understanding of the ins and outs of the endeavor in launching cashless gaming throughout the casino. Staff from Sightline and other companies were “on the ground for weeks” as part of the training effort.
Sightline is also part of Boyd Gaming’s cashless wagering rollout on slot machines in partnership with Aristocrat Technologies. A Boyd-branded mobile wallet has soft-launched at five regional casinos: Blue Chip and Belterra in Indiana; Valley Forge in Pennsylvania; Belterra Park in Ohio; and Aliante Casino in North Las Vegas.
Boyd Gaming CEO Keith Smith said in July that its mobile wallet could be live in 21 casinos by the end of the year, pending regulatory approval. He said the digital payment system was being tested in non-gaming areas of Aliante and could be available for table games as early as this fall.
Which brings Sattar to an immediate aim for Sightline — reducing the amount of time it takes for a customer to download the app and establish an account. He said the goal is lowering the time to three minutes or less, an industry standard.
“We’re getting close,” he said.
Stock price decline doesn’t alter analyst’s view of social game developer PlayStudios
Eilers & Krejcik Gaming analyst Adam Krejcik offered investors a positive outlook on Las Vegas-based social game developer PlayStudios in a research report released last week, despite a nearly 50 percent decline in PlayStudios’ stock price on the Nasdaq since going public at the end of June.
Krejcik, a principal in the Southern California-based firm who follows the digital and interactive gaming industry, said the company’s stock was battered as part of a market-wide sell-off by investors holding shares in special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs), a vehicle that took PlayStudios public.
“High redemptions rates and a flood of new companies has caused investors to sour on this space,” Krejcik wrote.
He noted that PlayStudios, which he ranked as the eighth largest company in the roughly $7 billion-a-year social gaming sector, has a “strong” balance sheet with $230 million and another $150 million available in a revolving credit line.
“We believe PlayStudios will be very aggressive when it comes to [mergers and acquisitions] and is likely evaluating multiple targets,” Krejcik said. “Management has stated the ability to execute [on mergers and acquisitions] was the primary reason for going public.”
PlayStudios is headquartered in Summerlin and led by Chairman and CEO Andrew Pascal, a former casino and gaming equipment company executive. PlayStudios operates a large portfolio of free-to-play casual mobile and social games including myVegas Slots, my KONAMI Slots, myVegas Blackjack, POP! Slots and recently released myVegas Bingo.
Last month, PlayStudios said its release of Kingdom Boss would be delayed until the fourth quarter. The game will serve as the company’s first new title outside of the social casino category, Krejcik said. PlayStudios reduced its 2021 full-year guidance for revenues and cash flow because of the delay.
Krejcik said the market for acquiring mobile games “remains extremely competitive with a number of large digital game companies, all with significant liquidity, vying for high-growth and scaled targets.” He cited Zynga and Playtika as PlayStudios’ primary competitors.
Although he doesn’t provide stock recommendations or price-targets on companies, Krejcik said the shares of PlayStudios are “trading at a significant discount relative to the peer group.”
PlayStudios controls the playRewards loyalty platform, where online and mobile players can earn real-world rewards from more than 95 partners and 290 entertainment, retail, travel, leisure and gaming brands.
PlayStudios merged earlier this year with Acies Acquisition Corp., a SPAC created by former MGM Resorts Chairman and CEO Jim Murren and two former Morgan Stanley investment banking executives. Shareholders own 64 percent of the company, and institutional investors control a combined 18 percent. Murren and the Acies sponsors own 3 percent. Following the merger, PlayStudios put 15 percent of the company on the open market.
Murren joined the board along with current MGM Resorts CEO Bill Hornbuckle.
Other items of interest:
Las Vegas-based Marker Trax, a cashless system for issuing casino markers, landed a partnership with gaming equipment provider Scientific Games. Marker Trax was founded in 2018 by gaming industry veteran Gary Ellis. The product scores and approves players for credit. The system is currently in place in Nevada at Ellis Island Casino in Las Vegas, properties operated by Golden Entertainment, including Strat Resort and Tower, and the Wendover Nugget in rural Nevada. Two Southern California tribal casinos also use Marker Trax. Scientific Games Senior Vice President Rob Bone said the system would be added to the company’s cashless gaming technology. “We have followed the evolution of Marker Trax and we see low friction, player credit offerings as a compelling addition,” Bone said. “This partnership enhances the player’s gaming experience.”
Japan’s casino expansion efforts took another nosedive over the weekend. Yokohama elected an anti-integrated resort candidate as its new mayor, ending the city’s quest for one of the country’s potential casino licenses. Japan has debated adding casinos for more than a decade. The departure of Yokohama was a blow to Resorts World Las Vegas owner Genting Berhad of Malaysia, which had put all its chips into the city’s efforts. In February, Wynn Resorts took itself out of the running for a Yokohama casino after withdrawing from the Osaka process in 2019. Las Vegas Sands withdrew entirely from the Japan effort in 2020. MGM Resorts remains heavily invested in Osaka, which one Japanese management predicted would be the only city to legalize an integrated resort.
Lyle Berman has the distinction of being a member of three gaming industry halls of fame: The American Gaming Association’s Gaming Hall of Fame, the Poker Hall of Fame and the Mississippi Gaming Hall of Fame. Last Friday, Golden Entertainment announced in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that Berman, 80, was retiring from the company’s board. Berman’s Lakes Entertainment and Las Vegas-based Golden Gaming merged in 2015, and Berman served as a board member and consultant. He also was a co-founder in Grand Casinos, which helped establish Mississippi’s casino market. In poker, Berman won three World Series of Poker individual event championship bracelets and helped create the World Poker Tour.
In an interview with reporter Tony Batt of (paywalled) Vixio Gambling Compliance, Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman Brin Gibson said remote registration for sports wagering remains a challenge in Nevada despite its usage in other states. Nevada requires anyone signing up with a mobile sports wagering company to do so in person at a casino sportsbook. “What it really comes down to is that remote sign-up — I think some see it as sort of a camel’s nose or incremental step toward potentially allowing operators that have not made the investment in brick and mortar to enter the marketplace here,” Gibson said. Remote registration has been proposed, but has received harsh criticism from several casino operators. Gibson said support for remote registration is “still out there. It’s still alive, and I don’t know that it’s going to go away.”
A day after MGM Resorts set an Oct. 15 deadline for employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Las Vegas-based casino operator Golden Entertainment issued a similar mandate. In a letter to employees dated Aug. 17, Golden President Charles Protell wrote the company is preparing “to require unvaccinated staff at certain properties and corporate offices to present either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test on a weekly basis.” In Nevada, Golden operates the Strat Tower and Resort, two Arizona Charlie’s properties in Las Vegas, casinos in Pahrump and Laughlin and more than 60 taverns statewide. The company also has a casino resort in Maryland. Protell said Golden employees would receive more information on the requirement. MGM Resorts, which has 57,000 employees, was the first large nationwide casino operator and first Nevada casino company to require salaried employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment. The company is exploring an extension of the vaccine mandate to cover hourly employees and other positions.
In 1989, Deadwood, South Dakota became the nation’s third legal casino market, following Nevada and Atlantic City. Voters legalized sports betting at the old west town’s small stakes casinos last year. Now, casino giant MGM Resorts International is getting into the game. The company said last week that BetMGM, its 50-50 sports betting joint venture with Entain Plc., will open retail sportsbooks and provide mobile sports wagering to the small Tin Lizzie and Cadillac Jack's casinos operated by Liv Hospitality. Pending regulatory approval, BetMGM will be available in South Dakota next month, just in time for the NFL and college football seasons. South Dakota is one of 10 states that has legalized sports betting but has yet to launch operations. Sports betting is legal and active in 22 states and Washington D.C.
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
The effort to legalize sports betting in California just got a little more complicated.
The largest state in the U.S. with some 40 million residents, California is considered the most lucrative prize in the fast-moving sports betting growth trajectory. But the state could offer voters two different ballot referendums in November 2022 on the issue.
Less than three months after an alliance of the state’s Indian gaming tribes qualified a sports betting measure that would allow retail sportsbooks inside tribal casinos and at several privately-operated racetracks, a coalition of small cities announced last week it would seek to qualify a competing question.
The second measure is far more inclusive, giving a sports betting opportunity to California's card room casinos, racetracks, 19 professional sports teams and the tribal casinos.
There are differences in the two measures. The tribes’ referendum doesn’t include mobile sports betting and bans wagers on games involving California’s colleges and universities. The cities want mobile sports betting and want to allow sportsbooks to accept wagers on the schools’ games.
“We feel like sports wagering belongs to everyone,” Gardena Mayor Tasha Cerda told The Nevada Independent. The Los Angeles-area city suffers from high rates of homelessness, housing shortages and crime, and views potential tax revenues from legal sports betting as a way out of its hole.
Helen Fisicaro, vice mayor of Colma in San Mateo County, has the same opinion.
“The revenue we generate from making sports wagering legal … will ensure that those who are most in need will receive food, housing, and other vital and necessary basic life services,” she said.
The cities believe a wide-ranging sports betting playing field — including mobile wagering — will significantly damage the illegal and unregulated offshore sports betting market.
There is another big difference between the ballot questions. The tribes are seeking a 10 percent tax on sports wagers. The cities are proposing a tax rate of 25 percent.
The tribes began their sports betting effort in late 2019, originally hoping to qualify the question for the November 2020 ballot. But the pandemic set back the timeline and signature gathering efforts. After a federal judge gave the tribes more time, they gathered more than 1 million signatures and the referendum was approved for next year.
The cities began their efforts this month, and once the state attorney general signs off on the language, the cities will have until next April to gather nearly 1 million signatures.
Gaming attorney Daniel Wallach doesn’t think that will be a challenge.
“California has by far the most expansive group of potential participants in the U.S.,” Wallach said. “Qualifying will be easy. There will be support for both questions.”
Wallach speculated that a third effort could surface before a deadline next week to turn in ballot referendum language for 2022.
Backers of the cities’ initiative said they plan to talk with card room casinos and the tribes about combining the efforts.
That won’t go far.
California Gaming Association Executive Director Joe Patterson said his organization, which represents the state’s 70-plus card room casinos, hasn’t taken a position on the new proposal. But it’s clear where the trade group stands on the tribe’s ballot question.
“We do strongly oppose the self-serving tribal casino monopoly initiative that will only benefit wealthy tribal casino operators to achieve their goal of a gambling monopoly with no benefits for California residents,” Patterson said in an email.
The tribes’ reaction to a potential second ballot question was what you might expect.
Jacob Mejia, who oversees government affairs for Southern California’s Pechanga Indian Tribe and is a spokesman for the tribal coalition, said the cities are just a front.
“This measure is not about sports wagering,” Mejia said in an email. “It is a deceptive ploy funded by a single card room to give Nevada-style casino games to card rooms that have been fined over $8 million for misleading state regulators and violating anti-money laundering laws.”
Mejia pointed to a campaign disclosure form filed with California on Aug. 9 that listed a $25,000 contribution from Bay 101, a San Jose-area card room casino, to Cities for Responsible Sports Betting.
Conceivably, California could pose a threat to Nevada’s sportsbooks, which have rebounded from the pandemic-influenced declines last year during the first six months of 2021. The books 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. Sports revenue of $207 million is already 56.2 percent ahead of the 2019 total.
Global Market Advisors Partner Brendan Bussmann isn’t sold on the newest effort in California.
“One has to question the validity of this initiative since it tried to placate every potential stakeholder without hardly talking to any of them and puts in a tax rate that simply does not work,” Bussmann said.
With the card rooms and tribal casinos at war once again, the gaming consultant said he’s getting flashbacks of California’s other failed expansion efforts.
“Should this initiative qualify on the ballot or any others that may come along, it will definitely cloud the ability to get sports betting done on the ballot and likely kick the can down the road,” Bussman said. “One only has to point to the failed push for online gaming from 10 years ago to see how this story will potentially unfold with nothing happening.”
Cashless gaming in Pennsylvania involves two Las Vegas companies
Two Las Vegas-based gaming equipment suppliers are fueling Penn National Gaming’s cashless wagering technology in the casino operator’s home state.
A casino management system developed by privately held Acres Gaming is enabling cashless wagering to take place at the $120 million Hollywood Casino York, Penn National’s third casino in Pennsylvania, which opened last week. Everi Holdings, a gaming equipment and financial services provider, is supplying the mobile wallet technology used in cashless wagering.
Acres and Everi have teamed up to offer the same technology for Penn National’s other two casinos in Pennsylvania — Hollywood Casino at Penn National Racecourse and Meadows Racetrack & Casino. Penn National operates 43 casinos in 20 states, including M Resort in Henderson and two casinos in Jackpot, Nevada near the border with Idaho.
“We are thankful for the hard work and collaboration with Acres and Everi in helping us deliver industry leading customer engagement technology,” Penn National Executive Vice President of Operations Todd George said in a statement.
Acres Gaming was founded by John Acres, who invented the casino industry’s first player tracking system. That product, along with other innovations, earned him induction into the American Gaming Association’s Gaming Hall of Fame in 2016.
The current casino management system is called Foundation.
“Penn National’s technical team very quickly harnessed the power of Foundation to deliver the best cashless gaming system in the industry,” Acres said.
Everi's mobile digital wallet enables casino operators to offer cashless and contactless funding of electronic game play across the casino floor. The wallet is now being used in 11 gaming properties across the U.S., including both tribal and commercial operators.
Hollywood Casino York is considered a “mini-casino” in Pennsylvania. It houses just 500 slot machines, 24 table games and Barstool Sports retail sportsbook.
B Riley Securities gaming analyst David Bain told investors that Everi generates 40 percent of its annual cash flow from its financial technologies business, an area that will continue to expand as its mobile continues to gain usage in the casino industry.
“Out of the heights of COVID, casino regulators and industry leaders have sought to expand the digital and cashless (gaming) opportunity,” Bain said. “Resulting benefits of an ongoing transition to cashless for casinos are multifold, ranging from intelligence (better player tracking), increased velocity of play potential, lower costs and portability of loyalty.”
Other items of interest:
SIAL America in Las Vegas, a tradeshow and conference focused on the $1.5 trillion food and beverage market in the U.S., was announced Tuesday for the Las Vegas Convention Center. Las Vegas is the first U.S. market for the tradeshow, which has held events in Paris, Canada, China, the Middle East, India and Jakarta. SIAL is scheduled for March 22-24, 2022. “SIAL’s arrival reinforces Las Vegas’ position as a premiere culinary destination with world-class restaurants and dining experiences,” LVCVA Chief Operating Officer Brian Yost said in a statement. “We look forward to providing the show’s organizers, exhibitors and attendees with an experience that can only be found here.” The show is being produced by Emerald Holding and Comexposium, which said the tradeshow “underscores the ever-increasing importance of creating a single event for the food industry.”
The American Gaming Associationsaid last week that plans are moving forward to host the Global Gaming Expo Oct. 4-7 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center. A virtual version of the gaming industry’s largest conference and trade will run parallel with the in-person event. AGA CEO Bill Miller said during a conference call last week that government restrictions on international travel may be keeping down attendance numbers from visitors outside the U.S. “I’m not sure what we can do about changing policy surrounding international visitation,” Miller said. “It’s kind of outside our hands.” Miller said G2E primarily draws “primarily a domestic audience. He added the show’s producers will abide by all Clark County requirements surrounding COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Currently, there is a mask mandate for all attendees of any indoor event regardless of vaccination status.
A London-based gaming analysttold investors that MGM Resorts International may not be able to acquire its 50-50 joint venture partner in the sports betting and online gaming business BetMGM. The casino operator’s $11 billion bid on United Kingdom-based Entain Plc was rejected in January as being too low. Jefferies analyst James Wheatcroft said last week that Entain’s financial profile has gotten much stronger in the past six months. He said the company, “Laid out a long runway of growth in existing and new markets, with differentiated tech playing a key role. We do not foresee any material change to medium-term consensus estimates.” He also said Entain investors “should now be more reassured around future growth, possibly making an MGM return more difficult.”
Speaking of BetMGM, the company was one of three sports betting providers added to the National Football League’s list of “authorized sports gambling partners. WynnBet, the sports betting arm and Wynn Resorts, and PointsBet were added after agreeing to purchase official NFL data from league partner Genius Sports. The companies will be able to advertise on broadcasts involving NFL teams. In April, DraftKings, FanDuel and Caesars Entertainment became the NFL’s “official sports betting partners” at a combined cost of nearly $1 billion. Through the agreement, the gaming companies have the “exclusive ability” to utilize NFL trademarks within their sports betting operations both in retail settings and online. The sportsbook operators will also engage with fans through NFL-themed free-to-play games.
Las Vegas sports bettorswill finally have access to a FanDuel sportsbook — if they make the four-and-half-hour drive to Phoenix. The company unveiled renderings last week for its retail sportsbook inside the Footprint Center, home to the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and indoor football’s Arizona Rattlers. FanDuel has an agreement with the Suns to be the team’s sports betting partner, which includes both a retail location at the arena and online presence. The facility, which could open later this year, will be 7,400 square feet with an outdoor terrace, multiple televisions and 35-foot tall video wall. The sportsbook will be open year-round.
Visitors to UNLV’s Black Fire Innovation research institute will find much of what they might expect inside a 15,000-square foot showroom dedicated to newly created products for the gaming and hospitality industries.
In addition to games and systems for the casino floor and sportsbook, a working eSports venue also serves as a Ted Talk-style amphitheater. Innovative creations for hotels are displayed, such as a laundry-free bed linen product that is broken down and reconstituted as new bedding after a single usage.
A translucent television designed to double as a hotel room window is prominently exhibited.
A personal “Gita” robot can be tested. Adorned with Las Vegas Raiders logos, the device follows its user around the facility, carting the visitor’s belongings in its storage area.
Gaming is a featured element in what is expected to become a university-run innovation hub tasked with bringing new business and industries to Southern Nevada. Black Fire Innovation is the first building within the 122-acre UNLV Harry Reid Research and Technology Park, located in the southwest area of Las Vegas and roughly 11 miles from the UNLV campus.
Through Black Fire, the gaming industry serves as a connection to the overall vision for the technology park. The reach, however, goes far beyond the Strip.
UNLV Vice President of Economic Development Bo Bernhard said Black Fire is the initial piece of an academic inspired innovation center similar to facilities associated with universities around the country, such as the Research Triangle in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area of North Carolina near the state’s three universities.
A building projected to house medical research and development was completed at the Technology Park this year. Other facilities will follow for what is best described as a location that mixes entrepreneurship with the business and financial community.
“This is Nevada’s innovation hub,” said Bernhard, who added the economic development position to his long-standing responsibility as executive director of UNLV’s International Gaming Institute.
“The idea is to create a meeting space between industry and academia,” he said.
Black Fire Innovation and a co-working space cover more than 43,000 square feet of the top two floors of the four-story building.
UNLV President Keith Whitfield, responding to emailed questions from The Nevada Independent, said the research and technology park will become “an unprecedented resource” and a center of “new cutting-edge” products and activities.
“Because it will connect UNLV faculty and students with tech companies – both established and startups – research and development large companies, and financial entities looking to serve as startup or angel funding, it will be a unique environment that will provide a number of synergies for those who work on that new campus,” Whitfield said.
Office space in the Black Fire building has been leased to a diverse cross section of tenants.
US Capital Global, a San Francisco-based asset manager and investment bank, is relocating its back office, analysts and due-diligence teams into Black Fire. Digital payments provider Sightline plans to share office space at the location with Vancouver, Canada-based GeoComply, a geolocation, fraud protection and cyber security business.
“We're a tech focused investment bank with some hospitality stuff and we’re in the medical tech and FinTech (financial technology field as well,” US Capital CEO Jeffrey Sweeney said. “It's a good move for us out there. The goal is to use Las Vegas as an economic hub for companies that want another location that’s a little more cost effective. We have companies from Europe that want a U.S. presence.”
Sweeney said US Capital is moving one of its clients, Sounzone, an Italy-based music streaming service, to Las Vegas.
Sightline Executive Vice President Omer Sattar said Black Fire allows the financial technology business a location where it can collaborate easily with casino operators and other technology companies working in an industry effort toward cashless gaming and digital payment technology. Sightline is one of five gaming technology providers that created a cashless payment program for both gaming and non-gaming activities at Resorts World Las Vegas.
“Our partners are there, and we are working with the (International Gaming Institute), so we see this a good collaboration,” he said.
Sattar said taking space in Black Fire allows Sightline to consolidate all its Las Vegas employees into one location and that sharing space with GeoComply “made sense” because the companies “have grown up together in the space and are working with similar customers.”
Also, the Association for Gaming Equipment Manufacturers, the trade organization for the casino suppliers, is building office space at Black Fire.
Whitfield said the university will work to create additional partnerships with gaming companies.
“There is no innovation ecosystem like Black Fire,” he said.
Reid secured the site
Economic development in a community is often connected to a university and academia, Bernhard said. Attempts to diversify the Southern Nevada economy in the past often led to “seeds being thrown out into the desert, hoping to take hold.” The infrastructure wasn’t there and efforts fell short.
UNLV first eyed the land as an innovation zone and economic development vehicle in 2004 when then-Nevada Sen. Harry Reid pushed legislation through Congress and secured the acreage from the federal government near the I-215 beltway and the intersection of Sunset Road and Durango Drive.
The UNLV effort now involves more than just the school. To highlight that point, Bernhard listed more than 70 companies that have current or planned offices at Black Fire, products on display, or have donated to the university’s effort.
The combined net worth of those businesses is valued at more than $1 trillion.
Casino giants Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International and Boyd Gaming, as well as international gaming technology companies including Slovenia-based table game provider Interblock and Entain Plc, a United Kingdom-based sports betting and online gaming operator, are among the group. That’s expected, said Bernhard.
But the list also includes non-gaming businesses, such as Panasonic, LG, Adobe, Intel and Zoom.
“This is not just about gaming,” Bernhard said.
Gaming is still the draw
Access to the casino industry through Black Fire is the lure to entrepreneurs. But the reach is beyond the Strip.
Since 2013, the International Gaming Institute’s Center for Gaming Innovation has filed more than 50 patent applications with the U.S. Patent Office for new games and casino products developed by students. Nearly two dozen applications have resulted in patents with eight products being used in casinos.
Black Fire, Bernhard said, will work side-by-side with the Center for Gaming Innovation, providing students access to resources that can help bring their ideas to market. UNLV graduates with ideas for products or business ideas will be recruited to Black Fire, allowing them to continue to work with experts to create a start-up business.
“On campus, we have labs. That’s where the stuff is invented. This is where it is commercialized,” Bernhard said. He noted that today’s students are far more entrepreneurial than previous generations.
“Making your own future has gone from option C to option A for many graduates,” he said.
Bernhard said students have the ability to get their products “in front of the right people” at Black Fire. “We never had resources like this before,” he said.
Bernhard, who has a Ph.D. in sociology, has long viewed the Strip as one of the greatest laboratories in which to study humanity. Today, he views the location as a stepping off point for degrees of separation in economic development.
He cited the move to Las Vegas by the Raiders last year as “one degree of separation from the Strip.” The team, which is playing in the $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium, “is a new industry to Las Vegas,” but using the market’s expertise in hospitality and special events as “part of its ecosystem.”
At the same time, the emergence of the NFL and the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights created the need for the development of sports medicine, which he said will become part of UNLV’s Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine.
Medical innovation, he said, leads to another degree of separation from the Strip.
“By the time we’re at six degrees, we can’t even see the Strip,” Bernhard said. “That is how economic diversity works — and we’re getting started.”
As for the gaming industry, Bernard believes Strip resorts will benefit from developments at Black Fire and the technology park in the same manner the Hollywood film industry has fed off the innovations created at the University of Southern California Film School.
“As much as anything, the film school has been responsible toward maintaining Hollywood’s status as the global intellectual capital of a certain type of entertainment, film making,” Bernhard said. “This is what UNLV needs to become.”
Whitfield expects UNLV will continue to provide the platform for economic diversification in the region and nationally.
“Black Fire will be an incredible resource for innovation and entrepreneurship in our students, a real-world learning lab if you will, that will provide students an experiential leg up with competing in the workforce as they graduate,” he said.
MGM Resorts International will require salaried employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment, the first large casino operator in the U.S. and the first major employer in Nevada to do so.
The mandate, announced in a letter to employees Monday from MGM Resorts CEO Bill Hornbuckle, covers more than 6,000 workers in eight states — Nevada, Michigan, Ohio, Mississippi, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York and New Jersey — where the Las Vegas-based company operates nearly two dozen gaming and non-gaming properties.
In a statement, MGM Resorts said it is exploring an extension of the vaccine mandate to cover hourly employees and other positions. MGM has approximately 57,000 employees nationwide and said it is planning to hire several thousand additional workers. MGM spokesman Brian Ahern said much of the hourly workforce is covered under collective bargaining agreements and discussions need to take place with the labor unions.
“Our goal is to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” Ahern said. “We’re continuing to explore a variety of ways to do that, including expanding vaccination requirements among our workforce. This is an incredibly complex situation and we’re examining how expanded policies would potentially work and be implemented.”
No other Nevada gaming company has so far mandated that its workers get vaccinated against the virus.
MGM’s move could significantly boost Nevada’s vaccination rate, as MGM Resorts is the state’s largest private employer with a workforce of 42,000 across 10 gaming and non-gaming properties on the Strip. As of Monday, only about 46 percent of Nevadans had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and the state ranks 32nd in the nation for percentage of its total population fully vaccinated.
Earlier this month, Hornbuckle encouraged all MGM Resorts employees to get vaccinated as COVID-19 numbers began climbing in Nevada and a mask mandate requiring all casino personnel and customers to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status was implemented by the Gaming Control Board, following a vote by the Clark County Commission.
Masks are now required for both employees and patrons of casinos in Clark County, as well as most other counties across the state.
Hornbuckle said in the Monday letter that the vaccine requirement shows guests and employees the company is “doing everything in our power to keep them safe.”
Under the new mandate, all salaried MGM Resorts employees not exclusively working from home will be required to be vaccinated by Oct. 15. All new hires, both hourly and salary, who do not exclusively work from home must provide proof of vaccination before beginning work, effective August 30.
“I know that for some of you this may be an unwelcome development – a consideration that we did not take lightly when making this decision,” Hornbuckle wrote. “However, as one of the largest and most trusted operators and employers in our industry, MGM Resorts is determined to do our part to curb the spread of the virus and help counter alarming trends in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Vaccination is the most effective tool in doing so.”
Last month, operators of the Scarlet Pearl Casino in D’Iberville, Mississippi, which is near Biloxi, required the property's employees to be vaccinated. The employees had until last Saturday to comply.
The move comes as White House officials have focused on boosting vaccination efforts in four key sectors: large corporations, small businesses, health care providers and colleges. Since the beginning of the month, more than two dozen large U.S. companies, including Walmart, Google and United Airlines, have announced vaccine mandates for some or all of their workforce.
Gov. Steve Sisolak, during a Monday evening press conference, said he was "encouraged and thankful" to MGM Resorts for implementing the new policy.
"I hope that more businesses require their front end staff and their back of house or whatnot to be vaccinated," Sisolak said. "It's the best way to keep everyone safe to stamp out this virus. We're running against the clock to do that."
Updated at 5:29 p.m. on Aug. 16, 2021, to reflect the total number of MGM employees in Las Vegas and to clarify that much of the company's hourly workforce are union employees.
Updated at 6:35 p.m. on Aug. 16, 2021, to add remarks from Gov. Steve Sisolak.
Updated at 8:28 p.m. on Aug. 16, 2021, to reflect the vaccination mandate at the Scarlet Pearl in Mississippi.
Sisolak’s concept took the shape of AB450 — a legislative study committee tasked with aligning the state’s workforce development goals with the community college system.
Aug. 1 marked the one-year deadline for the committee to transmit its report and recommendations to the Legislature, but so far, the governor has not made any appointments to the study committee.
Unlike similar committees convened through the decades to study the state’s community colleges, the AB450 committee will be composed largely of economic and business representatives — not higher education officials.
One member will come from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Three more will represent local chambers of commerce or “economic development entities,” including one from the north and two from the south.
A fifth will be a labor representative with experience in a “jointly administered apprenticeship program” recognized by the state, and the sixth will be the superintendent of public instruction, a role currently filled by State Superintendent Jhone Ebert.
Rounding out the last two seats are members from the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE): The sitting chancellor, Melody Rose, and one to-be-determined president of a community college.
Proponents of AB450, most notably the governor, have cast it as a tangible step toward refocusing support of the state’s community colleges as a critical pillar in rebuilding Nevada’s post-pandemic workforce.
But even as many within NSHE and some regents have signaled openness to AB450’s planned committee, they have also suggested that it may be a solution in search of a problem. Pointing to existing programs, partnerships and more, some have even chafed at the suggestion that a “misalignment” on the issue exists.
“I don't see the example [of misalignment], even when you go to what would be more strictly a community college in our system like [Truckee Meadows Community College] or [the College of Southern Nevada] or [Western Nevada College],” Great Basin College President Joyce Helens said in an interview. “They're all responding to business and industry, all the time, and in very big ways.”
Creation of the study committee comes amid the backdrop of more than $75 million in cuts to NSHE approved by lawmakers in 2021, and also in the midst of nearly a decade of simmering tensions between lawmakers in Carson City and the 13-member board governing higher education.
Beyond the question of whether better “alignment” between community colleges and workforce development is needed, recommendations by the study committee could herald potentially seismic shifts in the state’s higher education structure — everything from governance models to how colleges and universities are funded.
The view from the inside
For those within NSHE, the words “workforce development” are already functionally synonymous with higher education — and have been for years.
“Higher education was creating teachers 147 years ago,” Regents Chair Cathy McAdoo said, referring to the year UNR was founded. “So yes, it's ongoing. It's not something that's just come on our radar.”
McAdoo, who also chaired the regent’s community college committee last year, said it’s not just community colleges, but the universities, too, that have long been a core driver the state’s workforce.
“I see all of higher education as workforce development,” McAdoo said.
McAdoo pointed to myriad higher education partnerships with massive corporations, including MGM Resorts International, Tesla, Panasonic and rural Nevada mining giants — all “proof of concept” of long-running collaboration between higher education curricula and private labor needs.
While acknowledging that the state’s higher education system as currently constructed isn’t perfect, community college leaders interviewed by The Nevada Independent said they have long held workforce development as a core part of their mission.
Speaking in an interview last month, CSN President Federico Zaragoza touted his college as a “major agent” of workforce development, in large part because of already existing efforts to line up programs with “emerging occupations.
“So I'll give you an example — we're not producing enough nurses,” Zaragoza said. “So we're right-sizing the program. We now have an opportunity to have a campus begin to offer nursing. So that'll allow us to double the number of nurses in an area of high demand. That helps diversify, obviously, the student enrollment, but also feeds the diversification of the economy.”
Zaragoza also said the community college system would likely play a crucial role in retraining workers whose jobs were wiped away by shifts in the post-pandemic economy.
“The other element here that's critical is a lot of people are getting displaced,” he said. “About 50,000 of the people that were displaced during the pandemic are not coming back to their previous jobs, so we're retraining those individuals into these areas of high demand.”
At Great Basin College — an Elko community college with campuses across rural Nevada — part of the existing focus on workforce development comes simply from the realities of operating a school built to service the state’s “rural frontier.”
“This is a business, and we're in the business that embraces the technical college, the community college and the liberal arts four-year missions,” Helens said. “But we have to cover the cost of doing this business, and so the revenue sources work together to be able to do that and balance our bottom line.”
Helens said the school’s work was never in the “abstract,” but rather an active effort to communicate with the largest businesses in the region — namely mining companies or equipment companies such as Komatsu — to develop training programs and job pipelines.
She touted the school’s successes, praising the rapid development of a welding program and a trucking program with the combined efforts of corporate funding, state grants and existing college resources.
Helens also said she did not see any implied “misalignment” between existing programs at GBC and the broader stated goal of AB450 in workforce development.
“I don't know where that came from,” she said. “It’s—absolutely nothing I have experienced in my 40-plus years of working in community and technical colleges. And [it’s] the same at Great Basin College. When we were founded, I mean, we're always responding to business and industry. There is no misalignment.”
Helens conceded that there are areas that could be improved, mentioning possible efforts to create “better points of contact” for industry. Still, she praised existing workforce efforts at NSHE institutions and praised partnerships between GBC and other sister institutions like CSN and UNR.
“I have asked the question, ‘Where'd that come from?’ — just like you are asking,” Helens said. “Give me an example, because I don't see the example.”
Money, governance and the road ahead
If the question of misalignment is nebulous for administrators and regents, it isn’t for David Damore — a professor and chair of the political science department at UNLV, a fellow at Brookings Mountain West and a vocal critic of the state’s governing structures for community colleges.
“I see it as thinking more broadly about the state's economic development efforts in aligning within the regions to the sectors that the RDAs, the Regional Development Authorities, are supposed to go and recruit to come to the bat,” Damore said. “I don't see a whole lot of integration between what's going on in the economic development world, and the workforce development you're seeing at the institutions.”
Pointing to a 2011 workforce study from Brookings Mountain West that laid out a number of strategic statewide goals for economic development, Damore said there was a fundamental “disconnect” between a centralized statewide higher education system that, in his view, was not responsive to regional economic differences between North and South.
The process of addressing those issues at a policy level, Damore said, ultimately drove at the twin prongs of AB450: money and governance.
Developed in 2011 and approved by lawmakers in 2013, the formula’s current iteration centers on weighted student credit hours as a measure that endeavors to account for the differences between inexpensive courses, such as an English lecture, and more costly resource-intensive lab or graduate courses.
That formula also came at a critical political juncture for the state’s higher education system, as proponents of a still-young UNLV sought newfound parity for a funding system they had long criticized as tilted toward UNR by influential northern lawmakers — parity that a new formula could deliver.
“That has been the success of this structure,” Damore said. “UNR and UNLV both made Carnegie [R1 very high-research classification]; you’re starting to see much more research output and all those things. But that comes at the expense of small schools.”
For community colleges, both observers and administrators said a gap has emerged in and among an increasingly large slice of students who are in non-degree programs — courses that range from IT certifications to nursing training — that don’t count toward the number of weighted credit hours.
“I've got about 15,000 students that are non-credit students at CSN,” Zaragoza said. “So the formula doesn't work for them. And so looking at the formula, it's important for workforce because there are different pathways. The formula is perfect for the traditional student, but for non-traditional students that are looking for short-term training, or for short-term upgrading, that are non-credit based, that's the gap that we’ve got.”
Zaragoza and others have pointed out such gaps could be addressed in the coming legislative session, and he said he was “cautiously optimistic” that 2023 could reverse downward funding trends for higher education in Carson City budget negotiations.
Amid the financial chaos triggered by the pandemic, Sisolak and state lawmakers had initially slashed state agency budgets by 12 percent for each of the next two fiscal years, a cut that would have amounted to more than $169 million lost over two years for NSHE.
That cut was ultimately blunted with the distribution of federal aid in the twilight hours of the legislative session, and lawmakers ultimately added back $93 million for faculty and staff salaries in a last-minute move that avoided layoffs. The remaining operational cuts were not restored, however, and NSHE institutions will enter the fall semester with almost $76 million in budget reductions.
Still, Sisolak called for additional funding for community colleges just weeks later.
“I've always maintained — from my time on the Board of Regents to the [Clark] County Commission to now as governor — our community colleges are underfunded and underappreciated and overlooked, unfortunately,” Sisolak said during a roundtable event in June.
It was the second time in as many weeks that Sisolak — who spent 10 years as a regent before being elected to the Clark County Commission in 2008 — had raised the issue of “underfunded and underappreciated” community colleges in Nevada.
But the second major change that could be spurred by AB450 — and what could ultimately become a more political question — is one of governance structure, though precisely how or what could come is among the many questions with few answers at this early stage.
Damore — who joined several colleagues early this year in penning an op-ed in the Las Vegas Suncriticizing the community college structure — said one possible outcome is a broad decentralization of community college governance through the use of individual boards for each institution while maintaining the overall administrative structure of NSHE writ-large.
Whether the AB450 committee and legislative recommendations that follow will treat NSHE administration and the broad idea of “governance” as two different questions remains to be seen.
“That's the million-dollar question,” Damore said. “The current structure has really conflated governance and administration … And so, the part of the point of having these discussions now, in theory, is having another discussion about whether or not NSHE and the regents should be coupled in this way.”
The mere mention of governance and reform has dredged up another parallel issue: that the Legislature has for years sought to increase its oversight of the Board of Regents, in large part by stripping the regents of their position in the state Constitution and placing them in state law instead.
That effort eventually took the form of 2020’s Ballot Question 1, which ultimately failed by a narrow margin of 0.3 points.
But nearly as soon as it died at the ballot box, the measure was revived by lawmakers as SJR7. With language tweaked by proponents explicitly to avoid the pitfalls that sank the measure on the first try, SJR7 sailed through this year’s legislative session. If political winds do not drastically shift on the issue in 2023, SJR7 could be on a direct course to the ballot box in 2024.
SJR7 and Question 1 before it have for years stirred debates over not just the simple oversight of regents by legislators, but foundational questions over constitutional interpretations and the very purpose of an elected board of 13 regents.
And though proponents of the measure have sought to distance themselves from the implication that Question 1 could create an appointed board, some lawmakers have long sought to do just that — including a bill as recently as 2019, SB354, that made it through the Senate before dying in an Assembly committee.
Even as it is nominally tied to the outside issue of workforce development, the simple charges of AB450 have nonetheless emerged in a political environment in which that question — how the state’s higher education system should be governed — has shaped the broadest contours of higher education politics.
Administrators have so far said little on the governance question, pointing in large part to the absence of tangible policies to comment on. Zaragoza pointed to his own experience at higher education systems with “two very distinct governance structures,” most notably a stint in Wisconsin, and noted “advantages and disadvantages” to each.
“I've seen both of them work, and both of them not work,” Zaragoza said. “I think the real issue becomes what is the plan? The execution? And what's the substance of what's being proposed? And that's the part that I haven't seen.”
Helens went a step further, praising existing institutional leadership at the community level and saying “we need a system that works; we don’t need another system.”
“The governance of one system is important because then everybody knows where everybody's doing,” Helens said. “I've had multiple presidencies in different kinds of situations with separate governance systems. It’s always one fighting the other for more funding. The more we are unified and look at our whole state, and serving our state and the importance of all the pieces, the better off we are.”
Beyond the question of how to revise the funding formula, there are few clear answers on how the committee could choose to revise or reform governance. But unlike the many attempts to study the state’s community colleges through the decades, mandatory provisions within AB450 will produce legislative recommendations for 2023 — and a question long asked may finally be answered.
“You know, this goes back to the founding of the system in the 1960s,” Damore said. “You've had study committees in the 70s and 80s. So the issue of where community colleges fit and what we want out of community colleges is a really, really old question. It's just been studied, but never really acted on.”
Correction, 8/15/21 at 9:05 p.m. - An original version of this story referred to the 2019 bill SB354 as having gone unheard in the Assembly. It has been updated to reflect that the bill was heard in an Assembly committee, but died without receiving a vote in that committee.
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.
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.
Analyst, unenthusiastic on sports betting, praises recent moves
“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.”
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:
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.”