Indy Gaming: Casino operators and investors concerned about Macau plans for gaming license overhaul

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

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

Macau casino operators finally got an answer to their question on the Special Administrative Region’s plans for the gaming license renewal process. 

The response caused a wipeout of more than $18 billion in stock market value by investors during a single trading session after analysts downgraded their view of the Macau market, according to Bloomberg News.

Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts International have waited more than a year for the Macau government to explain the extension process for all six Macau casino licenses—the three concessions and the three sub-concessions— which expire in June 2022.

Stakeholders weren’t expecting government oversight to tighten, but Macau Secretary for Economy and Finance Lei Wai Nong last week announced a 45-day regulatory overhaul that did not exactly receive positive reviews.

Jefferies gaming analyst David Katz said the release “raised more questions than answers.”

J.P. Morgan gaming analyst Joe Greff lowered his firm’s ratings on Macau casino operators following what he called the “uncertainty and opacity” of the policy. Greff said Macau is encouraging – “sort of requiring” – casino operators to spend more on non-gaming projects, both in Macau and on neighboring Hengqin Island as a consideration for a license renewal.

J.P. Morgan gaming analyst Joe Greff

At the same time, the government hasn’t provided guarantees the licenses will be renewed.

“Operators didn’t have much clarity on timing regarding concession renewals, though this does not seem like a big concern,'' Greff said.

However, the government indicated a “potentially negative” policy change, pointing toward “incrementally heightened scrutiny” on casino operators’ capital management and daily operations.

“We think this adds in renewal risk and uncertainty to Macau, whose fundamentals already have been murky and incrementally difficult to analyze,” Greff said.

The top executives for Nevada-based Macau casino operators spent much of last week assuring analysts and investors they could work with whatever the government finally decides.

For Las Vegas Sands, unlike Wynn and MGM Resorts, Macau has a much higher importance to the company, which will soon be Asian-facing with six casinos in Macau and the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. Its $6.25 billion sale of the Venetian, Palazzo and Sands Expo and Conference Center on the Strip closes later this year.

In March, Sands Chairman and CEO Rob Goldstein said the company had invested $15 billion in Macau since the early 2000s.

Macau’s casino industry – once considered the world’s largest in terms of revenue production – has been on a downward trajectory since 2013, primarily due to economic troubles in China and operating and travel restrictions brought on by COVID-19 since the start of 2020.

Macau casinos last year produced $7.56 billion in gaming revenue, a decline of 79.3 percent from pre-pandemic 2019 when casinos collected $36.6 billion from gamblers. Macau’s record year for gaming revenue was $45 billion in 2013.

Last year was the first time the region collected less than $10 billion in gaming revenue since 2006, four years after the government ended the gaming monopoly in the former Portuguese colony and opened the market to U.S. based casino operators.

Macau’s total gaming revenue is down 69 percent through the first eight months of 2021, compared to 2019.

Greff focused his concern on two sections of the secretary’s announcement. One area seeks stricter control on capital, recommending license holders could only distribute profits to shareholders after getting pre-approval from the government.

“While it’s unclear how strictly the government would control their capital, we believe the hefty dividends of pre-COVID-19 days, especially those from Las Vegas Sands and Wynn, would likely get scrutinized if not restricted,” Greff said.

Also, Macau government plans to introduce a government representative for each license holder, in order to directly “monitor and control day-to-day operations and protect the interest of society.” Greff suggested this rule could potentially be at the expense of the casino operators’ own interests.

“Our concern is that this could still weigh on valuation multiples,” Greff said.

He wasn’t the only analyst expressing worries about the Macau situation.

Macquarie Securities gaming analyst Chad Beynon said Las Vegas Sands, Wynn and MGM Resorts were hurt financially by the U.S.-China trade war that developed over the last several years under former President Donald Trump.

“As we move forward, we still believe the group of concessionaires will maintain their position in the market,” Beynon said in a research note. “This could happen through slightly different ownership structures, higher commitment/investment rates, or some sort of combination. We don’t expect the most draconian situation to occur.”

Gaming Hall of Fame: Jeffrey Silver cleaned up the industry; Mark Yoseloff advanced technology

Jeffrey Silver of Dickinson Wright

Jeffrey Silver had yet to celebrate his 30th birthday when Gov. Mike O’Callaghan appointed him to the Nevada Gaming Control Board in 1975.

That didn’t stop him from coming face-to-face with legendary organized crime figures that federal law enforcement hoped to weed out of the Strip’s casino business.

Silver, who grew up in Las Vegas and only left to attend college and law school, was a criminal prosecutor in the Clark County district attorney’s office when he decided against seeking a job in private practice to apply for an open position on the three-person Control Board that oversees the agency tasked with regulating Nevada’s gaming industry.

Silver’s investigation and questioning of Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal eventually led to the Control Board voting to deny a gaming license for the reputed mob associate to operate the Stardust on the Strip.

Legal battles stretched the case for more than three years before the now classic confrontation at a Nevada Gaming Commission hearing between Rosenthal and Commission Chairman Harry Reid. The scene was played out in the film, “Casino.”

Silver learned how deeply the mob disliked him when FBI agents allowed him to read a nine-page transcript of a wiretapped conversation between two hitmen.

“The guys were talking about the ‘asshole’ who worked at the (Control Board) and they should kill this ‘Silverstein’ guy,” Silver recalled. “I was getting all puckered up until I got to the last page where they said they couldn’t do it because it would create too much heat. The FBI guys had a good laugh.”

His nearly four years at the Control Board helped plant the foundation for corporate investment into gaming, which began in earnest in the 1980s.

Silver, 75, who is of counsel for the Dickinson Wright law firm’s gaming and administrative law practice in Las Vegas, is one six individuals who will be inducted into the American Gaming Association’s Gaming Hall of Fame during a reception on Oct. 4 at the Global Gaming Expo.

His 50-year legal career touched all facets of the gaming industry, including regulatory oversight, casino operations and legal representation. Silver and a partner managed their own law practice for 29 years before the firm split up and he joined Dickinson Wright in 2015.

Silver recalled the days when Nevada was so small that he simply sent a letter and his resume to O’Callaghan inquiring about the open control board position. About seven days later, he received a phone call from the governor, who said gaming agents would conduct a background check on him. A week later, O’Callaghan called back and told Silver the job was his — but with one condition.

“He said I needed to come up and meet him since we had never met,” said Silver, who flew to Northern Nevada the following Saturday and was picked up at the airport by then-Control Board member John Stratton, “although I didn’t know who he was at the time.”

The Los Angeles Times article on the first Burger King in a Strip casino.

Silver’s three-and-a-half years at the Control Board led to an appointment as chief operating officer and general counsel for the Landmark Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas after the property went into bankruptcy. He also spent a year as CEO of the Riviera when the Strip property was also in bankruptcy. Silver managed the Strip resort for owner Meshulam Riklis.

In both instances, Silver was able to turn around the properties’ finances by cutting costs and instituting a more stable management structure.

He is still recognized for his most “notable” management decision at the Riviera: He contracted with Burger King to bring the fast-food restaurant chain to the casino. Silver said he got the idea after seeing the lines of tourists crowd into a McDonald’s across the Strip from the Riviera.

That move led to a national story in the Los Angeles Times, calling Silver the “Burger King of Las Vegas.” Silver said the restaurant “was successful. I showed everyone that a former regulator knows how to run a casino.”

Silver, along with Gaming Laboratories International CEO James Maida and former Shuffle Master Chairman and CEO Mark Yoseloff, who is the founder of the UNLV Center for Gaming Innovation, represent the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020. Because of the cancelation of last year's G2E because of COVID-19, the Hall of Fame selection for 2020 was put off until this year.

Delaware North Chairman Jeremy Jacobs, IGT Vice President of Global Business Development and Tribal Ambassador Knute Knudson, Jr., and Seminole Tribe of Florida General Counsel Jim Shore represent the Class of 2021.

Shuffling into game design

Mark Yoseloff inside the Konami Gaming Laboratory in 2013. / UNLV Photo Services / R. Marsh Starks

Yoseloff spent 12 years growing Shuffle Master from beyond table game management systems into a table game development company (Shuffle Master is now part of Scientific Games).

But retirement didn’t sit well for a person with a Ph.D. in mathematics, especially after hearing then-Gov. Brian Sandoval announce during a State of the State address that Nevada needed to embrace innovation.

That sparked Yoseloff to approach UNLV about creating a gaming laboratory to boost innovation in the casino industry. Utilizing a grant from Sandoval’s Office for Economic Development in 2013, Yoseloff launched UNLV’s Center for Gaming Innovation as a place for students to learn and fuel game development. The program is housed within the school’s International Gaming Institute.

“My desire was to see this center become as important for gaming and games as Stanford University is for computer sciences,” Yoseloff said. “There is even more going on today with the program than ever.”

The center has been showcased by national media outlets, which has highlighted UNLV as a center for gaming innovation.

The proof is the results. The center has filed 40 patent applications on behalf of student-designed games. Of those applications, 20 have resulted in issued patents and 18 gaming products designed by UNLV students have been commercialized and are being used in casinos.

Yoseloff said 12 former UNLV students hold innovation or game design positions with gaming companies while three student-run start-up companies are operating. The patented products “have generated or are projected to generate” more than $500,000. UNLV provides financial and technical support for the development of the games. Under an agreement, the school receives 20 percent of revenues with the bulk going to the students.

Yoseloff said he is “most proud and the most satisfied” by the work he has overseen at the center than anything he’s accomplished in his career, which included several game design and start-up operations that were to gaming industry companies.

“The center continues to grow and flourish and that’s important for the industry,” he said.

Other items of interest:

A woman walks into the baggage claim area at McCarran International Airport on May 15, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The announcement Monday that airline travel restrictions will be eased in November for international visitors who are vaccinated against COVID-19 could be good news for Strip resorts. The White House said the new rules would cover the United Kingdom and the European Union. Travel industry leaders hope the changes will increase bookings around the late fall and winter holidays. The international terminal at McCarran International Airport has been all but dormant since the pandemic began 17 months ago. International travel to and from Las Vegas declined 79.5 percent in 2020, with just 781,280 international travelers passing through the airport, down from 2019’s 3.8 million. In 2019, McCarran had nonstop service to and from 11 different countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, South Korea, China and Israel. In July, McCarran recorded just 64,425 international passengers with direct flights from two countries, Mexico and Canada.

AGA CEO Bill Miller. (Photo courtesy AGA)

American Gaming Association CEO Bill Miller doesn’t expect next month’s Global Gaming Expo to reach the 27,000-person attendance figures the show saw in 2018 and 2019. However, he believes the gaming industry's largest tradeshow and conference will have a more engaged, albeit smaller audience. Last year’s G2E was canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic but sessions were held virtually. Miller said the Oct. 4-7 event at the Sands Expo and Convention Center will be the first time in two years casino industry decision makers and gaming equipment suppliers are meeting in mass. “G2E has always been about the new products, machines and technology and the hands-on comparisons. You can’t do that on a Zoom call,” Miller said. “I’m bullish on where we are today,” he said in reference to pre-registration numbers. “I think a smaller G2E is more effective in some ways.”

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

Connie James, Scientific Games

Gaming equipment provider Scientific Games named Connie James as chief financial officer last week. She is currently CFO of the Las Vegas-based company’s gaming division. The move comes as Scientific Games looks to sell its legacy lottery business and sports betting operation the company spent billions of dollars to develop. Prior to appointing James, Scientific Games released financial projections for the lottery business, projecting annual growth of nearly 14 percent by 2022, well above analyst predictions of nearly 9 percent. James, who joined Scientific Games in January 2020, replaces Mike Eklund who resigned to “pursue other opportunities, James has nearly 20 years of gaming experience in financial and operational roles, including 10 years with Australia-based Aristocrat’s U.S. division. “Connie has helped lead the Gaming business through the unprecedented disruptions caused by COVID-19 and played a critical role in our strategic review,” CEO Barry Cottle said in a statement.

BetMGM promoted a pair of wagers placed last week by billionaire businessman Jared Isaacman as the first sports bets from outer space. Sort of. Isaacman, CEO of payment processor Shift4 Payments, was commanding SpaceX's Inspiration4 three-day mission and was 359 miles above the earth when he tapped in the bets on a keypad from the space capsule – $4,000 on the over in last Thursday’s New York Giants-Washington Football Team game (a winner) and $4,000 on the Philadelphia Eagles winning the 2022 Super Bowl (outcome to be determined). But it was all for show. At the same time Isaacman “placed the bets,” sports business and gaming reporter Darren Rovell of The Action Network was at the MGM Grand Las Vegas sportsbook to place the wagers as a “proxy.” Even if the SpaceX capsule was directly above Nevada at the time of the wagers, geolocation would have registered the device as outside the state’s boundaries. The stunt will at least benefit a good cause. All winnings from the bets will be donated to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. BetMGM will donate an additional $25,000 to the medical facility.

Rendering of the $500 million Caesars Danville in Virginia

Caesars Entertainment made news last week in two states outside Nevada. The Las Vegas-based company released renderings for its planned $500 million casino resort in Danville, Virginia. The 500-room property was one of four casinos approved by voters in four Virginia cities last year. Danville is located in southern Virginia near the border with North Carolina, and the casino is expected to draw visitors from the Raleigh-Durham and Greensboro communities. Caesars Danville will include 500 hotel rooms, restaurants, entertainment offerings and a casino with 1,400-slot machines and table games, a poker room featuring the company’s World Series of Poker brand and a Caesars Sportsbook. Caesars hopes to break ground on the property in December. Meanwhile, Caesars Sportsbook announced the first sports betting and sponsorship agreement between a gaming company and a university in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). The multi-year deal with Louisiana State University (LSU) includes naming rights to a club at the Baton Rouge university’s stadium and branding throughout the school’s athletic facilities. Caesars, which has already rebranded the Superdome in New Orleans with the Caesars name, expects to launch sports betting in Louisiana when the state goes live this year.

A rendering of the entrance to Chickie's and Pete's at the Sahara.

A Philadelphia sports bar that has been lauded over the years by ESPN will make its Las Vegas debut next month. Chickie’s & Pete’s Crab House and Sports Bar will open its first West Coast location at the Sahara on Oct. 6 with an 8,200 square-foot venue attached to the casino’s sportsbook. The facility will include an outdoor patio overlooking the Strip and more than 50 televisions across the bar and dining areas. Three VIP gaming pods will include two televisions, oversized sectional sofas, video game consoles and a buffet table. Founded in 1977 by Pete and Henrietta “Chickie” Ciarrocchi, the owners added a location at Tropicana Atlantic City a few years ago and Las Vegas has been hinted at since 2018. The restaurant is famous for its “Crabfries,” crinkle-cut French fries sprinkled with a blend of crab spices and served with the restaurant’s white creamy cheese sauce for dipping. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sands focusing on Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VICI buying up the Strip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other items of interest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🔵 = full vaccine mandate

🟢 = vaccine or testing 

🟡 = new hire vaccination only 

🔴 = vaccine mandate ban

K-12 schools

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

Higher education

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

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

Gaming, tourism and events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State government

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

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

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

Local government

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

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

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

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

Federal government

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

Health care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other items of interest:

AGA CEO Bill Miller. (Photo courtesy AGA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“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.

Sisolak asks state medical task force to consider COVID vaccine mandates for college students

Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Thursday that he has directed his medical task force to assess the possibility of requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for students to enroll in Nevada’s public colleges and universities. 

The move, announced during a press conference in Las Vegas, is the latest public push by the governor to mandate vaccinations under certain conditions, and comes as COVID cases and hospitalizations have surged amid the rapid spread of the delta variant across Nevada. It also follows a policy change his office made in July to require either proof of vaccination or weekly COVID testing for state employees, a massive group that includes thousands of NSHE employees. 

The governor stopped short of ordering more onerous COVID restrictions, such as capacity limits or requests for major industries, including gaming, to require vaccines, instead saying he would ask a medical advisory team for additional recommendations on how to make large gatherings safer. Still, the governor said that requiring vaccinations for college and university students was a key step in slowing spread of the virus.

“I believe this is necessary for Nevada’s highest education institutions to join the hundreds of colleges and universities across the country requiring COVID-19 vaccinations,” Sisolak said.

In a statement issued hours after Sisolak’s announcement, NSHE Chancellor Melody Rose and Board of Regents Chair Cathy McAdoo — who both declined to answer questions from The Nevada Independent on a possible student vaccine mandate last week —  thanked the governor for his leadership on the issue and said the system would be prepared “for whatever guidance the State Board of Health offers.” 

“It is appropriate to have Nevada’s medical and science experts on the State Board of Health review and issue guidance on whether to require a COVID-19 vaccine for Nevada’s public higher education student population,” the statement read.  

The two also urged the system’s students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated, saying in part that “The COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be the surest, safest, and most effective way to end the pandemic, and to keep Nevadans working and learning.”

Sisolak’s directive to his medical team also comes just one day after an internal NSHE task force made a separate decision to unanimously recommend both a mandate and that “outreach occur” to the State Board of Health in order to begin such a process. 

If the governor’s medical advisory team recommends a mandate, it will ultimately kick the process to the state Board of Health, a six-member board of doctors with authority over the state’s non-administrative health matters. 

And according to a legal opinion from NSHE issued just this week, it is the Board of Health — not the Board of Regents — that maintains the sole legal authority to implement a mandate through a state law that allows schools to require other vaccines for enrollment, such as the MMR or tetanus shots. 

The timeline on when a mandate would take effect remains unclear, though any implementation would likely not be immediate. The Board of Health does not have any mandate in either of two future meeting agendas in August and September, and in his remarks, Sisolak stressed that any new mandate would not affect plans for in-person learning during the fall semester. 

“I want to ensure those returning to campus in coming weeks that this will have no impact on your return to classes this semester,” Sisolak said.

When asked why state leaders did not act on a possible mandate in May or June — when NSHE first raised the possibility of a mandate — Sisolak did not answer directly, instead casting the move as better late than never. 

“Would it have been better to do it 15 months ago? Yes,” Sisolak said. “But the next best day to do this is today, same as the vaccine. Would it have been better for somebody to do it six months ago? Absolutely. But the next best day is today.” 

Sisolak stopped short of seeking a mandate for K-12 public school staff and students old enough to receive the vaccine. Instead, his office released “strong recommendations” and requirements yesterday that require mask-wearing and include testing and other mitigation efforts for school districts in Clark and Washoe counties. 

“When adults get vaccinated, they protect those who can't get vaccinated,” Sisolak said. “And because children under 12 are unlikely to become eligible for a few more months, we have an obligation to protect them and help ensure that they have a smooth and successful school year.”

But, in addition to a possible college student mandate, the governor said he also directed his medical task force to consider vaccine recommendations for health care workers and individuals who work with vulnerable people, such as the homeless.

Amid mounting concerns that large indoor venues, including sports, concerts and other large events, have proven difficult environments to enforce new mask mandates, Sisolak also said that he directed his medical team to re-examine “how we can make large gatherings safer.” 

“We have a mask mandate in place, and I implore all Nevadans attending a large gathering to take it seriously and to keep their masks on,” Sisolak said. 

Sisolak also said the gaming industry could also be part of the discussion concerning vaccination requirements, but  stopped short of saying he wanted the Gaming Control Board to mandate that all casino employees be vaccinated — a move that could bring about legal challenges.

A Nevada gaming license is considered a privileged license, which gives regulators enhanced authority over the industry.

“I encourage any policy and advice that is going to protect Nevada workers and Nevada families,” Sisolak said. “We need to get as many people vaccinated and as quickly as we can.”

Mandates on mask wearing requirements inside casinos for both employees and customers regardless of vaccination status were put into place by the Control Board on July 27 at properties in Clark, Washoe and 10 other counties because of rising COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

“We’re in constant communication with the gaming industry,” Sisolak said. “It’s a property-by-property decision. Some properties have done more than others and I’m hopeful that they will all do everything to protect and get employees and their customers vaccinated.”

As for a vaccine mandate, Sisolak said he was “hopeful the casinos will do on their own what needs to be done.”

On July 28, MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle encouraged the company’s employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Our region’s low vaccination rate is putting us back on the path to overrun hospitals, unnecessary deaths, fewer tourists, and possible furloughs and layoffs,” Hornbuckle wrote in a letter to MGM employees. “None of us want that. After the pain endured by so many these past 16 months – and the tremendous progress made in 2021 – I can think of no more damaging scenario for us as a community.”

On Wednesday during the company’s quarterly conference call, Hornbuckle reiterated the company’s ongoing educational campaigns and vaccination efforts, including pop-up vaccination clinics at all properties. MGM Resorts has also implemented a mandatory COVID-19 testing program for all Las Vegas employees who have not provided proof of a vaccination.

According to the MGM Resorts vaccine policy, employees who are not fully vaccinated and test positive for COVID-19 or have had close contact with someone who tests positive will have to quarantine and will not be paid for their time off during quarantine.

“We've taken the virus very seriously, and as always, the health and safety of our guests and employees is our top priority,” Hornbuckle said.

Wynn Resorts Chief Communications Officer Michael Weaver said the company opened the first vaccination clinic on the Strip in January. He said Wynn Las Vegas and Encore recorded an 87 percent vaccination rate among its employees, “the highest of any resort in Las Vegas.”

Weaver said Wynn “likely” had one of the highest vaccination rates of any hospitality company nationally.

“We have continued a surveillance random testing program of employees that we established when we reopened last year,” he said.

Other companies have been less forthcoming.

Caesars Entertainment CEO Tom Reeg discussed the mask mandate on his company quarterly conference call Tuesday but said nothing about vaccinations. Caesars operates nine casinos on or near the Strip, as well as  properties in Reno and two casinos each in Laughlin and Lake Tahoe.  

“What's going on now with the mask mandate is far less onerous in terms of restrictions that we have dealt with in the last quarter,” Reeg said. “I don't know what impact that will have ultimately on groups coming back.”

Requests for comment about Caesars employee vaccination rates went unanswered.

Updated, 8/5/2021 at 4:10 p.m. - This story was updated to include additional details on Sisolak's remarks on possible restrictions or vaccine mandates for the gaming industry.

Updated, 8/5/2021 at 5:55 p.m. - This story was updated to include additional details on a letter sent to Sisolak from the internal NSHE COVID Task Force, as well as a joint statement from NSHE Chancellor Melody Rose and Regents Chair Cathy McAdoo.

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other items of interest:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other items of interest:

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

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

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

Indy Gaming: The Great White North provides the next frontier for Nevada sports betting operators

The famous MGM lion

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BetMGM – the sports wagering arm of MGM Resorts International – announced a multi-year agreement in early June to bring Wayne Gretzky, the National Hockey League’s all-time leading scorer and four-time Stanley Cup champion, aboard as a brand ambassador. 

A few weeks later, Canada’s parliament approved legislation allowing provinces and territories to legalize and regulate single-game sports wagering.

Right away, BetMGM capitalized on its new partnership. Gretzky sent a video message to Canadian sports fans through BetMGM’s Twitter account.

“It’s official. Sports betting is coming to Canada. Get ready,” Gretzky said.

For BetMGM, considered one of the four leading sports betting providers in the U.S., the much-beloved hockey superstar – and native Canadian – is thought to give the company an edge in appealing to the potentially lucrative sports betting market. Some operators value Canada at between $4 billion to $5 billion in annual wagers. As a comparison, U.S. sportsbooks took in $21 billion in wagers last year.

“As we look toward potential expansion into Canada, and elsewhere throughout the United States, Wayne (Gretzky) will bring a unique ability to tell our brand story,” said BetMGM Chief Revenue Officer Matt Prevost.

It’s unclear, however, if backing from “The Great One” will help BetMGM put the puck in the back of the net.

Caesars Entertainment spent $3.7 billion in April to acquire United Kingdom sports betting giant William Hill and its U.S. operations. The company figures to be a factor through the operations of Caesars Windsor Casino Resort in Ontario, which is just a nine-minute drive from downtown Detroit via the Detroit Windsor Tunnel.

WynnBet, the sports betting apparatus of Wynn Resorts, is going public through a merger with a blank check acquisition company controlled by Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley. The deal gives the operation $640 million for investments into new markets, such as Canada.

There is also BallyBet, the newly created sports betting division of regional casino operator Bally’s Corp. The company owns Bally’s Lake Tahoe (formerly Montbleu Resort Casino) and is buying Tropicana Las Vegas. Bally’s has gained a nationwide presence through a licensing agreement that placed its name on Sinclair Broadcast Group’s chain of 19 regional sports television networks.

Nevada sports betting companies will compete in Canada with theScore, a Canadian-based sports betting operator. The two leading sportsbook companies in the U.S., FanDuel and DraftKings, which are currently not licensed in Nevada, also figure to be in the mix.

“We get the sense that there will be multiple operators, though the final tally is not clear and will vary by jurisdiction,” said J.P. Morgan gaming analyst Joe Greff. “We expect most U.S. operators will ramp up efforts to expand into the market, as will (the) hometown team, theScore.”

In the 38 months since the Supreme Court ruling that opened the U.S. to legal sports betting, 21 states and Washington D.C. have launched regulated sportsbooks. The activity has been legalized in another 10 states but it’s not yet operational.

Nevada’s sports betting industry, for decades the only state with legal sports wagering, has not suffered. In fact, sports betting has flourished.

In 2019, Nevada sportsbooks took in $5.319 billion in wagers, an all-time record for the 10th consecutive year.

The pandemic caused the first annual decline in sports wagering in more than a decade during 2020. However, according to the Gaming Control Board, the state is back on pace to set another record in 2021. In May, Nevada sportsbooks broke the month’s records for revenues and total wagers. In March, Nevada took in $640.7 million in sports bets – the third-highest single-month total of all time.

Last year, states with legal sports betting took in a combined $21 billion in sports wagers. This year portends to be another record-setter for the sports betting industry as 11 states have already surpassed $1 billion in total sports wagers through June.

Canada is viewed as a microcosm of the U.S.

Macquarie Securities gaming analyst Chad Beynon said Canada’s population, household income and sports culture that includes six NHL teams, one NBA team, one Major League Baseball team, and the Canadian Football League “makes the country an attractive market” for U.S. operators.

Analysts said Canada also has a high interest in the National Football League.

Truist Securities gaming analyst Barry Jonas said Ontario, which includes Toronto, could be the first province to launch sports betting this year. He said Canada’s largest city – more than 6.25 million people – “would make it comparable to being the fifth-largest U.S. state and potentially the largest North American sports betting market in the near term.”

Executives from theScore told analysts the country could see $5.4 billion annually bet on sports. DraftKings estimates the market for sports betting and iGaming in Canada could be worth up to $8 billion a year.

In a presentation to investors in April, BetMGM CEO Adam Greenblatt predicted the company – currently operating in 10 states and Washington D.C. – will double its jurisdictions by the end of 2022 and produce more than $1 billion in net revenues.

However, he didn’t offer guidance toward its potential Canadian market share.

“Risks around irrational spending in Ontario may be a more immediate concern given the competitive rush we expect upon launch,” Jonas said.

Other items of interest:

Everi Holdings, a Las Vegas-based gaming equipment and financial transactions services provider, pre-announced the company’s second-quarter earnings before July 4 as part of a balance sheet refinancing that includes a $125 million credit line and a $600 million loan. Everi’s quarterly revenue projections of $167 million to $172 million exceeded previous expectations. In a statement, Everi credited increased gaming equipment sales and higher-than-expected volume in cash access transaction services the company provides to casinos. “Ultimately, the upside was broad-based, but largely reflects elements of the business that should recur, which implies the earnings level should remain elevated,” said Jefferies gaming analyst David Katz.

U.S. Bookmaking, a Las Vegas-based sports betting operator overseen by Vic Salerno and Bob Kocienski, is being acquired by Elys Game Technology, a New York-based interactive gaming company, for $12 million. US Bookmaking, which will become a subsidiary of Elys, operates sportsbooks for tribal casinos in New Mexico, Colorado and Michigan, and has an agreement to expand to North Dakota. Salerno and Kocienski each have more than 40 years of experience in legal sports betting. Salerno became the first sportsbook operator elected to the American Gaming Association’s Gaming Hall of Fame in 2015.

Las Vegas-based Union Gaming Group, an investment bank and advisory firm, has been acquired by CBRE Group. Founded in 2008, the firm will merge with CBRE’s existing gaming investment team led by Michael Parks. The combined group will be headed by Bill Lerner, Union Gaming’s co-founder, who will serve as CBRE’s Global Head of Gaming Investment Banking. “We built Union Gaming on our singular commitment and belief in the long-term prospects for the gaming sector,” Lerner said. 

Resorts World Las Vegas isn’t the only gaming property bringing cashless gaming technology to table games. Morongo Casino near Palm Springs, California has partnered with two Las Vegas-based companies, gaming equipment provider AGS and payment technology company NexGen, to add 40 mobile chip devices at the property. The technology allows players to purchase gaming chips through NextGen’s “Fast Cash” system via their mobile devices. “We are confident that demand for Fast Cash will increase as casinos seek to add more cashless, contactless solutions,” said AGS Senior Vice President of Table Products John Hemberger.


“The activity on both Strip and locals casino floors, restaurants, and in common areas, despite the timing of our visit (Monday/Tuesday), was vibrant, and busier than expected given the time of week. Accordingly, and with a strong book of group business poised for the second half of 2021, continued strength in leisure bookings, and confidence in margin retention, the tone of our meetings with operators was upbeat, with few if any caveats of potential caution over the near term.”

— Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Carlo Santarelli, in a late June research note 

Sisolak signs much-debated ‘Right to Return’ legislation into law

Gov. Steve Sisolak signed legislation on Tuesday that guarantees the rights of laid-off gaming and tourism industry workers to return to their jobs.

Sisolak’s signature on SB386, referred to as the “Right to Return” bill, came without any fanfare and was announced alongside a host of other bills that earned the governor’s written seal of approval on Tuesday. Sisolak held signing ceremonies for 10 bills, many of which were related to women’s health and criminal or social justice reform. He also signed 28 other bills, including SB386, into law on Tuesday.

Gaming representatives and the Culinary Union struck a deal on the high-profile worker rights legislation with less than a week left in the 120-day legislative session, agreeing to limit the scope of the bill and exempting certain employee classes including managers and stage performers.

Every vote on SB386 was on a straight party line with Democrats in support and Republicans opposed.

Even the addition of an amendment that exempted small businesses attached to casino resorts from complying with the legislation did not attract Republican votes. The change excused small restaurants and vendors that had 30 or fewer employees prior to the pandemic.

As part of the deal, revisions were made to SB4, a bill from the 2020 special session last summer that included government-imposed health and safety standards meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as expanded liability protections for major casino resorts. The changes relaxed requirements on cleaning, such as wiping down minibars, headboards and decorative items on beds, and changed directives to clean throughout the day to instead call for daily cleaning.

Critics of the legislation raised concerns that the bill in its original form would have made it too easy for former employees to sue. The new law offers recourse through the Labor Commissioner or through the courts, but only after an employee notifies an employer of any alleged violation and waits at least 15 days for resolution of the issue.

The Nevada Resort Association took a neutral position in return for those concessions, though not all casino operators were on board. Some of the casino industry's largest companies, including MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts and Caesars Entertainment, backed the changes. Opposition arose from Las Vegas locals casino companies.

The Resort Association declined to comment on the bill signing.

In a statement, Culinary Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline said passage of the legislation would “protect over 350,000 hospitality workers” in Clark County and Washoe County. 

“At the height of the pandemic 98 percent of Culinary Union members were laid off and currently only 50 percent are back to work,” Argüello-Kline said. “While a majority of unionized hospitality workers already have extended recall protections in their contracts, most hospitality workers protected by the new SB386 Right to Return law are not unionized.”

South Point Casino-Hotel attorney Barry Lieberman said of the final deal that was struck that many of the changes were still “particularly onerous for non-union smaller nonrestricted licensees.”

Lieberman, a long time Nevada gaming attorney and close adviser to South Point owner Michael Gaughan, said several amendments were “a confusing patchwork of vague, burdensome and non-helpful requirements,” and forced employers “to guess at their peril as to what the bill actually requires them to do.” He suggested the changes infringed on an employer’s right to rehire casino workers who have “superior skills” as opposed to other laid-off workers.

Among the bills that received a signing ceremony on Tuesday were SB190, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, which will allow women to obtain birth control at a pharmacy without a doctor’s visit; AB116, sponsored by Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen, which decriminalizes minor traffic violations; and AB404, sponsored by the Assembly Committee on Judiciary, which shields applicants for domestic violence-related temporary or extended protection orders from having to disclose their addresses or contact information in certain circumstances. 

The Tuesday events were the latest in a string of bill-signing ceremonies. On Monday morning, Sisolak visited a North Las Vegas elementary school to sign education-related legislation, including the mining tax bill, AB495, and in the afternoon, he held a separate signing ceremony for two bills (SB222 and SB318) that promote diverse communities.

Not all Nevada casino operators are on board with changes to ‘Right to Return’ legislation

A division has emerged among Nevada Resort Association members over revisions to legislation that would allow laid-off gaming and tourism workers to return to their jobs. One company vows to oppose the modified bill and even seek a veto from Gov. Steve Sisolak.

In an email sent Wednesday morning to the casino industry trade groups representatives, South Point Casino-Hotel attorney Barry Lieberman said many of the changes in SB386 – referred to as “Right to Return” legislation – were “particularly onerous for non-union smaller nonrestricted licensees.”

Lieberman, a long time Nevada gaming attorney and a close adviser to South Point owner Michael Gaughan, voiced concern over several sections of the revised legislation that was passed out of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Tuesday evening in a split vote. A deal on the bill was reportedly reached between gaming industry representatives and negotiators for Culinary Workers Union Local 226 with less than a week left before the end of the state's 120-day legislative session.

“We voted to oppose SB386 and seek a veto of the bill by the Governor if the bill passed the Senate and the Assembly,” Lieberman wrote.

Lawmakers voted along party lines, 12-9, in the Senate early Wednesday evening, less than 24 hours after the measure passed out of committee. The changes in the bill are apparently backed by some of the casino industry's largest companies, including MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts and Caesars Entertainment — Nevada Resort Association lobbyist Bob Ostrovsky told lawmakers on Tuesday that the association “officially on a majority position is neutral, and we will not support the bill and we will not work against the bill as an association, we are neutral.”

In an interview, Lieberman said the legislation treats “non-union resorts in the same manner” as properties with collective bargaining agreements. Representatives from other casino companies declined comment.

Lieberman termed several amendments to SB368 as “a confusing patchwork of vague, burdensome and non-helpful requirements.” He said the changes force employers “to guess at their peril as to what the bill actually requires them to do.”

He suggested the changes to the bill “impairs” an employer’s right to rehire casino workers who have “superior skills” as opposed to other laid-off workers.

Lieberman said the Nevada legislation’s passage will actually “discourage employers from hiring new employees.” Under the legislation, properties cannot hire a new employee for a position until all the provisions for full-time and part time employees “have been satisfied.”

Four sections in the legislation fail “to draw any distinctions between on-call, part time or full-time employees,” the attorney wrote in analyzing the 20-page document. The new language, Lieberman said, is “ambiguous” in describing the timelines for laid off workers and could be viewed as more favorable to part time employees as opposed to full-time employees.

The section requiring businesses to notify laid-off workers of layoffs “makes no sense.”

In the email, Lieberman said a decision was made by a majority of members of the Resort Association’s executive committee to remain neutral “in exchange for negotiating out of SB386 some of the more onerous provisions.” He said the decision was opposed by South Point.

The Culinary Union, which represents some 60,000 non-gaming workers in Nevada’s hotel-casino industry, has said just 50 percent of the workforce has been hired back since gaming reopened following a 78-day shutdown last year. Labor organization officials said SB386 is needed to ensure its members are able to return to their previous jobs.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rusty McAllister, in a statement, called the legislation a “common-sense measure that is urgently needed to create stability in Nevada’s workforce.”

As part of the agreement between the casinos and the union, revisions will be made to SB4, a bill from the 2020 special session last summer that includes government-imposed health and safety standards meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as expanded liability protections for major casino resorts. The amendment relaxes requirements on cleaning, such as cleaning minibars, headboards and decorative items on beds, and changes directives to clean throughout the day to instead call for cleaning daily.

Bill sponsor and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) credited the Culinary Union, Nevada Resort Association and the governor’s office for working together to arrive at a consensus on the high-profile legislation.

SB386 would allow workers in the gaming and travel sectors a right to return to their jobs. The bill covers those workers laid off after March 12, 2020 and who were employed for at least six months in the year prior to the governor’s first COVID-19 emergency declaration.

The legislation is similar to at least a half-dozen other bills backed by the labor organization in other states. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed legislation last month that requires hospitality and service industry employers to offer new positions to laid off workers. 

This story was updated on May 26 at 8:18 p.m. to reflect that the bill passed out of the Senate.