Two Arkansas Racetracks Reopen as Full-Scale Casinos

In November 2018, Arkansas was one of the states that were voting in favor in of gambling expansion. Earlier this week, the state officially joined the list of states in the US where commercial casino gambling is legal and available to the residents. Marking this historical moment was the relaunch of Arkansas racetracks as full-fledged casinos.

Through the constitutional amendment that was approved by the state’s residents at a statewide vote late last year, Oaklawn Racing & Gaming in Hot Springs and Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis, the two former racetracks, were allowed to transform themselves into full-fledged casino properties where they would be able to offer tables games and slots machines. This also came after the Arkansas Racing Commission which currently oversees the state’s gambling industry issued both of them with casino licenses.

Oaklawn Gaming & Racing has since been rebranded as Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort. This move was set off in November 2018 after the approval of Amendment 100 – the former racecourse announced a $100 million expansion plan that would include an addition 28,000 of gaming space among other changes to the property’s existing amenities.  Prior to the launch of the full-scale casino earlier this week, Oaklawn added eight table games to its gaming floor which had 1,3000 slot machines. The full expansion project is expected to be completed before 2020 live racing session.

West Memphis’ Southland Park Gaming and Racing is no slouch either. The casino now has a whopping 2,000 table games and a total of 40 table games that legal gamblers can now enjoy playing.

Sports Betting on the Way

Full-scale casinos aside, Amendment 100 also gave the green light for the provision of sports betting services in Arkansas. According to recent industry reports, Oaklawn is set to add sports betting to its portfolio in the coming weeks. Southland Park Gaming has also stated that it plans to go offer sports betting but not specific dates for the launch have been announced yet.

In fact, sports betting might not arrive at Southland as soon as some of the rumors reported. Earlier this year, the casino began promoting the upcoming debut of its BetLucky Sportsbook but according to news from the previous Friday, the casino’s owner has parted ways with its exclusive sports betting partners.  While the company is already searching for a new betting technology partner, it goes without saying that there will be an imminent delay in the launch of sports betting at the facility.

Carl Icahn Ups Stake to Become Caesars’ Largest Shareholder

Entities related to New York billionaire, Carl Icahn have in the past week purchased 38.9 million shares of Caesars Entertainment Corp. thus making him the largest shareholder in the behemoth casino operator. During a Friday filing with the United Securities and Exchange Commission, Mr. Icahn stated that he now owns 15.3 percent in company stock at Caesars which is a rather significant bump form the nearly 10 percent that he had managed to accrue over the past few months.

It, however, came as very little of a surprise that such a move would be orchestrated – within the same period, Caesars Entertainment announced that its leadership had agreed to give Carl Icahn board representation. Among the people that were confirmed to be joining the 12-person Caesars Entertainment Board of Directors was Keith Cozza who is the current chief executive of Icahn Enterprises. Joining replace three former members of the board are Courtney Mather and James Nelson.

Is A Merger or Sale Imminent?

Now that Carl Icahn is the largest shareholder in Caesars Entertainment, a lot of questions have begun to crop especially with regards to a possible merger or sale. The billionaire businessman has over the recent past mounted a lot of pressure on Caesars to sell itself or, if possible, merge with a different entity. During the statement in which he named the three new board members he had appointed to represent him, Mr. Icahn confirmed that he was still of the belief that “the best path forward for Caesars requires a strategic process to sell or merge the company.”

“Caesars would be a great opportunity for certain investors who have already expressed interest, and I’m glad the Board will explore the opportunities,” the 82-year-old billionaire investor said.

Known for trying, and in some cases succeeding, to convince a number of business and companies to sell themselves, it is quite obvious that his new status as Caesars’ largest shareholder will have an effect of some kind on the way things play out. At the time of this writing, it seems very likely that a sale or a merger may be in the works. As a matter of fact, Tilman Fertitta, a businessman from Texas approached Caesars with an offer to merge with his casino and hospitality empire. Fertitta’s company, Laundry’s currently owns and operates the renowned Golden Nugget chain of casinos.

While Caesars chose to turn down the offers, it later became known that Mr. Fertitta went on to acquire a stake in the business. He is also reportedly still interested in merging both businesses and with Icahn’s blessing, this may finally happen.

Casino Resorts in Japan Required to Have Large Hotels

The government of Japan has recently made public some of the standards it hopes to set for casino resorts that are to be built in the mid-2020s. Perhaps the most notable requirement is that the casinos will need to have conference rooms and hotels which, as it turns out, would be far larger than the existing ones in the country. This is all part of Japan’s bid to compete with its regional rivals including Singapore, Macau and South Korea, all of which also have planned casinos.

These plans, including the hotels with over 100,000 square meters for guest rooms, will require huge investments from both the gaming operators and the local governments.  Considering the fact that an average-sized Japanese guest room occupies about 50 square meters, a hotel that would meet the government’s requirements would need to have 2,000 rooms which significantly exceeds the number of rooms that most of the established hotels in the country have.

In addition to the 100,000 square meters for hotel rooms, each of the facilities will be required to have an exhibition hall occupying no less than 120,000 square meters as well as a conference room that is capable of holding over 6,000 people. Alternatively, the operators will be allowed to opt for a hybrid design that will have both a conference room with a capacity of 3,000 people and a 60,000 square-meter convention room.

Furthermore, the government has set floor space for casinos to a little under 3 percent of the total resort space with advertising for the casinos outside the proposed integrated resorts being limited to terminals at ports and airports with international flights. As it stands, these requirements are still in the proposal phase but it is anticipated that cabinet approval could come at the end of March after the public comment period closes on March 4.

Limited Interest

Several market analysts pegged Japan to be a major rival to Macau which is considered to be the Mecca of gambling both globally and in Asia. This prompted a number of gambling operators to make some lavish proposals in a bid to get a share of the country’s gaming market with the development of integrated casino resorts.

However, according to a recent poll conducted by the Kyodo News Agency, only 3 out of the 47 prefectures and the 20 cities that are eligible to bid for these casino locations are interested in hosting the casino resorts. While it is still too early to speculate why there such little interest, the rather outrageous requirement by the country’s government could have something to do with it especially with regards to the costs that both operators and local government will have to incur. Still, a lot could change over the course of the year – 17 local governments, for instance, have stated that they are still undecided which means that there is the possibility of a bidding war in the near future.

Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Casino Begins Sports Betting in NJ

After receiving permission from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, Atlantic City’s Hard Rock casino has begun testing its sports betting offering. If this goes well, the casino will have its sports betting services in full operation just in time for the Super Bowl. This will be confirmed in the next few days when the casino operator officially releases its statement with regards to in-person sports betting at the gambling facility. Online sports betting is also being actively pursued by the company.

The sports betting market is quite lucrative and it comes as no surprise that Hard Rock casino has finally decided to join the party – the casino will be the eighth casino to offers sports betting in the state and its online sports betting app will be the tenth sportsbook apps in New Jersey. This venture will be the Malta-based GiG’s first every foray into the United States’ sports betting market.

It is certainly not going to stop there though – as the legal and regulated sports betting market in the country continues to grow, Hard Rock and GiG will probably seek to expand their gaming partnership to other states, especially those that already have operational Hard Rock casinos. Meanwhile, New Jersey is definitely a great place to test out the potential of the gaming market. This is primarily because the state championed the abolishment of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) thus paving the way for legal and regulated sports betting across the country.

“We are delighted to have reached another achievement in our partnership with Hard Rock,” said Robin Reed, the chief executive officer of GiG. “Hard Rock has global recognition, unparalleled reach and the same high ambitions as us. We look forward to continuing to support Hard Rock’s growth in New Jersey and expansion around the world.”

New Jersey’s residents and visitors can now place on a wide range of sporting activities including baseball, hockey, basketball, football, soccer, and college sports among others on both online and mobile platforms. As it stands, over $1.24 billion has been spent on sporting events in the states since its gaming industry went lice back in June 2018

Hard Rock’s History

The casino operator is perhaps best recognized for its acquisition of the former Trump Taj Mahal on the Atlantic City Boardwalk back in 2017. After purchasing the property, Hard Rock added its branding and design as well as the world’s largest music memorabilia collection to it before finally reopening it on June 28, 2018, as Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. Sports betting will, therefore, be joining the casino’s over 120 tables games 2000-plus slots.

Vietnam’s Corona Resort and Casino Now Operational

The much-anticipated Corona Resort and Casino which is located in Phu Quoc island finally opened its doors on January 19 becoming the very first casino in Vietnam to allow locals on to the gaming floor. For the next three years, the casino will be operating under a pilot scheme and will be managed by Upffinity Gaming Management, a Netherlands-based firm that signed an exclusive management accord back in May 2017. Phu Quoc Tourism Investment and Development Jsc., the developer of the casino project has invested over $2.1 billion into the luxury hotel and casino resort making it one of the most lucrative casino ventures in the country’s history. This is yet another nod to the growing casino industry in Asia.

Opening Up the Local Market

Even though casino gambling is legal in Vietnam, the country’s residents have never been allowed to participate in gambling activities at the country’s licensed casinos, that is, until recently. As mentioned earlier, Corona Resorts and Casino will be the first casino to admit Vietnamese residents to play casino games on its floors, a move that has been backed even by the Vietnamese government. The property itself occupies 18,8000 square meters and features 100 gaming tables with players being allowed to pick and choose from several table games including roulette, blackjack, and poker among others. In addition to the table games, there are 1,000 electronic gaming machines as well as 1,000 slot games for players to enjoy.

Also, as it turns out, the Corona Resort and Casino is just one of two locations in the country where both locals and foreigners will be allowed into the gaming floors. In late 2018 it was revealed that Quang Ninh province in Vietnam is also seeking permission to build a $2 billion resort with a casino that will allow the locals to gamble. This property will, reportedly, be built in the Van Don district, a serene location that is considered to be a major tourism and industrial hub in the country.

The Van Don casino resort is expected to stretch over 2,500 hectares of land and will be built and launched in several phases – phase one is expected to become operational within the first quarter of this year which brings the launch date to 2022. If approved by the government, this casino resort will also be subjected to a three-year trial period and will allow Vietnamese passport holders entry into the gaming floors.

The Conditions for Entry

Both casinos will only people aged 21 and over to enter their gaming floors. For the residents of the country, there will be an entry fee – a 24-hours pass, for instance, will set the gamblers back VND1 million which is equivalent to $43. A monthly pass, on the other hand, will cost VND25 million which equates to about $1,000. Locals will also be restricted to no more than 720 hours of gambling every month.

NFL Inks First Sponsorship Deal with Caesars Entertainment

The National Football League has recently signed a multiyear deal with Caesars Entertainment Corp. making the latter the NFL’s first-ever casino partner. While the deal does not include sports betting, the partnership sets them up for more discussions that make a sports betting agreement very possible. During the announcement of the deal, it was revealed that both organizations have agreed to a three-year deal that is worth about $30 million annually.

“We couldn’t be more excited to work with one of the world’s largest gaming and entertainment companies,” Renie Anderson, the NFL’s senior vice president of partnerships, sponsorships, and consumer products, said.

What the Deal Entails

The sponsorship agreement will officially kick off during the 2019 playoffs and will give Caesars the exclusive rights to use NFL trademarks including the Super Bowls in the United States and the United Kingdom. However, the NFL’s trademarks will not appear on Caesars sportsbooks. According to Renie Anderson, the sponsorship deal is primarily concerned with providing fans with unique experiences by combining the NFL with expertise from Caesars. This will involve the combination of access to NFL events with Caesars stable of famous celebrity chefs, musical acts and locations across the United States and the United Kingdom.

This is a great step forward for the National Football especially considering the fact the major United States sports leagues are still grappling with how to approach the country’s new legal and rapidly growing state-driven sports betting industry. According to the American Gaming Association, the league eventually stands to reap revenues of as much as $2.3 billion every year from the gambling industry.

Prior to the sponsorship deal with the National Football League, Caesars Entertainment Corp. had already signed contracts with seven of the league’s teams – the Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles – all of which will be included in 2020 NFL draft events in Las Vegas.

Not Yet Ready for Sports Betting?

Clearly, the NFL is still pretty hesitant when it comes to the direct promotion of sports gambling despite the fact that eight states have already legalized the activity and many others are considering a similar move. Renie Anderson said that while the league is still noncommittal about venturing into sports betting at this time, it would still be monitoring sports gambling.

“We’re not rushing into anything. We’ll continue to look at the industry as it evolves but it’s still has a lot of evolving to do,” he said.

The deal that has already been created between the two organizations effectively creates a working relationship which means that should the industry evolve in ways that would compel the NFL to venture into the space, then they can work up an agreement that is suitable for both of them. In the interim, the league is seemingly wading closer and closer to the casino space and thus sports betting might not be that far behind.

Slovakian President Vetoes new Gambling Legislation

A little over three weeks ago, Slovakian legislators approved plans to get rid of the local online monopoly, something that would result in a major shakeup of the country’s online gambling market. The new regime had even planned to begin accepting applications for online casino licenses by March 1, 2019, after which license approvals would be issued as from July 1, 2019. There were also plans to start accepting online sports betting license applications after which the licenses would take effect on July 1, 2020. Online casino and online sports betting licenses would cause operators €3m apiece but operators who interested in offering both products stood a chance of saving a third of the fee by signaling their interest in applying for both.

Unfortunately, as promising as these plans seemed to be for both the international gaming operators and the country, the Slovakian president moved to veto the new gambling regime that would have effectively opened up the online market to international operators for the very first time in the country’s history. In a statement that was issued on Friday, Andrej Kiska, the President of Slovakia said that he had refused to approve the online gaming regulations that were issued by the country’s Ministry of Finance after being approved by the legislature earlier this month.

Not Up to Standard

According to President Andrej Kriska, the proposed gambling rules and regulations contained insufficient consumer protection measures. For instance, the president wants that everyone who has been declared bankrupt to be included in the country’s national gambling exclusion registry.

President Kriska was also not impressed because of the faults he found within the legislation’s requirement that all online gamblers submit digital copies of there Citizen’s Cards for identity verification. In his opinion there needed to be “a better way of demonstrating the eligibility to play gambling that would not pose a risk for the protection of sensitive and misleading personal data.”

Furthermore, the legislation failed to specify how the gambling revenues would be spent by the government – Kiska wants the lawmakers to return to the drawing board with a plan which directly links gambling taxes and fees to funding problem gambling programs in Slovakia. In addition to all that, Kriska wants the lawmakers to grant the local governments a bit more authority in determining what type of gambling would be allowed within their respective municipalities. Case in point, the rejected bill prevented the gaming operators from setting up facilities near schools but the president wants this to be extended so that it includes “places designed to express religious, moral and other personally sensitive attitudes, such as churches or institutions.”

888 Purchases Remaining Stake in All American Poker Network

Renowned online gambling operator, 888 Holdings has recently announced its acquisition of the remaining 53 percent shares in All American Poker Network (AAPN) as part of its plans to cement its business in the United States’ gambling market. The $28 million acquisition will give 888 Holdings the right footing as well as independent control of its growth strategy in the country from here on out. Some of the strategies that the operator’s management has in mind include the inking of new partnership agreements and expansion to other states by deploying its proprietary products and technology.

888 Holdings set up the All American Poker Network in 2013 as part of a joint venture with Avenue OLG Entertainment LLC – this joint venture was intended to help 888 to launch its online gambling brands in New Jersey’s interactive gaming market which was just beginning to launch at the time. The venture did pay off with the operator being able to launch its 888poker and 888casino brands later that year. As such, it is safe to say that the AAPN venture has been a pretty successful endeavor in the for both Avenue OLG Entertainment LLG and 888 Holdings – it afforded the latter the flexibility and financial capability required to build its position in the regulated United States market over the last five years. If further allowed 888 to invest in other global regulated markets.

888 currently has robust online poker presences in all the three US states where the activity is currently fully regulated, that is, Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey. As it stands, the operator is expecting to also go live with its operation in Pennsylvania in the first quarter of 2019 under its partnership with Mount Airy Casino. The Pennsylvanian gaming market is one of the largest in the country and the launch of a regulated gaming market in the state will certainly play a monumental role in various endeavors that are meant to take advantage of the new and expanding gambling landscape in the country.

Sights Set on Sports Betting

Online poker aside, 888 Holdings has also been very keen on expanding and cementing itself in the United States sports betting market which has been rapidly taking shape since the mid-May Supreme Court ruling that abolished PASPA and struck down the federal ban on sports betting. Already, eight states have launched their sports betting industries since the ruling and this a great opportunity for the operator. 888 Holdings’ first ever venture into the sports betting market came in the form of the launch of its sports gambling brand in New Jersey in September 2018.

In addition to this, the company also recently signed a sponsorship agreement with the New York Jets – this is the very first partnership between an online gambling company and an NFL franchise.

Jamaica Will Not Be A Gaming Destination, Says Minister

The very first regulated Jamaican casino should be up and running by the starts of 2020, but, unfortunately for gamers, the island will not be a gaming destination per se. Well, sort of. According to Edmund Bartlett, the country’s tourism minister, the country does not need casino gaming to grow its tourism sector.

Speaking at a seminar themed ‘Hospitality Industry and Casino Operators’ Guide to Managing US Liability Issues from the Caribbean’, at Sandals Montego Bay last Friday, the minister highlighted some of the contributions that casino gaming would make to the island’s economy especially as an addition to the tourism product. He acknowledged the fact that Jamaica has been very reluctant when it comes to casino gaming for a very long time, citing reasons such as the negative impacts of gaming facilities in other places. There has been a lot of concern about whether Jamaica would be able to handle or manage such negative impacts.

Religious Considerations.

Bartlett further pointed out that there have also been strong religious considerations. However, the government decided to go with a concerted decision that warranted a deeper exploration of the space since it provided a lucrative element of the tourism product. The main consideration here is that casino gaming has the potential to drive Jamaica to newer heights and possibly help in the generation of additional GDP growth.

The minister believes that the three million stopover visitors and earnings of $3 billion would be the best things that the casino gaming would bring to the state. However, these figures have already been surpassed – last year 4.3 million visitors came to tour Jamaica, all without the allure of casinos but through a great deal of effort.

“The fact is that casino [gaming] for Jamaica, is not a requirement for our growth, but within the context of the integrated development model, casino gaming is a driver for exponential growth, so we do not see Jamaica ever becoming a casino destination, but rather a destination in which casino gaming is available,” said Bartlett

As it turns out, three casino gaming licenses are supposed to be granted but a lot of cautionary steps are being taken. For instance, Bartlett clarified that these casinos should not represent more than 20 percent of the value of experience offered by the integrated development arrangement. Each of the casino licenses will also have certain minimum requirements which included the construction of a minimum of 1,000 rooms as well as investments of at least $1 billion.

Furthermore, the casino gaming establishments will also have to come with shopping and entertainment facilities. These will comprise of such things as music and maritime experiences among others that are to be put in place mainly to ensure that there is a balance and there would be no stand-alone casino arrangements. This is certainly quite a bit of pressure for the casino operators but for customers, this would be a way of enjoying the best of both worlds.

Mohegan Sun Ready to Acquire Boston-area Casino

Connecticut-based gaming company, Mohegan Sun has recently announced that it is willing to buy out Wynn Resorts’ $2.5 billion Everett casino project if is found to be unsuitable by state regulators. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is currently facing a lawsuit over its alleged botched investigations into sexual misconduct allegations against Wynn Resorts founder and former CEO Steve Wynn. Apparently, the move by Mohegan Sun meant to give the Gaming Commission an easy way out of the dilemma which has some very high stakes.

According to the Boston Herald, Mohegan Sun stated that it is confident in its reputation and is, therefore, the “best choice and as gaming operator and licenses holder for a Region A resort casino.” The company further promised that they will be committed to opening the Everett project in a timely manner should it be allowed to acquire it and complete the construction which was already underway.

This is not the first time that Mohegan Sun has made its intentions to acquire a gaming license in the state of Massachusetts public – in 2014, the company and its partner Suffolk Downs lots a bid for a gaming license in the state to Wynn Resorts. This not only ended Mohegan Sun’s chances of getting into the state’s gaming market but also culminated in the termination of the storied horserace tack at Suffolk Downs. Even though the odds of getting back on its feet have not improved for Suffolk Downs, Mohegan Sun is seemingly still hopeful in its hunt for a casino license in the state.

In its attempts to get its intention out there, Mohegan Sun has already held a number of initial meetings with some neighboring communities to express their interest in case Wynn’s license is stripped. The purpose of these meetings was to assure the residents that it would honor existing surrounding community agreements that were negotiated by Wynn.

In fact, Mohegan Sun has been championing its interests in owning a Boston Casino for the past few years and it is likely trying to make it clear to the four commissioners that will either uphold or revoke Wynn Resorts’ license that there is an interested buyer – this would seemingly make the decision to withdraw Wynn Resorts’ license easier.

Not Everyone Is Convinced

Unfortunately, Mohegan Sun’s plans have not been riding well with everyone. For instance, Everett Mayor, Carlo DeMaria, has expressed his disapproval of the idea of the Mohegan Sun taking over the facility. Apparently, Everett’s agreement with Wynn Resorts gives it’s the ability to approve or reject the sale of the facility to a new company.

A lot of factors will come into play before the final decision is made. One of the most significant ones would be the fact that Mohegan Sun has even gone as far as filing a lawsuit against the Gambling Commission arguing that is was better suited for the state’s gaming license than Wynn.

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