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Gaming Guru

Joe Weinert
 

Atlantic City Round-Up

15 April 2003

ATLANTIC CITY -- What matters most when checking a gambler,s credit information: the intent or the accuracy?

The New Jersey Casino Control Commission decided that accuracy rules and ordered Trump Taj Mahal to pay $176,776 in back gaming taxes, interest and penalties for failing to properly verify the bank-account numbers of two Hong Kong high rollers from whom the Taj could not collect $2.2 million in credit in 1998.

In one instance, the Taj entered three incorrect digits of the gambler,s bank- account number when he applied for $2 million in credit. In the other, the Taj did enter that the gambler had switched bank accounts when he applied for $200,000 in credit.

In both instances, the Taj wrote the correct information on the gamblers, paper files but did not enter it into their computer files, from which the counter checks -- or markers -- were generated. Joseph Fusco, the top lawyer in Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, argued that the Taj should be able to write off the debt, thus avoiding the 8 percent state tax on casino revenue. He said Taj employees made two "good-faith, clerical, data-entry? errors and that the casino followed all regulations for verifying and issuing the credit.

But David Missimer, assistant general counsel for the casino commission, said gaming regulations require casinos to repeatedly verify bank-account numbers. Taj failed to do so, he said.

The first high roller eventually repaid $418,889. The High Court of Hong Kong subsequently issued orders of bankruptcy against both men.

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Atlantic City,s 11,800 casino hotel rooms were occupied 94.6 percent of the time last year, an increase of 1.3 percentage points over the previous year, the Casino Control Commission reported.

Bally,s, which had 1,246 hotel rooms last year, reported the highest occupancy rate at 97.7. percent. Sands, which has 637 rooms, reported the lowest rate at 88.2 percent.

The casinos, average room rate was $79.87, down 16 cents. The room rates aren,t very meaningful because Atlantic City casinos give away two-thirds of their rooms to qualifying gamblers.

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Atlantic City casinos had invested $7.5 billion in their buildings, land, furniture, fixtures, equipment and construction in progress at the end of 2002, according to year-end reports filed with the Casino Control Commission. The amount is $438 million, or 6.2 percent, higher than the previous year. Amounts subtracted for depreciation and amortization are not included in the figures. Likewise, the $1.1 billion Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, scheduled to open this summer, is not figured in the amount.

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Trump Taj Mahal paid $30,000 to settle charges that it allowed three minors to play slot machines in January.

A State Police detective found two 19-year-old women and an 18-year-old woman playing the slots for about 10 to 20 minutes. The legal gambling age in New Jersey is 21.

Taj Mahal has now paid $251,000 in underage-gambling fines since 1996. It has three more cases pending.

Taj officials pointed out that they either arrested, ejected or prevented 2,214 minors from entering the casino floor last year.

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The Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission approved the development a racetrack in Chester. The owners are hoping to cash in on Gov. Ed Rendell,s campaign to legalize slot machines at tracks.

Chester is located just south of Philadelphia, which is about an hour from Atlantic City and a key feeder market for its casinos.

Pennsylvania now has four operating tracks, two approved and the authority to license up to two more tracks.

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A jury ordered Trump Marina Hotel Casino to pay a robbery victim $4.8 million for failing to provide adequate security on a walkway leading to Harrah,s Atlantic City.

The robber attacked Felicisimo Fuentes of Cherry Hill, N.J., three years ago. His head was smashed into the pavement, leaving him in coma. He emerged from the coma but said he can longer talk with this family.

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Harrah,s captured 10.3 percent of the $4.2 billion in net revenue generated by the Atlantic City casino industry last year. That,s up 0.7 points over the previous year and represented the biggest leap in market share among the city,s 12 casinos last year.

Sands had the steepest decline in market share, down 0.7 percent to 4.6 percent.

Bally's enjoyed the biggest piece of the market-share pie for the second straight year at 12.6 percent, down 0.2 percentage points.

The three Trump casinos collectively stopped a five-year losing streak in market share, winning 26.2 percent of the industry,s business -- up 0.5 points.

(Joe Weinert covers the gaming industry for The Press of Atlantic City. He can be reached at jweinert@pressofac.com.)