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Gaming Guru

Rod Smith
 

Inside gaming column: Next dust heap may be Hilton, some say

30 October 2006

By Rod Smith

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Colony Capital's 3,174-room Las Vegas Hilton could soon be history, Strip scuttlebutt suggests. Deutsche Bank's Bill Lerner last week told investors "recent channel checks" suggest wrecking crews in the next 12 months to 18 months will level an unidentified hotel-casino that hasn't hit anyone's radar yet. Reliable insiders, however, say the target will be the iconic former International. That's consistent with plans previously presented to state regulators. Should the announcement come, Lerner predicts improving returns for Strip operators. Moreover, given current investor expectations of more lower tier property closings and more development of upscale projects, Lerner says developers likely will move toward midlevel properties as an alternative to added upscale supply.

It's an election year, and even pro-gambling grass-roots activists are making themselves heard right down to Election Day. We're told some Capitol Hill offices are still being swamped with telephone calls, especially from the Poker Players Alliance. The alliance argues that proposals to make banks enforce the ban on online gaming by blocking transactions puts freedom at risk. But more seriously, the negative grass-roots campaign is blasting the gaming industry as being sleazy. That taint could have traction and do long-term damage to the industry Las Vegas depends on if the sleaze factor figures into voting patterns.

Meanwhile, the Major League Baseball playoffs are said to have generated betting interest in the national pastime as never before. And oddsmakers say it could portend bigger business for the future, even compared with the NCAA's March Madness. Why? Unpredictability. The American League champion Detroit Tigers, for example, lost 16 of their last 28 regular season games this year; finished below .500 last year and lost 119 games in 2003. That makes betting on your favorite team just plain fun. And that's the real hook for gambling and sports betting these days.

European online gaming companies can see the handwriting on the wall. One, Global Betbrokers, even took the brouhaha over online gaming in the United States as a chance to announce it is proceeding with plans to list its stock on major exchanges and possible stock offerings. They all say the legislative concerns are American while the consumer interest is worldwide. So they'll take advantage of a win-win situation. While American companies dither, Europeans can proceed without competition. When the U.S. government desists, the market will explode and prove a real boon to everybody already operating.

Gaming Wire Editor Rod Smith can be reached by phone at 477-3893 or by e-mail at rsmith@reviewjournal.com.