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Gaming Guru

Jeff Simpson
 

Jeff Simpson explains how Atlantic City could benefit from adopting a Las Vegas-style attitude toward competition and the success of others

22 August 2007

The recent dust-up between Pinnacle Entertainment's Dan Lee and Wynn Resorts' Steve Wynn was an Atlantic City disagreement that just wouldn't happen here.

To summarize, Lee complained on a Pinnacle conference call about the possibility that casino development would be allowed at Bader Field, Atlantic City's former municipal airport.

Lee made it apparent that he's worried that Wynn is angling to get preferential treatment for the right to develop a resort at Bader. Lee also threatened to abandon Pinnacle's plans to build a $1.5 billion resort on the site of the closed Sands casino if Bader Field is green-lighted for casino development.

Then Wynn said he'd like to buy Bader, promising to build what he told me would be a beautiful resort.

Wynn told me he spoke to Lee and told the Pinnacle boss, Wynn's one-time chief financial officer at Mirage Resorts, that complaining about competition was "a weak play that (Lee) would lose" and that he'd buy the Sands site from Pinnacle if Lee doesn't want to compete.

Wynn has long said the future of Atlantic City depends on state action, because he believes the city government has proven its inability to handle redevelopment.

"The state needs to take control of the community," Wynn said. "Atlantic City is about to be challenged very severely by Pennsylvania casinos. You get me the Bader Field site and Atlantic City will get a truly beautiful resort."

I understand Lee's frustration, because the Boardwalk-area casinos are space-constrained and might have difficulty competing with a modern resort on Bader Field.

But if that kind of hand-wringing prevailed in Nevada, downtown casino owners would have prevented development of the Strip.

Here in Las Vegas, the best resort developers don't complain about competitors and their big plans. They cheer them on.

When Wynn Las Vegas opened, other properties benefited from additional business, the same thing that happened when Bellagio, Venetian and Mandalay Bay opened.

I understand why Lee would complain if Wynn is given an unfair advantage to obtain Bader Field. But the complaint should be about the process, not the prospect of competition.

As Wynn told me, and I think the Las Vegas experience proves him right: "The bigger the menu, the stronger the draw."

• • •

I don't believe that the Culinary is so emboldened by having the top three Democratic presidential candidates ready to march or picket for the union that its leaders think downtown casinos can afford the same contract recently agreed to by Harrah's Entertainment.

Downtown casino lawyer Gregg Kamer told me he was surprised that the union, in its first negotiating session Friday with the six hotels he represents, said the Harrah's contract is what the downtown workers want.

Kamer's a very smart guy, and he knows that the public would likely sympathize with the cash-strapped downtown joints he represents - Plaza, Las Vegas Club, Western, El Cortez, Fitzgeralds and the Four Queens.

It's just common sense that those properties can't afford to pay what Harrah's pays.

I understand Kamer's position, and his effort to stake out the public opinion high ground. But the Culinary negotiators, and the downtown workers, have, like Kamer, been around the negotiating block a few times.

It may take some tough talks, but Culinary Secretary Treasurer D. Taylor has always been willing to take downtown's difficulties into account. The Culinary's initial negotiating position is merely its first proposal .