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Gaming expo panelists agree gaming industry will recover

19 November 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Five longtime gaming industry personalities believe the worldwide business they played a hand in creating will recover from its current economic woes.

During a roundtable discussion at the Global Gaming Expo on Wednesday, former International Game Technology Chairman Chuck Mathewson said the gaming industry is already rebounding from its two-year-long recession.

"It's going to be a long recovery, and we're starting to see some traction," said Mathewson, who began investing in IGT in the early 1980s, became chairman and chief executive officer, and grew the company into the industry's largest slot machine manufacturer.

"The industry won't be as robust as it was, but it will recover," Mathewson said. "We just need to continue to provide the entertainment options that people want."

Mathewson was joined on stage at the Las Vegas Convention Center by Leonard Ainsworth, founder of Australian slot machine giant Aristocrat Leisure Ltd.; former New Jersey gaming regulator Steven Perskie; longtime Strip hotel-casino executive Burton Cohen; and Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., president of the American Gaming Association.

Political commentator Jon Ralston, who moderated the hourlong discussion, drew similar responses from the panelists when he asked about the industry's recovery, especially in Las Vegas.

Cohen said Las Vegas casino operators always have reinvested in their properties to keep reinventing what they would offer guests, such as new restaurants and other amenities. He expects that trend to continue.

He and Mathewson said Strip casinos need to refocus their efforts on gaming and return to the industry's roots.

Cohen, who joined the board of directors of MGM Resorts International in April, predicted the $8.5 billion CityCenter development eventually will be successful.

"Only in Las Vegas would you be able to build a city within a city," Cohen said.

Cohen also provided some of the more memorable quotes of the discussion.

During his introduction, Ralston pointed out that Cohen operated such resorts as the Desert Inn, Thunderbird and the Dunes over his 40-year career.

Responded Cohen, "In a testimony to my ability to manage, all of those hotels have been blown up."

When the discussion turned to Macau and its effect on Las Vegas and the rest of casino industry, Ralston said Wynn Resorts Ltd. Chairman Steve Wynn and Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson, who have large casino investments in China, are always in Asia and rarely available in Las Vegas.

"That's not at all a bad thing," Cohen quipped.

Ainsworth said Macau and recent casino openings in Singapore have created new casino customers, predominately in Asia.

Cohen said the expansion of gaming nationally and worldwide has been good for the industry, although he had opposed the legalization of casinos in Atlantic City in the mid-1970s.

As the head of the Nevada Resort Association, he was unsuccessful in getting the member casinos to fund a campaign against Atlantic City's efforts.

"Little did I know all the men in the room were getting options on land in Atlantic City," Cohen said.

Perskie said Atlantic City is taking the correct steps toward recovery, even though the market has experienced 26 straight months of gaming revenue declines. He thinks efforts by New Jersey's governor to revamp the tourism market and the state's gaming industry will be successful.

"The reports of Atlantic City's death have been greatly exaggerated," Perskie said, adding that the impact from expanded gaming in neighboring states, such as Pennsylvania, will eventually lessen.

The panelists differed somewhat on Internet gaming. Ainsworth was supportive of efforts to legalize Internet gaming in the United States and Fahrenkopf's Washington, D.C.-based organization now believes the technology exists to safely regulate the activity.

Cohen, however, was somewhat wary of an activity that might keep potential customers away from casinos.

"I was the driving force behind no TVs in hotel rooms," Cohen said.