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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Looking in on: Gaming

23 October 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Las Vegas developers have been there and done that with shortages of steel and concrete. But glass?

One Wall Street analyst recently noted that the availability of glass could be a problem for major resort projects not yet under way amid the latest casino building boom.

"Our sources have indicated to us that the major international suppliers of glass in China and Mexico are telling prospective customers that they cannot accommodate additional orders until sometime in 2008," Deutsche Bank stock analyst Bill Lerner wrote to investors early this month. "Given that most/all new projects are entirely faced in glass, they almost have to use one of the two above noted international sources given the quantities of glass required."

The availability of labor is "still an issue," he continued.

That's good news for projects such as CityCenter, Palazzo and Encore that are under way while other projects such as the W hotel and condos, Montreux and Echelon Place "could face delays."

Those delays are good for casino giants because it means fewer competitors and therefore higher returns in the near term, Lerner said.

The number of hotel rooms at casinos isn't expected to grow more than 4 percent a year from now until 2010 - a lower number than initially predicted before financial and planning problems shelved some projects, he said.

• • •

Henderson resident Mark Gerber remembers the days of standing in line for multicolored tickets that distinguished different horse bets. The New York native, who once laid bets at Aqueduct and Yonkers raceways, can now be found lounging in front of an automatic betting terminal at Station Casinos' newly upgraded race and sports book at Green Valley Ranch.

"I never would have imagined anything like this 10 years ago," said Gerber, marveling at the book's five, 11-by-22-foot rear-projection screens showing various races and taped football games.

What might otherwise be yet another technology upgrade in a casino is attracting attention from casino honchos and sports fans who view the Green Valley Ranch sports book - a variation of the same technology first installed in Nevada at Station's Red Rock Resort in April - as the sports book equivalent of DVD versus VHS.

Like a more complex version of McDonald's touch-screen cash registers, a single employee can be trained in a few days to work from a screen that controls how many images can pop up on each of the big screens out front. Brady Bunch-style, employees can mix and match tickers, sports odds, television programming, horse races and even promotional announcements at the touch of a button.

Besides the advantage of more crisp imagery from directly projecting high-definition feeds of sporting events onto the screens, the book can instantly flash sports odds that are updated automatically by computer - creating a New York Stock Exchange effect as numbers flicker and change right up to the main event.

"What you see is what you get," Gerber said.

That's good for bettors and casino employees, who typically change those numbers by hand on wipe-boards and occasionally confront angry customers who lay bets after odds worsen but before employees can change the numbers up on the big board.

Station's Vice President of Race and Sports Operations Art Manteris said the technology will likely spread across the industry, starting with a few other Station properties.

Manteris wouldn't say how much it all cost (the book is three times the size of the old one and has 170 seats, including 32 bigger alcoves for VIPs and cafe service). It's expected to attract a high-end clientele, he said.

• • •

Want to buy a casino from MGM Mirage? Now might be a good time.

People close to the matter say the company is negotiating to sell its stateline casinos to Herbst Gaming - the slot route operator that also owns several smaller casinos in Southern Nevada.

MGM Mirage recently announced the sale of two Laughlin casinos to Anthony Marnell III - a $200 million deal that allows the company to better focus on bigger projects in Las Vegas and abroad while giving Marnell, who is also building a resort on the South Strip, a leg up on his fledgling casino empire.

Officials at MGM Mirage wouldn't comment.

"We don't comment on rumors or speculation. We've got an obligation as a publicly held company to consider all legitimate offers," spokesman Gordon Absher said.

Marnell says he will be scouting for other Nevada casinos as they become available.

Laughlin is a "stable market" that has grown in spite of competition from nearby Indian casinos - competition that appears to be leveling off, he said.

Now's a good time to buy, said Marnell, the son of casino developer and Rio founder Tony Marnell.

"The world is waking up to how good of an investment casinos are," he said. "Individual properties are going to get more expensive. The barrier to entry is not lifting but more people are willing to cross it and get licensed. There's lots of people with money to put to work."