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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Looking in on: Gaming

29 October 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Some of the country's largest hotel companies think Micros Systems' Opera hotel reservations system is the cat's meow because of how well it tracks customer purchases and buying preferences.

But you should have heard the howling when the system crashed last Friday at MGM Mirage, periodically paralyzing Internet and front-desk reservations at its largest resorts until the bug was fixed Tuesday.

The computer-dependent hotels had to bring in extra personnel to check in guests using less sophisticated software programs, and customers using the resorts' Internet reservations systems were forced to call a hotline , at which point they talked to clerks in back offices.

MGM Mirage says it's still happy with the system , which, it says, might not have been the culprit.

The system runs on Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard platforms with multiple software components that cross -reference with Opera, each of which might have been to blame for the problem, MGM Mirage spokeswoman Yvette Monet said.

None of this, of course, means much to a family fretting in the check-in line . Opera cadabra, give us our room!

There's never a good time for a reservation system crash, but at least it occurred before the 5,000-room MGM Grand filled up in advance of Saturday's Jimmy Buffett concert.

"Once we had the manual system down and the additional staff in place we didn't experience any significant delays or any significant customer complaints," Monet said. "We can now anticipate if an outage were to occur. But all systems are now up and running and we're prepared for the crowds." • • •

Ameristar Casinos, the Las Vegas casino company that operates a successful chain of Midwestern properties even though it has no casinos here, has been the subject of animated speculation ever since the company's founder died last year.

Speculation was renewed this week when Ameristar's majority shareholder, the estate of founder Craig Neilsen, filed an obligatory notice explaining how the estate will pay interest and principal amounts on estate taxes owed over the next few years. Big shareholders are required to file notices on their holdings and update the public on how they intend to dispose of or acquire additional shares. In this case, the estate is likely to sell shares over time to pay the estate's tax bills.

In the volatile world of casino stocks, investors move money around like gamblers at a high-limit roulette table. Shares shot up 14 percent, with shareholders itchy with anticipation that the estate might consider selling its Ameristar holdings in bulk, effectively putting the company up for sale.

Don't believe the hype and keep your cash, some experts say.

Ameristar executives no longer control the bulk of shares, but have previously made it clear they don't want to part with the company. Neilsen wanted his charitable foundation, which primarily funds spinal cord injury research, to retain a major, long-term interest in the company. After his death, the company spent $675 million to buy Resorts East Chicago and announced plans to expand the company. Now could be a bad time to sell, with the bond markets still recovering from the collapse in the mortgage market. • • •

Unless they're from Nevada, federal lawmakers typically avoid the subject of gambling like the plague. Politicians of all stripes know they could lose more votes than they could gain by either promoting or fighting gambling expansion, so they pass that buck to state legislators. It's not surprising, then, that only one presidential hopeful responded to a survey sent to all the candidates by the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling.

The conservative former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, trailing the four Republican front - runners, promised to veto legislation to expand Internet gambling and to toughen federal regulation of Indian casinos and stop the spread of tribal casinos outside of designated reservations.

Looking in on: Gaming is republished from