Macau Bounces back
Macau’s casinos finally severed their prolonged losing streak in August, posting their first year-on-year gaming revenue gains in 26 months. It has been four months now since the positive momentum has started. This offers hope to the operators that their long jurisdictional nightmare is finally over.
Macau welcomed two new integrated resorts in 2016, and so far the pair have experienced completely different fortunes. In keeping with the different Wynn Resorts’ boss Steve Wynn’s penchant for opulence, Wynn Palace was aimed at high end customers. Theses customers were available then. But unfortunately the Wynn Palace has performed below expectations. This forced the management to make changes in the gaming floor and attracted more mass customers.
China gets tough with casino marketing
The arrest of 18 Crown Resorts marketing staff on the Chinese Mainland sent a chill through Asia-Pacific casino operators. Beijing had once warned that it would not tolerate casino operators attracting mainland residents to come and gamble. But obviously Crown management apparently did not heed that order.
While Crown has been criticized for its aggressive mainland marketing efforts, it may be significant that the first major operator to be targeted in this way was not one of Macau’s six concessionaires. China had previously only targeted companies promoting travel to south Korean casinos.
Imperial Pacific’s VIP turnover
Best Sunshine Live, Imperial Pacific International Holding’s temporary casino in a Saipan shopping mall, raised eyebrows this year as its average monthly VIP turnover jumped from $2billion to $4billion, with a per-table average that outpaced Macau’s mega-resorts, despite the property being described by a critic as “a duty-free store with fresh coat of paint and some chandeliers”. The gambling surge reportedly caught the eye of the US financial watchdog FinCEN, which has jurisdiction over Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and has previously levied eight digit fines on another CNMI operator for “Willful and egregious violations” of the US Bank secrecy Act. The Imperial Pacific has denied knowledge of any US based Probe but Best Sunshine’s turnover could come under the scanner now that Saipan regulators have begun approving junket operator licenses and a former table games VP has accused the casino of skirting anti-money laundering rules.
Philippine casinos survive the great Bangladeshi Bank Heist
In February, the Bangladesh reported the cyber theft of over $100 million from its accounts at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. Around $81 million of this stolen money was deposited in Philippine financial institutions before being transferred to a couple of Junket operators and local casinos, like Bloomberry Resorts’ Solaire Resort and casino.
The theft triggered an International media attention and a highly public probe into the nexus of the country’s banking, casino and junket operations. None of them emerged unscathed. And in August, the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp was hit with a record fine for compliance failures, and money laundering charges were slapped against six RCBC execs in late November. Till date only $18 million of the stolen funds have been recovered.
Caesars bankruptcy saga finally draws to a close… or does it?
Even though the Caesars Entertainment’s main unit CEOC filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2015, the company’s restructuring plan is not finished yet. However the firm claimed to have reached a mutual agreement with its creditors just days before Christmas, hopefully paving the way for a bankruptcy judge to the deal in January 2017. The first key to ending this drawn out drama came in March, when court-appointed independent examiner Richard, rules that Caesar’s sketchy pre-bankruptcy asset transfers and refusal to honor debt agreements had left the parent company liable for up to $5.1 billion of CEOC $18.4 billion debt load.
In September, a judge ruled that Caesars’ creditors were entitled to probe the personal funds of several top Caesars execs, including former CEO Gary Loveman and the leaders of the two hedge funds that owned Caesars, to find out if the fraud charges were warranted. Miraculously, in less than a week, Caesars found the cash to up their offer to creditors. The extra cash from the sale of Playtika to a Chinese consortium for $4.4 billion. But the Caesars will have an uphill task in generating black ink from its brick and mortar operations.
US casinos took a while to realize that millennial generation perceived giant halls of slot machines with the same level of scorn as they reserve for land line phones. According to reliable surveys the traditional slots, even ones with themes that theoretically should appeal to millennials just aren’t cutting it with young ‘uns.
This year saw the the first tangible progress in casinos offering gaming products aimed at millennials. New Jersey regulators followed Las Vegas by tweaking the rules to allow Atlantic City casinos to offer machines that incorporated skill-based elements more familiar to arcades than casino floors.
Sands settles with everyone
Las Vegas Sands found itself on the wrong side of the law many a time in 2016. Firstly it was for reaching a $9 million settlement with US federal authorities for its dodgy dealings in Macau and Mainland China. Nevada regulators later dinged Sands for a further $2 million for the same reason. This year also saw the understanding between Sand and former Sands CEO, Steve Jacobs who made a sudden exit in 2010 for reasons not known. Sands tried their level best to drag out Jacobs’ wrongful termination suit, evidently in the hope that he would lose faith and then abandon his Sisyphean quest. However Jacobs kept winning the legal skirmishes, including whether Sand’s internal data on its Macau operations was admissible evidence. Fear of this info becoming a matter of public record was apparently all the motivation Sands required to resolve the case and while the terms of the settlement remain unknown, sources say that Jacobs and his lawyers walked away with $100 million.
Also making casino waves in 2016 were Phil Ivey’s failures to convince American and English courts that cheating at baccarat is not really cheating if the casinos are so greedy that they provide you with all the tools a cheater might need. The year brought a merciful conclusion to the Baha Mar Bankruptcy saga, as Hong Kong’s Chow Tai Fook Enterprises stepped up to the plate with a ten figure check that ensured the long-stalled Bahamian resort will host more than mothballs in 2017. Sadly, mothballs and rats are the only guests living at the Trump Taj Mahal. The Taj became the fifth Atlantic City casino to close since 2014, the victim of declining revenues and labor strife, and state legislators’ moves to block owner Carl Icahn from pulling a union switcheroo reportedly have the billionaire looking to sell the vacant property.