While at G2E this past September, I attended a press function hosted by IGT for their James Cameron’s AVATAR Video Slots. By way of small talk, an entertainment reporter at the event asked me what I considered to be the one or two most important events to occur in the casino industry over the past year. I asked for a minute or two to compose my thoughts, but before I could answer the conference officially started and the conversation was never revisited.
Until now, that is. After all, is there ever a better time to contemplate the year’s events than the actual end of the year? Here are my picks for the top casino news stories of 2013:
• Change in leadership at the American Gaming Association. We all knew that someday Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. would step down from his post as president and CEO of the AGA, a position he held since its inception in 1995. Still, it was shocking when Fahrenkopf officially announced his retirement effective June 30; after all, he was the AGA to many people and under his leadership, the trade association became a force to be reckoned with in Washington D.C. and beyond. The AGA reached outside the gaming industry when it came to finding Fahrenkopf’s replacement, appointing Geoff Freeman, most recently executive vice president and COO of U.S. Travel, to the post.
• Macau’s ongoing casino success. The Macau casino market eventually has to slow down, right? Well, if it does, it is not going to be anytime soon, judging by the revenue figures posted by Macau-based gaming resorts over the past year, when each month seemed to break the revenue record set the previous year. When all is said and done, it looks like Macau is going to blow past the $38 billion revenue market it set in 2012, and then surpass whatever that number is in 2014.
• Integrated gaming resort expansion in Asia. Vietnam became the latest Asian nation to welcome integrated gaming resort gaming when The Grand-Ho Tram Strip officially opened its doors this past summer. The first phase of this project included 541 five-star rooms, gaming facilities, meeting and convention space, 10 bars and restaurants, a spa, teen’s and children’s areas, three swimming pools and luxury retail shops. The second phase will add another hotel tower and a championship-level golf course. Vietnam is not alone in this lust for IGR development—The Philippines and Australia are in the midst of integrated resort speculation, and a number of other nations, led by Japan, are contemplating joining the frenzy.
• The inability of Caesars Entertainment to clear a Massachusetts background check. It is still hard to believe Caesars Entertainment—operator of 54 casinos in 13 states and six countries without any report of major improprieties—was unable to pass muster with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, essentially scuttling its plans to bring a casino to Suffolk Downs racetrack in Boston. The reverberations from this decision are still being felt throughout the Bay State, as gaming operators openly wonder how it will work with the regulatory agency going forward, and by Caesars, as it tries to get past this PR nightmare.
• Casino expansion in New York. Empire State voters approved a ballot measure that will eventually bring seven new casinos to the state, including a full-fledged casino resort to New York City. The thought of an integrated casino resort in Manhattan makes me all kinds of giddy.
• The launch of for-pay online gaming in Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey. This, to me, is far and away the most important piece of news out of the casino industry in the past year. Legalized online wagering is already a multi-billion euro business throughout Europe; my guess is that it will be even more successful in the U.S. given its much larger population.
Well, that’s my list. Drop me a line and let me know if it was naughty or nice.