Inside Gaming: Hitting the Road, Filling Rooms in Las Vegas - Tuesday 13th of December 2005

Contrary to conventional wisdom, a new survey done for the consulting firm Deloitte & Touche found about half of the 18,000 respondents plan to take a long-distance trip between Thanksgiving and New Year's, an increase of 14 percent from a similar poll last year. More than 75 percent of the travelers plan stays in hotels. That's good news for Las Vegas, which at 90-plus percent occupancy has been filling more of its hotel rooms than any other major U. S. destination.

More industry insiders, it seems, are fretting about when and where MGM Mirage is headed with its Project CityCenter. It's been almost 18 months since first announced, yet condominium prices have yet to be set, sales have yet to start and agreements remain to be worked out with Clark County and neighboring properties on traffic flows and parking. It takes just a drive down the Strip to realize how colossal these issues are and how heavily they weigh on the heads of industry leaders.

Online gaming is against the law in the United States, which generates 80 percent of the industry's revenues. So why do entrepreneurs run risk? Gibraltar-based Ruth Parasol, who the Los Angeles Times compares with Steve Wynn for understanding the financial upside to gambling, illustrates the case. The self-made billionaire has parlayed online poker and Internet pornography and phone sex into a $1.8 billion fortune and the 164th berth on Fortune magazine's list of the richest Americans.

Pennsylvania gaming supporters are cheering a proposal from Aztar Corp., owner of the Tropicana, for a 5,000-slot casino as part of an entertainment complex in Allentown. The slots complex would be next to a Class AAA minor-league baseball stadium. With $1.5 billion in annual sales, Aztar is going head-to-head against Las Vegas Sands Corp., owner of The Venetian, with $1.2 billion in sales, which has been pitching an unpopular casino as part of the restoration of an historic steel mill in Bethlehem. Las Vegas casino developer Steve Wynn also has been spotted wooing local officials over dinner. Only one can win the battle before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

It turns out that "Casino Jack" Abramoff, the former Republican superlobbyist, over the years collected more than $80 million from American Indian tribes and their casino operations, Washington sources say. It was reported here in July that such shenanigans were likely to freeze federal action on tribal casinos for the remainder of the Bush presidency, and media sources in Washington, D.C., now say this was influence peddling on a scale never seen before, even by today's gold standards for lobbying in the nation's capital.

Gaming Wire Editor Rod Smith can be reached by phone at 477-3893 or by e-mail at rsmith@reviewjournal.com.

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