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Inside Gaming: NJ Votes for Sports Betting, Sahara to Live Again, and More


Since there hasn't been any important poker happening this week, entertain yourself with news from the gaming industry. New Jersey residents voted in support of a referendum to pursue legalized sports betting in local casinos. Too bad it's not their call to make. Depressed by the closing of the Sahara? There is reason to celebrate as Nevada legislators approve plans to renovate and reopen the historic casino. All we need is a timeline. But that timeline could take awhile if Nevada keeps posting gaming returns like the nearly 6 percent drop just announced for September.

New Jersey Voters Say Yes to Sports Betting, but Federal Battle Still Ahead

Get so wrapped up in the finale of the World Series of Poker Main Event hoopla that you forgot there was an election on Tuesday? Atlantic City casino operators certainly didn't. New Jersey voters gave the thumbs up by a 2-1 ratio to a ballot question asking if the state should allow sports betting at Atlantic City casinos and racetracks throughout the state. But don't plan your big football weekend at the Borgata just yet. The referendum simply gives the state the go-ahead to attempt to overturn a federal ban on sports wagering, a rather significant hurdle. It's definitely a busy time to be a gaming lobbyist.

New Jersey politicians were given the option of adding the state to the list of places excluded from the federal sports betting ban passed in 1992, but legislators couldn't agree in time to seek grandfathered status before the 18-month deadline expired. Nevada is the only state with sports books offering betting on single games. Oregon, Montana, and Delaware were also exempted to allow them to continue running existing sports-based lottery games and parlays. Estimates peg the nationwide sports-betting industry at around $380 billion annually, but most of the proceeds go to illegal bookies. Sound familiar?

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie supported the ballot question, given the flashy title "Public Question 1." "With this referendum, we have an opportunity that gives the state more solid footing to challenge the federal ban," Christie said. Supports have suggested that the addition of sports betting could boost Atlantic City revenue by $225 million annually and raise visitor numbers, both injections of life sorely needed by the economically depressed Boardwalk. Sports betting would give Atlantic City an edge over Indian casinos Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, which are also easily reachable from New York City and market heavily to Atlantic City's key customer base.

Of course, not everyone in New Jersey is fan of the plan. A third of voters said no to Public Question 1, area anti-gambling groups are hard at work publicizing the dangers of "action gambling," and sports teams and leagues are using their influence to prevent the spread of sports betting. New Jersey is considering legislation that would ban wagering at in-state locations on college teams from the state, as well as games being played there.

Read The Philadelphia Enquirer for the full picture of the hurdles facing New Jersey sports betting.

Plans for Sahara's Rebirth, with More Nightlife and No Coaster, Approved by County Commission

The Sahara, a rat-pack era Las Vegas landmark, closed its doors in May, just shy of its 60th birthday. The economic recession, coupled with its position on the depressed north end of the Strip, led owners to shutter the aging property, but they left a glimmer of hope they'd be back. It's more than a glimmer now that owners SBE Entertainment and Stockbridge Real Estate presented a remodeling plan to the Clark County Commission, which approved and applauded the plans last week. But details are still hazy about the costs of the project, and no timetable has been set for its start or finish.

The outside and inside of the casino will get new looks, according to the plans. The roller coaster that snakes around the outside of the casino will be dismantled and replaced with a 2,830-square-foot beer garden. Paris Las Vegas and Caesars Palace, both owned by Caesars Entertainment Inc., started the beer garden trend on the Strip last summer. Along with an overhauled gaming floor, the Sahara also plans to add a 21,000-square-foot nightclub and retail and restaurant spaces. Once the location of glamorous concerts and parties, by the time it closed, the only real reason to go to the Sahara after dark was its midnight poker tournament.

In addition to ramped-up nightlife, the Sahara will add 41,000-square-feet of convention space and a new pool area.The Sahara's three existing towers of hotels rooms will be renovated and the number of hotel rooms is slated to drop slightly to 1,622.

The Clark County Commission discussion didn't include details about how much the extensive project will cost, but Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said SBE has secured funding. Giunchigliani cited Internet gaming hopes as a potential driver of growth that is making investment in the industry attractive again. She said Internet gaming buzz is building a "comfort level coming back into that area in the realm of gaming ... I think people are poised. It will take a couple of years to do the remodel and what not, but it might be the right window."

The Sahara was last renovated in 1999. The previous owner, William Bennett, got approval for remodeling plans in 2007, but put them on hold as the economy slumped.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal has more.

Nevada Gaming Revenue, State Tax Haul Slump in September

While the Clark County Commissioner may be convinced now is the time to invest in casino improvements, September gaming numbers for Nevada, released today, tell a less enthusiastic story. The Nevada Gaming Control Board said on Wednesday morning that monthly casino revenue in September 2011 was down 5.87 percent from the previous year, when economic conditions weren't exactly stellar either. Statewide gaming revenue increased year-over-year for three straight months over the summer, then fell in August. September state-wide revenues were $863.9 million, down from $917.8 million last year.

Las Vegas Strip casinos often outperform the rest of the state, but revenue fell 5.69 percent there, as well. And all of Clark County took a 6.6 percent hit, hurt by the 17 percent decline in Boulder Strip revenue and the 13 percent drop in North Las Vegas. Reno casinos saw a slight increase, while the Lake Tahoe area took the biggest hit.

The decline is hitting Nevada in the check book. Already strapped for cash, the state collected $51.4 million in September gaming taxes, almost nine percent less than it took in in 2010. Despite a strong summer, the first four months of the fiscal year have gaming tax collections down 5.5 percent. Maybe time to negotiate a second Super Bowl this year? An extra March Madness to fill the NBA hole?

The Las Vegas Review-Journal brings you the rest of the lackluster figures.

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