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Casinos in Macau Still Booming
Although there are some rumblings in China about the direction of their economy, the casinos in Macau are still booming. In fact, the US operators continue to enjoy great profits from their Macau casinos as well as good profits from their US holdings. Certainly Wynn makes more from their Pai Gow tile games in Macau than in Las Vegas, but at least its not such a lopsided difference these days, but the money can be staggering.
In addition, Steve Wynn (Wynn Vegas, Wynn Macau) and Sheldon Adelson (Sands China - first quarter net income up 66% from a year earlier to 1 million; and Sands Las Vegas which operates the Venetian) don't have the outstanding debt that giants MGM Resorts and Caesar's Entertainment still hold, but recent developments in Macau have gaming stock investors shaken up.
In fact, the news reported this week by the South China Morning Post that some China Union Pay cards were being illegally used at casinos in Macau and may be banned from use in casinos (and that gaming revenues may have been under-reported in 2013 by as much as half) sent a shiver through investors. That shiver resulted in a decline of nearly 10% in the stock price of Wynn and Las Vegas Sands. Whether this will ultimately have any impact on future gaming revenues in Macau is up for debate - and thus the price fluctuations - but the overall Chinese economy should be the point of interest. It is highly unlikely that any other changes will make an impact, since the Macau casino profits are greatly influenced by a tiny 2% of their whale players!
Even after years and years of gambling, I sometimes wonder if it's just all luck that dictates the winning at gambling. Certainly I support the idea that learning a blackjack card counting system is going to give you better results, and of course the more you learn about poker and your opponents, the better you will do, but what of the rest? What about the slots, the video games, the games where the house has the edge? I'm stumped (yeah, no surprise there, right?).
I used to play video poker with a group of investors/players who found large jackpots on banks of machines, took over all the machines, and played until the jackpot hit. Most players put in hundreds of hours during the year. One player/investor hit 55 Royals in a year. That's just sick numbers. I hit about six. Is it an electromagnetism thing with computer software? Surely I jest.
How have I managed to beat the dickens out of roulette for years, even with crappy zero and double zero American wheels? What's the deal? How come I can beat baseball but struggle to break even at football betting? Experience, luck, combination? Why do drunks almost always have a very lucky streak in them at some point during their gaming session that puts them way ahead of probability? Why do I often delight in seeing their stacks of chips disappear when that luck drifts away like a butterfly?
I was playing Super Fun 21 and couldn't make a decent hand even with the crazy rules of splitting, resplitting, doubling on any cards, and automatically winning with a 5-card 21 or any 6 cards, but the drunk dude was a master and doubling on (yes, honest) 12 and 13 against anything and making 20 to beat the dealer's 19 (that beat my 18). How does that happen?
Apparently now that I've finished these paragraphs, this is all a rant, built to make me feel better about taking a beating recently. Bummer for you and me, but what explains the luck and no luck we see daily? Give me a clue if you have one. Thanks for listening :-) .
In the 1930's, Los Angeles had dozens of illegal but heavily-frequented casinos, some of which were allowed by Vice-officers from the LA Police Department like Guy McAfee, known around town as "the Captain," and some were outright owned by McAfee. While his wife worked as a Hollywood madam, McAfee got rich, and the casinos and card rooms thrived. He was eventually thrown out of his job, and the state, but setting a precedent that lasted for decades, Las Vegas welcomed him.
What he left behind was a string of poker rooms that brought players from across the US, and towns like Gardena became synonymous with the game of poker. Eventually, all those big players from Texas and Oklahoma settled things by bringing their game of Texas Hold'em to Las Vegas, and Sin City's casinos added poker rooms at an unprecedented rate in the 1970's and '80's. Left in the dust, California's poker operators pressed the state's legislators for years, finally gaining new poker game legalization in the mid 1980's, which included Hold'em, Omaha, and plenty of newly invented games. Nothing's been the same since!
Not only are some of the clubs larger than any card room in Nevada (like the Commerce Club with more than 200 tables), but the games are lively, well-represented in all denominations, and going at all hours. And, if you don't want to play just standard poker, you can play dozens of other games like Super Pan 9 and California Blackjack to wile-away the hours. In addition, several casinos like the Commerce Club and the Bike have their own hotels. How can you resist?
Personally, I only get out to Southern California a couple times a year, but the games and especially the tournaments are terrific. And, you can always pack your spouse and even the kids and head there with the lure of Universal Studios, Disneyland, Magic Mountain, Hollywood, and I understand there are beaches, too. That's a month away for me, but it's getting close.
Deutsche Bank finally unloaded the Cosmopolitan resort in Las Vegas, their ill-acquired, under-producing stop on the Las Vegas Strip. The sales price was about .73 billion, slightly less than the bank's assessment of the properties long term debt, and less than half the bank's investment when it took over the 8.7-acre development from New York's Ian Bruce Eichner for .9 billion.
While analysts may hail the sale as a good sign for Vegas, the total loss for Deutsche Bank is substantial, and the property has yet to produce a profit, being run as a kitschy resort with a small casino that produces less revenue than the Food and Beverage department. That may change. New buyer Blackstone is actually one of the world's largest private equity firms, with real estate divisions that have invested in everything from La Quinta, to Hilton Hotels, to Busch Entertainment (Sea World Parks and Busch Garden Parks). It is unlikely they will continue to run the Cosmo strictly as a night club and restaurant draw. Instead, the 52-story tower with a 110,000-square-foot casino is likely to hire personnel with an eye towards making the resort's gaming more player friendly. We will see.
I've enjoyed the Cosmo, and the three-story chandelier is something to see, but the casino left me cold. The slots weren't what I was looking for, and I missed staying at a place with a poker room. Of course there's a nice one right next door at the Aria, but that takes 20-minutes to get to. As I suspect Blackstone already knows, it's not just the glitz and glamor, but the game mix that gets players (not just partiers) in the door. Harold's Club was the most famous casino in the US for years, and it wasn't fancy. By comparison to today's resorts it was a dump.
By the same token, you don't need 00 table games to attract players, you need the games they want. One of the most popular Asian games in the Pacific Rim is Xóc Dia, and players flock to play the game that consists of nothing more than a few painted tokens and a cup and a plate. Must be some correlation there! I've seen plenty of properties build up and make themselves resorts, forgetting their roots and catering instead to a group of visitors that want amenities, but not gaming. Then management looks back and asks what's happened to our revenue and says "Gee, our return on investment has dropped considerably." Big surprise.
A lot of poker players know what an overlay is - when a poker tournament guarantees a certain payout for winners and that payout is more than the total buy-in from all players (imagine ,000 in prize money and 10 players pay to play - creating a 0 overlay). Occasionally a progressive jackpot on a table game also gets high enough to actually offer an overlay, and this happened regularly when Caribbean Stud was more popular. Now just a few weeks back there were three jackpots at Pai Gow Poker that were overlays: one in Las Vegas, and two in Arizona. If I've got the jackpot payout information correct, when you play Pai Gow and are playing the progressive bet, the jackpot needs to be roughly 0,00 to be an even-money proposition.
Of course the odds of hitting it are slim, but gamblers love an overlay. At the Cannery in Vegas the jackpot grew to almost 0,000. At the Talking Stick Resort and linked Casino Arizona, the jackpot grew to almost 0,00 before a lucky player hit big. Now, the linked jackpot at Gila River casinos (Wild Horse Pass, Vee Quiva and Lone Butte) is over 0,000 - the highest Pai Gow progressive I can remember.
On the Pai Gow progressive, winning the big bucks comes for any 7-card straight flush, using the joker or not. Since the jackpot return is 2.21% for every ,000 offered, the current possible payout at Gila River (today: 3,277) is 54.3 x 2.21% and my math says playing the progressive is now a 120% return on your money. OMG!
Keep in mind that the odds are kind of way out there, but how often does a casino bet offer an overlay? This isn't a simple grind like the Paroli roulette system where you're trying to win a unit or two each string, this is a rare-hitting chance to score big. Just so you know the odds here, read on.
There are 32 ways to make a natural 7-card straight flush and 196 ways to make a 7-card straight flush with a joker. That means there are 228 ways to win the biggie out of the 154,143,080 possible combinations with 52 cards and a joker. If I've got this straight, you have one chance in 676,066. For a comparison, that's about 15x tougher than hitting a video poker royal flush. Ever hit a royal? Yeah? What did you win for a buck (maybe .25 on a quarter machine), ,000? Yup, that jackpot is 54x more for your money right now! Interesting.
Photo Courtesy (Getty Images)
It's always Margarita Monday for Jimmy Buffet, as his 1977 smash hit Margaritaville has taken on a global presence of its own over the years. The song has morphed into concerts, clothing, souvenirs, and of course the Margaritaville Resort Casino in Bossier City, Louisiana and the Margaritaville Casino at the Flamingo on the Las Vegas Strip, where Jimmy was seen clowning at the 21 tables with guest Meridith Price. Looks like fun to me.
Last Monday wasn't as much fun for Ben Affleck, as he was barred permanently from playing blackjack at the Hard Rock casino in Las Vegas. Ben is a skilled gambler and has had success at major poker tournaments in the past. He also went from beginning blackjack player to professional level several years ago when he whooped on the Hard Rock for 0K, tipping the dealers more than six-figures along the way! Since casinos have a long memory, his latest binge at the tables didn't go unnoticed, as he was politely asked to never play blackjack there again. Bummer.
Most casinos do reserve the right to bar or exclude any players for any reason, and usually guests are simply asked to play other games excluding blackjack when they are suspected of counting cards. Fortunately, most players are able to fly under the radar and make a little cash with their blackjack skills. Of course Ben Affleck probably can't fly anywhere and go unnoticed, so he'll have to give up on "21" and be happy with the rumored million and a piece of the pie he gets for his upcoming turn in Batman. Hang in there Ben!
Fifty years ago, most casinos had their own branded slot machines and that gave the property a specific feel. Harrah's properties had all-silver Pace machines, the Nevada Club used all Jenning's machines, Harold's Club used Pace machines but they were all painted red. I remember the machines at Harvey's at Lake Tahoe and how each wheel bounced as it stopped on the line. Things changed with video machines.
When they first came out, Caesars had a Piper Cub hanging from the ceiling and you could win it if your video slot machine hit the jackpot. Pretty cool. I also remember the display kept flashing encouraging says like "Columbus took a chance." That was fun, even if I never won the Piper or learned to fly. Caesars Las Vegas had a really nice section of games, close to Cleopatra's barge, that were all Asian Games like Pai Gow Tiles and Sic Bo. I loved playing Sic Bo, it reminded me so much of carnival games I couldn't help myself.
Today, there isn't always that big a difference in the casino mix of slot machines. With Williams and Konami and IGT fighting for popularity with themed and tie-in games (think: Batman-Ferris Bueller-The Hangover), most casinos try to keep up with their competition and everyone winds up looking like their neighbors. That's too bad. I have noticed a big difference in the number of video poker games available in predominantly Indian Gaming states like Oklahoma and Arizona, where they have only 5-10% of their slots represented by poker. There are plenty of spots in Vegas where the mix is more like 20 percent. Why the disparity I wonder?
At least a few properties, like the Hard Rock, Margaritaville, and the Palms look a little different from everyone else. I know the Revel tried the same thing, but sometimes being different isn't enough I suppose. Anyway, who's got a vote for a really different look - and yes, I thought of The D in Downtown. What'cha got?
If you haven't heard the news, this year's World Series of Poker got underway on Tuesday, May 27th and will be going for the next month, running until July 7, when event number 65 (,000 No-Limit Hold'em Championship Event) takes the last entries. I already got bounced from my first event - the Tuesday casino and gaming-related (and media) tournament. There were 876 entries in the 0 buy-in tournament that lasted three days, and 4,200 up for grabs. Roland Reparejo bested the field and collected first prize of ,835. If you are wondering what winning the tournament took, the event was supposed to be two-days, starting at 12 pm Tuesday, but at 3am Thursday morning it was extended to a third day with Reparejo and second-place finisher Corey Emery (,037) battling heads-up.
When they resumed play at noon, Reparejo had .8 million in chips to Emery's 700k, and while they waited 9 hours to start again, it took just six hands at 20,000-40,000 blinds and a 5,000 ante for the play to end after Emery went all-in with J-8 suited and was quickly called by Reparejo with A_Q suited - an ace hit the flop, sealing the deal.
For those of you who didn't know it, there are amazing side-games running for the next five weeks, as well as satellites and non-WSOP deep-stack No-Limit Hold'em tournaments every day until the 14th of July. These are a little more conservative, at 3pm, 6pm and 10pm, and are just 5 to 5 to play. That's a great way to get your feet wet.
If you can't make it to the WSOP, you can always hit your local card room or even enjoy the many casino poker games that are based on the WSOP but house-banked instead of player against player. While Three-Card-Poker may still be the most popular, World Poker Tour is catching up as a favorite table game!