Casinos Still Like the Odds

The White House and Congress weren’t the only things on voters’ minds last week. Gambling measures showed up on the ballots in a handful of states.
Gaming equipment makers could emerge as winners from the mixed bag of results, according to Wall Street analysts, although some casino operators could also see modest benefits in specific locales.

Voters approved measures expanding gaming in Florida, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Among the states with significant defeats were California and Nebraska.

In a nail-biter in Florida, voters approved a proposal paving the way for the legalization of slot machines at racetracks and Jai Alai establishments — known as frontons — in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The proposal passed after election officials found 79,000 absentee votes that were originally overlooked in electronic counting on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.

The Florida results could benefit gaming equipment makers such as International Game Technology (IGT:NYSE – news – research), wrote Merrill Lynch analyst David Anders in a research note. Existing owners of the seven racetracks and frontons also would stand to gain, he added. Those owners include Isle of Capri Casinos (ISLE:Nasdaq – news – research), Florida Gaming (FGMG.OB:OTC BB – news – research), Churchill Downs (CHDN:Nasdaq – news – research) and Magna Entertainment (MECA:Nasdaq – news – research). (Merrill Lynch does and seeks to do business with companies covered in its research reports.)

Still, hurdles remain before the first slot-machines ring. Voters in the Miami-Dade and Broward counties need to approve local referendums, which J.P. Morgan analyst Smedes Rose expects will be held in March or April. A legal challenge focusing on the validity of the signatures used to put the proposal on the ballot is scheduled to be heard in January, Rose noted. Meanwhile, gaming proponents will be submitting legislation to pass an amendment to the state constitution. “We expect Gov. [Jeb] Bush to oppose, but tax revenues are dedicated to state education, so he may be hard-pressed to oppose,” Rose wrote in a research note.…

Gaming Boat Backers Keep Plans Close To Vest

Communities across Iowa, including backers of what apparently may be three competing proposals from Waterloo, are putting the finishing touches on proposals for new floating casinos they hope will win over state regulators. Their plans are due Wednesday to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

And many communities are keeping their plans hush-hush — with leaders saying they will wait until the last minute before filing applications. Despite the anticipation, commission members have said it could be months before they grant any new licenses. Administrator Jack Ketterer said in September the commission would announce a timetable for reviewing applications at its Nov. 18 meeting.

Don Hoth of the Black Hawk County Gaming Association is working with the Biloxi, Miss.-based gaming company Isle of Capri, which has boats in the Quad Cities. They hope to locate a riverboat casino on a manmade lake near Lost Island Adventurepark south of Crossroads Center.

The project would feature a “4-D” theater, RV park and campground, along with an indoor water park and other attractions. Hoth has been working to bring a casino to Waterloo for three years and is eager to finally turn an application over to the commission. But like some of his rivals, Hoth isn’t revealing any last-minute changes.

“There may be a surprise or two. I can’t discuss those right now,” said Hoth. His proposal will compete with a downtown plan proposed by the Cedar Valley Gaming Co. in partnership with Fort Madison-based Catfish Bend Casinos, Inc., and a third Waterloo proposal by the National Cattle Congress. Downtown boat project manager Gary Hoyer said his application will be ready.

“We’re putting our last-minute finishing touches on our application. We think it will be the best application in the state, second to none,” Hoyer said. The downtown plan would locate a five-story casino-hotel in the block presently occupied by Wells Fargo Bank between West Fifth and West Sixth streets along the Cedar River.

The adjacent Russell-Lamson Building, across Commercial Street, would be renovated for hotel suites. The project’s backers emphasize downtown revitalization and local ownership as assets. “It will demonstrate an extremely viable, energetic and exciting project for Black Hawk County that will help revitalize downtown and provide economic stimulus on an ongoing basis, from the creation of jobs, the commitment of substantial funds back in the community through the nonprofit (organization) and the local ownership which will return the profits to …