Black Crow Gaming

Moody’s sends France’s Casino deeper into junk territory with two-notch downgrade

Moody’s has cut French grocer Casino’s credit rating even further into junk territory, with the rating agency raising fresh concerns over retail group’s high debt levels and worsening cash flow.

Casino, which has come under attack from short sellers in the past year, saw Moody’s downgrade its credit rating two notches to Ba3 on Tuesday, putting the retailer three levels below investment grade. The outlook remains negative. The move comes after the group’s other rating agency S&P downgraded its debt in September.

“The three cash flows generated by Casino’s French operations fell well below Moody’s previous expectations, limiting the company’s ability to reduce its gross debt despite large asset disposals,” said Moody’s analyst Vincent Gusdorf, who also flagged the “persistently high leverage” of Casino’s parent company Rallye as an important in the downgrade.

The rating agency calculates that Casino booked more than €700m of negative free cash flow in France, after interest payments and dividends, while its debt levels rose to more €9nb.

Several equity analysts have also recently voiced concerns around the retailer’s cash flow situation. Analysts at Bernstein said on Monday that Casino’s free cash flow was worse than they had anticipated – even in their bear case – while also arguing that the company’s recently completed asset sales were not bringing down its debt levels fast enough.

“We don’t see an end in sight yet to the continual cash drainage in the French business, but rather additional risk from an increasingly hollowed-out business,” the analysts said.

Casino said in a public statement on Tuesday that Moody’s downgrade did not take into account its plans to continue asset disposals and further reduce its bond debt in future.

“[Casino] also plans to generate, beyond and above this disposal plan, free cash flow in France of €500m per year, enabling it to cover its dividends and financial expenses,” the company said.

Concerns around Casino’s ability to continue paying dividends has made it a magnet for short sellers, who look to profit from an expected fall in a company’s share price. Chief executive Jean-Charles Naouri – a stalwart of the French establishment – controls the group through three publicly listed investment holding companies. These entities each have their own debts, putting pressure on them to keep paying dividends up the chain.

While the group’s shares have rallied more than 50 per cent from lows hit in September, nearly a third of Casino’s freely available shares are still on loan to short sellers, according to data from IHS Markit. This makes it one of the most heavily shorted stocks in Europe.

Southland Casino Racing launches live gambling with early bird crowd

Southland Casino Racing inaugurated Arkansas’ new area of live table games with the opening of a craps table at 4 a.m. Monday.

David Wolf, president and general manager of the West Memphis facility formerly named Southland Gaming & Racing, said the casino attracted Friday or Saturday night business on a Monday afternoon.

Customers arrived as early as 2-3 a.m. at the newly renamed casino to secure at the first craps table to open, Wolf said. Southland is open 24/7 year-round.

“This craps table over here has been packed since 4 a.m.; the last 7-8 hours, it’s been full, and we’re about to open a second table. People are waiting for this (second) table,” Wolf said about 1 p.m.

Craps, roulette, blackjack and poker tables were operating in a section of gaming floor flanked by some of Southland’s 2,000 slot machines.

“We’re really  pulling our business almost at a full spread,” Wolf said. “Traditionally you wouldn’t do this until a Friday, Saturday night. And right now we’re getting Friday-Saturday night business on a Monday afternoon.”

Southland has offered electronic since 2006, but voters last November approved statewide referendum allowing three casinos with live games.

Southland’s ownership at Delaware North Corp. responded by announcing a $250 million expansion that will include a 300-room, 20-story hotel, 100,000 square feet of new gaming space for 2,500 slot machines and 60 table games, plus five restaurants, three bars and a sports bar.

Wolf said tentative plans called for a groundbreaking in late April or May on the new facilities on vacant land next door to the spot where Southland began as a greyhound racetrack in 1956. Greyhound racing will remain a fixture.

The new casino will take about a year to build, and the hotel about 18 months.

When table games are fully ramped up within the existing facility, Southland plans to offer about 40 tables, split between the gaming floor downstairs and an upstairs area that will be opened at peak times.

About 18 games were in operation Monday afternoon.

Wolf said because of the change in Arkansas law, Southland also is now free to say “slots” in its advertising, which previously referred to “gaming”.

Wolf said Southland had hired about 100 people, mostly dealers and supervisors, bringing its total workforce close to 900. The hotel and casino expansion will push total employment to near 1,200, he said.

When Southland looked for new employees, it was fortunate to have a large gambling industry employment base in the Memphis area, because of Tunica county, Mississippi, he said.

Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort, a horse track in Hot Springs, Arkansas, that added live craps and blackjack Monday, is holding a job fair Wednesday and Thursday, April 3-4, at an America’s Best Value Inn in Tunica County to hire people.

The job fair runs 3-7 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at the hotel at 4250 Casino Center Drive, Robinosville, Mississippi.

Oaklawn also is expanding. It has set a groundbreaking this spring on a 28,000-square-foot gaming addition to open by the 2020 racing season, followed by a 200-room luxury hotel opening by the 2021 season.

Southland targeted Memphis, Tunica and the Mississippi Gulf Coast with advertising for employees, said Jeff Strang, director of marketing.

Wolf said, “We were a little surprised when we posted for it. We got a large number of people who wanted to work here. A lot from Tunica, some are coming from the coast, who either used to be here and relocated out, and from different parts of the country, that moved out of the area and wanted to come back. I didn’t expect such a huge response. No problem with table games. In fact we have a waiting list.”

Osaka Votes To Decide Casino Question, But Not The Big One

On Sunday, voters in Osaka will choose a new mayor and governor in elections that carry strong implications for the effort to obtain a license for a casino complex in Japan’s third largest city. But the results won’t address the most basic question looming behind the drive for a so-called integrated resort in Osaka Bay with a multi-billion dollar price tag.

On March-7, Osaka Prefecture Governor Ichiro Matsui and Osaka City Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura announced that they would resign and run for each other’s job under the banner of their Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka Restoration) party. They seek to swap jobs because id they ran for the same positions their terms would still expire respectively in November and December this year. By swapping jobs, they each will get a full four year term, provided they win.

The election centers on Osaka Ishin no Kai’s signature issue, merging the Osaka prefecture and city governments into a single entity, a metropolitan government, the same structure as in Tokyo. Voters most recently rejected the idea in 2015, and Ishin triggered a double election after that defeat. In early March, Ishin’s erstwhile coalition partner Komeito blocked efforts for a new referendum, leading to this twin vote.

Japan’s national ruling Liberal Democratic Party opposes Ishin’s so-called Metropolitan Plan and, after attempts to recruit celebrities failed, nominated veteran local politicians Tadakazu Konishi for governor and Akira Yanagimoto for mayor. Aside from the Metropolitan Plan, LDP and Ishin agree on nearly everything – except integrated resorts.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, LDP has spearheaded casino legalization nationally. Legislation passed last July enables creation of IR, entertainment complexes with casinos, that could cost US$10 billion or more. Osaka is a leading candidate for one of the three IR licenses available in this initial phase. So, for Yumeshima, an artificial island in Osaka Bay, south of the city center.

Whether an IR with thousands of hotel rooms, Japan’s largest exhibition and convention space and more can be opened by 2025 largely depends on whether Japan’s national government completes the IR regulatory framework with uncharacteristic speed. Whether opening an IR by 2025 is a good idea depends on who you talk to.

“The government has expressed the desire for a world-class integrated resort in time for Expo 2025,” MGM Japan CEO Ed Bowers says. ” We look forward to working very closely with city and prefectural authorities to develop the most iconic IR, one that will distinguish Osaka as a world-class city.”

“This will be a challenge for everyone,” Galaxy Entertainment Japan general manager Satoshi Okabe says. “However, we have experience in developing mega properties, including our flagship Galaxy Macau, and we are always ready to prepare and propose the best plan to achieve objectives of the local government.”

“Expo has already changed the game for Osaka,” Melco Resorts executive vice president Frederic Winckler says. “You have an incredible launch platform to work from, with 28-to-30 million people expected to visit Expo.”

“Completing an Osaka IR on Yumeshima by the opening of the World Expo is tight at best,” Global Market Advisors government regulation and selection process, there’s a development challenge:”One of the biggest needs for Yumeshima and the Expo is nearby hotel rooms. Unfortunately, the hotel tower is among th IR components that takes the longest to construct.”

A casino executive requesting anonymity notes that the impact of the Expo will be counted in months, while the impact of the IR will be counted in decades. Perhaps more consequential, “Japan has the opportunity to create IR 2.0 in terms of design, scope, and offerings,” Bussmann believes, “and I do not believe they would like to see that next standard compromised” by rushing a project to fit the World Expo deadline.

Osaka voters are unlikely to focus on the proposed IR’s timing when they go to polls, and they won’t get a choice on the bigger question of whether they want the IR at all. Polling last year found only 19% of residents sampled favored and IR, with more than twice as many opposed. Casino proponents question those results. nothing that Japanese doesn’t have a suitable translation for IR and more detailed explains why, more than five years after introducing IR legislation, proponents from Prime Minister Abe down haven’t done more to make their case with the public.

Arkansas set to inaugurate state’s first two casinos

Arkansas has seen its share of racinos, gambling on certain types of animal races, but it never could see clear to authorize casinos. Despite multiple attempts over the years, all casino bills failed at one point or another, but that is now changing. As of this Moday, Arkansas will officially be home to two casinos.

The Arkansas Racing Comission (ARC) authorized last week full casino licenses to two venues in the state. The first is Southland Park Gaming and Racing in South Memphis and the second is Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs. The former offers dog races, while the latter offers horse races.

Arkansas voters approved a measure last November that authorized the casinos. Issue 4 on the November ballot sought to amend the state’s constitution to allow expanded gambling, and it passed with only a little resistance.

As of April 1, the two racinos can offer a variety of gambling options-blackjack, Mississippi stud, craps, roulette and more. Both venues have started that they hope to have everything up and running by the end of the summer, and that they will offer poker and sportsbooks, which were also authorized through Issue 4.

The amendment stipulated that there would be a total of four licenses available. Two of these would be issued to existing operations, while the other two would be issued to new venues, Scott Hardin, a spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, indicates that the ARC will begin accepting applications for those two additional licenses in May and that the venues will be located in Pope and Jefferson Counties.

As in the case in most states that are considering, or have already authorized, gambling and sportsbooks, Arkansas was driven by the expectation that the activity would give the state a serious economic boost. The University of Arkansas Economic Development Institute conducted research and determined that the state’s gross domestic product (GDP) could reach as high as $6 billion over the next 10 years to the legalization of gambling. The four casinos are also expected to give the state $66 million in tax revenue each year.

Not everyone was on board with the idea, though. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchindson had been opposed to the move; however, as a political leader should, he listened to the will of the people and allowed gambling to move forward.

Powerball Hits $750M, Fourth-Largest Jackpot in US History

The Powerball jackpot is up to $750 million, the fourth-largest in United States history and the biggest total this year.
The jackpot swelled after no one hit on the grand prize winning numbers that were drawn Saturday night — 4, 25, 52, 60, 66 and 05. To collect the grand prize, a player must match all six winning numbers, including matching the powerball.
Some players did win smaller payouts on Saturday night by matching enough number combinations to win between $1 million and $2 million.
The $1 million-winning tickets were sold in Florida, Illinois, New York (two), North Carolina, North Dakota, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, according to the Powerball website. The $2 million-winning tickets were sold to players in Florida and Wisconsin.
Powerball numbers are drawn twice weekly, every Wednesday and Saturday. For the upcoming drawing on Wednesday for $750 million, a players’ chance of matching all six numbers is about 1 in 292 million.
“There are a lot of people imagining what they could do with a $750 million Powerball jackpot this week,” said David Barden, Powerball Product Group Chairman and New Mexico Lottery CEO, on Powerball’s website. “Where else could you win three quarters of a billion dollars for the price of a cup of coffee?”
Largest US Lottery Jackpots in History
  1. $1.586 Billion – Powerball | Won in January 2016, it was split by three winners, in California, Florida and Tennessee, with the Florida winner the last to claim.
  2. $1.537 Billion – Mega Millions | Won Oct. 23, 2018 with a ticket purchased in South Carolina, the winner, who claimed it anonymously, took the cash option of almost $880 million. It was the largest solo jackpot winner in history.
  3. $758.7 Million – Powerball | Another solo winner, this ticket was purchased on Aug. 23, 2017, in Massachusetts by a hospital worker.
Lump Sum of $465.5M or an Annuity

If there is a grand prize winner Wednesday night, they will have the option of either collecting their winnings as an annuity spread over 30 years or as an immediate lump sum — albeit at a reduced estimated amount of $465.5 million.
Were a player to select the immediate sum, they would have to pay 24 percent in federal withholding, which reduces the total amount by $111.7 million.
The winner will also owe another 13 percent in federal taxes — roughly $60.5 million — and depending how where the winning ticket was purchased and where the winner resides, there may be state taxes to pay.
The last grand prize Powerball jackpot winner occurred on Dec. 26, 2018, with the player a Brooklyn, N.Y., man who won $298.3 million. Since then, 25 drawings have transpired without a grand-prize winner.
Powerball tickets are available in 44 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Tickets cost $2 per play. The drawings occur at 11 p.m. ET.
“Powerball dreams are viral,” Barden said on the website. “It’s easy to get excited about such a life-changing jackpot.”

Rhode Island Online Sports Betting Bill Signed into Law

After gatnering overwhelming support from the state legislature, an online sports betting legalization bill in Rhode Island was signed into law Monday, setting up another state with mobile wagering options.

Lawmakers announced Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo had signed the bill March 25 after fellow Democrats in both state Senate and House of Representatives approved the measure during Rhode Island’s 2019 legislative session. Championed by leaders in both chambers, the bill was designed to bolster the state’s fledgling sports betting market, one of the only a handful currently operational.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said in a statement the new online and mobile offerings will complement the state’s two sportbooks, located at each Twin Rivers casino location, both of which he said have lines that sometimes stretch out the doors.

“It is an entertainment option that many Rhode Islander enjoy, and visitors from outside the state are also flocking to our gaming facilities to place their wagers on sporting events, Ruggerio said. “Expanding to mobile gaming would provide a convenient option for those wishing to enjoy this from of entertainment, an open up the economic benefits beyond the walls of Twin River.”

Eligible residents and visitors within state lines will soon be able to place bets throught a government-regulated site via internet capable devices including smartphones and laptops, though more details about the site have yet be announced.

Likewise, no timeline was released for when the regulated mobile wagering market will go online, though it typically takes several months to finalize regulations and open such an offering. Still, Rhode Island should become just the fifth state with online betting.

Nevada and New Jersey take mobile wagers now, and West Virginia is expected to take bets again sometime this year, following the resolution over a conflict with its lone betting site and its affiliates. Pennsylvania is also expected to launch its mobile offerings in the coming months.

Official Look to Bolster Lagging Revenue

Rhode Island was one of the first states to legalize sports betting, but a delayed launch, limited offerings and an exorbitant tax rate have hindered New England’s first legal wagering market.

Pushed by Raimondo as part of the state’s 2018 budgeting process, legal sports betting was approved by the legislature shortly after the Supreme Court decision to strike down the federal ban in May of that year. Though one of the first handful os states to do so, officials passed additional restrains that have hurt revenue potential, especially compared to other states.

The legalization measure inposed a 51 percent tax rate, the highest by far of any jurisdiction taking bets in America. Most of the eight states accepting wagers chare around 10 percent while Pennsylvania, with the second-highest tax, charges an effective 36 percent rate.

Those inordinately high fees dissuaded nearly all would-be bidders to run sports standing relationship with the state after years operating its lottery. Further regulatory procedures delayed the market all the way until November, after the crux of football season, which is historically the most profitable time of the yeat for sportsbooks.

Even then, the state’s lone casinos, Twin River facilities in Tiverton and Lincoln, were able to take bets, and then only within their physical properties.

Because of these limitations, it wasn’t surprising revenue projections fell significantly short of initial goals. This year’s budget reportedly calls for $3 million from online gaming, which may be difficult to reach even in an ideal scenario in a low-papulation state like Rhode Island.

Bill Requires In-Person Registration

A further requirement could also hinder the market. Rhode Island will be only the second state after Nevada to require in-person registration before a player can play an online game. Players will need to first sign-up to play online at either the Tiveron or Lincoln facility.

Gaming industry officials warn this could dissuade would-be legal players from joining the regulated sites and lead them to remain with illegal offshore options. And unlike Nevada, which has far and away the most gaming facilities per capita of any state,  Rhode Island’s two isolated locations could pose a burdensome trek for players.

Still, Rhode Island has now become the first New England state to approve online sports betting. As neighbors like Connecticut and Massachusetts consider similar measures of their own, it nevertheless gives the Ocean State a leg up on regional competition.

Swedish regulator fines Genesis Global and Paf

Swedish regulator Spelinspektionen (formerly Lotteriinspektionen) has imposed sanctions on Genesis Global and Paf for self-exclusion failings.
Genesis has received an official warning and a fine of SEK 4m ($430,000), while Paf has been fined SEK 100,000.
The sanctions relate to the companies’ failure to join mandatory self-exclusion register
As a result of them not joining, customers were able to play on Genesis and Paf sites, despite having self-excluded.
Paf recently spoke exclusively to Gambling Insider about its loss limit responsible gambling strategy.
The operator has publicised a breakdown of how much revenue it makes from different player segments, urging others to follow suit and become more transparent.
In this instance, however, Paf has fallen short of the regulatory standards required.
By Tim Poole

Woolworths pokies players plied with free drinks to keep them gambling, whistleblower says

Dozens of Woolworths pubs are being investigated over claims staff illegally gave free drinks to pokie players to keep them gambling longer, as a whistleblower alleges staff were instructed on how to cover up the practice. 
The NSW gaming regulator has told the ABC it is investigating more than 50 venues run by Australian Leisure and Hospitality (ALH) which is 75 per cent owned by supermarket giant Woolworths.
Liquor & Gaming NSW has told the ABC it has “issued coercive notices to obtain a significant volume of information and records, and formally interviewed current and former ALH staff and patrons”.
The investigation has been going for close to a year and has been described as “comprehensive” by a spokesman for the regulator.
It is a criminal offence in NSW to provide free or discounted alcohol to induce gambling.

Free drinks put through different till: whistleblower

A former employee-turned-whistleblower, who has provided evidence to the investigation, told the ABC she and other ALH staff were told to give free drinks to poker machine players.
“If they were a regular gambler, or they paid high dollars on our machines then they’d give them a free drink of whatever they drank,” Emma Pearson, a former gaming room attendant, said.
“They’d tell the staff to do the same, and that was right up the line — manager and staff, supervisors, everyone.”
Ms Pearson claims staff at a western Sydney ALH hotel she worked at were taught to cover up the practice of providing free drinks to gamblers by putting them through the till at the main bar, rather than the gaming room.
“We were told don’t put that through the gaming computer so if we get audited or get checked, it won’t come up on that till,” Ms Pearson said.
“We were supposed to put it through the [main] bars and cover it by writing on the docket that it was a local’s birthday.”
No-one from ALH or Woolworths was available for interview.
ALH head of Regulatory and Corporate Affairs David Curry said in a statement: “We are working closely with the NSW regulator. ALH does not provide any complimentary service of alcohol in any gaming room Australia wide”.
ALH owns more than 300 licensed venues across Australia, which include about 12,000 poker machines.
The company will not declare how much money it makes from pokies but the Alliance for Gambling Reform estimates that it is at least $1.5 billion per year.

The Liquor & Gaming investigation began after independent MP Andrew Wilkie told Parliament in February last year that ALH and Woolworths were spying on people playing poker machines in their venues.
“Woolworths spies on its poker machine customers without their knowledge, keeps a secret database of personal information, and uses that information to encourage increased gambling,” Mr Wilkie said.

Internal investigation labelled ‘whitewash’

After Mr Wilkie’s speech ALH launched an internal investigation into the allegations which was overseen by its chairman, former Woolworths chief executive Roger Corbett.
The company promised it would brief state regulators about its findings.
Documents obtained by the ABC under Freedom of Information (FOI) show ALH refused to hand over the full report to the regulator citing legal privilege, instead providing the Office of Liquor and Gaming with a summary of the findings.
The document shows an ALH subcommittee appointed MinterEllison to lead the investigation and “provide advice” back to ALH’s subcommittee.
The FOI documents reveal the investigation interviewed “in the main, venue managers and operations managers”.
Mr Wilkie said the information obtained by the ABC shows the investigation did not meet proper standards.
“It was, on the face of it, a whitewash,” Mr Wilkie said.
“It was internal, it was pretty flimsy, they only interviewed senior management, and crucially we now know they didn’t share their findings with at least the NSW regulator and presumably other regulators.
“It also calls into question the effectiveness of the regulators. Why haven’t they demanded this report?”
Ms Pearson said management should not have been the focus of the interviews conducted for the internal investigation.
“They are going to say exactly what they want,” she said.
“And trust me, they don’t want anybody speaking to the staff.”
After ALH’s report was completed in August last year a statement released by the company included an admission that at some venues in Queensland there had been free drinks given to gamblers.
ALH said “these initiatives have now ceased” and “the investigation did not find evidence of similar conduct in any other state or territory”.
However Ms Pearson, who said she left ALH in mid-August, was not interviewed as part of ALH’s investigation.
She said free drinks were being provided to gamblers in NSW before and after ALH released that statement.
Mr Wilkie said he was “shocked” by Ms Pearson’s claims.
“I had been assured last year by the chairman of Woolworths no less that they had done a thorough investigation and that they were putting in place remedies for all of the problems,” Mr Wilkie said.