Friday, August 29, 2014

The Meadowlands – Sleeping Giant or Big Bandaid?

Earlier this week I read an article in the Pennsylvania Online Gambling News by Robert DellaFave (see article here) introducing the idea that a casino at the Meadowlands in northern New Jersey, a stone’s throw from the George Washington Bridge, would sink the Atlantic City gambling monopoly once and for all. He also surmised that gambling at the Meadowlands would have a significant impact on Pennsylvania casinos, notably the Sands. What was beyond the scope of his article, but a serious threat as well, is the blow a Meadowlands casino would visit upon the proposed fledgling New York casinos (see my tweet below).

@US_OnlinePoker Not only will a Meadowlands casino be curtains for much of PAs traffic it will spell DOOM for 3/4 of NY's proposed ones.

By now just about every gambler in the northeast is aware that New York State is on the verge of approving and licensing up to four full scale casinos for NY. Proposals have been filed and some 17 companies are vying for these limited spots. Public hearings are scheduled around the state in September with one close by in Poughkeepsie, NY on 9/23/14. The legislation calls for new casinos in the Albany, Finger Lakes, and Lower Hudson Valley regions. One region can get as many as two casinos, while the others get one each.

The general consensus is that the Lower Hudson region (Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster counties) will get two casinos due to its proximity to New York City. One of the proposed locales is in Tuxedo, NY, 40 miles from the Big Apple. 

And then along comes the Meadowlands! The formerly swampy, marshy, expanse is a northern New Jersey area that many New Yorkers embrace as their own. The Meadowlands is home to the Meadowlands harness racing track obviously, but also home to MetLife Stadium, the home of, and I’m going to say this all in capital letters, THE NEW YORK JETS AND THE NEW YORK GIANTS. 

The Meadowlands might as well be in New York. It is an easy drive from all parts of the city and Long Island (if getting off the Island at any time can be called easy), it’s a short ride from the suburbs of the city, and connects easily to all major roads out of New York. Paying the toll on the GW Bridge is an annoyance and NY gamblers will have to take that into account when they calculate the rake but, the bottom line is that New Yorkers will go to the Meadowlands, and they will go in droves.

In fact, if a casino is built at the Meadowlands, New Yorkers will choose to go there rather than head north even if it’s only 40 miles north.

There are so many expressions that come to mind when thinking about the consequences a Meadowlands casino will wreak upon New York casinos – “dead in the water,” “doomed to failure,” "won’t get off the ground,” and simply, “curtains.”

I wrote last week about what it takes to survive in the casino business and I used Las Vegas’ uncanny ability to constantly reinvent itself as the only way to make it. Adapting to new situations and new circumstances has to be part of the business plan. Stale ideas, like Atlantic City, are going to fail in the end. 

Building a casino at the Meadowlands is New Jersey’s way of getting into the adaptation game. It’s a stealthy move, a bold move, a strategic move! It’s a move that will put a huge dent in Pennsylvania’s profits, as Robert DellaFave states. It’s also a move that will cripple New York’s efforts before they even get off the ground.

In my estimation the only variable still to be locked in is timing! A Meadowlands casino will be a success given the huge urban populations it will draw from. Getting a foot in the door before New York casinos have even settled in will give New Jersey a huge advantage that they can build upon. For me the question is not if a casino should be put in the Meadowlands, it’s when? The sooner, the better.

Monday, August 25, 2014


I've kept my mouth shut and my two cents to myself while the stormy blog posts and essays go back and forth regarding the recent T-shirt incident in Barcelona. The commentary, eloquent though it is, seems to miss the point. Waging a war back and forth over whether or not "politics" should be allowed in poker is wide of the mark by miles. Politics, if that's what you want to call it, is everywhere - tolerated in most places, encouraged in others, and repressed vehemently in still others. Politics is part of life.

Politics, when we separate the meaning of that word from its government context, is little more than expressing an opinion. That expression may come in many forms but is usually conveyed through speech or language but can also be espoused through painting, music, and other art forms. A slogan on a banner or even a T-shirt is a simple, often effective way of expressing an opinion. A "Declaration of Independence" or an "I Have a Dream" speech may be more formal ways of stating someone's opinion, someone's politics, but they serve the same purpose as a placard or a sign. Basically, announcing one's politics without fear of repression or reprisal, is a right that most people embrace. Unfortunately this freedom to speak our mind or announce our opinion is not universally embraced.

Oliver Busquet and Daniel Coleman, the two poker players in question who lit this fire in the first place, have been demonized for wearing T-shirts expressing a view on the Israeli/Palestinian problem at the final table of an event at a PokerStars sponsored tournament. The criticism ran the gamut from why display the slogans only at the final table to why wear them at all. The old saw that "there is no politics in poker" has been quoted over and over again as well as the repeated insistence that the sponsors of the tournament have the right to ban such displays. Rhetoric, pure unadulterated rhetoric!

Those two players and anyone else who cares to, has the right to express their opinion whenever or wherever they want. Period!

Keep in mind that we are talking here of opinions, not slander, not obscenities, not lies, not offensive language. These are opinions, perhaps held strongly, perhaps not. Regardless, no one has the right or authority to squelch anyone else's opinion in the free world. This does happen, of course, in counties that I do not consider part of the "free world." They shall remain nameless. If we start to censor opinions, even at poker tournaments, where will these "rules" take us next? Will we then ban expressions of religion? Types of clothing? Points of view that may disagree with whoever wields the power in a particular situation?

One of the blogs that addressed this issue recently (Victoria Coren's to be precise) intimated that maybe we should be more open about what gets talked about at poker tables. Maybe we should even encourage more intelligent, sincere expressions of feelings and opinions. Or maybe we should all just play cards!

In my opinion, and I'm OK with it being a minority opinion, maybe we should all mind our own business and let others speak their minds and express their views. No one has ever suffered from someone else's opinion. Many have from someone else's rules. 


For a full airing of all points of view on this issue check out Wookies Poker Blog. It's all there including a post back to this article.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Casino Gambling - Will New York Do Any Better Than New Jersey?

Why should anyone think that casinos will work in New York when they aren't working in New Jersey? That's a big question with lots of possible answers.

Location – Way back when the first discussions were opened about legalizing casino gambling in New Jersey, the decision was made to locate them, all of them, in Atlantic City and only Atlantic City. In hindsight that was a bad decision in my opinion but when Resorts International opened in 1978 everyone turned a blind eye to the politician's short-sightedness. It was a place to make a legal bet and it was closer than Vegas, so what if you had to wait on a line to get in!

But, that was over thirty-five years ago and the luster has definitely worn off. With as many as 12 casinos operating at a time, New Jersey still never turned into the mecca of east coast gambling like the New Jersey politicos hoped it would. By the end of 2014 there will probably be only eight casinos left and all of them, except the Borgata, are hurting with overall gambling revenue down about 11% from last year. So while AC looked like a good bet in the last century, it's a dog in this one. 

Honestly, no matter how hard anyone tries to dress the place up, Atlantic City will never be a destination resort like Las Vegas. The hotels made attempts to recreate Monet Carlo type opulence inside their walls and some succeeded but no one has ever been able to clean up the surrounding area. On a sunny summer afternoon the Boardwalk is passable if you can ignore hawkers and pretend that the local kitsch isn't as annoying as it really is. On a cold winter evening the Boardwalk is scary – honest to god scary and anyone who ventures out there is asking for trouble.

A block or two away from the Boardwalk is no better, in fact, things are worse. There, you are in the middle of down-trodden, urban blighted neighborhoods that remain pretty much the same as they were after the downfall of the Atlantic City of the 1920s to 1940s. AC is not a nice place to visit and one of the only reasons that the Borgata is doing better than the rest of AC's casinos is that it lives out on the marina side of town. Although this area is far away from anything else in terms of amenities, it appears, on the surface, safer and one is able to drive in and drive out without experiencing fear.

Spreading casinos around the state would have been a better decision for New Jersey and for everyone else. It's probably too late to remedy that situation.

Audience – From the beginning Atlantic City catered to the senior citizen demographic. Give seniors a free bus ride, a free lunch buffet, and some tokens to play the slots with and they will follow you anywhere. And they did. Caravans of buses left early each morning from every major population center within 200 miles of AC, only to return six hours later loaded with broke but smiling old folks. Some played a table game here and there, some filled their purses and tote bags with buns and donuts for the ride home, but most just sat starry-eyed in front of their favorite slot machine pulling away.

Slot machines are big money makers for the casinos and AC might still be riding high but they, the corporate types, get greedy and therein lies their demise. Believe it or not, old ladies like putting coins into slots and they like pulling handles. They like doing that a lot better than sliding their twenties into an electronic entertainment bandit that has so many bells and whistles that most senior citizens have no idea what combinations win which amounts of credits. Notice I said credits, not coins. They liked the coins too; not so much the credits. Casino actuaries noticed that older folks tended to play lower denomination slot machines probably because their pension check money lasted longer that way. So, some cyber genius figured out a way to get their pennies in large doses unbeknownst to the players who are over mesmerized with the beeps and gongs of the computer in front of them. 

 So, moving from a quarter machine down to a nickel machine is hardly possible anymore since the “penny” machine requires a donation of 200 or so at a time in order to get all the reels and lines to come into play. Essentially, the management is killing or has killed the goose that laid the golden egg.

The Borgata is after a different demographic and seems to be a hit with the younger crowd. Swanky clubs, poker tournaments, and a weekend drinking and dancing atmosphere are saving the only profitable casino in AC. But no New Jersey venue has captured the demographic that a Las Vegas style environment does and that is vacationers who come with their families and stay for a week or more.

Travel – New Jersey is losing out on the vast amounts of gambling revenue they were able to capture in the 80s and 90s because other casinos have cropped up that are closer to major population areas. Casinos in Connecticut and Pennsylvania are closer to the New York Metropolitan area than Atlantic City is. A three hour drive is a lot more onerous than a two hour drive and gamblers are making choices based on mileage. Neither of the two large Indian casinos in Connecticut or any of the newer eastern Pennsylvania locales are hurting for business. 
Both areas can be reached in less time and along less annoying roads than Atlantic City, especially in the warm months. A drive back from the Jersey shore to the NY area can sometimes take 6 – 8 hours in summer time beach traffic. Few people are willing to risk that headache for a day of gambling.

 Competition – Atlantic City was the only show in town for a while but that's not the case any more. People can gamble in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, and Maryland. Competition like this has overwhelmed New Jersey. The state's attempt to revive revenues with online poker and casino games has thus far been less than spectacular. Things may improve over time but competition has become a major issue. And soon New York, in addition to the upstate Indian casinos and racinos, will have as many as four new full service casinos in easy reach of New Yorkers. There's no doubt that these new casinos will create further pressure for New Jersey. The big question is will New York be able to survive in such a competitive arena on their own?

Looking at the same four areas – location, audience, travel, and competition – will New York do any better than New Jersey.

Location – Recent NY legislation allows for up to four new full-scale casinos to be built in three designated areas – the Finger Lakes area, the Albany area, and the Lower Hudson region. If all four are built, one area will get 2 and the others one each. Thus far there are 22 proposals from developers among which are stalwarts in the gambling world like Caesars Entertainment and the Genting Group. One of the proposals calls for a casino in Tuxedo, NY which is a mere 40 miles from New York City. Other Lower Hudson proposals could put a casino in the Catskills which is at least as close as the Connecticut and Pennsylvania casinos.

The areas proposed for most of these new casinos are rural and sub-suburban. One proposal calls for a casino near Newburgh, NY but outside the city – an upstate area that has experienced as much poverty and as many urban problems as Atlantic City has. All of the casino proposals include language to re-invent the surrounding areas in terms of jobs and boosting the overall economy. Many of the entities hoping to win these bids have already promised cash and subsidies to local towns and villages as well as local school districts.

Will players want to come to these new venues? That's the big question. It doesn't seem like any of these areas will scare people off and some, especially those in the Catskills, might even have a good deal of recreational draw. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine anyone from a major metropolitan area, especially the NYC area, traveling to Albany or the Finger Lakes to spend a day gambling. The Lower Hudson Valley will absorb all of the NYC traffic so location will be a boon for some areas and a major obstacle for others.

Audience – Some of these new casinos, especially the one in the Albany area and the one or more that end up in the Hudson Valley, can and will definitely market to senior citizens from the NYC area and they should. A nice bus ride, not too short, not too long, a few freebies, and a decent chance to win a few bucks might be very attractive to older players. Whatever casino is smart enough to market to this demographic without making them feel like they are being robbed, can be a winner here.

Younger audiences are another issue and that has mostly to do with the idea that in order to get to these new casinos you have to drive. Young people drink, sometimes too much especially on weekends. Drinking and driving do not go well together and DWI incidents can become a major issue in communities that are already skeptical about big casinos in the first place. Causing problems like these will far outweigh any benefits that a new casino may offer. Someone needs to be very proactive before situations like this get out of hand.

In my opinion none of these locations is ripe for an upscale, luxury casino. For the most part the areas in question are working class communities. These people will not be attracted by high brow amenities and expensive food. Something a cut above ordinary will do the trick, I think, without alienating those who might become a major audience.

Travel – The New York State Thruway (Interstate 87) is no party as far as traffic goes but it's a far cry from the Garden State Parkway. Nevertheless, these new casinos, especially those along I-87, will have to do some work on their end to minimize the frustration that drivers will inevitably encounter on the way there. Some of the sites in question, especially the one around Woodbury Commons, are already traffic disasters without a casino in the neighborhood. I cannot imagine what those situations will be like after a casino is built!

 Overall, only the Finger Lakes casino will be further away from NYC than those already in NJ, CT, and PA. In that regard, New York wins the travel sweepstakes over New Jersey.

Competition – There is no escaping the fact that once the four new New York casinos are built and open for business, there will be plenty of competition. New York will be surrounded by states that offer as much or even more in the way of casino gambling. These days there is nothing new about gambling. Almost every state has a lottery, some kind of racing (dogs, horses), and plenty of casino opportunities. “If you build it, they will come” does not apply. In order to succeed in New York casinos will have to be closer, safer, more attractive, and better all-around than their neighbors to the south, east, and west. In many ways solid, nearby competition was the beginning of the end for New Jersey. Competition may be the first of many coffin nails for New York casinos unless they can stand out in an already crowded market.

What is the answer to success in the gaming industry? If I knew the answer I wouldn't be spending my time writing blogs! I do know that adaptation has a great deal to do with it.

Take Las Vegas for example. If there ever was a gambling locale used to making itself over time and time again, it's LV. I first visited there and gambling towns to the north (Elko, Winemucca, Reno) in the 1970s. Even then Las Vegas wasn't far from it's heyday in the 50s and 60s. The “rat pack” was gone though; headliners were starting to give way to in-house shows, Cirque d'Soleil was a dream, and the Dunes was the tallest in-spot on the strip. Downtown was still a place to visit and if you wanted to experience the sleaze and buy a 25 cent margarita. Most 21 tables were the $2 variety and you played with solid heavy iron slugs. A $3 blackjack win was something to hoot about. Crap tables were multiplying all over town and it wasn't unheard of to play 25 cent Roulette. Poker tables were hidden in corners and populated with very unsavory characters.

The first re-make I was around for started with Circus Circus on the north end of the strip, across from the Sahara that was waning in popularity and north of the Riviera, soon to follow suit. Circus Circus not only tolerated kids but encouraged them to come see the 24/7 big top performances that took place regularly above the casino floor. In order to get to the catwalk just below the performance area, kids had to cross the casino floor holding their parents' hands. Las Vegas was becoming “family friendly.”

That lasted a while, long enough for MGM to build a theme park out back when they moved south of their old location and for Wet and Wild to build a water park on the strip. Vegas was going to be for everyone.

The next adaptation was engineered by Steve Wynn who brought back luxury in the dust of the demolished Dunes and Sands. The Mirage was first class back then but it also had white tigers and Sigfried and Roy for the little ones right along with Picassos hanging on the walls and a high-stakes poker room.

The opulence continued with the Bellagio, the Venetian, and Mandalay Bay at the extreme south end of the Strip right on top of the old Hacienda where Red Fox used to hold court on a nightly basis. Although you could still walk into any casino wearing shorts and flip flops, now you could also dress to the nines as well and dine at top notch restaurants. Most of the $3.99 all-you-can-eat buffets disappeared. Clubs, for the twenty something crowd, abounded and drinks regularly cost $20 plus.

  And then a series of economic down turns made all that glitz a little too pricey just about the same time poker became a national pass time. Small poker rooms grew. Corporate big shots like Harrahs and then Caesars bought out the World Series of Poker and breathed life back into a town that had record unemployment and huge numbers of foreclosures. But LV is still there, renovating downtown and turning it's massive dance clubs into smaller more intimate lounges for the new generation.

Las Vegas has survived all of this and will continue to survive because it adapts. Las Vegas throws out the old rules when they no longer apply and re-invents itself for new customers.

If New York casinos, and the New Jersey ones for that matter, want to survive they need to take a lesson from LV. So far New Jersey hasn't gotten the message. Whether or not New York will remains to be seen.

Friday, August 15, 2014


It's not gambling but it might be even better – for the house that is! One report ( estimates that Candy Crush makes $850,000 every day from clicks amounting to .99 to $1.99 each. Like I said, it's not gambling but it is addictive – and profitable.

Companies like Zynga and King Digital market “free” games around the world and their games are top sellers in App stores. Zynga also offers a “play money” poker app that is a far cry from the professional software produced by PokerStars but gives the player a decent gambling experience without any of the financial risk.

No one is naive enough to assume that these companies are in it to entertain the public. They are in it for the bucks and they have proven business plans that seem to be working although the public is fickle and often tires of games over time. The companies constantly introduce new games and new challenges, hoping for more big hits like Candy Crush and Words With Friends. 

I'm not against these games. In fact, I play them myself. But to unwary, unconscious gamers, things can get out of hand quickly, especially when one mouse click or screen tap starts to cost money.

The challenge of games like Candy Crush is to move ahead to higher and more difficult levels. Doing so earns you . . . well, it doesn't earn you anything tangible really. It does earn you esteem, self-esteem and even peer esteem if you play via Facebook or another social network. You get a great deal of pleasure out of succeeding and if you are patient and persistent, you can succeed without it costing you a dime. Unfortunately, most people ($850,000 worth per day apparently) aren't patient and are willing to spend a dollar for five more chances at making that last connection needed to clear the board.

On Zynga you are allowed to play No Limit Hold'em for free. When you sign up you are given a ration of free money to play with. If you are a decent player you never have to reload. Those of us who have been around poker tables in real life and online know, however, that most players just aren't that good. Soon enough they run out of money and have to visit the ATM. Zynga has provisions for that and for a small amount ($4.99 say) of real currency, you can purchase about a million and a half dollars worth of play money – play money that has no value anywhere else but will buy you back into the game so you can go All-In as often as you want.

It's entertainment, I know. Who am I to begrudge the public a form of entertainment? I wouldn't do that. What I will do though is advise players to be aware of what they are doing. A .99 cent click on Candy Crush is nothing for most people but doing that 500 times suddenly is something. Playing cards with abandon because you have a treasure trove of newly purchased fake dollars can easily foster bad habits when the money is real. Without being anti-poker or anti-gambling, which I definitely am not, I advise strongly against creating bad habits and false impressions that may come back to haunt you later on. Eyes open, all the time, wide, wide open. 

Corporate conglomerates run the world, the Illuminati notwithstanding – oops, maybe the suits ARE the keepers of the one-eyed pyramid! Online games, especially those that are at our fingertips on our cellphones and other mobile devices, are enticing, alluring, addictive and often fun. The board room guys know that and they have ingeniously created a way to introduce everyone who plays these games to the world of chance, variance, randomization, luck, skill, and competition. The stakes are small at first. Some might say "the first “hit” is free" if you are familiar with that environment. But that can change quickly.

Did You Miss Me? I Missed You?

There's nothing more depressing than when your real life overshadows your blogging life but that's exactly what happened to me. Too many things going on at my paying job and a lot of family obligations have kept me away from blogging for a month or so. Not much I could do except read other poker/gambling news, everyone else's blog, and try to keep up.

Good news is things are settling down and I have a few topics that I am itching to write about so stay tuned in. Won't be long now!