Friday, August 31, 2018

Resorts World Catskills – A Casino in Trouble? – II

Last week I posted on reports that Sullivan County, New York’s Resorts World Catskills (RWC), though an unqualified success at bringing jobs to its area, was falling way short of financial projections, and was also getting subpar TripAdvisor reviews.  How did it look?  What concerns deserve management attention?  Overall, are these problems as bad as they seem? 

I visited it a week ago Saturday night.  The sign on New York Route 17, an expressway through its area, was clear, but once taking the proper exit not so much.  After one more sign pointing me to a right turn leading into a roundabout, I had to guess the correct way out.  I did, and a stoplight at Resorts World Drive, along with an arrow pointing me left, said I was on the right way.  After two miles through the countryside, isolating RWC from the rest of the county, I was there. 

Thousands of well-lit parking spaces surrounded the impressive and obviously new 18-story hotel and below casino.  I easily walked through and got in. 

My first mission was to join the Player’s Club.  That is the well-established way of getting both communications and complimentary food, beverages, lodging, cash back, and prizes for gambling there, and before even engaging a slot machine anyone should join that or the equivalent.  The line at the desk was about 15 people long, but, with four people working, moved quickly.  I wanted to see if their process was as fast as those in Las Vegas casinos, and it was – they put my driver’s license in a reader and, questions on my email and phone number and about two minutes later, I had my card, preprinted with my name and including $10 worth of free slot play. 

To redeem the latter, I wanted a $5 machine.  Not easy to find – they, with $1 machines, were in the “high limit” area, which, with two sets of directions, sent me through the gorgeously new gaming expanse, which I wandered through more after losing my two attempts.  It was fully up to modern standards – the “slots” (in quotes since you can’t play them with coins, only bills) all with video screens, the table games mostly filled with players including some betting hundreds per play, the restaurants with concentrations at $8 to $20 per meal, people everywhere, well-marked restrooms, and good directional signs.  I also went to the poker room.  No longer can the casual once-a-week-with-friends players expect to survive at casino poker – the modern version is no-limit, with the players’ skills often honed by hundreds or thousands of hours of compressed-time online experience, but, judging by the 15 tables in play, there were plenty of those even in this low-population area.  The room, though comfortable, didn’t have much special to offer its players, with comps set at a minimal $1 per hour with no higher promotional times, but attendance didn’t seem lacking.

Though the RWC facility looked vibrant and beautiful, I found a few other causes for concern.  Room rates, for now seemingly $200 per night and up, were sky-high by casino-hotel standards.  They did not have headline-name entertainment, and, overall, the non-gambling options seemed weak.  The 24-hour diner, while a real and necessary asset, charged the likes of $16 for nachos.  These may not stop those from traveling to visit once but will impede critical repeat business. 

There are still many things about RWC’s viability we don’t know.  Beyond what I saw, here are some questions for their management and ownership. 

First, what has happened with the effort to bring in high-rolling Asian customers?  They themselves could put you in the black.  Are you doing all you can there?

Second, are you marketing RWC aggressively to New York City?  There are hundreds of thousands of people, many quite wealthy now, with memories of childhood Catskills trips.  Are you considering offering them the likes of free hotel stays? 

Third, what can you do to step up your entertainment options?  Last decade, that shortage killed a billion-dollar Las Vegas casino with a storied history, the Aladdin.  I live 20 miles away, get all four local newspapers, and see stories and advertising about oodles of small local concerts elsewhere, but nothing about anything you offer. 

Fourth, are dollar slot machines, common as far back as the 1970s, really “high limit” in 2018?  Is it possible that more of them, even with the modern trend toward playing many multiples of the minimum, would help that strange per-machine shortfall?  If not, with your state-of-the-art machines getting such good reviews, just what is the slot-machine-revenue problem?

Fifth, where is your community involvement?  I expected that you would have the likes of buses to canoeing and fishing providers, not to mention partnerships with community institutions such as WJFF Radio, whose management has heard nothing from you.  You can’t go it alone here, especially when so many locals didn’t want your facility built.

Sixth, how much do you project that legalized sports betting, your Monster golf course, and your $33 million entertainment complex will help your business?  Do you seriously expect a big boost from the Kartrite indoor water park, which is well into Pennsylvania and has its own hotel?  Is it possible you need rooms to compete with Las Vegas’s $50-per-night offerings and nearby Monticello’s $60 ones?

Seventh, can you quantify how much our bad winter and early spring weather hurt your bottom line?

Eighth, is there or is there not a gap between the previous six months’ results and what you expected?

Ninth, is it just my perception, or has your communication, in general, been lacking?  With my blog and WJFF program I qualify as a journalist, and doubt I was the only one whose multiple information requests you did not respond to.

And tenth, the big question.  With casinos now in 44 states, we know they are not automatically travel destinations.  With those in the Silent Generation much larger per-capita gamblers than Boomers, and the Millennials lowest of all, is it possible that the model of people going to gamble, to the exclusion of almost everything else, for a week or weekend is becoming obsolete?  If so, how are you going to deal with that?

Overall, I don’t know how successful Resorts World Catskills will be in five or ten years.  I am inclined to be optimistic.  But it’s nothing that will be given to it.  “If you build it, they will come” may work for cornfield baseball diamonds in the movies, but it’s nothing casino resorts can expect in real life. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Resorts World Catskills – A Casino in Trouble? – I

Five years ago this fall, New York State had a referendum on the legalization of several new casinos.  I supported it, as did many, and the measure passed.  One result was Empire Resorts’ Resorts World Catskill (RWC) in Sullivan County, near Monticello.  It partially opened February 8th this year, with a large gambling area, a hotel, restaurants, and more promised to follow.  Its first day became a media event, with a lobby-full of customers ready at opening, and all seemed fine. 

For the five months after that, RWC was seldom in the news.  The July 11th Times Herald-Record, though, had a report that those of us here didn’t want to see.  Daniel Axelrod’s “Sullivan casino owner reports $37M loss,” documented that gross earnings were “far below the level needed to cover the business’s expenses,” with a second-quarter deficit of $22.4 million in operations paired with $15 million in interest expense on its half-billion-dollar “debt and other long-term liabilities.”  Not all of that was from the new resort, though, as the parent company also owns the Monticello Casino and Raceway trotters-and-slot-machines racino, which “has been a major money-loser over the past decade.”
The more-detailed figures the company provided, though few, gave further insight into the shortfall.  According to unnamed “gaming experts” Axelrod cited, casinos should avoid their “viability” being “questionable” by having gross revenue of $200 per slot machine per day, and $1,200 per table game.  RWC’s $1,192 for each of the latter was close enough, but the former’s $111 was not. 

Four days later the Record published another Axelrod piece, its cover story, behind the colorful headline “Oh, Craps!”  In “Resorts World Catskills failing to live up to first-year projections,” the author added coverage of an interview with Empire Resorts president and CEO Ryan Eller, in which the executive said that financial worries, given the feather-soft opening during “a brutal winter,” were premature.  A “midmarket hotel, with 15,000 square feet of retail, food, and beverage space” is scheduled for a December opening, and next year will see a new large indoor water park in the Poconos and reopening of a once legendary golf course at the resort itself.  The latter will help them, as Boston College management professor Father Richard McGowan said they need, “to greatly increase the non-gaming revenue.” 

One area in which the resort has not missed expectations, per the New York State Gaming Commission’s spokesman, is in “economic stimulus measures.”  It has added 1,500 jobs to its county of less than 70,000 people, and has made a noticeable dent in local unemployment, once worse than neighboring and larger Orange’s, but now consistently lower.

Six months is long enough for many RWC reviews to appear online.  One major source, TripAdvisor, this week had 201, with an average score a tepid 3.0 out of 5.  Some were completely positive, but most were not.  The quality of the rooms came out highest.  Common complaints were slow restaurant service despite little crowding, a lot of small logistical gaffes such as elevators not working properly, early closing times for some places by casino standards, a lack of combination deals with outside activities, and apathy toward heavily gambling customers.  Oddly, the slot machines, for their newness and variety, got almost all thumbs-up comments.  An RWC public relations manager responded to these remarks and pledged action on the negative ones.  In all, it is noteworthy that these problems were not all due to how new RWC is, and 3.0, with casino-hotels generally 3.5 or higher, does not qualify as a good rating score. 

What did the place look like in person?  I will post what I found during my visit last weekend, along with a list of concerns and questions about Resort World Catskill’s prospects, next week.

Friday, August 17, 2018

For Free Thinkers Only: America’s Sexual Shortcoming – III

Spearheaded but hardly originated by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat’s May 2nd issue, we have had more intelligent, if highly controversial, discussion on a real deficiency of the 1960s-and-beyond sexual revolution, the failure of it to extend to most people, than ever.  In Part I, I introduced this problem and showed it to be real.  Part II named nine points on this situation, explaining not only how it fits, or doesn’t, with other needs and giving it a broader base.  This week I recommend the following courses of action.

First, legalize and regulate prostitution nationwide.  That is certain to happen eventually anyway, would bring its prices down, would make it safe, and would be the most important legal change we could have.

Second, allow incest between consenting adults, and between consenting children of similar ages.  After hundreds of years of consideration, we still have no reason why, between people with reasonably equal power in the relationship, it should be banned.  And as with so many forms of sexual activity, teaching people that what they have done is wrong, not the action itself, is what causes most of the problems we have with it. 

Third, nationally permit sexual relationships between those with less than two-year age differences, even if one or both are under 18. 

Fourth, consider legalizing term marriages with full spousal privileges and protections.  They would facilitate sex, and would be consistent with the reality that most, as it is now, end in divorce.

Fifth, promote and subsidize monogamy, especially marriage.  Above all, remove all financial penalties for being married, such as those built into Social Security payments.  That lifestyle provides the most sex and is constructive for a variety of other societal purposes as well.

Sixth, be truthful about the effects of sexually transmitted diseases.  If the likes of gonorrhea can be cured by a routine prescription, say so.  AIDS has not often been in the news, but many still believe that it can be spread as readily through genital-to-genital intercourse as through anal sex and needle sharing.  That is not the case in this country.

Seventh, sponsor more research to further disconnect sex from reproduction.  For one, we can badly use effective chemical means to indefinitely but not permanently block male fertility. 

Eighth, encourage behavior changes among people.  Remove words such as “slut” and “c*nt” from our vocabularies.  Stop instilling shame and guilt about sex.  Give college-age adults, especially women, more privacy from their parents.  Drop the view that sex is zero-sum, and that if it helps one party it must hurt the other.  Tell sexually unsuccessfully people, especially men, truths about how they can be more likely to have such relationships.  Stop jealousy from causing us to be overly harsh or to lie outright.  Encourage younger men and older women to pair up.  Do not disapprove of older adults having such relationships, or try to stop them.  Avoid what might be called “middle-class” thinking, that everyone is entitled to involvement with someone of above average general desirability.  And above all, treat sex as the natural, uplifting, positive activity it should be for everyone.

Up until about fifty years ago, our dominant sexual ethic was “for reproduction and married couples.”  With the advent of the female birth control pill and other changes, we moved on to “for its own sake.”  The next phase will be “someone for everyone,” which promises not only far greater American happiness but other huge gains from the stability it will foster, such as improved health, longer life expectancy, and lower crime rates.  We can get there without coercion – if we think freely.

Friday, August 10, 2018

For Free Thinkers Only: America’s Sexual Shortcoming – II

Two weeks ago, I started a series based on Ross Douthat’s May 2nd New York Times “Redistribution of Sex.”  It considered whether the peak romantic activity should be more universally available, and how, and whether, the right for people to have it might be achieved.  I, as Douthat, considered it both a real problem, unsolved by any sexual revolution so far, and worthy of assessment.  
Accordingly, how does it fit in?

First, while sex may be immensely valuable and a major part of life, it is not truly a need, and cannot be equated with the likes of food, water, or air.  Therefore, it does not need to be government-assured.

Second, this issue is not political – if you disagree, would you consider it conservative or liberal, and why?  Some opinions are bipartisan, and this is one of them.

Third, the world would be a better place if there were more truly consensual sex. 

Fourth, we have no chance of returning to the pre-1965 sexual atmosphere.  It has added too much to life quality, for those having it, to be rolled back.  And, for example, we can no longer give, as Douthat put it, “special respect” to those choosing not to have it, especially when the best-known group of them, Catholic priests, are now known to make that choice from being gay (and, sadly, from being attracted to boys) instead of from being noble. 

Fifth, there has been in recent years great hostility from many toward the male sex drive.  That is not an appropriate feminist attitude, let alone a worthwhile mainstream one, and is not only sexist but destructive.

Sixth, there are several reasons for what Douthat called the “social and political chasms opening between” males and females.  We are at a historical juncture between women and girls being specially protected (the past), having full equal rights (the present in the law), and drawing expectations consistent with those of boys and men (the future), with different people advocating only one, one and parts of the others, and, even, all three.  Automation has hit men’s jobs, long necessary for sexual success as well as financial survival and prosperity, far harder than women’s.  We steadily get reports on how, over all careers and personal choices, women’s averaging lower pay is indication of discrimination.  There is, overall, a mixture of the past, the present, and the future, causing problems with what males and females expect from each other and, ultimately, with everything else between them.

Seventh, largely because of electronics and overattentive parents, sex between people under 18 is indeed falling.

Eighth, adding up the above, contrary to Douthat, we are hardly consistently “Hefnerian.”  Though guilt is only a tiny fraction of what it was over 50 years ago, too many people’s lives are way out of synch with what was once called “free love.” 

Ninth, pornography, sex robots, and other erotic machines have thus far caused no fundamental change.  Could developing technologies help here?  And what should we do about this overall situation?  See Part III next week.

Friday, August 3, 2018

July Employment Data: AJSN Down 100,000-Plus to 16.8 Million Latent Demand as Jobs Situation Improves Slightly

Not much happened with this morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary, and not much was supposed to.

We gained 157,000 net new nonfarm payroll positions, less than one 190,000 estimate but still in the more-than-population-growth-can-absorb-but-undistinguished category.  The headline unemployment rate, also seasonally adjusted, dropped 0.1% to 3.9%, and other numbers mostly improved.  Total joblessness fell 300,000 to 6.3 million, the count of those working part-time for economic reasons or wanting full-time hours without finding them shed 100,000 to 1.4 million, and hourly nonfarm payroll earnings came in at a tad above inflation, gaining 7 cents per hour to reach $27.05.  Unadjusted unemployment also improved 0.1%, to 4.1%.  The two metrics best showing how common it is for Americans to have jobs, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, broke even at 62.9% and gained 0.1% to 60.5% respectively. 

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the Royal Flush Press statistic showing in one figure how many more positions could be absorbed if all new that getting one would be easy, lost 131,000 from June, as follows:

About half of the AJSN’s monthly improvement was from the number of officially unemployed, down 82,000.  The rest came from lower counts of those not looking for a year or more and those in school or training, offset mostly by more people reporting as discouraged.  Latent demand from those officially jobless now accounts for 36.1% of the total, down 0.1% from last month.

Compared with a year before, the AJSN looks much better, down 845,000 from July 2017.  Three-fourths of that was from lower official unemployment, with a surprising 139,000 from fewer people in the armed services, in institutions, or off the grid.  Word of more work opportunities does reach these segments.

So how good was July’s data?  I give it a thumbs up.  It’s not a massive gainer, but with so many numbers improving, more net new positions than our growing populace itself needs, and continued strong year-over-year AJSN improvements, it was on the right side.  The turtle is still a turtle, but he did take another small step forward.