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Year of the Rat

Year of the Rat

Happy New Year! It’s 2014, and that can only mean one thing: This August, I will celebrate 30 years of writing about the casino industry. And I’m getting really old.

OK, two things.

Actually, the new year brings much news other than my 30-year-old gaming industry career:

If it’s 2014, it must mean that Sheldon Adelson, who probably has skin tags that are 30 years old, is still against online gambling. I’m anxious to see how Mr. Adelson’s all-out effort to ban internet gaming goes. Believe me, I understand his misgivings about online gambling, but I don’t really think prohibition is the answer. It didn’t really work that well with alcohol.

In any event, I’m sure Mr. Adelson’s full-throttle funding effort for anti-iGaming lobbyists will be just as successful as his effort to make Newt Gingrich president was.

Onward and upward:

If it’s 2014, it must mean that Lawrence Ho is ready to open his new casino in Russia, in the Primorye casino zone. It will be the first casino in one of Russia’s new gaming zones, which are in areas inhabited mainly by ice. They were created after President Vladimir “Family Values” Putin banned casinos from Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major Russian cities back in 2007, telling them to get out of town by sundown, 2009.

I’m hoping I get invited to the Primorye opening, and that I can get there without being eaten by Siberian wolves.

Meanwhile, things are getting comical back in Moscow, where there were several huge casinos before 2009. Some former big casinos have converted into bookmaking operations, which are still legal. One of Moscow’s largest former casinos, the Korona, now accepts bets on cock fights and rat races.

Don’t worry. They’re humane cock fights. They attach colored balloons to each bird, and once a bird’s balloons are popped, the fight’s over.

Just because they don’t fight to the death doesn’t mean the roosters aren’t tough, though. One chicken blinded by swelling during a recent fight could be heard pleading with his manager, “Cut me, Mick!” (Of course, it sounded more like, “Cluck-cluck-cluck.”)

I’m more interested in the rat races. According to the Moscow News, every five minutes at Korona, 10 rats are released from boxes to run around an obstacle-strewn course. At first, some of them ran for the doors, ultimately to provide additional ambiance to the wagering lounges outside.

The newspaper story says that no longer happens. As a journalist, I want to know why. Do they have little mechanical female rats for males to chase around the course, like they do with rabbits and greyhounds? Are there little pieces of cheese suspended in front of them as they run?

How do you handicap a rat? Do they look at rat-breeding? And if so, do the rat-breeders get a cut of the revenues? How about track conditions? Do they add mud to the little tracks to make things interesting? (“This rat’s a mudder!”) Is there a Daily Rat Racing Form?

Do the rats just have numbers, or do they give them cute names like they do with horses?

“Give me $10 on ‘Out Of The Lab’ to win, and $15 each on ‘Cheese Worshipper,’ ‘Garbage King’ and ‘Mickey Rat’ to place.”

Maybe they should look into rat races and cock fights in Kentucky, where 2014 will see yet another legislative battle to legalize casinos at the racetracks. The rat races likely stand a better chance of passing than casinos.

Finally, 2014 will see some major new casinos opening around the world, some even outside of Russia. Horseshoe Baltimore will open in Maryland, the SLS will open on the bones of the Sahara in Las Vegas, and the $4 billion Baha Mar resort will open on Cable Beach in Nassau, the Bahamas.

The new Bahamas mega-resort should be opening toward the end of the year. If I’m called upon to cover that event, I shall respond to the call to duty, suck it up, and go sip rum beverages on a Caribbean beach somewhere around December.

Hey, I’m a pro, and sometimes, you have to sacrifice for the job.

In the end, Year No. 30 of my gaming-writer career is shaping up to be a pretty cool one. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to leave for Moscow.

I’ve got a rat that’s a sure thing in the fifth race at Korona.

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.  

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