New York City casino economics: 1>3

January 15, 2022

A single New York City casino license may produce a gaming changing entertainment destination like Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands. (Photo credit: Marina Bay Sands)

A multibillion dollar casino complex in New York City would give the region a much needed economic jolt in the wake of Covid. But if New York State issues the three casino licenses permitted by law for the downstate metro area, New York City won’t get a showplace integrated resort worthy of the leading US market. A single license is New York’s best bet for tourism, business and jobs.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Professors that shaped my life died in 2021

December 27, 2021

In this year brimming with loss, the two most consequential teachers of my college years passed away. Historian Donald Kagan and urban planner Alexander Garvin were towering figures in their chosen fields and fixtures at Yale for decades.

Garvin and his bowties took the train up from his day jobs in New York City government under five mayors to teach Study of the City on Tuesday nights. In the wake of Watergate and amid mounting evidence of New York’s municipal dysfunction, Garvin’s class demonstrated a useful role for the public sector. I earned my first A in that class, writing a term paper comparing two NYU housing blocks south of Washington Square Park. Later I lived in that neighborhood, and then in Washington’s Capitol Park South, the first US urban renewal area, a fact I learned in Garvin’s class.

Thanks to Garvin, I also began a career in government. I don’t remember the circumstances but I must have reached out to him, and in June 1978, he gave me my first real job, surveying damage from New York’s summer of ‘77 blackout along Broadway in Bushwick, Brooklyn. As I learned in the Department of City Planning report that incorporated that fieldwork, every borough in New York has a street named Broadway that starts at the its waterfront.

Trying make government work for the people took me across the border into Queens, working with retailers on Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood, to the municipal markets that Fiorello LaGuardia launched to get pushcarts off city streets, to Queens Borough Hall, to Washington and to Tanzania as a US diplomat telling America’s story to the world.

I needed a job back in 1978 thanks in part to Donald Kagan. As a freshman, I got steered to Kagan’s introduction to ancient Greek history, a subject I knew nothing about. At the first lecture, in an auditorium with hundreds of students, it was a clear within minutes that I was in the presence of a truly gifted scholar and teacher. Kagan’s Origins of War course, about what ignited the Peleponnesian War, Second Punic War, World War I and World War II, and what kept the Cuban missile crisis from become a war, made history alive, contemporary and relevant.

Kagan inspired me to attempt multiple majors including classic civilization. I even went to summer school to try to learn ancient Greek.

When my triple major dream crumbled at the end of my junior year, I approached Kagan with a different idea. I asked for his approval to complete my senior paper over the summer and graduate early. Kagan, who thought more of my newspaper work than my scholarship, agreed to oversee my paper and arrange the administrative details, saving my family about $6,000 in tuition.

Like me, Kagan was a working class kid from New York who drank the Yale Kool-Aid. Kagan shuddered at the prospect of something ruining such a uniquely blessed place, the way the Athenians had destroyed their own. He didn’t want to see that happen to Yale, and he didn’t want to see it happen to America.

His attitudes could be a bit ancient. He left Cornell because he believed it knuckled under to student protest demands for a Black Studies curriculum. He opposed the option to allow undergraduates to take up to four to their required 36 courses as Pass/Fail, rather than for a grade, to stop the “unmanning of Yale students.” His turn as dean went sideways over a proposed new Western Civilization curriculum that was more well endowed than received.

Conservative to his core, Kagan believed in preserving the essential values of society and passing them down the generations. Garvin believed tearing something down could lead to building something better. Their teachings and their kindness have helped shape my life.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Macau junket boss arrest sends wide shock waves

December 1, 2021

Suncity leader Alvin Chau’s arrest escalates China’s crackdown on its citizens gambling and illegal money transfers. (Photo provided by Suncity Group.)

The arrest of Suncity chief Alvin Chau and others from the leading Macau junket promoter dramatically escalates China’s efforts to limit its citizens’ gambling activities and illegal overseas money transfers.

Suncity’s Hong Kong listed arm, which excludes its junket business but holds stakes in casino properties Hoiana in Vietnam and Tigre di Crystal in Russia plus a casino hotel under development in Manila’s Entertainment City, says Chau plans to resign as its chairman and CEO.

My ICE365 article on Genting’s licensing in Nevada while discounting its Philippines business highlights how regulators around the world have perfected the art of diminishing, if not disregarding, inconvenient facts. In Macau, at least for now, the authorities have lost their blinders when it comes to Suncity. This story has barely begun to unfold.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Happy FU Day as truth, lies converge

November 13, 2021

“On November 13th, Felix Unger was asked to leave his place of residence. That request came from his wife...”

Amid pandemics of Covid-19 and disinformation, truth and fiction are this year’s odd couple.

This year, Felix Unger Day arrives as we enter approach a third calendar year with the Covid-19 pandemic. So much that was once commonplace and taken for granted has become a major effort if not a distant dream. It’s a situation that seems too strange to be real. Combining this reality that’s stranger than fiction with the epidemic of falsehoods presented as facts makes truth and fiction an apt odd couple for 2021.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes,columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Global casino leaders can still rediscover Japan

October 27, 2021

Japan Fuji

Japanese authorities have made creating integrated resorts a mountainous task. Photo credit: JNTO

Hopes of creating the next big thing in Asian gaming skyrocketed as Japan began moving toward casino legalization in 2013. That enthusiasm has dissipated over these past eight years for a variety of reasons, and the smart money now bets building integrated resorts in Japan for billions of dollars won’t pay off.

I’ve been part of the negative wave that’s swept the Japan casino contest, due to culminate in the national government licensing up to three IRs next year. I’ve suggested that Japan stop the IR process to rewrite the rules and that authorities only award one IR license among the three current contenders, hoping for more attractive candidates to emerge later.

Then in late September, Caesars Entertainment, the largest US casino operator, rejoined the Japan IR race as the proposed casino operator for Wakayama prefecture’s IR bid. That’s the best news for Japan’s IR supporters in years. Caesars created the themed IR concept with Caesars Palace 55 years ago, and Harrah’s, which bought Caesars in 2004 before Eldorado Resorts bought the combined company last year, invented the modern casino customer rewards program.

Caesars’ return to Japan – it dropped out the bidding at the time of the Eldorado purchase – is a reminder that Japan remains the world’s third largest economy, and it boasted rapidly growing international visitor arrivals pre-Covid. It’s also a reminder that defying conventional wisdom about Macau remade the global casino business two decades ago. Japan could have similar impact, despite what the smart money says.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes, a columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Party over for Macau nightspot Club Cubic

October 19, 2021

Club Cubic at City of Dreams was a place to go bananas in Macau. Photo by Funky Bambi Lu

Sad to report that Macau’s Club Cubic closed permanently this month. Debuted downtown then relocated to Melco’s City of Dreams in Cotai nearly a decade ago, Club Cubic provided top shelf nightlife that remains scarce in Macau despite seemingly favorable conditions.

My account of Korean pop star Psy playing Cubic in 2012 recalls how the club and the town could step up for the right show. The article also highlights that Macau faced non-gaming entertainment challenges back then; Club Cubic’s closing underscores the lack of progress since.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Macau casinos remain best bet in Asia

October 10, 2021

When Covid restrictions ease, Asian gaming destinations will feel the impact of Chinese government policies to curtail overseas gambling, with Macau likely to suffer least.

Despite investor fears triggered by new gaming law proposals, Macau’s casino sector remains the best bet in Asian gaming. China’s policies to stop overseas gambling by its citizens are real, and their impact will unfold as Covid travel restrictions recede. Destinations will feel the effects differently based on a variety of factors, including bilateral relations with Beijing.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Bali’s Ubud Writers Festival goes hybrid

October 8, 2021

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival founder and director Janet DeNeefe, shown here in 2019, says Covid has forced the festival to be “braver” and “think outside the box.” (Photo credit: Vifick Bolang)

With travelers entering Indonesia still requiring quarantine, Bali’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival launched in hybrid form Thursday. With Covid easing in Bali, some events, running through October 17, are taking place live on the island, with some in Perth due to the difficulties traveling to and from key festival market Australia, some prerecorded and all available online and on demand, making content available globally. Festival founder and director Janet DeNeefe says the hybrid format presents new challenges after last year’s completely online event, but it doesn’t change the mission.

“We have a purpose,” DeNeefe says. “The writers and readers festival began after the first Bali bombings [of 2002]. It was an attempt to re-flower the community, to uplift the people, to boost the economy, to bring a bit of inspiration, create a platform for dialogue.

“That was how we began. And now more than ever we have to continue because this is what people need right now, some sort of event you can see. With the semi lock-down, there’s not a lot of action on the streets here. So, our job is to create the best face to face event as we can, given the situation. So we’ve become a hybrid festival.”

While it may be easier to get top writers to commit to a remote interview rather than spend hours traveling to appear in person, recruiting has become more difficult in some ways, DeNeefe says. “A good deal of the festival’s attraction is the sheer fact that it’s in Ubud, so you’re in this beautiful location with really warm, friendly, hospitable people, great food, great weather. We have so many wonderful aspects of Ubud that attract people, so suddenly when you’re online, you lose the very magic of the festival in a way.”

The 2021 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival welcomes live audiences after going completely online last year. (Photo credit: Anggara Mahendra)

A restaurant owner, chef and cookbook author before she began the literary festival – later adding a food festival – DeNeefe hopes to restore some magic by tapping into Bali’s innate creativity with an artisans market running during the festival’s two weekends. Many vendors are hospitality industry workers who’ve found new pursuits with Bali tourism largely halted for the past 18 months.

“It’s all a learning experience. Some of the aspects that we have learned about the online festival, we will take into this festival. We’re slowly morphing into a modern era,” DeNeefe says. “Of course it has its challenges, but it’s made us think outside the box and be a little bit braver perhaps as we’re venturing into a whole new territory.”

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Ex-Sands exec Weidner attacked in Japan role

September 2, 2021

Wakayama Palace stands tall in the prefecture bidding for a Japan casino license. (Photo courtesy Wakayama Prefecture Govt)

Former Las Vegas Sands president and COO William Weidner may be the most accomplished gaming executive still in the business. Weidner’s 14 years with LVS included building its Vegas Strip Venetian complex, gaining entry to Macau, developing Cotai as world’s most lucrative casino cluster, winning a license in Singapore and conceiving what’s become the world’s most admired integrated resort there. So Weidner provided instant credibility when he joined Canadian private equity investor Clairvest’s effort to win an integrated resort license in Wakayama Prefecture near Osaka.

Perhaps, then, it shouldn’t be surprising that Weidner came under attack via anonymous documents recounting legal settlements of US government charges against Las Vegas Sands during his tenure. The documents may aim to weaken Wakayama’s IR bid, but it’s equally likely they stem from a long running dispute involving Weidner’s Global Gaming Asset Management firm and Philippine billionaire Enrique Razon’s Bloomberry Resorts, or a Taiwan’s American Asian Entertainment’s US$12 billion lawsuit against LVS over termination of their Macau partnership, in which Weidner was a leading actor but is not a party to the litigation.

In any case, the attack is another ugly aspect of Japan’s casino legalization saga that has limited public support and gotten the cold shoulder from leading international casino companies and Japan’s largest cities and tourist destinations.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

India failure threatens freedom globally

August 29, 2021

The decline of democracy in India highlights challenges freedom faces around the world and how malevolent forces exploit them. To Kill a Democracy by acclaimed journalist Debasish Roy Chowdhury and renowned political scientist John Keane combines reporting from deep within the Indian polity and academic rigor to portray the issues tearing at the social fabric of the world’s largest democracy. (Full disclosure, Chowdhury and I have worked together intermittently since the mid-2000s.) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu sectarianism runs counter to democratic tenets such as equal treatment under the law, but the authors note that many of his opponents embrace similarly toxic tactics.

Subtitled “India’s passage to despotism,” the book holds that democracy extends beyond electoral processes and rights guarantees. “To the man in the street, democracy doesn’t exist, and he knows the situation isn’t right,” Chowdhury explained during the online launch of To Kill a Democracy. “He knows it in the daily struggle and choices he has to make between his budget and his family’s needs, in the frantic phone calls from his wife if their daughter is 10 minutes late coming home. This could not be the kind of life that the patriots who founded the country meant for him to be living 74 years after India’s independence.”

The authors argue that providing a decent standard of living underpins democracy, and India’s failure on this point has planted the seeds for alternatives. As in so many other fields, technology and Covid have accelerated preexisting trends. Although economic desperation is far less severe in developed countries, similar alienation drives the success of other would be despots. People feel that politics dominated by an elite no longer responds to what matters most to them. Chowdhury and Keane note the irony that those impulses are most often exploited by the rich and powerful, seeking to enhance their own positions.

It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s an important one to understand and address. For nuclear armed India, and its 1.4 billion people plus the world at large, the alternatives are terrifying.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.


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