Las Vegas Review-Journal: Apps to let Boyd guests go mobile

Nov. 30, 2010
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

Apps to let Boyd guests go mobile
B Connected’s programs will beam offers to gadgets

By CHRIS SIEROTY
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

Boyd Gaming Corp. has launched new applications for a series of smart phones and tablet computers in an effort to give its customers a more personalized gaming and hotel experience.

The free applications for Android, iPhones and the iPad, known as B Connected Mobile, provide up-to-the-minute offers and information directly to a customer’s device.

A BlackBerry version is in development and will be released in the first quarter of 2011, a company executive said.

Brian Best, Boyd’s corporate director for e-commerce, said applications would be developed for other tablets, but the company chose to release an application specific to the iPad because of consumer demand.

He described the applications as an extension of B Connected online or its player’s club gaming rewards program.

B Connected already has close to 500,000 registered users, the company said. The Las Vegas-based company operates 16 gaming properties in Nevada and five other states, but only 13 of them are included in the mobile project.

“This is a personalized version of our website,” Best said. “It offers our customers the opportunity to view their up-to-the-minute point balances, receive exclusive offers, make transactions and receive personalized messages.”

He said the applications were available to everyone, but added that being a member of B Connected unlocks all the personalized features, including booking hotel rooms and restaurant reservations. Boyd Gaming, for example, used the mobile applications to offer a Cyber Monday sale of 50 percent off on all rooms.

“For us it is another way for us to communicate with our customers,” Best said. “Some customers prefer direct mail, while others prefer our website or messages by text or e-mail. We want the customer to choose the vehicle they want to be connected with.”

The applications also offer Locate Me, a service that provides real-time information updates when a customer arrives at a property; and Slot Search, a tool that helps customers find their favorite machines on a casino floor.

But they don’t allow customers to place wagers or play free casino-style games on their mobile phones or tablet computers.

“There are no current plans to make it a gaming product,” Boyd Gaming spokesman David Strow said.

Boyd Gaming shares gained 10 cents, or 1.12 percent, to close Monday at $9.06 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at csieroty@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893.

 

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TD Monthly: The Counterfeiting Epidemic

(Note: One of two stories I wrote for the online trade journal, TD Monthly. More at http://www.toydirectory.com)

By Chris H. Sieroty
May 2005

In Southern California alone, $1 million worth of knockoff toys and electronic games were seized last year. This year, the number of counterfeit toys is expected to increase, hurting both U.S. manufacturers and consumers.

In 2004, the number of containers entering the country through Long Beach and Los Angeles increased by 26 percent, according to James Purser, assistant port director of trade operations for the Los Angeles and Long Beach seaports with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He expects double-digit growth again this year, and with it, the influx of more counterfeit products.

Most imitation toys enter the United States through ports in New York, Long Beach and Los Angeles, with China standing out as the largest producer of these knockoffs.

New York’s Canal Street and Los Angeles’s Toy District are wrought with counterfeit goods.

These products don’t have to comply with safety standards, and in fact “many counterfeit toys use lead based paint,” according to Sgt. R.J. Acosta, vice supervisor for the Los Angeles Police Department´s Central Division, which encompasses the city´s Toy District.

In the past two years, the LAPD´s Central Area Vice Unit has recovered $37 million in counterfeit material. To help remedy the situation, they have installed two cameras – with eight more on their way – that allow officers to monitor the Fashion and Toy Districts.

Vice officers seized over $1 million in counterfeit goods during a recent raid on Focus Century (USA) Inc.´s warehouse on Fourth Street, Acosta says. The knockoff products included BRATZ, Spider-Man and Disney toys.

U.S. Customs had previously seized over 250,000 units of counterfeit merchandise being imported by Focus Century and its subsidiaries.

In another sweep, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents seized 350 cases of counterfeit Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards from a warehouse in Vernon, Calif., where a company called J.S.K International rented space.

The cards, which are distributed by Upper Deck , would retail for about $3 million if they were genuine. ICE agents believe the fake cards were manufactured in China.

ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice says ICE agents obtained a search warrant for the warehouse after a vendor in downtown Los Angeles offered to sell an ICE undercover agent 250 cartons of counterfeit Yu-Gi-Oh! cards for more than $36,000.

“Fake cards put a negative connotation in consumers’ minds that what they are buying isn’t real,” says Upper Deck spokesman Don Williams. “It cheapens our brand and hurts our retail partners.”

Williams says that the company works with local and federal authorities to investigate and arrest those involved in distributing or selling counterfeit Upper Deck products. Last year, counterfeit Upper Deck products were seized in Los Angeles and Florida.

“We’ve also had them seized in Spain and Italy,” Williams says. “We are truly chasing counterfeiters globally.”

Jules Andres, senior manager of corporate communications with Mattel, says the company aligns its anti-counterfeiting efforts with the toy industry worldwide.

“Mattel aggressively protects its brand by pursuing and prosecuting those involved in the production, distribution and sale of counterfeit Mattel products and licensed goods,” says Andres.

UPI: US sends $1.5B to help Uruguay economy

(Note: Another old story of mine from my days as a reporter/editor with UPI)

Published: Aug. 4, 2002 at 10:49 PM
By CHRIS H. SIEROTY

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 (UPI) — The Bush administration announced Sunday it was providing an emergency $1.5 billion loan to Uruguay to help the South American nation stabilize its economy.

The decision marked the first time President George W. Bush’s administration has agreed to provide direct support to a country in economic trouble. The problems include the deepening recession in neighboring Argentina, and financial turmoil last week in Brazil.

Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill said the $1.5 billion temporary loan being provided to Uruguay was in recognition of the strong economic program the country was putting into place to address its problems. O’Neill arrived in Brazil on Sunday for the first stop on a Latin America tour that includes visits to Uruguay and Argentina.

“We are confident that this enhanced program will help Uruguay address the intense external pressures it has faced in recent months,” O’Neill said in a statement that was also released in Washington.

The U.S. assistance will come in the term of a short-term loan that will be repaid in a matter of days once Uruguay receives a new loan package from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

The IMF issued a joint statement with the other two institutions late Sunday.

“I am impressed by the authorities resolve to deal with a very difficult situation,” said IMF Managing Director Horst Koehler. “We see a clear basis for confidence to return.”

Koehler also intends to recommend the acceleration of a disbursement of about $150 million in credit already committed to Uruguay. When combined with the $500 million increase and about $150 million already planned for disbursement to Uruguay in August, total IMF financing immediately amounts to about $800 million, he said.

The IMF earlier this year granted Uruguay a $3 billion credit line, in an effort to protect the country from the economic fallout in Argentina.

“It is essential for the Uruguayan people and business community to have access to these deposits to preserve the payments system in the economy,” O’Neill added.

Earlier in the day, Uruguay’s Congress earlier in the day approved new legislation to assist the nation’s shattered banking industry.

The legislation would block access to $2.2 billion in long-term deposits for three years in the country’s two state banks. Checking and savings accounts would not be affected by the measure, and neither will deposits at private banks.

Meanwhile, Uruguay’s banks will re-open on Monday following last week’s temporary closure due to a panicked run, the Central Bank said Sunday. Uruguay’s government ordered the banks closed on Tuesday.

In a statement, the Central Bank also said it had suspended activity in Banco Comercial, one of the nation’s largest banks, and smaller Banco de Credito. The government has said the financial institutions will remain closed until an injection of liquidity was made by their owners.

The Business Press: Still bullish on the Inland Empire

09:32 AM PDT on Wednesday, October 20, 2010

By CHRIS H. SIEROTY
Contributing Writer

James Robinson is chairman and chief executive officer of Security California Bancorp – a small but successful community bank focused on serving small and mid-sized businesses.

Known locally as a career banker, he joined the Riverside-based company along with several other industry veterans at its formation five years ago when the region’s economy was at its peak, creating thousands of construction and logistics jobs, new homes and attracting residents Inland from the coastal counties.

But Robinson, 75, and his team, which features Michael Vanderpool as president and COO, and Ernest Hwang, its president and CLO, have had to endure a turbulent period that saw the bank receive $6.8 million in funding from the Troubled Asset Relief Program and report a modest loss for 2009.

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Paul Alvarez / Contributing Photographer
Ernest Hwang, Michael Vanderpool and James Robinson make up the senior leadership team for Security Bank of California, which has locations in Redlands, Riverside and San Bernardino.

Having been through the depths of the economic downturn, Robinson is confident the worst was over for Inland Southern California and the bank was on track to finish the current fiscal year in the black after reporting two strong quarters.

He also doesn’t regret his decision to accept a position with the parent company of Security Bank of California after more than 40 years in the industry. During his career, Robinson has held a number of high-ranking positions including executive vice president with City National Bank and president and chief executive officer of Riverside National Bank.

“We wanted to form a highly professional financial institution, with a good commercial and industrial lending group at its core,” Robinson said. “We also chose professionals who knew the community well.”

Robinson Vanderpool and Hwang recently sat down with The Business Press for an interview. Surrounded by University of Southern California football memorabilia in his eighth floor office at 3403 10th St. in downtown Riverside, Robinson said he’s been in the region his whole career, and while he could have lived or worked anywhere he wanted, he chose to stay in Inland Southern California.

“I want to live right here. We love this area,” he said. “It will come back, and when it does, the region will need a strong bank to service businesses out here.”

Vanderpool, 54, attributed Security Bank’s success and growth to employees who have the lending expertise found at a larger bank, but are committed to the community banking model. He said Security Bank needed to play a significant part in assisting the region’s business community. The difference, Hwang said, Security Bank does not have a formula to the way it conducts its business lending, adding the bank will work with seasonal businesses to match a line of credit to their business.

“We’ll work with the company with $500,000 in revenue, for a larger bank, anything under $1.5 million is formula lending,” he said.

Hwang, 46, said the company had a diversified portfolio in term of loan types. As of June 30, professional loans those to doctors and lawyers were 45 percent of the bank’s loan portfolio; while wholesale loans were 23 percent, manufacturing 13 percent, construction 8 percent, agriculture 5 percent, food service 4 percent and other listed at 2 percent.

“The Inland Empire may have a 14.8 percent unemployment rate, but 85 percent are still employed,” Hwang said. “Economically, hospitals are being built here and there is an economy that is going on. Our institution is supporting that economy. It may be hard for Beverly Hills and Newport Beach to understand … there is still business and dollars out here.”

At the end of the second quarter, Security Bank gross loan portfolio stood at $267 million, down slightly from $272 million at the end of 2009.

Robinson pointed to the bank’s financial performance as proof it is positioning itself to take advantage of the region’s economic turnaround. Since reporting a loss of $2.15 million, or 72 cents per share, for 2009, Security Bank of California has produced back-to-back profitable quarters with $201,558, or 6.7 cents per share, for the first quarter and $414,082, or 13.7 cents per share, for the second quarter ended June 30.

Vanderpool explained the loss last year was due to proactive additions to the bank’s loan loss reserves, and unanticipated increase in the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s premiums as well as the costs associated with opening a branch in Redlands in July 2009. At the end of the second quarter, the bank continued to maintain an allowance for loan losses of $5.7 million, or 2.12 percent of gross loans.

But Hwang described the loan loss figure as somewhat misleading. As of June 30, the bank had one loan valued at $320,000 listed as past due out of a $267 million loan portfolio, he said.

Vanderpool said the provision was also needed to pay the FDIC assessment. Last year, the FDIC added a one-time special assessment of 20 cents on every $100 of insured deposits so it could restore reserves to its deposit insurance fund.

“We also had some concerns about the economy last year,” said Vanderpool, adding the bank was well capitalized to take advantage of future opportunities.

RBC Capital Markets last month raised $20 million in a private placement of common stock to help recapitalize the five-year-old regional bank. The company issued 2.58 million shares of common stock at $7.75 each. The offering represented an 82.1 percent stake in the book value of the company.

Robinson said the company needed to raise additional capital to support continued growth in loans and deposits. He said the offering could be used to support Security Bank’s acquisition of deposits, loans, or branches negotiated through the FDIC or new branches.

He said the successful sale also represented a strong vote of confidence by the bank’s investors who recognize “our team has built a strong community bank.”

“Well established institutional investors took part in the share sale,” he said. “Management also put in money. We (acquired) 30 percent to 35 percent of the sale, which includes management and directors. We have personal money invested, which makes us different.”

At some point, Security Bank of California will use a portion of the new capital to repay its TARP loan. On Jan. 9, 2009, the company received $6.815 million in federal funds and has paid $592,000, or $92,000 quarterly, in interest on the loan.