UPI: Virginia ends tight wine law

Note: From the archives, a sample of my work with United Press International.

Published: May 28, 2003 at 5:05 PM


WASHINGTON, May 28 (UPI) — Starting July 1, it will be possible to obtain a case of California Merlot or a rare French Bordeaux without ever leaving your home in Virginia.

Gov. Mark Warner recently signed a bill that makes direct shipments legal.

“This legislation I signed into law is a tremendous victory for Virginia’s wineries and Virginia wine lovers,” the governor said. “Virginia wineries and vineyards will benefit through the opening of markets in other states to showcase the great quality of Virginia wines to a wider audience.”

Warner, who produces his own wine, Rappahannock Bend, as a hobby, described the new law as beneficial to a growing industry.

“The new wine shipment law, along with our increased efforts to promote tourism around Virginia’s wineries, will allow our wineries to continue to grow and prosper as they put Virginia wines up against wines from around the world,” he said.

In Maryland, however, direct sales remain a felony, making it difficult for wine lovers to buy wines directly from wineries or out-of-state merchants.

The old law kept Virginia wineries from selling their wines over the Internet, and Virginia residents from buying out-of-state wines.

“Consumers in many of states will now have access to the great wines of Virginia,” said David Sloane, president of the Washington-based trade group WineAmerica. “Similarly, Virginia consumers will know be allowed to have wines from other states shipped to their front doors.”

The law opens the markets in 13 states with reciprocity — including California, Washington and Oregon — to Virginia wines. The others are: Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, Illinois, Hawaii and West Virginia.

“We have an opportunity to market and sell our wines to 13 new markets, which equals 30 percent of the American public,” Dean Triplett, owner of Willowcroft Farm Vineyard in Leesburg, Va., told United Press International.

The law will permit residents a maximum of two 12-bottle cases per month, but only from wineries that are licensed to sell direct to consumers and that purchase a $50 Virginia state license.

It also mandates that shippers report their sales to the state and pay all excises and sales taxes.

“Visitors to our vineyard, who in the past were unable to place an out-of-state order for Willowcroft wine, can now get our wines shipped directly to their homes,” Triplett said.

According to WineAmerica, the number of wineries in Virginia has grown 491 percent in the past two decades. In 1980, there were 11 wineries in the state compared with 65 in 2000, the trade group said.

As of 2003, Virginia ranks fifth in the nation in the production of vinifera grapes and is home to 75 wineries and more than 250 vineyards, Warner said.

In neighboring Maryland, there were four wineries in 1975 compared with 14 in 2000, a growth rate of 250 percent.

But despite its growth in recent years as a wine producing state, it remains a felony in Maryland for wineries to sell their wines over the Internet, and for residents to purchase out-of-state wines.

Triplett described Maryland’s strict shipment laws as an “insult to the residents of Maryland.”

“Virginia has set a good standard that we should take a look at,” Rob Deford, owner of Boordy Vineyards in Hydes, Md., told UPI.

Deford said there was “de facto prohibition” in Maryland because the state’s inordinate amount of paperwork or fees does not make the effort worth it for the occasional sale. He added that for $10 fee, a bottle of wine could be sent from Virginia to a retail store in Hydes, but there would be a mark-up from a distributor, putting unnecessary costs on the transaction.

Under the law, Maryland also can impose a $35,000 fine on a business shipping wine into that state unlawfully.

It is a crime to ship wines into these states: Utah, Arizona, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, South Carolina, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine.

Eleven states allow limited or highly restricted shipping, according to WineAmerica. They are Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska, Louisiana, Georgia, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Alaska and Connecticut.


Las Vegas Review-Journal: Nevada gaming revenues down 11 percent in March

By Chris Sieroty
Posted: May 10, 2012 | 7:18 a.m.
Updated: May 10, 2012 | 12:23 p.m.

Nevada gambling revenues totaled $854.5 million in March, a 10.8 percent decline compared with the same month last year. The double-digit decline in revenue was preceded by two months of modest gains.

The state posted revenue increases of 5.7 percent in February and 18.4 percent in January, according to figures compiled by Nevada gaming regulators.

Analysts described the drop as a short-term blip.

“While the headline number is clearly weak, March results were impacted by ConExpo cycling out of the market, timing of slot collections, and low baccarat and tables hold,” said Bill Lerner, an analyst with Union Gaming Group in Las Vegas.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board said Thursday that most of the state’s gaming centers saw their revenues decline in March. The Las Vegas Strip’s total was $448.6 million, down 14.9 percent from March 2011.

Downtown Las Vegas reported an 11.8 percent decline to $43.3 million, while the Boulder Strip posted $62.7 million in revenues, a 16.9 percent decline.

Casinos in North Las Vegas earned $22.5 million, a 17.7 percent decline, while Laughlin reported $49.8 million in revenues, a 2.3 percent decline from March 2011.

Mesquite was the one bright spot in Southern Nevada, as casinos there reported revenues of more than $12.7 million, a 7.18 percent increase from March 2011. Overall, Clark County reported a 12.2 percent decline in March gaming revenues to $733.4 million.

Joseph Greff, an analyst with J.P. Morgan, said he expects gaming revenue growth in April to be flat or in the single-digit range, “given the unfavorable calendar” with two less weekend days in the month.

State officials collected $71 million in taxes based on the March winnings, which is down 10 percent from the same month last year.

Total slot machine revenue in Nevada was $579.7 million, a 6.7 percent decrease from March 2011. The state’s numbers from table games were down 19 percent in March to $263.8 million.

Baccarat, the game favored by high-end gamblers, reported a 51.6 percent decline in revenues in March to $39.78 million. Baccarat hold was 8 percent, which was 3.5 percent below the normal hold of 11.5 percent.

Adjusted for normalized hold, baccarat win would have decreased 30.6 percent to $56.8 million. Lerner said baccarat results were up against a tough year-over-year rate, with figures up 55.1 percent to $81.8 million in March 2011.

“While high-end play was clearly weak even after adjusting for hold, the ‘mass-market’ volume was better,” Lerner said. “The good news is now with the first quarter on the back burner, the second quarter event calendar is fairly robust and should drive demand in the coming months.”

Revenues for blackjack and craps were down 16.9 percent and 12.8 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, roulette revenues were down 18 percent in March.

Smaller games, such minibaccarat posted a 62.8 percent gain in March, while revenues for Pai Gow were off 29.2 percent.

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

Las Vegas Review-Journal: Las Vegas Rock gets help from program to expand

By Chris Sieroty
Posted: May 4, 2012 | 2:07 a.m.

When Chris Schulte and Steve Wickman went looking for a $1.5 million loan to help finance their manufacturing company’s new fabrication plant and equipment, they knew it would be hard.

But they were confident Las Vegas Rock Inc.’s work, financial results and reputation were good enough to attract the money they needed to expand their facilities in Jean.

After being turned down by larger banks, the company turned to Meadows Bank, a small business bank with a single location in Las Vegas and a knack for working with companies looking for government guaranteed loans.

The privately held company was able to secure a $1.5 million loan, guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development. Wickman said the company was able to cover the additional $4 million cost to build the 45,000-square-foot plant.

“Without the guarantee, it’s hard to get the funding we needed,” Wickman said.

As a result of the loan, Las Vegas Rock purchased a state-of-the-art, high-speed stone-cutting machine, which has let the company enhance product quality and amplify production tenfold.

Las Vegas Rock, which mines its unique multicolored metaquartzite at the 920-acre Rainbow Quarry near Goodsprings, produces dozens of products, including stone tile and thin veneer for indoor and outdoor flooring and wall facings. It also produces crushed rock for glass and concrete companies.

Schulte, president of Las Vegas Rock, said the company has done stonework for The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Aria and the Golden Gate expansion.

On Wednesday, Schulte was busy with the last shipment of stone for decorative wall coverings or flooring at the Maryland Live Casino in Arundel Hill, Md.

Founded in 1998 by Wickman and Mike Kiddy, the company long focused on its $70 million-a-year landscaping business. But with the recession, Las Vegas Rock had to expand its facilities and its product offerings, not an easy task for a manufacturing company in a small town some 30 miles south of Las Vegas.

Wickman said the loan guarantee provided by the federal Rural Development program allowed Las Vegas Rock to emerge from the recession a stronger company financially.

Sarah Adler, state director of the USDA program, got her first look Wednesday at the new plant her agency helped finance.

“I’m here to see that beautiful building because I financed it,” Adler said.

Adler said her agency’s mission was to help “sustain rural communities” by supporting the private sector through loan guarantees. She said the program targets projects such as hospitals, schools and others that have a multiplier effect and generate “secondary investment.”

“If you don’t have access to capital, you can’t do the job,” Adler said. “These loan guarantees give businesses the working capital they need so they can grow at their own pace.”

Adler’s office has already reached its $8 million limit in loan guarantees for the current fiscal year.

While Wickman knew Adler as an ardent supporter of rural communities, he said he didn’t know her connections would get him invited to lunch at the White House. In February, he was there as Nevada’s representative in a program recognizing manufacturing success in rural America. While the recognition was flattering, it was more important to get a chance to discuss issues facing manufacturers, he said.

“It wasn’t about Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “They generally wanted feedback on how they could help.”

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

Las Vegas Review-Journal: Cantor Gaming debuts new sports book at the Palms

By Chris Sieroty
Posted: May 4, 2012 | 2:55 p.m.
Updated: May 4, 2012 | 3:28 p.m.

Cantor Gaming on Friday opened its sixth owned-and-operated race and sports book in Las Vegas, a luxury facility at the Palms.

The high-end Palms venue is also the first Cantor sports book to include a poker room – a marriage that makes financial sense, according to Lee Amaitis, president and CEO of Cantor Gaming.

“We saw a direct correlation between people who play poker and people who play sports,” Amaitis said. “I though the opportunity for us to acquire the poker business of the Palms fit into this beautiful environment. We are going to jumpstart a new wave of how people want to play poker.”

Amaitis described the poker operations as a “laboratory” for company research. He said it “remains to be seen” if Cantor moves forward with plans for poker rooms at its other venues, which include M Resort and The Venetian.

At the Palms, there are effectively two Cantor poker rooms – a large open space with seven poker tables and a glass-enclosure with a single table for high-limit games.

The new sports book took three months to build, Amaitis said. The 9,840-square-foot space is decorated with Cantor’s trademark red leather furniture. It features marble floors and hand-stitched leather walls as well as 1,290 square-feet of high-definition TVs and 93 carrels for bettors.

Amaitis described the combination of poker and sports wagering as a “milestone for Cantor to achieve success in Nevada.”

The Palms sports book is the latest project for Cantor, which owns betting shops at M Resort, Tropicana Las Vegas, Hard Rock Hotel, The Venetian and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. It operates the book at the Palazzo.

In addition, Cantor built a new bar, Tonic, to be operated the Palms adjacent to the entrance of the sports book.

“It’s a state-of-the-art sports book with a poker room,” said Richard Strafella, vice president of casino operations at the Palms. “It takes it to a whole new level. Poker and sports wagering get along very well together.”

Strafella said other renovations to the 10-year-old resort include remodeled rooms, new bars in the casino and updated clubs. About $3 million in new slot machines have already been placed on the casino floor, along with an upgraded pool area, he said.

Strafella declined to discuss costs. The hotel-casino is owned by Leonard Green & Partners L.P. and TPG Capital, which purchased the property’s outstanding $459 million loan last year.

The property was developed by George Maloof and his family, who now hold a 2 percent ownership stake with an option to buy an additional 7.5 percent share.

Amaitis told the Review-Journal in an interview prior to the sports book’s opening that he was confident in the future of gambling in Nevada, and most importantly the growth of the legal sports betting industry.

“Like anything else in this town if you are investing in the comeback of Las Vegas, you are not really investing in the margin business of sports wagering, but you are investing in the margin business of entertainment and the uptick of gaming again once it comes on board,” Amaitis said.

Gaming in Nevada is a $10 billion-a-year industry, while race and sports books take home $150 million annually.

“You have to believe – that’s why we are here – that $150 million will become a much bigger number,” he said. “I think in the short time we’ve been operating here … we have proven to the state that the handle on sports wagering is (not) where it should be.”

Amaitis said he was confident the Nevada sports betting handle would rise from just under $3 billion last year to $5 billion in the next few years.

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