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US casinos raked in $11B in first quarter to match best-ever ‘win’

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US casinos raked in $11B in first quarter to match best-ever ‘win’

Figures released Tuesday by the American Gaming Association, the casino industry’s national trade group, show the nation’s commercial casinos took in over $11.1 billion in the first quarter of this year.

America’s commercial casinos matched their best quarter ever in the first three months of this year, as customers continued returning amid the COVID-19 pandemic and internet and sports betting money helped boost revenue numbers.

That matched the industry’s best quarter in history, the third quarter of 2019. The figures do not include tribal casinos.

And March was a particularly good month: 12 states reported their highest-ever levels of monthly gambling revenue.

The 2021 first-quarter revenue numbers represented a nearly 18 percent increase over the first quarter of 2020, when the pandemic began to take hold nationwide, and an increase of more than 4 percent from the first quarter of 2019, before the pandemic began.

The numbers were even more heartening to industry executives because they came while most casinos were still operating under capacity restrictions designed to slow the spread of the virus.

“Today’s report shows gaming’s comeback is ahead of schedule,” said Bill Miller, the association’s president and CEO. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our industry has faced numerous challenges head-on while still reopening responsibly and providing a safe, exciting environment for customers. The gaming industry is generating these impressive results with one hand tied behind our back as capacity and amenity restrictions remain across the country.”

Some state-mandated closures remained in effect in the first quarter of this year. Casinos in Pennsylvania and Illinois were allowed to reopen from a second mandated shutdown on Jan. 4 and Jan. 16, respectively. In early March, New Mexico became the last commercial gaming market to resume operations after having been shuttered for just under a year.

Fourteen out of the 25 commercial casino states — home to more than 75 percent of the nation’s commercial casinos — limited casino occupancy to below 50 percent during the quarter.

One of the few places where commercial casinos were operating at full capacity in the first quarter was South Dakota. It was the first commercial casino state to reopen last year, on May 7, 2020.

Terry Glebocki, CEO of the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, said customer volumes at her property have been increasing this year, due in part to a multimillion-dollar reinvestment the casino is making.

But there is another factor at play, she said.

“I do think we’re seeing more and more people feeling more comfortable coming out” to casinos, she said. “There’s a ton of pent-up demand out there. People want to go out and have fun, and that’s what you do at a casino.”

Traditional brick-and-mortar casino games generated 90 percent of their first-quarter 2019 revenue. March was particularly strong, with revenue from slots and table games coming within 1 percent of March 2019 totals.

Sports betting revenue set a new quarterly record this year at $961 million, up 270 percent from a year earlier, and surpassing 2019’s full-year total of $909 million.

Helped by the successful opening of online casinos in Michigan, internet gambling generated $784 million nationwide in the first quarter of this year, more than three times the amount from a year ago.

In March, a dozen states set monthly gambling revenue records: Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Virginia.

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El Salvador volcanoes to power bitcoin mining

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El Salvador volcanoes to power bitcoin mining

Bitcoin is red-hot in El Salvador — and the country says it plans to use power from its volcanoes to mine it.

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele — just hours after the country’s legislature approved the “Bitcoin Law,” making it the first to accept Bitcoin as legal tender — revealed Wednesday that the nation’s state-owned geothermal electric company will harness volcanic energy to mine the cryptocurrency.

Bukele said the country is already designing a mining hub that will use “very cheap, 100% clean, 100% renewable” energy from volcanoes to power the operation, which effectively would be a bank of super-powered computers that solve the complex mathematical equations required to mine Bitcoin.

“Our engineers just informed me that they dug a new well,” Bukele tweeted, saying it would generate 95 megawatts of energy — enough to power more than 500 homes for a year. “What you see coming out of the well is pure water vapor.”

Bukele — who is looking to lower transaction fees on the $6 billion in yearly remittances sent to its citizens from abroad — has yet, however, to reveal when the new operation will be live or how many Bitcoins he expects to be able to mine.

It’s been a bullish week for Bitcoin in El Salvador. The digital coin can now be used as payment for goods, services, and taxes in the public and private sector. Bitcoin rose 6 percent on the news, according to data from Coindesk.

According to a study by Cambridge University, Bitcoin mining consumes more energy per year than the Philippines. Elon Musk has met with Bitcoin miners about environmental concerns, recently citing them as he announced Tesla would no longer accept Bitcoin as payment.

Details about the mining efforts and how El Salvador will widely adopt Bitcoin remain vague. The law states it will provide “the necessary training and mechanisms” to allow the 70 percent of its citizens that don’t have access to traditional banking services to understand how they can use Bitcoin but didn’t elaborate.

Still, Bukele remains an enthusiastic advocate for the currency and his mining project. Late Thursday he tweeted drone footage of the new mine with a rainbow in the background.

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China arrests 1,100 crypto users on money laundering charges

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China arrests 1,100 crypto users on money laundering charges

China’s crackdown on cryptocurrencies is heating up with a series of arrests that suggest digital currency users can be traced.

More than 1,100 people who allegedly used cryptocurrencies to launder profits from frauds were arrested Wednesday, the country’s Ministry of Public Security said in a statement. 

The busts involved 170 criminal groups who authorities say hired “coin farmers” to open crypto accounts after bank accounts they used for their alleged scams had been seized.

“The high illegal income attracts a large number of people to participate, causing serious social harm,” the ministry said of the alleged plots.

The arrests may cast further doubt on the supposed un-traceability of cryptocurrencies. On Tuesday, the price of bitcoin fell almost 12 percent after it was revealed that US authorities were able to reclaim most of a bitcoin ransom that Colonial Pipeline paid to hacker group DarkSide in May. 

“Criminals have been using bitcoin because of the supposed inability of governments to get at it,” Anthony Denier, CEO of trading platform Webull, told the Post on Tuesday. “If governments can claw it back, that hurts its appeal.” 

Wednesday’s arrests are part of a broader Chinese crackdown on crypto. They come less than a month after the government called for greater regulation of digital currencies.

A committee presided over by a member of China’s Politburo wrote in May that it is necessary to “crack down on bitcoin mining and trading behavior, and resolutely prevent the transmission of individual risks to the social field.” 

Worries about bitcoin’s traceability and the looming threat of government regulations have sent the cryptocurrency plummeting from its peak of more than $63,000 in April. Bitcoin was trading at about $37,600 Thursday morning. 

Additional reporting by Will Feuer

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Burger King flambes Chic-Fil-A online, donates to LGBTQ foundation

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Burger King flambes Chic-Fil-A online, donates to LGBTQ foundation

They just served them a double whopper.

Burger King may have lost the restaurant-chain battle, but they’re charging ahead in the sandwich wars: The burger monger flame-broiled queer-rights critic Chick-fil-A in a Pride Month tweet in which they pledged to donate the proceeds from their new chicken sandwich to an LGBTQ charity. The provocative post currently boasts over 7,000 likes online.

Burger King tweeted last week that 40 cents from every one of their new hand-breaded Ch’King sandwiches sold during June will go to the Human Rights Campaign, which is the world’s largest LGBTQ-rights organization, Fox News reported. BK will contribute up to $250,000, according to the tweet.

The patty purveyor doubled down with a shot at Chick-fil-A, writing that the deal is good “even on Sundays,” when the devoutly Christian chicken chain shuts its doors.

The verbal whopper comes after years of opposition to Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A, which contributed millions to organizations that opposed same-sex marriage. In turn, that got the restaurant banned from several airports and schools across the country.

In 2019, Chick-fil-A announced that it would no longer donate to the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and other groups that have been criticized for their stances on LGBTQ issues.

BK is surely hoping the charitable act will help give the chain a leg up in the ongoing battle for chicken-sandwich dominance, which Chick-fil-A is currently winning in terms of total sales.

The chicken-driven competition began in 2019, when Popeyes’ new sandwich sold out at many of its stores after just two weeks on the menu. 

Since then, the largest US fast-food chains, from KFC to Wendy’s, have introduced new chicken-laden menus or announced plans to do so.

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