Albeit a week late, I want to share my 2021 portfolio for documentation purposes and for whoever is interested. I aimed to balance risk in this portfolio with some growth names and legacy plays. Down to brass tacks, I am putting my money in the highest quality companies (in my view) across a diverse set of industries I find attractive. Some of these names are overvalued in the short term. However, I have realized I am not in the business of beating Wall Street’s pricing, but would rather hold high-quality companies that I believe will grow faster that the market in the long term. In other words, I am totally fine paying a short-term premium for growth and quality. Below is a summary of the portfolio and big picture reasoning behind each investment. I'm definitely open to any feedback.
ARK Genomic Revolution ETF
Evolution Gaming Group
ARK Genomic Revolution ETF (BATS: ARKG) - Invests in companies advancing genomics. The companies held in ARKG may develop, produce or enable: CRISPR, Targeted Therapeutics, Bioinformatics, Molecular Diagnostics, Stem Cells, Agricultural Biology.
Innovative industry. Since 2003 the cost to sequence a human genome has dropped from nearly $3bn to less than $1,000. ARK believes that as costs continue to drop, genomic sequencing will become a standard of care in oncology. It will introduce more science into healthcare decision making, enable personalized medicine, and accelerate drug discovery. ARK estimates that genomic sequencing revenues will grow 43% at an annual rate, from $3.5bn last year to $21bn in 2024.
Cathie Wood. She’s a beast stock picker. Out of all the ETFs she runs, her closest competitor trailed by 60%. Her worst ETF still doubled investors' money. Her strategy is to make investments into companies that she considers incredibly transformational and she has seen success doing it.
CrowdStrike (NASDAQ: CRWD) - Cybersecurity technology company that provides endpoint security, threat intelligence, and cyber attack response services.
Best in class technology. Remember about a week ago a bunch of Russian hackers breached SolarWinds? The same hackers also tried to hack CrowdSrike at the same time but were unsuccessful. I’ve wandered on to a bunch of cybersecurity forums, and the general consensus is CrowdStrike has developed the best cybersecurity solution by miles. CRWD is the undisputed leader in cybersecurity.
“Pick-and-shovel” investment into the world’s increasing digitization. Even in the absence of COVID, cybersecurity remains a key component of the world’s increasing digitization as cyberthreats have been an ongoing issue from the onset of the internet. In the last decade we have seen a bunch of hacks where companies have exposed sensitive customer information. It seems companies are just starting to realize the importance of cybersecurity.
Disney (NYSE: DIS) - Worldwide entertainment company that you all are probably familiar with.
Reopening trade. In 2019, parks generated 45% of total operating income for DIS. Full reopening and attendance in parks will be slow, but certainly benefit DIS when it happens. The company has been executing on several other segments in the meantime (i.e. streaming). It has proved competitive, increasing the margin of safety if parks take longer to reopen.
Fast-growing streaming division. DIS has proved agile as it successfully launched a streaming service, Disney+, that has already gained 86mn+ subscribers which was the company’s original 5 year target. This is promising as it shows management can adapt to rapidly changing technology trends.
Enphase Energy (NASDAQ: ENPH) - Designs and manufactures software-driven home energy solutions that span solar generation, home energy storage and web-based monitoring and control.
Shift to clean energy; ENPH emerging as market leader. Going into 2021, sentiments towards solar have been at an all time high. This trend is expected to continue, especially after the Georgia run-off results. Solar firms are expected to benefit from extended tax incentives on both the consumer and producer ends.
Technological advantage. ENPH has developed the industry leading solution and is rapidly taking market share from its primary competitor, SolarEdge. Pricing reflects this, but it's expected to continue. Among key competitors, Enphase has been one of the lowest cost producers. Its low-cost structure is a major contributing factor to its improving margins.
Evolution Gaming Group (OTC: EVVTY) - Swedish company that develops, produces, markets and licenses integrated B2B live casino solutions for gaming operators.
Early mover advantage. Evolution’s lack of competition enables it to rapidly grow in new markets and create a loyal customer base, with high switching costs. The company has effectively grown EBITA margins from 41.6% in 1Q18 to 64.8% in 3Q20. Margin expansion is expected to continue.
Massive untapped markets. Europe is estimated to be around $2.5bn (EVVTY has 50% market share), Asian market is ~15x the size of Europe (150% YoY growth for EVVTY in Asia). North America’s market is ~$210mn, a 42% increase YoY, with NJ and PA the only states currently operating (NY looks promising). Management thinks the US will be the largest in the long-term.
Undetected from Wall Street. Evolution has almost no analyst coverage in the US and very minimal coverage in Europe, presenting opportunity for additional growth as institutional money managers recognize this opportunity and draw attention to the stock. Additionally, Evolution has a founder-led management team that is highly aligned with shareholders (mgmt owns over 30% of the stock).
Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) - Enables people to connect through devices. It’s products include Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp and Oculus.
Zuck. It’s not a question of who is the next Jobs/Bezos/Gates/Zuck, because Zuck is super young. He has a history of being able to execute: IG acquisition / transition from desktop to mobile / denying multiple acquisition opportunities in his twenties.
Undervalued. FB is the cheapest among the FAANG stocks, yet has some of the highest growth rates. This is mainly because of its continuous political scandals. With Trump out of office, I think FB has a chance to stay out of trouble and start to realize higher multiples. The antitrust lawsuit is not a threat imo, it is actually an opportunity. If the govt forces FB to break up, we would get shares in the spin-offs, which would be valued at a higher multiple than FB. For example, if Instagram spun off from FB and traded at the same multiple as SNAP, Instagram’s market cap would be larger than FB’s.
Digitization of Real Estate (i.e. “iBuying”). Technology in RE is moving from being informational to transactional. Redfin’s iBuying service is dubbed “RedfinNow.” The service basically buys homes from sellers looking for a quick and convenient sale (close deals within 10-30 days). This segment isn’t profitable yet as it is just getting started, but promising as the management adapts to technology trends.
Inter-US Migration and housing outlook. People are moving out of the cities because of COVID / trying to avoid taxes / etc. which increases demand for Redfin’s services. With interest rates extremely low (and no expectation for them to increase), homebuying demand should continue to grow.
RDFN most attractively valued compared to Z and OPEN, with the most upside potential given its market cap ~$7bn. Some are predicting RDFN might start offering rental services as well. RDFN has the best LT margin potential.
Teladoc Health (NYSE: TDOC) - Provides virtual healthcare services on a B2B basis to its clients and provides services to consumers directly and through channel partners.
Competitive positioning in industry ripe for disruption. Healthcare is a huge market yet to be significantly disrupted. COVID has accelerated this disruption. Providers who were once opposed to telemedicine now realize its benefits and several regulatory changes are promising for telemedicines growth potential. Medicare and other government-sponsored coverage is expected to include telemedicine benefits, increasing TDOC’s TAM.
Livongo acquisition. From the consumer POV, this will increase access to healthcare at a lower cost. Teladoc will have access to a larger amount of data it can interpret to refine its services and monetization strategies.
Sea Ltd (NYSE: SE) - Digital entertainment, electronic commerce, and digital financial services. The Company operates three business segments: Garena, Shopee, and SeaMonkey. The Company’s digital entertainment business, Garena, is a global game developer and publisher with a presence in Southeast Asia, Taiwan, and Latin America. Garena provides access to mobile and personal computer online games. Shopee provides users with a shopping environment that is supported by integrated payment, logistics, fulfillment, and other value-added services. SeaMonkey business is a digital financial services provider. SeaMonkey offers e-wallet services, payment processing, credit related digital financial offerings, and other financial products.
Diversified consumer internet company with market-leading position. Sea caters to Southeast Asia and Taiwan, providing its online gaming, e-commerce, and payment platforms. Shopee has overtaken competitors, it is widening its market share lead. ESports is a rapidly growing market (15.7% YoY to $1.1bn in 2020) and Sea is outpacing market growth.
Pay for quality. The best companies keep going up for years in a row, and I think Sea is in the early stages of being classified as such a company. It’s worth $100bn but has effectively proved its ability to identify opportunities and expand business lines.
Still early stages of developing its consumer banking business, so we get the security of a bigger, established company with upside for an additional, lucrative business line such as fintech.
Waste Connections Inc. (NYSE: WCN) - Waste services company that provides non-hazardous waste collection, transfer, disposal and recycling services.
Recession resilient; re-opening trade. The waste management industry is recession resilient, it will always be around.
Non-hazardous waste collection. With a progressive government likely to push climate initiatives, recycling and non-hazardous waste collection are likely to benefit on the back end.
WCN has a large moat; there isn’t much of a competitive threat the way the industry operates. Management’s strategy is to generally only spend what FCF is available. This enables the company to make acquisitions while handling its debt load. Great for stable growth.
P.S. I have two other accounts - one with about 40 growth stocks and another with about 10 big names / ETFs. However, this portfolio has the largest allocation for 2021. My first time trying a more concentrated approach.
I live in a small mining town in the mountains of Colorado. Someone is building a massive casino nearby, Pictures Included
I grew up in a small mountain town named Eureka. It was founded in the late 1800s during the gold rush, but after the mines dried up the town began its slow descent into decay. Half the houses are empty or abandoned now. You can see a picture of the kind of houses here in Eureka: First house Second house When a massive construction project began nearby, it was the talk of the town for weeks. Why would they build something in a sleepy dying town like Eureka? It wasn’t until my sister Selene talked to a few construction workers that we discovered they were building a casino. A casino up in the mountains, over two hours away from Denver. None of us could understand why they’d chosen here of all places. After a few months of work, the casino was done. I took a picture of the town with the completed casino in the background to the right. The ten-story-structure sticks out like a sore thumb off in the distance. Town+Casino After the casino opened, they hired a few dozen members of the town, offering high paying jobs to work as dealers or cleaning staff. I was already employed as a firefighter, but my sister Selene got a job as a blackjack dealer. She’s a widow with two young kids, so the paycheck was a real lifesaver. Still, something about the situation seemed too good to be true. The jobs over there paid far too well, and the management was far too accommodating. The fire station where I work is located high on a hill overlooking the town, so I began watching the casino from a distance each day. I had initially thought that the casino was located in a terrible location, but I was apparently wrong. True, Eureka was hours from any major city, but despite that, a bus full of people arrived every morning and left every evening. One night I was over at my parent’s house and had dinner with Selene and her kids. I asked her about her experience as a dealer. “It’s Ok,” she said. “Just a little boring I guess.” “Boring?” I asked. “I’m surprised you don’t have your hands full.” “Why’s that?” she asked. “It’s like you said, Eureka’s too small. I never have people playing cards. The casino is almost always completely empty.” I wasn’t sure what to make of that. If the place was always empty, what happened to the people who I’d seen arriving on buses? “I’ve been keeping an eye on the building,” I said. “A bus full of people typically arrives around 9 AM every day.” “Really?” she asked, looking confused. “If that’s true, I’ve never seen them. “I can see it from the fire station,” I said. “If you head out for a smoke break at 9 AM, you’ll probably see them arriving.” “Interesting,” she said. “I’ll do that. If they’re being processed for their organs or something, I’ll let you know.” She laughed. “Har har,” I said sarcastically. The next night she sent me a text calling me over. When I arrived, she was nearly breathless with excitement. “Orin, You were right,” she said. “A big group of people did arrive, but they didn’t walk into my part of the casino. Instead, they all walked into an elevator at the back of the building. I’m not sure where that goes.” She looked thoughtful. “It was weird. They looked… How can I say it? Desperate? Something about the whole situation was very off. I’m gonna check out the elevator tomorrow.” I told her to be careful, though, to be honest, I was excited to hear about what she discovered. When I visited my parent’s house the next night, I found her two kids there alone. They told me that Selene had never returned from work. I called all her friends, then all our neighbors, but no one had seen her since she left for work that morning. Our conversations regarding the casino flooded my mind, then a plan began to form. Early the next morning I walked across town in my nicest pair of jeans and a button-up shirt. I pushed through the door to the casino and saw that Selene wasn’t lying. The place was all but deserted. Three dozen slot machines crowded the walls surrounding a few tables interspersed throughout the floor of the casino. The only players in the whole building were Bob and Donald, two locals. I walked up to a nearby table where Bridget, a girl I’d gone to high school with, was shuffling cards. She broke into a grin when she saw me. “Hey Orin, you here for a few rounds of blackjack?” “I wish,” I said. “No, I’m here to ask about Selene. She never made it home last night.” Bridget’s expression darkened. “Really? Have you asked around?” “I already called around. Have you seen her?” She shook her head. “No, our schedules rarely line up. I’ll be sure to let you know if I--” Her eyes focused on something behind me, and she cut herself off. I turned around to see the casino’s pit boss watching us both. He was a tall thin man in an impeccably clean black suit. When I turned back towards Bridget, she was looking down at the table and shuffling cards absent-mindedly. “Well, if you hear anything, let me know,” I said. She nodded, so I turned around and headed for the pit boss. I stuck out my hand. The temperature of his hand was so hot that I had to pull my hand away after a few seconds. “Have… have you seen my sister Selene?” I asked. “She hasn’t been seen since her shift here yesterday.” He smiled. “Sir, this floor is for players. You’re more than welcome to head to the tellers for chips, but barring that I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.” I stared at him for a long second before stalking towards the door. When I looked back, he was talking with Bridget. I checked my watch. 8:55 AM, just as I’d planned. I walked around the back of the building and waited as the morning bus pulled around the building. I waited for the telltale hiss of the opening doors and the sound of people descending before I rounded the corner and joined the crowd. None of them paid any particular attention to me as I walked with them into the casino. The crowd walked through a side door down a hallway to an elevator. Small groups of people entered the elevator as the rest of us waited for our turn. I shot a glance at the casino patrons, surprised at their diversity. There seemed to be people from all different countries and ethnicities. I heard one speaking Japanese and another speaking what sounded like an African language. My turn came along with a few other patrons in the elevator. A sickly woman hobbled into the elevator beside me carrying an IV that was still connected to one of her veins. We piled in and rode up to the top. The elevator rose for a few long seconds. I wasn’t sure what I would find, but I steeled myself for something horrible. The elevator’s speaker let out a TING, then the doors opened. We all walked out onto what looked like a standard casino. Another few dozen slot machines ringed the walls, but on this floor, they were almost all occupied by customers. I took in the scene, confused at why they’d have a ground floor that was almost completely empty when this place was almost-- Selene was dealing cards at a nearby table. I jogged over and sat down at an open seat. None of the players around me paid me much attention. “Selene!” I said. “Are you OK? Did you spend the night here last night?” Her eyes were glassy and confused. She looked up at me with a dumb expression and didn’t respond to my question. “Selene?” I asked. “What’s your bet?” she asked me. “This table is for blackjack players only.” “I…” I trailed off, looking at the players around me. None of them were betting with chips of any kind. “What’s the minimum bet?” I asked. “Three years,” she responded. “Three years then,” I said, not knowing what that referred to. Selene nodded, then began dealing cards. I shot a look down at my hand. King and a 9. Selene dealt out cards for herself, showing a 9. I stood, then leaned forward again. “Should I call the police? Are you--” “Congratulations,” she said tonelessly. An almost impossibly warm hand grabbed my shoulder. I spun to see the pit boss I’d spoken to earlier. He gave an impressed smile. “Orin, was it? I’m impressed, truly. Would you mind if I had a word with you?” I shot a look back at Selene who was dealing the next round of cards. Then I got to my feet, balling my hands into fists. “What did you do to her?” The pit boss clasped his hands behind his back. “Nothing more, and nothing less than what I’m going to do to you. That is, offer you the chance to play.” “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” The pit boss nodded his head towards a nearby slot machine. A woman in a wheelchair pulled a lever and watched the flashing numbers spin. They exploded in a cacophony of sirens and flashing lights. “WINNER WINNER WINNER!” The machine screeched. The woman in the wheelchair put her feet on the ground and stood up on a pair of wobbly legs that had clearly never been used before. “As in any other casino,” the pit boss said, “you must wager for the chance to win.” “She... won the use of her legs?” I asked, feeling light-headed. “Wait,” I said. “I played blackjack just now. ‘Three years,’ Selene told me. What does ‘three years’ mean?” I asked. “Three years of life, of course. Did you win?” My mouth felt dry. “I-- Yes, I won.” He smiled warmly. “Congratulations. I hope you enjoy them. I can tell you from personal experience that watching the decades pass is a bore. Give it some time and you’ll be back to spend them.” I watched the pit boss’s face. He couldn’t have been more than a few years older than me, and I was in my early thirties. I looked around at the casino. No one was playing with chips of any kind. “So what?” I asked. “I won years of life. That woman won the use of her legs. What else can a person win here?” “Oh, almost anything. They can win almost anything you can imagine.” A cold feeling settled in my stomach. “And what do they wager?” His eyes flashed with greed. “Almost anything. They can wager almost anything you can possibly imagine. Anything equal in value to the item they want in return.” He nodded towards a nearby roulette table. A man stood by the table, cradling his hands. “Another finger,” he called out. He only had three fingers remaining on his left hand. As I watched, the ball came to a stop, and another finger disappeared from his left hand. The pit boss extended his hands. “Feel free to try any of our games. Bet and win whatever you’d like.” He reached out and snatched my hand. A feeling of intense warmth passed up my arm to my chest. “There,” he said. “I’ve even given you some house money to get you started. An extra decade of life, on me.” I ripped my hand away, staring at him in horror. Then I looked back at Selene. Something clicked in my mind. “You offered her the chance to play. What did she want?” I asked. “Her husband,” the pit boss said. “Quite the sad story. He died two years ago. She wanted him brought back to her.” “What did she wager?” I asked. “She wanted the chance to win a soul, the most valuable object in existence. I’m sure you can imagine what she needed to wager for the chance to win it. What she wagered is unimportant. The important question is: What do you want, Orin?” I stared at Selene with a flat expression. “I’m sure you can imagine.” His eyes flashed with greed again. “How wonderful. The casino could always make use of another dealer. Feel free to make your wager at any one of our games; I’ll be eagerly awaiting the results of your night. Oh, and do take advantage of our waitresses. We always supply food and drink for ‘high rollers’.” He walked away. I spent the next few hours trying to decide which game to play. I was going to be wagering my soul, so I wanted the highest chance possible. Slots and roulette were out. I’d done some reading online about counting cards, so I figured that blackjack gave me the best odds. I walked up to Selene’s table and sat down. “Bet?” she asked with that same toneless voice. “Three years,” I said. I spent the next hour or so doing my best to remember how to count cards. I knew that low cards added one to my count and high cards decreased it by one, but the casino used three decks. I had read something about how that was supposed to change my calculation, but I couldn’t quite remember how. Every time I won a hand, I cursed myself for not putting everything on the line. Every time I lost, I breathed a prayer of thanks that I’d waited. And all the while, I kept track of the count. I had lost fifteen years of life when the count finally reached +5. “Bet?” Selene asked. “I wager my soul so you can be free,” I said. The table around me fell silent. Selene’s eyes flickered, but she showed no other emotion as she dealt the cards. I watched my first card, punching the air in excitement when I saw a Jack. My excitement turned to ash when my second card was a four. Fourteen. I looked at her hand. One card was facedown, but the faceup card was a King. I swore loudly, staring down at my hands. “Hit?” she asked. The entire table was silently watching me. “Hit,” I said, not looking down. The table erupted in cheers. I looked down to see a 7 atop my two other cards. 21. Blackjack. I looked at Selene who flipped over her facedown card to reveal a 9. 19. I won. The glassy look left her eyes immediately. She looked around in surprise, then her eyes locked on mine. “Orin?” she asked, then almost immediately began to cry. The entire casino broke out in cheers. I grabbed her hand and headed for the elevator. The doors had begun to close when the pit boss reached out with a hand to stop them. “Congratulations,” he said, beaming. He seemed to be honestly excited. “Shouldn’t you be upset?” I asked. “Not at all. Casinos love it when we have big winners. It inspires the other players to make larger bets. I imagine I’ll gain two or three dealers before the night is through from your performance.” “Great,” I said flatly. “Now let us go.” “Not yet,” he said. “You didn’t just win, Orin. You got a blackjack. And blackjack pays out 1.5 times your bet. You won your sister’s soul and more.” I stared, not sure what to say. “What are you saying? I won half a soul extra?” The pit boss grinned wildly. “Just remember what I said. You’ll find living for decades and decades to be a boring experience. After a few centuries, you’ll be back to gamble that half a soul away. Congratulations!” He removed his hand, and the elevator doors slammed shut. I helped Selene back to her house. Her children were relieved. I watched them cry, then moved into the kitchen to start making dinner. It’s been a few days since that experience. The casino is still out there, and buses full of people still arrive. I… I cut my hand pretty bad a few days later. When I checked it an hour later, it had already healed, no scar or anything. I’m not sure exactly what I won at that casino, but there’s no way I’m ever going back. X
Dec/29/2020 news: \\ political party law reformed: idea > individual; transparency; female % \\ Pashinyan responds to "not being enough pro-Russian" \\ who owns which business? \\ protests & snap elect. \\ burglary case & HHK MP \\ humanitarian aid for Artsakh \\ Vitalik flexes muscles \\ bills pass
Your 14-minute Tuesday report in 3589 words.
Pashinyan about pre-war negotiations and "avoiding" the war:
The idea that a flexible foreign policy could have avoided this war is being constantly circulated. Those [former officials] who believe in this thesis must answer at least one question: as a result of their "flexible" policy, why was it not possible to avoid the war of 2016, which was preceded by the unprecedented escalation of 2015 and 2014? The "flexible" policy adopted by Armenia for many years led to the introduction of Russian proposals in January 2016, which proposed the return of 7 territories (5 + 2) without any legal status for Nagorno-Karabakh. Why did Russia make such an offer? For one simple reason, as a result of Armenia's "flexible" policy, the Madrid process had come to a standstill because Artsakh could receive a Status outside Azerbaijan only with the consent of Azerbaijan. It was obvious to Russia and everyone else that Azerbaijan would not agree to this, so it was necessary to find ways to break the deadlock. And, by the way, if certain people claim that Armenia's foreign policy after 2018 was not sufficiently pro-Russian and this was the reason for the war, then why in the conditions of the "sufficiently pro-Russian" policy of 2016 were Russian proposals born and why did the April war take place? There was only one way to prevent this war: return the regions and forget about Artsakh's legal status. Now, after the war is over and we know the outcome, the number of supporters of [giveaway of 7 regions] is growing. What they forget is that if we gave away the lands to avoid the war, we would have the same situation in Syunik borders. They used to accuse us of "selling lands" [he means the contradictory statements like Nikol sold the lands, and why didn't Nikol sell the lands earlier to avoid the war]. The biggest failure by the supporters of the "flexible policies" is that they spent years trying to avoid a war instead of preparing for it. Our biggest failure is that we weren't able to recover enough embezzled public property in the past 2.5 years to help us better prepare for the war. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039231.html
businesses owned by opposition leaders
What are the known businesses owned by some of the famous people you might have seen in the public square lately?
20% share in Lorva Amrots Ltd which plans to operate two hydro-power plants on Dzoraget river. Manukyan purchased the shares in 2011 after being appointed by Serj as the head of the Public Council. In 2015-2016, he owned 30% shares in Vanavka Group. In 2015-2017 he had 30% shares in Jermakunq Group. These companies extracted and bottled water. At the time, the director of these companies was charged with illegal bottling and causing ֏55 million in damages to the state. The corruption case was sent to the IRS, which terminated the investigation after "not finding a crime". The companies export the products mostly to Russia.
Vanetsyan is a poor boy, according to the public declarations database. But if you have time, take a look at the investigative report I covered in Ap29/2020 news, according to which Vanetsyan's family allegedly used offshore firms and owns mining shares. More on that here. Here is a Hetq investigative report. Vanetsyan's father owns AV Group flower importing business. About a year ago, the police investigated several flower sellers near a stadium. An opposition outlet claimed that the sellers were "beaten and forced" to testify that Vanetsyan's father was running an underground business. This was never properly proven and the opposition's claim that Vanetsyan was about to be charged did not happen. The police confirmed that there was an investigation against several flower sellers. These flower sellers ended up hiring Vanetsyan's co-party-creator Arsen Babayan as a lawyer. Vanetsyan's father owns 50% shares of A B Export oil import company that began operating in 2017. It was a minor player that quit the market in 2019. Vanetsyan's father also owns 60% of A B Trans transportation company. In Nov/2019, CivilNet wrote about Arthur Vanetsyan's cousins' possible involvement with Zangezur Copper factory (massive business). The same offshore firm in Cyprus, which purchased Zangezur shares, was tied to Vanetsyan's cousins' another business in the same offshore. Vanetsyan's cousins also own a Switzerland-based Exoil wholesale cooking oil and shipping company. In 2019 it had a revenue of $148 million (11 billion Rubles). The cousins don't do this business in Armenia. Per 2019 registration, Arthur Vanetsyan himself owns one apartment, $10,000, and ֏1 million. Media reported in May/2020 that Vanetsyan's cousin purchased a ֏300 million mansion in Yerevan, which was donated to then-new political party "Hayreniq", co-founded by Arthur Vanetsyan and Arsen Babayan (the guy who is accused of helping HHK to fabricate documents in 2018 to hijack the Constitutional Court by appointing HHK MP Hrayr Tovmasyan as a judge). Arthur Vanetsyan's mother served as the chief of the personnel-management department in Serj and Pashinyan administrations, before quitting and working as Serj's aide. Vanetsyan's wife owns Villa Montessori preschool in Yerevan. She also runs the Young Education Center Ltd.
ARF Ishkhan Saghatelyan
Pashinyan appointed Saghatelyan as Gegharquniq governor for a brief period after the 2018 revolution, when Pashinyan created a unity-government, represented by all political parties. The honeymoon soon ended and each party went their way. Saghatelyan owns shares in i-mega Service Ltd. It's a tourism agency founded in 2006. It operates in Armenia, Artsakh, and Georgia. Saghatelyan founded Navasar company and serves as director. It's owned by his father. Saghatelyan family owns the Tsovasar hotel complex on Lake Sevan shores. It's 10,000 m2 (a hectare?). As of 2018, Saghatelyan declared ownership of 8 pieces of land, 2 apartments, ֏18.5 million, $45,000, and €15,000. Saghatelyan's father is the mayor of Gegharquniq's Geghamavan settlement. This municipality had recently sent a letter demanding Pashinyan's resignation. Saghatelyan used to be a shareholder of Shiman Ltd which is no longer active.
BHK leader Gagik "dodi gago" Tsarukyan
BUCKLE UP, KIDS! Overall, Tsarukyan runs 54 companies. Студент, комсомолец, спортсмен, u наконец, он просто красавиц. His business empire was covered in details here. Textile, gas stations, malls, Multi Group empire, Shangri-La Casino, Ararat Cognac & Wine Factory, BMW official office Euromotors (also Hyundai, Gazel, Niva), Multi Motors, Magas Invest, Multi Wellness, Olimpavan sports complex, Kotayk beer factory, TechnAlyumin door & window factory, Multi Rest House hotel chain, Paravon luxury restaurant, Onira Club, Zvartnot's airport's upper-level service company Avia Service, Farm Adama, Multi Pharm pharmacy, Multi Leon gas stations, Multi Solar solar panels. He owns shares in Frank Mueller Yerevan watch company, Fortsa, Multi Gold, Multi Diamond jewelry firms, several fish-breeding businesses. He also runs businesses in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Czechia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Latvia. Per official declaration, he owns $168 million, €29 million, ֏675 million, 14 pieces of land, 6 houses, 2 public buildings, 1 apartment.
Details for BHK MP Mikael Melkumyan and HHK Vahram Baghdasaryan in the link below.
The street demonstrations, organized by the former regime and its allies, continue. They demand Pashinyan's resignation and the appointment of their candidate Vazgen Manukyan as the Prime Minister for the duration of a year, after which they agree to hold new elections. ARF leader Artsvik Minasyan said they don't plan to discuss snap elections with Pashinyan. "Right now, our only demand is Pashinyan's resignation. We demand SIS to immediately hold every criminal accountable". The demonstrators gathered in front of the SIS building to present the demands. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039316.html
Pashinyan meets leaders of several opposition parties
felony case: ex-HHK MP charged with armed attack on ex-IRS official
In August of this year, Russia extradited a former HHK MP Alraghatsi Lyovik to Armenia. He was wanted for allegedly burglarizing and shooting at a senior IRS official a decade ago. At the time, his case was "frozen". It was relaunched in 2018. (magic wand) NSS says: suspect Lyovik, with the help of citizens AK and AN, organized an armed burglary against IRS Chief (?) Avetisyan in 2008. AK was in the United States. In 2004, he stole $150,000 from jewelry shops in Los Angeles. He got caught but managed to flee to Armenia. Once in Armenia, AK colluded with policeman AN to organize a similar criminal ring in Armenia. [MP] Lyovik personally knew AK, and learned about their burglaries. Since Lyovik had bad relations with the IRS chief (victim), he decided to punish the victim by urging AK to burglarize his house. Lyovik revealed the plot to his brother-in-law, who happened to be the victim's personal aide. The latter gave all the personal habits and details about the victim to the burglars. [read the article for the full story, or wait for a Hollywood movie in theaters near you] The burglars and organizers are charged with felonies. https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/203835 , https://youtu.be/brdozVbwQ6A , https://factor.am/274836.html , https://armtimes.com/hy/article/183522 , https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/203835 ,
Russian Orthodox chapel will be built
... in the Armenian settlement near Nakhijevan where Azerbaijan had earlier shut down a Russian helicopter, which killed and wounded Russian pilots. It'll be on a hill in Yeraskh. Construction starts on January 6th. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039259.html
Vitalik Balasanyan will return the lands, kicks junkies, and restrict Facebook
Artsakh President Arayik earlier announced that he will allow his opponents to take jobs in the new coalition government. Kocharyan-ally Vitali Balasanyan became the Security Council chief. Vitalik: we will return Hadrut and Askeran region with the help of Russian and Armenian military-political efforts. We are in a better situation now to solve territorial issues. We will soon create border guard forces. It will report to MoD, which will report to the Security Council (his office). Drugs have no place in Artsakh. Drug users must quit or leave Artsakh now. We need to return to traditional values of giving women as wives after asking if the man had served in the army. No public official will be allowed to use Facebook during work. More: https://youtu.be/DceHyi4AB5g https://www.panarmenian.net/arm/news/289056/
search operations are paused / the "welcome to Azerbaijan" sign
Azerbaijan received criticism for refusing to allow search teams to enter the Hadrut region yesterday. They also prevented UNESCO from checking the status of several Armenian cultural sights, after complaining that UNESCO was "biased" against Azerbaijan during the war. HR Ombudsman: Any untrue information can not be a reason to disrupt the humanitarian process [referring to unconfirmed rumors on social media that Armenians opened fire at Azeris in Hadrut. An unofficial Iranian social media channel claims 3 Azeris were killed but due to an internal fight.] The Human Rights Ombudsman also criticized the Azeri troops for installing a provocative "welcome to Azerbaijan" sign on part of a road that went under Azeri control near Syunik borders. The Ombudsman says it's meant to intimidate the locals. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039233.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039237.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039244.html , https://factor.am/325511.html
Context: BHK MP Naira Zohrabyan referred to the majority of Armenian voters as human trash *(or as she says: impure), and called for the establishment of forced re-education camps so people won't vote for a "wrong party" again. The ruling QP party launched a process to terminate her chairmanship in Parliamentary Human Rights Committee. Read yesterday's thread for more details.* QP MP Arthur: the law states that the Parliament can appoint and terminate the chairman. The termination of this seat does not require the same procedures as in the case of MPs and Judges. Armenian Constitution states that in Armenia, human beings are of the highest value, and inalienable human dignity is the inseparable basis of their rights and freedoms. MP Zohrabyan's public conduct is against it. // The law gives the second-largest political party the mandate to appoint the chairman of this particular Committee. BHK, being the second-largest party, said they wouldn't appoint a replacement if Zohrabyan is voted out. QP MP Arthur: per rules, if BHK refuses to appoint a new candidate, the largest (QP) party will receive the mandate. // Parliament voted 78-4 to terminate Zohrabyan's chairmanship. BHK and LHK did not vote. BHK MP Zohrabyan: this termination was a Constitutional crime. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039245.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039264.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039304.html , https://factor.am/325132.html
Parliament votes: registering parties becomes easier / ideology instead of person / financial transparency
The goal of this reform is to have political parties that are more about ideology and less about an individual. The reform will boost internal democracy within parties; it will expand the powers of the Party Assembly. Parties will be required to add more anonymous voting mechanisms. The law also requires more financial transparency. The required membership to register a party is lowered from 800 to 300. Some of the public funding given to political parties will depend on the % of female members in the administrative boards. Parliament voted 99-1 to approve it. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039270.html , https://youtu.be/bPuZViCCCxo
Parliament votes: monthly fees towards soldiers' recovery are raised
Most workers pay a monthly 1000 Dram towards the Soldiers' Fund, which takes care of wounded soldiers and families of those who died. The govt found it necessary to raise the fee to cover thousands of new recipients. Here are the new fees and salary brackets: ֏1,500 for < ֏100k/month ֏3,000 for < ֏200k ֏5,500 for < ֏500k ֏8,500 for < ֏1 million ֏15,000 for > ֏1 million Parliament voted 89-0 to approve it. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039296.html
Parliament votes: ban on public smoking is delayed until 2022
The govt had adopted a law to ban smoking in public cafes and the public display of cigarettes in grocery shops. The ruling party wanted to delay parts of the bill that were set to go into effect in January, citing possible financial issues for businesses caused by the pandemic. QP MP: the cigarette industry pays $383 million to state coffers. Healthcare Ministry: it will be a mistake if you delay this bill for the sake of $10 million in tax revenues. Parliament voted 86-0 to delay the anti-smoking bill until 2022. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039295.html
Parliament votes: no tax on goods donated to Armenia
QP MP: When you donate a charitable product to the Republic of Armenia, you are exempt from customs duties and other tax payments, except for one payment, which we are trying to exempt with this bill as well. // Parliament voted 80-0 to approve it. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039297.html
how is the Judicial Branch doing?
The Supreme Court protects or punishes judges. It also handles complaints. It's separate from the Constitutional Court. bad boys 19 complaints against judges were heard, 14 of which were petitioned by Justice Ministry and 4 by Judicial Ethics Board. 10 judges ended up receiving disciplinary penalties, 3 received a warning, 3 were reprimanded, 2 were terminated, 4 were cleared. the system is overloaded 61 judges are handling 6470 felony cases. 86 judges handle 175,940 civil cases. 24 judges handle 17,390 administrative cases. The number of Arbitration cases rose from 3100 to 9900. finances This year, Supremes appointed 20 new judges. Supreme's budget remained the same this year. They returned ֏607 million in savings back to state coffers. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039249.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039284.html
anti-corruption: SIS busts an IRS agent
SIS says: IRS border inspector took a bribe from a citizen to help him avoid paying Millions of ֏ in import taxes by splitting a large load into smaller pieces, so each piece would fall below the taxable threshold. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039293.html
Police and Nature Ministry have set up additional checkpoints as part of measures against whitefish poaching in Sevan. 24/7 monitoring on all alleys leading to the lake. They will also travel across markets to catch contraband whitefish. Why? It's the egg-laying season. Fishing is banned for now. The legally-allowed fishing tools were temporarily removed from the lake. https://youtu.be/8ZyRGpEazMQ https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039339.html
...the rest should have access to other jobs. There is an opportunity now because many businesses operate remotely. Call Center workers don't have to visit an office. Businesses would rather pay less to hire a rural remote worker than more to hire someone in a Yerevan office. The High Tech Ministry has an ongoing program to teach IT to 5,000 citizens. We must help workers to expand their skillset. We're working on a program to allow a worker to quit the job, not worry about the food on the table, and have enough time for education and learning new skills. The villagers should ideally lease their smaller lands to large agricultural producers," said Economy Minister Qerobyan. Full interview: https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039319.html
State regulators bust another price-fixing ring: fruit mafia
Yesterday, the Economic Competition Committee busted the egg industry's alleged price-fixing and anti-competitive practices. Today they say a similar collision was observed in the orange, mandarin, kiwi, lemon industry. The companies Best Fruits, Art-Fruits, and Promout were slapped with a ֏39 million in penalties for colluding to raise the prices for the products that had an increased demand during the pandemic period. http://www.competition.am/.../resources/Vo370_17_12_2020.pdf https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039269.html
Lenovo slapped for "anti-competitive practice"
The Economic Competition Committee heard a petition filed by Oazis Computer company against Lenovo. The latter was issued a warning for anti-competitive behavior. Public Regulator: "Lenovo" company had the ability to influence the process of importing Lenovo computers to Armenia from non-EAEU trade bloc countries. "Lenovo" took steps to reduce the import of Lenovo computers from non-EAEU states, by discriminating against Oazis Computer importer. Lenovo is given a month to correct the issue and fix the requirement and standards related paperwork. (Facebook next?) https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039333.html
Artsakh will also increase childbirth benefits
First child: ֏300k instead of ֏100k Second child: ֏300k instead of ֏200k (or ֏500k if one parent is disabled) As for monthly child care subsidy payments, it goes from ֏15k to ֏27k until the child turns 2. https://factor.am/325487.html
700 Artsakh families continue to live in 40 settlements of Gegharquniq province. The All Armenia Fund (HimnaDram.org) has provided food and household items to 241 families ahead of New Year. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039313.html
daily life in Syunik bordering villages Shurnukh and Vorotan
I wanted to share with the group some due diligence and speculation I have done around Gamehost (TSX: GH). I want to start by saying that this is not a situation where you urgently need to buy this right now and ride up a wave, there will be no rocket ships on this post and I strongly encourage you to perform your own due diligence and see if you want to buy this stock. This is an extremely low volume stock and if you rush to buy it, the price will go up far past the supply of sellers. I do not intend to pump this but only to get critique. Gamehost is an owner and operator of 3 casinos located in Alberta, 2 hotels in Grande Prairie and a retail store rented to a liquor store near one of the casinos. The 3 casinos are: Boomtown Casino in Fort McMurray, The Great Northern Casino in Grande Prairie and the Deerfoot Inn and Casino in Calgary which they own 91% of currently. As you probably guessed by these locations, the casinos are cyclical and make a lot of money when oil prices are up and go through downturns when prices are low and projects stop. All 3 casinos are not destination type casinos like you would find in Las Vegas where people come from all around to visit, but are very reliant on their local communities. The Boomtown Casino is the only casino in Fort McMurray and the Great Northern Casino is the only proper casino in Grande Prairie with a much smaller limited one in town. The Deerfoot Inn and Casino is 1 of 7 (yes, 7!) casinos in the Calgary area. It primarily focuses on the Southeastern portion of the city and the surrounding suburbs and still serves a market of about 200,000 people in just that area. All 3 casinos are also very focused on live events and have become gathering points for live events and nights out for their communities. Although all 3 casinos have been affected by oil downturns all 3 communities they serve have much higher median income than the country as a whole. The casinos have remained profitable throughout the entirety of the oil downturn and despite a dividend cut in 2016 they have still paid a consistently strong dividend until the COVID-19 pandemic (more on this later). Grande Prairie’s economy is more focused on natural gas extraction which has been consistently profitable. Calgary as a major city does have a diversified economy as well which leaves just Fort McMurray to be the lone straggler in dealing with oil prices. No new casinos have been built in Alberta since 2006, which has left people still coming to the doors of the casinos regardless of the economy. All three cities have seen consistent population growth greater than 10% from 2016 according to Statistics Canada’s estimates which is far greater than the national average. People are still coming to these cities and are still making a fairly high wage compared to the average Canadian. The second thing that has likely come to your mind is why casinos when they have been shut down during the pandemic? As the vaccine is currently being implemented the orders will not last forever. When the casinos have been opened even with reduced services, they have remained profitable and the management has responded by using the pandemic as an opportunity. They have been consistently buying back thousands of shares every day and cancelling them. If you look at their SEDAR profile you can see that they have not missed a single day to cancel at least 2,000 shares per day. Since the company had 24.5 million shares issued, they have bought back about 1-2% of the float so far which has made the stock even harder to buy on the open markets due to the lack of volume. They have also been approved to expand the operations of the Deerfoot Inn and Casino which should be completed by the summer. The insiders have followed by accumulating many shares in their personal accounts over this period of weakness. In the third quarter of 2020 the company posted EPS of 12 cents per share down from 16 cents a year ago. Revenue was down to $4.9 million from $6.7 million. This is with severe restrictions and limitations on the amount of people that can come in the casino and what they can do. All live events were cancelled, table games were restricted and yet the company was still making enough money to buy back significant shares and improve their existing assets. The management has essentially channelled the dividend into making the number of shares decrease in a time of strong price weakness. There is interest in this space since the largest casino operator in the country Great Canadian Gaming was acquired recently for almost double what they were trading for in the spring. Private equity firms have been looking into casinos as a post-recovery play. Unlike companies in airlines or movie theatres, these do not have significant issues staying profitable during intense downturns, they only become less profitable with a sudden surge afterwards. I am speculatively buying this stock on the idea that as COVID-19 restrictions are gradually lifted there will be an awkward window where people will be back almost to normal within Canada and will have a strong urge to go out and do activities that they have been restricted from doing for months. At the same time they will be unable to travel internationally due to different countries having different vaccination schedules, planes still operating at reduced capacity with many airlines being in trouble and governments being reluctant to remove limitations abroad. This will significantly bring business to casinos and other live event focused businesses within Canada. I anticipate that in the 12 months past restrictions being lifted that the business will see a significant bump in EPS. They will reinstate the dividend and the share price will grow significantly. My personal price target is $12 per share but I could see it being anywhere from $10-$15 per share. This is without oil prices budging at all. In the long-term the price will be cyclical based on oil prices unless they start diversifying geographically. It is extremely difficult to get a licence to open a casino, which leaves the company with the only option of acquiring other casinos. This is a possibility down the road but something I will look more into once I see a significant bump in EPS due to increased demand. I do believe that in the current market with the price having barely recovered from the March lows, that the stock is a very good contrarian play in the 12-24 month range. Holding after that could potentially be risky depending on your own views on how the oil industry will play out and if the management has what it takes to diversify. Online gambling is an even longer term threat but since these casinos are focused on live events and have become a staple of the communities that they are in, this is not likely to be a threat for some significant time. Please let me know what you think, feel free to criticize. If you guys like my analysis I could do more on other small or mid cap companies. There have been a few I have kicked myself over missing.
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GuruGuru Onsen Atsumare! GuruGuru Onsen BB Atsumare! Power Pro Kun no DS Koushien Attack Animal Gakuen Attack of the Killer Demos Attack of the Killer Tomatoes Attack of the Movies 3D Attack of the Mutant Penguins Attack of the Saucerman! Attack of the Timelord! Attack on Titan Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains AubirdForce AubirdForce After Audio Hero Aura Battler Dunbine Aurora Quest: Otaku no Seiza in Another World Austin Mini Racing Austin Powers Pinball Austin Powers: Oh, Behave! Austin Powers: Welcome to my Underground Lair! Australian Rugby League Auto Crusher Palladium Auto Destruct Auto Modellista Auto Racing AutoBahn Tokio Autobahn Polizei Autobahn Raser IV Autobahn Raser: Das Spiel zum Film Automobili Lamborghini Avalon Code Avatar - The Last Airbender: Into the Inferno Avatar: The Last Airbender Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Burning Earth Aven Colony Avenger Avenging Spirit Away: Shuffle Dungeon Awesome Golf Awesome Possum Awesomenauts Assemble! Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe Axelay Axiom Verge Ayaka Shibito Ayaka Shibito Portable Ayakashi Gohan: Oomori! Ayakashi Ninden Kunoichiban Ayakashi Ninden Kunoichiban Plus Ayakashi no Shiro Ayakashibito Ayakashibito Portable Ayrton Senna Kart Duel Ayrton Senna Kart Duel 2 Ayrton Senna Kart Duel Special Ayrton Senna Personal Talk: Message for the Future
Overnight News Heading into Tuesday December 15th 2020
(News Yet to be Traded 8:00 PM - 4:00 AM EST) It is up to you to judge the accuracy and veracity of the below before trading. I take no responsibility for the accuracy of the information in this thread.
TSLA Tesla To See $1.1B In 'Deferred Software Revenue' In 2021, Munster Estimates
TSLA Elon Musk's SpaceX Seeks To Double Valuation At $92B In New Funding Round: Report
TSEM Tower Semiconductor and OPIX Announce the Successful Development of a World Class iToF Technology Platform for 3D Imaging and Face Recognition Applications
AAPL Apple Supplier's iPhone Factory Suffers $7M In Damages During Violent Worker Protests
EAF GrafTech Announces Upsizing and Pricing of Secondary Offering of Common Stock by Existing Stockholders
ATA.U Americas Technology Acquisition CORP. Announces Pricing of $100 M IPO
UBER Uber Fined $59M In California Over Refusal To Share Information On Sexual Assaults
BNR Burning Rock Announces an Exclusive in-Licensing of a Risk Stratification Test for Early Stage Lung-Cancer Patients from Oncocyte in China
BCDA ($4.48) BioCardia, Inc. Announces $8.5 Million Registered Direct Offering Priced At-The-Market Under Nasdaq Rules [Revised]
UBER DASH LYFT GRUB Uber and DoorDash are hiking food delivery and rideshare prices for Californians to pay for new driver benefits
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I live in a small mining town in the mountains of Colorado. Someone is building a massive casino nearby, Pictures Included
I grew up in a small mountain town named Eureka. It was founded in the late 1800s during the gold rush, but after the mines dried up the town began its slow descent into decay. Half the houses are empty or abandoned now. You can see a picture of the kind of houses here in Eureka: Abandoned House Non-abandoned House When a massive construction project began nearby, it was the talk of the town for weeks. Why would they build something in a sleepy dying town like Eureka? It wasn’t until my sister Selene talked to a few construction workers that we discovered they were building a casino. A casino up in the mountains, over two hours away from Denver. None of us could understand why they’d chosen here of all places. After a few months of work, the casino was done. I took a picture of the town with the completed casino in the background to the right. The ten-story-structure sticks out like a sore thumb off in the distance. Town+Casino After the casino opened, they hired a few dozen members of the town, offering high paying jobs to work as dealers or cleaning staff. I was already employed as a firefighter, but my sister Selene got a job as a blackjack dealer. She’s a widow with two young kids, so the paycheck was a real lifesaver. Still, something about the situation seemed too good to be true. The jobs over there paid far too well, and the management was far too accommodating. The fire station where I work is located high on a hill overlooking the town, so I began watching the casino from a distance each day. I had initially thought that the casino was located in a terrible location, but I was apparently wrong. True, Eureka was hours from any major city, but despite that, a bus full of people arrived every morning and left every evening. One night I was over at my parent’s house and had dinner with Selene and her kids. I asked her about her experience as a dealer. “It’s Ok,” she said. “Just a little boring I guess.” “Boring?” I asked. “I’m surprised you don’t have your hands full.” “Why’s that?” she asked. “It’s like you said, Eureka’s too small. I never have people playing cards. The casino is almost always completely empty.” I wasn’t sure what to make of that. If the place was always empty, what happened to the people who I’d seen arriving on buses? “I’ve been keeping an eye on the building,” I said. “A bus full of people typically arrives around 9 AM every day.” “Really?” she asked, looking confused. “If that’s true, I’ve never seen them. “I can see it from the fire station,” I said. “If you head out for a smoke break at 9 AM, you’ll probably see them arriving.” “Interesting,” she said. “I’ll do that. If they’re being processed for their organs or something, I’ll let you know.” She laughed. “Har har,” I said sarcastically. The next night she sent me a text calling me over. When I arrived, she was nearly breathless with excitement. “Orin, You were right,” she said. “A big group of people did arrive, but they didn’t walk into my part of the casino. Instead, they all walked into an elevator at the back of the building. I’m not sure where that goes.” She looked thoughtful. “It was weird. They looked… How can I say it? Desperate? Something about the whole situation was very off. I’m gonna check out the elevator tomorrow.” I told her to be careful, though, to be honest, I was excited to hear about what she discovered. When I visited my parent’s house the next night, I found her two kids there alone. They told me that Selene had never returned from work. I called all her friends, then all our neighbors, but no one had seen her since she left for work that morning. Our conversations regarding the casino flooded my mind, then a plan began to form. Early the next morning I walked across town in my nicest pair of jeans and a button-up shirt. I pushed through the door to the casino and saw that Selene wasn’t lying. The place was all but deserted. Three dozen slot machines crowded the walls surrounding a few tables interspersed throughout the floor of the casino. The only players in the whole building were Bob and Donald, two locals. I walked up to a nearby table where Bridget, a girl I’d gone to high school with, was shuffling cards. She broke into a grin when she saw me. “Hey Orin, you here for a few rounds of blackjack?” “I wish,” I said. “No, I’m here to ask about Selene. She never made it home last night.” Bridget’s expression darkened. “Really? Have you asked around?” “I already called around. Have you seen her?” She shook her head. “No, our schedules rarely line up. I’ll be sure to let you know if I--” Her eyes focused on something behind me, and she cut herself off. I turned around to see the casino’s pit boss watching us both. He was a tall thin man in an impeccably clean black suit. When I turned back towards Bridget, she was looking down at the table and shuffling cards absent-mindedly. “Well, if you hear anything, let me know,” I said. She nodded, so I turned around and headed for the pit boss. I stuck out my hand. The temperature of his hand was so hot that I had to pull my hand away after a few seconds. “Have… have you seen my sister Selene?” I asked. “She hasn’t been seen since her shift here yesterday.” He smiled. “Sir, this floor is for players. You’re more than welcome to head to the tellers for chips, but barring that I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.” I stared at him for a long second before stalking towards the door. When I looked back, he was talking with Bridget. I checked my watch. 8:55 AM, just as I’d planned. I walked around the back of the building and waited as the morning bus pulled around the building. I waited for the telltale hiss of the opening doors and the sound of people descending before I rounded the corner and joined the crowd. None of them paid any particular attention to me as I walked with them into the casino. The crowd walked through a side door down a hallway to an elevator. Small groups of people entered the elevator as the rest of us waited for our turn. I shot a glance at the casino patrons, surprised at their diversity. There seemed to be people from all different countries and ethnicities. I heard one speaking Japanese and another speaking what sounded like an African language. My turn came along with a few other patrons in the elevator. A sickly woman hobbled into the elevator beside me carrying an IV that was still connected to one of her veins. We piled in and rode up to the top. The elevator rose for a few long seconds. I wasn’t sure what I would find, but I steeled myself for something horrible. The elevator’s speaker let out a TING, then the doors opened. We all walked out onto what looked like a standard casino. Another few dozen slot machines ringed the walls, but on this floor, they were almost all occupied by customers. I took in the scene, confused at why they’d have a ground floor that was almost completely empty when this place was almost-- Selene was dealing cards at a nearby table. I jogged over and sat down at an open seat. None of the players around me paid me much attention. “Selene!” I said. “Are you OK? Did you spend the night here last night?” Her eyes were glassy and confused. She looked up at me with a dumb expression and didn’t respond to my question. “Selene?” I asked. “What’s your bet?” she asked me. “This table is for blackjack players only.” “I…” I trailed off, looking at the players around me. None of them were betting with chips of any kind. “What’s the minimum bet?” I asked. “Three years,” she responded. “Three years then,” I said, not knowing what that referred to. Selene nodded, then began dealing cards. I shot a look down at my hand. King and a 9. Selene dealt out cards for herself, showing a 9. I stood, then leaned forward again. “Should I call the police? Are you--” “Congratulations,” she said tonelessly. An almost impossibly warm hand grabbed my shoulder. I spun to see the pit boss I’d spoken to earlier. He gave an impressed smile. “Orin, was it? I’m impressed, truly. Would you mind if I had a word with you?” I shot a look back at Selene who was dealing the next round of cards. Then I got to my feet, balling my hands into fists. “What did you do to her?” The pit boss clasped his hands behind his back. “Nothing more, and nothing less than what I’m going to do to you. That is, offer you the chance to play.” “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” The pit boss nodded his head towards a nearby slot machine. A woman in a wheelchair pulled a lever and watched the flashing numbers spin. They exploded in a cacophony of sirens and flashing lights. “WINNER WINNER WINNER!” The machine screeched. The woman in the wheelchair put her feet on the ground and stood up on a pair of wobbly legs that had clearly never been used before. “As in any other casino,” the pit boss said, “you must wager for the chance to win.” “She... won the use of her legs?” I asked, feeling light-headed. “Wait,” I said. “I played blackjack just now. ‘Three years,’ Selene told me. What does ‘three years’ mean?” I asked. “Three years of life, of course. Did you win?” My mouth felt dry. “I-- Yes, I won.” He smiled warmly. “Congratulations. I hope you enjoy them. I can tell you from personal experience that watching the decades pass is a bore. Give it some time and you’ll be back to spend them.” I watched the pit boss’s face. He couldn’t have been more than a few years older than me, and I was in my early thirties. I looked around at the casino. No one was playing with chips of any kind. “So what?” I asked. “I won years of life. That woman won the use of her legs. What else can a person win here?” “Oh, almost anything. They can win almost anything you can imagine.” A cold feeling settled in my stomach. “And what do they wager?” His eyes flashed with greed. “Almost anything. They can wager almost anything you can possibly imagine. Anything equal in value to the item they want in return.” He nodded towards a nearby roulette table. A man stood by the table, cradling his hands. “Another finger,” he called out. He only had three fingers remaining on his left hand. As I watched, the ball came to a stop, and another finger disappeared from his left hand. The pit boss extended his hands. “Feel free to try any of our games. Bet and win whatever you’d like.” He reached out and snatched my hand. A feeling of intense warmth passed up my arm to my chest. “There,” he said. “I’ve even given you some house money to get you started. An extra decade of life, on me.” I ripped my hand away, staring at him in horror. Then I looked back at Selene. Something clicked in my mind. “You offered her the chance to play. What did she want?” I asked. “Her husband,” the pit boss said. “Quite the sad story. He died two years ago. She wanted him brought back to her.” “What did she wager?” I asked. “She wanted the chance to win a soul, the most valuable object in existence. I’m sure you can imagine what she needed to wager for the chance to win it. What she wagered is unimportant. The important question is: What do you want, Orin?” I stared at Selene with a flat expression. “I’m sure you can imagine.” His eyes flashed with greed again. “How wonderful. The casino could always make use of another dealer. Feel free to make your wager at any one of our games; I’ll be eagerly awaiting the results of your night. Oh, and do take advantage of our waitresses. We always supply food and drink for ‘high rollers’.” He walked away. I spent the next few hours trying to decide which game to play. I was going to be wagering my soul, so I wanted the highest chance possible. Slots and roulette were out. I’d done some reading online about counting cards, so I figured that blackjack gave me the best odds. I walked up to Selene’s table and sat down. “Bet?” she asked with that same toneless voice. “Three years,” I said. I spent the next hour or so doing my best to remember how to count cards. I knew that low cards added one to my count and high cards decreased it by one, but the casino used three decks. I had read something about how that was supposed to change my calculation, but I couldn’t quite remember how. Every time I won a hand, I cursed myself for not putting everything on the line. Every time I lost, I breathed a prayer of thanks that I’d waited. And all the while, I kept track of the count. I had lost fifteen years of life when the count finally reached +5. “Bet?” Selene asked. “I wager my soul so you can be free,” I said. The table around me fell silent. Selene’s eyes flickered, but she showed no other emotion as she dealt the cards. I watched my first card, punching the air in excitement when I saw a Jack. My excitement turned to ash when my second card was a four. Fourteen. I looked at her hand. One card was facedown, but the faceup card was a King. I swore loudly, staring down at my hands. “Hit?” she asked. The entire table was silently watching me. “Hit,” I said, not looking down. The table erupted in cheers. I looked down to see a 7 atop my two other cards. 21. Blackjack. I looked at Selene who flipped over her facedown card to reveal a 9. 19. I won. The glassy look left her eyes immediately. She looked around in surprise, then her eyes locked on mine. “Orin?” she asked, then almost immediately began to cry. The entire casino broke out in cheers. I grabbed her hand and headed for the elevator. The doors had begun to close when the pit boss reached out with a hand to stop them. “Congratulations,” he said, beaming. He seemed to be honestly excited. “Shouldn’t you be upset?” I asked. “Not at all. Casinos love it when we have big winners. It inspires the other players to make larger bets. I imagine I’ll gain two or three dealers before the night is through from your performance.” “Great,” I said flatly. “Now let us go.” “Not yet,” he said. “You didn’t just win, Orin. You got a blackjack. And blackjack pays out 1.5 times your bet. You won your sister’s soul and more.” I stared, not sure what to say. “What are you saying? I won half a soul extra?” The pit boss grinned wildly. “Just remember what I said. You’ll find living for decades and decades to be a boring experience. After a few centuries, you’ll be back to gamble that half a soul away. Congratulations!” He removed his hand, and the elevator doors slammed shut. I helped Selene back to her house. Her children were relieved. I watched them cry, then moved into the kitchen to start making dinner. It’s been a few days since that experience. The casino is still out there, and buses full of people still arrive. I… I cut my hand pretty bad a few days later. When I checked it an hour later, it had already healed, no scar or anything. I’m not sure exactly what I won at that casino, but there’s no way I’m ever going back. Interested in more? Support me on Patreon at any level! My Patreon backers will get early access to my horror stories, free copies of my horror novels, and an exclusive story each month. Become a Patreon supporter here: https://www.patreon.com/WorchesterStreet Thank you to my lovely Patreon Backers: Brooke Tang Private Castle Lilith Scyther Peter Jamison MADman611 Lily Bain Vivienne Hoai Claire Shabbeer Hassan Maranda Mae Madeline Budd Lauren Ashley Luna Vaughan Stephanie Jennings, Krystin Molina and my new Patreon backers, Carter B, Yazz Ledgister, and an especial thanks to newest backer Christina! Your support is invaluable!
A return to gaming in 2020: catching up on a missed decade.
Prior to this year, it’s no exaggeration to say that the only game I’d played in full since about 2010 was the original BioShock. Not really sure why I stepped away from gaming - probably just some usual combination of life getting in the way and dodgy prioritisation. Then, like many others, I became acquainted with a boatload of surplus indoor time this year, and chose to find my way back with an N3DS and a Switch. Turns out I really missed it. I’ve been slowly playing through a variety of titles I missed the first time around, as well as various others I’ve stumbled across along the way. In compiling this list, I have learned that my gameplay times are crushingly slow, people have extremely strong opinions about the Paper Mario series and actually it turns out a really poorly specced PC was holding me back from gaming all this time. Would love to hear what others thought of this selection of games, especially those who hold dissenting opinions about my DNF list (I expect plenty in support of Xenoblade, lol). Be warned this is all through the lens of someone who is plainly just thrilled to be back in the fold and has zero concerns spending way more time than necessary to complete games! I suspect I have more patience and rosier-tinted glasses as compared to the average weathered gamer, so would also be interested to hear how my experiences stack up in the wider gaming context. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between WorldsTotal play time: ~30 hours Zelda factored little in my adolescent years, and apart from renting OoT a handful of times for the 64 (and spamming bombs in SSB) this is pretty much the only Zelda experience I've had. It's kind of a blessing and a curse, from what I can tell: I have none of the hangups but equally none of the emotional connection that often seems to accompany the franchise. I really only played this because it had been given to me and came highly recommended. But this was about as good as introductions get - sure, it helped that this was essentially the first console game I'd played in its entirety in over a decade, but the game is clearly exceptional by all accounts. It seems I love a good gameplay mechanic where it doesn't tip into gimmickry, and the wall merge system I found novel, baffling and satisfying without ever being too frustrating. I obviously can't speak to the nostalgia aspect of it, but coming to it fresh was a charming experience. It's pretty hard not to be at least casually familiar with aspects of Zelda lore, and I liked that there weren't any lengthy cutscenes (looking at you, Ōkami) or tedious tutorials to slog through. The storytelling is a little naff but not distractingly so, and for me the pretty predictable ending was offset by the fun final boss battle. And you sure do feel good solving some of those puzzles. I'm not yet game to branch out into the open world of BotW, but I'm pretty glad my maiden Zelda foray was this one instead. More games ought to allow one to become a painting. Highlights: big bomb flower lols, boss battles that were satisfying / a great relief to complete Ōkami HDTotal play time: 50:57:29Completion %: 50/100 stray beads I remember seeing promo material for this game back when it was first released and thinking the brush mechanic was dope - a hype disproportionate to the amount of PS2 I owned (none). So regardless I was probably always going to be predisposed to like this game. This was the first game I finished on the Switch and I enjoyed it immensely. The art style is killer and helps it look great for a game of its age into the bargain, the brush mechanic and the puzzle element it introduces feels integrated rather than gimmicky, and the storytelling is rich and humorous. I know others have commented that the game is overly long, but I enjoyed being in the world enough that it never felt a slog. (This coming from someone who has played 100+ hours of Picross but…) I will agree that the combat system was pretty whatever, though. I am a pretty rubbish gamer by conventional skill standards and even I found this game wildly easy, but I think that also speaks to my enjoyment of the game as an all-round narrative experience rather than pure mechanics. An additional dishonorable mention for having to fight Orochi no less than three times?! Sure, going back in time was a pretty neat narrative arc and I could forgive repeating the fight in that context, but by the Ark I was sure they had to be taking the piss. Unlocking the additional skins gives this game some replay potential for me, especially the photorealistic wolf, laughable only in hindsight. The existence of about twice as many stray beads as I collected also means I may dip in and out in future, but mostly I have minimal desire to bring my dragon-head-whacking count up to 48. Nevertheless, a pretty inimitable experience, even if it took me a decade and a half to get there. Highlights: the dang art style, drawing an emoji face for my demon mask and seeing it show up again in Sei-an City Paper Mario: Sticker StarTotal play time: ~30 hours I can understand the criticism of this game: the combat system sucks and makes traversing through the world often not very fun, the characters are unmemorable, the necessity of having certain stickers to win certain fights is infuriating, the plot is generic, the lack of levelling up is nonsense. None of that stopped me from enjoying this game, though! Take that! As always, this was probably helped immensely by the nostalgia I carry for the original Paper Mario on the 64 and the fact I hadn’t really had any other Mario games to compare it to for a long time. The super vitriolic abuse it seems to cop online feels a bit disproportionate but. From poking around the series, it looks like one that people are particularly vocal about, with the only correct answer being “TTYD is the best game in the series and all other future titles will be held against this specific benchmark”. Honestly I’m just glad I played this game without the knowledge of what the gaming community thought of it, because I don’t think this is a genuinely bad game. Kirby: Planet RobobotTotal play time: ~20 hoursCompletion %: 81% Evidently I rather enjoy the cute-thing-in-a-mech-suit genre, between this game and Gato Roboto. But I have very fond memories of playing The Crystal Shards and am a Kirby main (lol) in SSB so I could probably be coerced into playing literally any Kirby game. I don’t have too much to say about this game; I think anyone familiar with the franchise will understand pretty much how it plays, but the mech suit mechanic is a heap of fun, with copy abilities possible both in and out of the suit. There were some little details that I thought were quite fun: the collection of stickers that you can use to decorate your mech was bonus entertainment, the variety of gameplay styles in the final boss battle, the remote control Kirby in the casino levels. It looks great, it’s charming, and as mentioned, I like an idiosyncratic feature that isn’t gimmicky, and I think the mech suit ticks that box. I picked up Extra Epic Yarn off the back of this, too - it just looks so dang sweet. What the Golf?Total play time: 08:24:56Completion %: 97%Total strokes: 11656Games I subsequently want to play: Superhot If there ever was a time for escapism, the middle of a pandemic seems to be a pretty good candidate, and I am certainly guilty of using this game as a bit of a feel-good salve. But what the golf, it was a grand old time, and I think we can all use the laughs it provides. I bought the game off the expectations set by the trailer and was happily not disappointed. This is a pretty straightforward game by all standards: simple overworld, three levels per stage, emphasis on silly in "silly physics". It feels like the schtick should get old pretty fast, but there's enough sly nods and references (and straight-up gameplay duplication) to keep it fresh and consistently funny. Caveat: pun disdainers avoid. It's the perfect game to dip in and out of - none of the stages are particularly long, and while some of the pacrown levels can be a bit frustrating, you're not at all forced to complete them in linear fashion. Nevertheless, I played this game in pretty lengthy stints, so the format isn't a barrier in that sense either. I know this is a fairly new game to the Switch, but it's been out on PC for a while it seems. I bought it only having seen it in the eShop, so if there was a hype train, it did not make a stop at my station. Highlights: the Superhot levels, WHAT?, the constant anticipation of what a button press would do in a new level Ori and the Blind ForestTotal play time: 14:44:46Completion %: 96%Total deaths: 488 It’s something of a classic, and evidently with good reason - I think I would have played this game for its art alone, but of course its reputation has since come to precede it. It runs really smoothly on the Switch, and the platforming is tight and enjoyable. Not sure how common it is in the wider world, but I really liked the save mechanic - as a chronic saver, I rather appreciated being responsible for setting my own save points, especially when it came to some of the more challenging sequences. I expected to struggle a lot with this one but I found the challenges fair, even the escape sequences, much as I may have wanted to burn down the Ginso Tree on the first few attempts. Feels like most people who’ve had an eye on it have played it by now, and there’s plenty of reviews out there for those on the fence to decide either way, but personally I’m very glad to have played and finished it. I’ve since been told that both the sequel and Hollow Knight eclipse this game, though I do have some idea of what to expect from both. Now if Will of the Wisps could just get a Switch port... MosaicTotal play time: ~3 hours I’d been wanting to pick this game up because a friend of mine had a hand in its creation, but I kind of could not have picked a worse time for it. Without spoiling anything, the premise of the game is being stuck in a very boring corporate dystopia, and a lot of the gameplay revolves around the repetition of your daily routines. Obviously this kind of experience can already be a little harrowing at the best of times, but in the middle of a global pandemic where time feels completely immaterial it was often a bit much. Certainly the gameplay won’t be for everyone; there is a lot of walking around in this game, and you can interact with various depressing billboards and your smartphone in ways you think might have some kind of a purpose but ultimately formally contribute nothing to your game - so in that sense, it’s kind of a bang on expression of its premise, though its messaging can be a little on the nose at times. If you’re into the visual style and can get down with the premise, this is a unique gaming experience which is both lovely and deeply unsettling at times. If you’re at all curious, the website gives a fairly clear mission statement of the game. Gato RobotoTotal play time: 05:23:28Completion %: 78% Short and sweet, this one, and looks and feels great. I’d never really picked myself as one for metroidvanias, but this game came onto my radar after Ori and I was looking for a shorter, punchy game in a similar style, and this delivered on expectations. As mentioned, I’m kind of crap at games, so the difficulty for this one felt about right for me. There were a handful of times the boss battles threatened to tip into frustration, but mostly it was just my timing being off (second stage of the mouse battle in the heater core comes to mind) as well as in the earlier parts of the game where I had just been lax in picking up healthkits. I’ve seen some complaints about it being too much of a Metroid clone, but you can’t get down with that criticism if you’ve never played Metroid *taps head*. Its short length seems to be another frequent comment, but if you’re going in with expectations suitably managed then I think there’s not too much to fault otherwise. But of course this is coming from someone who has played basically no metroidvanias in their life lol. And finally, my DNF list:
Katamari Damacy; abandoned after ~4 hours Heartbreaking for this to be on my list, but I am part of the small percentage that gets enormously motion sick from this game. A huge shame, because it’s one of those games I’ve wanted to play for literal decades now - I pushed through the first couple of levels but I just can’t make it work for me. The theme song has nevertheless taken up plenty of real estate in my brain.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D; abandoned after ~2 hours This is probably a contentious choice to have on a list like this, though I clearly haven’t really given this a fair shake either. I think it’s probably partly to do with the learning curve of its rather involved format? Thinking of swapping this version out for the Switch one instead in the hope that might make it a bit more accessible to me.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine; abandoned after ~2 hours The premise of this game is great, and I like its rather non-standard approach in defining what a game should look like, but it just plays so goddamn slow. I found travelling across the country extremely frustrating - none of the options were really any good - and it’s unfortunate because that makes up far and away the largest part of what you spend your time doing in this game. The voice acting is also great, but it never takes anywhere near as much time to scan the dialogue as it does to read it aloud, so most of the acting gets lost behind an A button mash anyway. I want to love this game, but I just never find myself wanting to reach for it.
Child of Light; abandoned after ~2 hours Call me petty, but I just could not manage to get past this game’s unbelievably naff rhyming dialogue. It made me want to skip through all the cutscenes and gave me no desire to attempt to follow the story. I thought the battle mechanic was quite interesting and enjoyable - not sure if this is common to other games in the genre, but it was new to me - but between the dialogue and an art style I didn’t really care for, this one’s been left by the wayside.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap; abandoned after 01:48 I played the original Wonder Boy on a Sega Master back in the day and figured a remake of another game in the series might be fun, but I couldn’t really get into this one. Felt like it was going to be a bit grindy for my tastes. I do think it looks great and switching between the art styles is cool, but I don’t think I’ll be doing much more than dipping in and out, if even that.
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