Big plans are underway on the Las Vegas Strip as the area's resort companies look to expand, renovate, and otherwise stay fresh.
But downtown's gaming numbers are on the rise, too.
And at least one Fremont Street casino owner is acting on that success and building a new resort.
At the same time, Wynn Resorts appears to be scaling back their plans for a few megaprojects, and MGM has expressed disappointment with how slowly the conversion of Monte Carlo to Park MGM has gone.
Should Strip operators be worried?
Is MGM Resorts International in trouble?
Scott Roeben: They certainly had some big red flags in this last earnings report. I'm not sure it was a surprise. I think in contrast to the Sands and Wynn -- there is definitely a contrast and I think a lot of that has to do with China, because China is driving a lot of the profits for these companies.
MGM involvement in China is much less. I don't know if they're in trouble, but I think there is certainly a feeling that things are flattening out [and] slowing down. Some of that activity around [the] Mandarin Oriental sale is a little bit confusing because they haven't come out yet and said what the plan is for CityCenter. The rumor I hear is that it might be a Ritz-Carlton.
On rebranding Mandalay Bay:
Roeben: It's tricky stuff because you have so much equity in that brand. But there is no denying that there is a stigma attached to it now. They know the numbers and they have been waiting to see what the long-term effect will be. I think in the short term, it has definitely had a negative effect.
People, when they're on vacation, they want to have a good time. They really don't want to be reminded of that tragedy. I have felt that way about Wynn resorts as well. I don't think that guests want to go and see that name on that building.
Which Wynn Resorts project could be cut?
Roeben: I think the lagoon, Paradise Park, has changed dramatically from when it was announced.
They're actually tearing up the golf course back behind Wynn. I have seen an orange outline of the lagoon. And it looks like actual construction is happening. I know they are working on their convention center.
I do believe it that is moving forward, but it has changed so much it is almost like they're building a large pool for their guests at this point. It's not going to be open to the public -- as far as we know.
Are we going to see more corporatization at Wynn Resorts then we have seen in the past?
Lissa Townsend Rodgers: I would say probably because there is no longer going to be, 'Yes! Mr. Wynn. Of course! Mr. Wynn.' They're going to have to actually look at the bottom line. There isn't a person like him who has the track record of coming up with these ideas.
Without him to sort of pushing these things through with force of personality and his track record, now it's basically on the bean counters.
Do regular resorts work in Las Vegas, or does the extravagance work?
Townsend Rodgers: That's what people come to Vegas for. They come to see what they can't see at home. That's why they're talking about doing all this new immersive stuff at various places or bringing in e-sports -- whatever they can think of that they don't have at home.
You can go back to wherever you came from […] and say, 'I saw the mechanical gorilla at the Wynn!'
SLS is under new ownership. What changes are ahead?
Roeben: [Alex] Meruelo is a no-nonsense guy. He hired a new general manager -- a guy with some experience from the Stratosphere. He has already started cutting costs. He gave up this parking lot across the street under the Monorail track -- [it] was costing them $40,000 a month and it was basically just employee parking, so he said forget about that, we've got plenty of room in our other lots.
I think they're going to use their Grand Sierra template in terms of restaurants. I think that they are going to reconfigure the casino floor. There were a lot of stylistic things, design things that were done that are perceived as not being very player-friendly.
The SLS's shining star has been the dining, but will the dining be the same under new management?
Townsend Rodgers: With whole new owners, who have their own business model, I'm sure it's going to change. There was mention of bringing in a pizza place. If you're going to replace Jose Andres with pizza, I think that's a little weird.
Obviously, they're going to do things their way -- whatever works. That was one of the lights of the place. People would actually go there for the dining. If you pull that out, they're going to have to put something else in to attract people.
Will Las Vegas go back to the time of more comps and more player appreciation?
Townsend Rodgers: That is the appeal of Vegas: things you can't get at home. Everybody wants to go to Vegas and have someone recognize them. If you can get even a small comp, it's like you are Frank Sinatra. You're a high roller.
And while people are trying to bean count, you do have to remember you do have to give a little to get a little, which is something they've kind of forgotten in Vegas because we used to give away a little to get people to gamble and now it's gamble and spend all your money.
Downtown Las Vegas is coming back, but are you surprised by that resurgence?
Townsend Rodgers: Not really. When there is that much area that is in a central area, a tourist area, eventually it is going to get redeveloped. That's just the trend right now. People like their little cities that they can walk through.
I think it is being positioned as the opposite of the Strip. When people I know visit, they really don't want to hang out on the Strip much. They think it's fun for a little while and then they call me and they want to leave.
But downtown, because it's smaller -- it's less these huge casinos, less massive amounts of people -- still massive but not as huge -- people find it easier to deal with. I think the younger audience, people who aren't as interested in gambling and huge resort experiences, prefer downtown where you can walk to this bar, walk to that restaurant, walk to this casino and everything isn't owned by one conglomerate, and it's not all in one place.
Plans for the new resort on the site of the old Las Vegas Club are clearer now. What is going there?
Roeben: The overriding feeling is that it's going to be on the level of the Golden Nugget in terms of the quality of the resort. It's going to have a lot of the amenities that you maybe can't get elsewhere downtown, a lot of pools.
I have not seen a rendering of the exterior of the building, but the floor plan is pretty straightforward from what I've heard. I think they're putting a lot of time [into it]. These folks are very smart business operators. They are all about knowing their customer.
I think it is going to be gambler-friendly. They are very much about gambling there. I think they might be going for something a little more upscale, but I think it's going to bridge the gap between the downtown kind of old-school casino and the Strip.
Is what's happening downtown impacting the Strip?
Roeben: It is just such a small amount of action comparatively. I don't think anyone is worried. But what you do see is they definitely have an eye on what works downtown.
There is a path that has been beaten to the Gold Spike because the millennials are there. You see cornhole across the Strip. You see it at bars. You see it at restaurants. You see it at Level Up [at MGM Grand]. It is because executives go down there and they say, 'How does a downtown club off Fremont Street -- how is it packed? How are there so many millennials in here having an amazing time and why?' Nobody knows why -- it's just cool.
They've tried to steal bits and pieces of it.
Does Las Vegas feel as special as it used to be?
Townsend Rodgers: Yeah, we're not at peak Vegas. We're not in '50s Vegas, when it was the center of the known universe. But, I think it still has that 'Go to Vegas' vibe. But that is changing a bit. You have to remind people it's not just this giant corporate thing. When people I know say they don't want to come here because they don't like the Strip, I say, 'Saying you don't want to go to Vegas because you don't like the Strip is like saying you don't want to go to New York City because you don't like Times Square.'
I think it is still sexy. It is still interesting, but we really do need to not just make it about the bean counting and giant Jenga games. People want a free drink. They want to see someone dance.
People want to see what they can't see at home and do what they can't do at home. I think as long as we keep an eye on that, and not just worry about the bottom line, I think we'll be okay.
Scott Roeben, VitalVegas; Lissa Townsend Rodgers, freelance writer
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