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Gaming Roundup: Casinos Counter Violence, Circa And Virgin On The Way

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Associated Press

Tourists may not be flooding Nevada casinos like it used to, but that doesn’t mean the gaming industry hasn’t had its hands full.

In fact, despite reduced operations, properties new and old are opening up. Next week, Derek Stevens’ Circa will be downtown Las Vegas’ first new resort in 40 years.

And Virgin -- which will take over the former Hard Rock Hotel just east of the Strip -- is set to open in January. It will also mark the debut of the tribal gaming industry in the Las Vegas market.

But not all is rosy. Violence remains a weekly problem on the Strip, and that could scare visitors from filling all those new rooms. 

"It looks bad, the headlines. They make national headlines. Anything happens on the Las Vegas Strip, it is going to make national headlines, good or bad," Howard Stutz, executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports, told KNPR's State of Nevada.

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Stutz said the industry is worried, but the resorts are working with Las Vegas Metro Police to beef up security and improve safety.

Resorts like the Wynn Las Vegas and Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas have put in metal detectors and are screening guests.  

“We’ll see if these new measures work,” Stutz said.

Whether an uptick in violence will have a direct impact on visitor volume is tough to say, Stutz said. 

The bigger problem for visitor numbers is the lack of flights, along with a very muted conventions and trade-shows industry.

“Now, we’re going to start seeing some entertainment come back - maybe that will help spur some visitation, but that is what is really the drawback right now. People don’t want to travel. They don’t want to get on an airplane,” Stutz said.

That lack of midweek travel has forced some properties, including Planet Hollywood and Encore, to shut down either some or all operations Monday through Thursday.

“Properties [have] scaled back because they don’t have the convention business. Until we see that element return ... I don’t have a crystal ball, I don’t know when that will be. I wish I did. That’s why we’re going to be slow,” he said.

Some analysts have predicted that the valley won't return to normal anywhere from 2022 to 2024. 

Stutz said the return to normal operation will be more of a slow return rather than a flick of a light switch.

One bright spot in the gaming industry right now is the growth of sports betting. Stutz said 18 states have already legalized it. Three more have it on the ballot this November.

In response to that growth, Caesars Entertainment announced it was buying the U.S. portion of the sports-betting company William Hill.

“Sports betting at some point next year could be in more than half of the states in the U.S. So, Caesars needed partners like William Hill that [do] sports betting exclusively to capitalize on this,” he said. 

Stutz said it is not just sports betting at a physical sportsbook, but also mobile and online gaming.

“It’s a significant deal for Caesars as sports betting becomes a larger presence for the gaming industry nationwide,” he said.

Stutz said that even when most of the country was locked down and casinos were closed during the spring, mobile sports betting -- even though bettors could only bet on sporting events from other countries -- was a significant source of revenue. 

Another potential boost to gaming in Southern Nevada could be the opening of Circa downtown.

“It’s drawing a lot of interest," Stutz said.

Everything but the hotel is opening October 28. 

“It’s a jumpstart really for downtown," he said. "Downtown operators don’t see it as competition. They see it as an enhancement of downtown to bring more people there.”

He said Strip resorts also see the new property as a way to bring business to the city overall.

“It’s going to be fascinating to see what the crowd is like, during the mid-week, and I think it will bring a lot of attention nationally to Las Vegas at least for the interim,“ Stutz said.

He noted that in 2019 downtown properties saw their best gaming revenue numbers in 26 years, and a study by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority showed that a majority of visitors spend at least some time downtown.

Stutz is hopeful that the new property will bring in even more gaming and non-gaming revenue.

In addition to the rooms that will come online at Circa, the Downtown Grand recently opened a 500 room tower.

“Downtown has needed rooms. They have brought a lot of people down there. The East Fremont [entertainment district] started bringing more people down there,” Stutz said.

He added that there hasn't been a big hotel expansion downtown since the Rush Tower at the Golden Nugget, which opened a few years ago.

Besides Circa downtown, another off-Strip property is set to open next year. Virgin Hotels Las Vegas took over the old Hard Rock Hotel on Paradise Avenue.

Stutz said, unlike other off-Strip projects, such as the Lucky Dragon hotel that closed not long after opening, Virgin Hotel has a lot more going for it.

For starters, it is a well-known global brand and the hotel will be a Hilton partner. The biggest advantage is that the gaming wing of the Mohegan Tribe will be running the casino.

“I think that will be the real key for the Virgin Hotels property because the casino is going to be operated separately by Mohegan. [Virgin is] going to be like one property [with] a whole bunch of different operators involved with it,” Stutz said.

Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment brings with it a large database of customers from its East Coast properties, plus it inherited Hard Rock's database. 

It is the first tribal casino company to get a gaming license in the state of Nevada. In other states, like California and Arizona, tribes work out compacts with the states allowing them to regulate their own casinos. In Nevada, the Mohegan Tribe will be regulated by state gaming regulators. 

Guests

Howard Stutz, executive editor, CDC Gaming Reports

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