How do we know Las Vegas is returning to normal?
Its evolution is in full swing.
On Thursday, the former Hard Rock Hotel reopens its doors, this time as Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.
The Resorts World megaresort has already changed the Strip skyline and is predicting a summer opening.
And a handful of resorts and projects are in the works.
This, to say nothing of the rising visitation and room rates, as Nevada opens up and vaccinations are on the rise.
Monitoring all this closely is longtime business reporter Howard Stutz, who is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports.
On crowds on the Strip and downtown:
Stutz said of the pictures he saw, it looked like a lot of people decided to visit Southern Nevada over the weekend.
“Everybody is supposed to be operating at 50 percent capacity and most of the properties looked above 50 percent.”
He said March Madness and St. Patrick's Day celebrations drew people to Las Vegas.
“It’s that pent-up demand that everybody has talked about,” he said.
The number of coronavirus cases is going down and so is the test positivity rate, but Stutz said the real challenge going forward will be whether that downward trend holds.
Virgin Hotels Las Vegas:
“When you look at the property, it’s Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. Virgin oversees the hotel, and they also brought in Hilton to operate the Curio Collection. It’s going to be part of that collection," Stutz said.
There are several new restaurant operators and favorites that stayed over from the old Hard Rock Hotel. AEG will be operating the entertainment venues. On the flipside, Mohegan Gaming, which is a tribal gaming company based in Connecticut, will be running the casino - the first tribal operation in the Las Vegas tourist corridor.
When the Hard Rock Hotel opened in 1995, it was the coolest hotel in the city, bringing in a young, hip crowd.
“A lot has changed in Vegas between 1995 and now. You have other properties that market to that crowd,” Stutz said.
He does believe it will find a market. Interestingly, the Virgin Hotel has more rooms than the new Circa downtown, but Circa has a larger casino floor, Stutz said.
Those two resorts plus the new Resorts World Las Vegas are bringing some fresh excitement to the city.
“You’ve got a whole bunch of different elements coming and opening this year that are really going to start marketing to different audiences, which is a good sign for Vegas,” he said.
Resorts World Las Vegas:
“When you look at it in the grand scheme of the openings that we’ve had, it is obviously a major opening on a site that has sat vacant since 2007 when the Stardust was imploded,” Stutz said.
Stutz said Resorts World will be the biggest splash of the summer. The resort will feature new entertainment and restaurants. People like to visit new resorts, even if they're not going to stay there, he said.
“The question will be: Will all the COVID stuff be behind us?” Stutz said.
Resorts World is owned by Genting, which is a company from Malaysia. It will be relying on its customer base from international destinations to fill the new resort, along with customers from its casinos in New York.
Resorts World is the first new resort on the Las Vegas Strip since the Cosmopolitan was opened in 2010. Resort operators have opted for remodeling properties, instead of building new resorts from the ground up.
Stutz said customers should expect to continue to see remodeling instead of new buildings. Rio announced it will go through a rebranding. Stutz expects something similar might happen to Planet Hollywood - if Caesars Entertainment sells it.
“It's more of a luxury business-oriented travel property. It could work,” Stutz said.
The new property will be on Convention Center Drive across the street from the expanded Las Vegas Convention Center. It will be a non-gaming property but Stutz said there is a market for business travelers who don't want to stay in a hotel-casino.
The resort is set to open in 2024, which might be perfect timing, he said.
The city's first big convention is set to return in June. World of Concrete is still planning to be a live event. Stutz said hopefully that will be the start of the return of conventions and trade shows, which bring the mid-week business traveler to town.
Other conventions on the horizon include the National Indian Gaming Association trade show and convention, which is normally held in San Deigo, but this year it was moved to Caesars in July.
The Global Gaming Expo, or G2E, is set for October in Las Vegas, Stutz said.
“Hopefully, we’ll be somewhat back to normal,” he said.
The Drew (formally The Fontainebleau):
“Every company that has talked about it, that has looked at it, has said it would take a billion dollars or so to go back in and fix it and make it work again,” Stutz said.
The fate of the property that sits on the Strip just north of the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion is once again up in the air.
The property was 70 percent complete just as the Great Recession hit. Construction stopped. It was sold to Carl Icahn in 2010, who sold off bits and pieces of the resort and then sold the whole property to Steve Witkoff in 2017.
Witkoff renamed it The Drew. He said he had the loans and financing in place to turn the property into something, but then the pandemic hit.
Now, the real estate arm of Koch Industries along with the original developer of the property Jeffrey Soffer have teamed up to buy the building.
Stutz admits he has been negative about the property for a long time. In fact, he wondered by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority didn't throw a stick of dynamite over the wall at the place when it was imploding the Riviera a few years ago.
“I just think that Fontainebleau is going to be a real, real challenge,” he said.
"We'll have to see."
The North Strip:
“If the Sahara can bring more people to their property as we come out of this pandemic, Circus Circus - any kind of revamp there - and the convention center: That’s really what’s going to draw more people to the north end of the Strip,” Stutz said.
Howard Stutz, executive editor, CDC Gaming Reports
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