For decades, the nation’s tribes have operated casinos on reservations. Now they’re coming to Las Vegas.
A week ago, The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians announced it will buy the Palms Casino Resort.
Mohegan Sun now operates the casino at Virgin Hotel Las Vegas, formerly the Hard Rock.
And the Seminole Tribe — which owns Hard Rock International — has shown interest in buying Planet Hollywood or Bally’s.
Why is this happening now? Why hadn’t it happened before? And what kind of changes, if any, does it mean for those casinos?
Laurens Vosloo, CEO of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, said the tribe’s overall goal is always establishing ongoing, reliable revenue for the future and expanding into Las Vegas fit that.
“We spent the last two to three years taking a serious look at everything in Las Vegas and realized that that’s a place to be from a gaming standpoint, and we know Vegas continues to grow and is an exciting town to be in, and it’s got a lot of long-term potential. So it made a lot of sense for us,” Vosloo said.
Vosloo added that the focus of the property will change from youth and parties to local and California-based gamblers.
“We want to focus on the gaming experience that is supported by the wonderful restaurants and bars and entertainment and amenities that are there right now,” he said. “Probably not going to focus on the nightlife as much, but focus more on the gaming side of the business.”
It was the focus on the nightlife that contributed to financial problems with the resort in the first place, according to CDC Gaming Reports Executive Director Howard Stutz.
“[Red Rock Resorts] admitted they overspent on the nightclub,” he said.
“They spent about $360 million to buy the Palms," he added. "Then they spent ... almost $700 million on the renovation. They renovated the whole property.”
Stutz said they tried to cater to both the Strip tourists -- because it’s only a mile off the Strip -- and locals, the latter being their bread-and-butter customer.
“And it missed the mark,” he said. “They realized that the nightclub industry -- we’re talking about 2019 -- was pretty overcrowded.”
Red Rock Resorts ended up closing the nightclub and taking a number of write-offs on it, Stutz said, and that impacted the company’s earnings for two quarters.
As the property was starting to turn the corner, the pandemic shut down both those efforts and the property itself.
The mistakes made by Red Rock Resorts could be a big win for the new owners, and it could give Red Rock another opportunity to cater specifically to locals.
“Now, Red Rock has said they’re going to … use some of the proceeds from this and turn their attention towards maybe a casino off Durango and the 215, another locals’ orientated property in a market that is underserved,” he said.
As for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, it will take a while for them to complete the purchase and get their Nevada gaming license. But when they do, they’ll have a casino that was recently remodeled and a place for them to bring their loyal California customers, Stutz said.
“I think they’re going to probably focus more so on bringing their customers from Southern California who want to come to Vegas,” he said. “Now they have a place that they can use their players' points and loyalty cards in Vegas and get credit and still go to the San Manuel Casino in Southern California.”
Vosloo said the company plans to bring some of the same successful strategies and team members from Southern California to Southern Nevada.
“We’ve got very nice amenities and currently building our amenities and capabilities for our current customers, but giving them that unique -- what we call thrilling slot and table game experience -- is a key element for us,” he said. “We want to bring some of that to Las Vegas to the locals and our customers that we know continue to go to Las Vegas.”
Vosloo believes tribal gaming companies entering the Las Vegas market like his -- such as the Mohegan Sun at Virgin Hotel Las Vegas, and possibly the Seminole Tribe, which owns Hard Rock International -- raises everyone’s game.
“I think it’s going to probably help everybody sharpen their pencils and make sure they treat their customers well and employees well,” he said.
Is this the beginning of a boom of tribal gaming in Nevada? Stutz is not so sure. There are a lot of opportunities and other tribes may expand here, but, he notes, “this is all very new.”
Full disclosure: Nevada Public Radio received a grant from The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians to create Native Nevada, a podcast about Native American issues.
Laurens Vosloo, CEO, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians; Howard Stutz, executive editor, CDC Gaming Reports