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Is Virtual Reality The Strip's Next Savior?

Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

A woman tries on Google's virtual reality device "Daydream View" after the opening of Google's pop-up store in New York on October 20, 2016.

Is virtual reality the next big thing for the Las Vegas Strip?

As casinos try to court millennials, MGM thinks it could be.

The company has put a virtual reality operation in at MGM Grand at the Level Up bar and gaming center, and is considering adding the technology to the famed New York-New York roller coaster.

"I think, for the most part, it is an augmented version of the activity you're doing," Scott Roeben, who runs the website, told KNPR's State of Nevada.

If the roller coaster does get a virtual reality option, it would be one of several so-called VR coasters in the world.

"You can have the craziest things flying in front," he said. "You can have an entirely different landscape. You can be flying not just through another part of earth, but other planets. It really is unlimited."

Roeben said the VR component at New York-New York and at MGM's Level Up bar is all part of an effort to bring in millennials' money.

"I think the casinos are at a bit of a loss, and they're trying kind of what they see working elsewhere & are hoping they will work in their establishment," he said.

Roeben said many casinos on the Strip are looking to the Gold Spike downtown for inspiration.

"Gold Spike is the gold standard of getting young people to come in, play cornhole, [and] buy drinks -- and it is a party place," he said.

However, some of the games and ideas that MGM has put in place at Level Up have not worked as well.

"To their credit, they keep trying," Roeben said. "They're trying new things. They've got the virtual reality now. They've got a golf game that is kind of a 3D, interactive golf game. They're trying a lot of different things, but nothing has quite clicked yet."

And trying new things like the games at Level Up and other similar setups doesn't cost the casinos much money, Roeben pointed out. The casinos can partner with a third party and give them an empty space, which is what happened with Level Up. It's where a Rainforest Café once stood.

While casinos work to find the magic formula to attract and please millennials, Roeben thinks there is really is no "millennials problem."

"The millennial problem is a perceived value problem," he said. "Millennials are very sophisticated and savvy when it comes to their entertainment options."

Because many people in the millennial generation are not in a career position where they have a lot of disposable income, they want to make sure they're getting a good bang for their buck, and they're looking for experiences.

"A millennial doesn't necessarily go into a casino looking for a skill-based game," Roeben said. They go to hang out with their friends."

Right now, he said they're hanging out with friends at nightclubs.

Other Happenings Along the Strip

A new Gordon Ramsay joint:

Roeben said Caesars Palace is working on a new space for a new restaurant by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. The casino shut down Serendipity 3, which was right next to the Strip, for the venture. 

"Based on the history of that partnership, it's going to do gangbusters," Roeben said.

The Future of the Fontainebleau:

The Fontainebleau, which has sat 70 percent completed at the northern end of the Strip since the Great Recession, finally has a buyer. A real estate investment firm from New York bought the property for $600 million from billionaire investor Carl Icahn. 

Roeben does not know what will happen to the property at this point, but he said "Presumably, you wouldn't buy it at this price to take it down," he said.

He said there are now "600 million glimmers hope" for the property.

Where is Resorts World, anyway?

Years ago, Genting Group, which owns mega-resorts in Malaysia and other Asian countries, announced it had bought Boyd's old Echelon Project. The Echelon was supposed to replace the imploded Stardust Hotel-Casino, but the recession put an end to that plan.

But besides putting up a construction crane and building barriers around the site, not much has happened at the Resorts World Las Vegas site.

Roeben said developers say they're building "infrastructure" on the site, but he wonders just how much "infrastructure" is needed.

"I swing from huge optimism and horrible pessimism and right now. It's more on the pessimism side," he said.

Has luck run out for the Lucky Dragon?

Roeben believes the plan to attract Asian tourists and locals alike to the Lucky Dragon, a Chinese-themed property on Sahara Blvd. just off the Strip, might not have worked as well as the developers had hoped.

He said there are indications that the project is struggling and could be on the market soon. 

Slightly off the Strip and Downtown Projects

The Palms gets a facelift:

The Palms Hotel-Casino was bought by Station Casinos, which has the local casinos market basically cornered. Roeben thinks the plan for the Palms is to roll the property into the greater Stations family.

Station Casinos is rebranding everything inside the hotel and closing elements of the resort associated with the original Palms, including the Ghostbar, which sits high atop the property, and the Palms' well-regarded steakhouse. 

"Every single part of the casino that I can see is changing," Roeben said.

Meanwhile, in Downtown:

The Stevens brothers, who bought a swath of Fremont Street properties, are making good on promises to change the landscape. 

Roeben said the old Mermaids casino is gone, as is the Glitter Gulch strip club. The casino at the Las Vegas Club is being demolished.

"Now, it gets interesting because they've got two hotel towers [at the Las Vegas Club] that are going to be brought down," he said.

And for big machine and demolition enthusiasts, the destruction of the towers will be a sight to behold, Roeben said. A gigantic excavator, the largest in North America, is being assembled right now with the express purpose of bringing down the towers -- floor by floor.

There is no exact word from the Stevens brothers about what's next, but Roeben says people should expect a lot of pools at the new property. Derek Stevens said the downtown area is "under pooled."

"I think they decided to take the whole block down so they could have this kind of blank slate to create from," Roeben said.

Scott Roeben, Vital Vegas

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Casey Morell is the coordinating producer of Nevada Public Radio's flagship broadcast State of Nevada and one of the station's midday newscast announcers. (He's also been interviewed by Jimmy Fallon, whatever that's worth.)