Opening night festivities for the Mohegan Sun Casino at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas resulted in the largest fine handed down by gaming regulators for a single property that violated the state’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
The Nevada Gaming Commission Thursday agreed to a stipulated settlement with Connecticut-based Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment for a $60,000 fine after several reality television celebrities – who were paid to promote the casino’s March 25 opening – were photographed not wearing masks or facial coverings, as required at the time.
Deputy Attorney General John Michela told the Gaming Commission that $60,000 was the biggest fine for a single property that violated pandemic operating guidelines. The Grand Sierra in Reno and the Sahara Las Vegas, which are both owned by Los Angeles-based Meruelo Group, paid a combined $75,000 fine last September for multiple violations of the state’s COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.
Earlier this month, Mohegan Gaming CEO Ray Pineault apologized to the Gaming Control Board and accepted “full responsibility” for the opening night events.
Gaming Commission Chairman John Moran Jr. and other commissioners, complimented Pineault, who appeared during Thursday’s hearing in Las Vegas.
“There was no pushback from the licensee,” Moran said. “I think it’s a fair number. You guys ponied up.”
Mohegan agreed to a stipulated settlement with the Control Board last month following a five-count complaint for violating both capacity guidelines and the mandatory use of masks or facial coverings.
At the time of Mohegan Sun’s opening in Las Vegas, the state’s gaming industry was operating under 50 percent capacity limitations, requiring social distancing on the gaming floor and requiring all customers and employees to wear facial coverings.
On June 1, Nevada lifted all COVID-19 restrictions and capacity limitations.
In the complaint, the Control Board cited photos that appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and on the Virgin Hotel’s Twitter account showing the celebrities playing table games without wearing facial coverings and surrounded by crowds of onlookers who were not socially distanced.
Gaming Commissioner Steven Cohen noted the company took down the images on their social media feeds “right away.”
Mohegan Sun General Manager Joe Hasson told the Gaming Commission employees had received COVID-19 protocol training, but “what happens in the classroom and real life are different.” He said the incident from opening night will now “empower” Mohegan Sun employees to be more vigilant.
Michela said the lack of mask wearing only involved the paid celebrities and not Mohegan Sun employees nor casino patrons. However, the Control Board still wanted the fine to be the largest for a single licensee.
In addition to the Sahara-Grand Sierra fine, gaming regulators last year settled five other complaints covering COVID-19 protocol violations with fines ranging from $5,000 to $30,000.
Attorney Marc Rubinstein, representing Mohegan Gaming, said his client was hoping for a lower fine, but didn’t push back when the board sought the $60,000 amount.
“People got a little exuberant and were caught up in the celebration,” Pineault said earlier this month. “There is no excuse, and we understand the concerns.”
Earlier in Thursday’s hearing, the Gaming Commission unanimously approved Pineault’s licensing as an officer for the business arm of Connecticut’s Mohegan Indian Tribe.
Pineault, who was interim CEO of Mohegan Gaming when the casino opened, was named permanent CEO on May 27.
Mohegan Gaming has a management contract to operate the 60,000-square-foot casino space inside Virgin Hotels Las Vegas – a remodel of the off-Strip Hard Rock Las Vegas. The company was licensed by Nevada gaming regulators last fall.
Mohegan Gaming owns its flagship Mohegan Sun Resort in Uncasville, Connecticut, and the Mohegan Sun Poconos in Pennsylvania. The company manages gaming operations for Resorts Atlantic City; Indian casinos in Washington and Louisiana on behalf of other tribes; and the Fallsview Casino Resort on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.
State lawmakers have formally approved accepting Nevada’s $2.7 billion share of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, while also approving a slew of initial spending programs including more than $50 million to help low-income Nevadans pay for housing.
Members of the Interim Finance Committee met Tuesday to authorize the governor’s office to accept the full ARP allotment and designate allocations of more than $76 million in federal aid programs, including $39.5 million in rental assistance, $12.1 million in homeowner assistance and $13.9 million for the Department of Education to ensure federal relief funds are properly administered.
Tuesday’s meeting — the first interim meeting of legislators since the regular 120-day session ended last month — also served to outline how lawmakers and the governor’s office plan to spend the multibillion-dollar federal windfall.
The vote taken by lawmakers (which also funds the $5 million in vaccine incentive prizes announced by the state last week) will place the federal dollars into an executive budget account, which lawmakers said they will use similarly to a reserve account and to fund proposed programs after gathering additional public input. The state set up an online portal to accept spending ideas from members of the public, members of executive branch agencies and state lawmakers, and IFC Chair Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas) said it has received about 1,000 submissions since it opened in April.
Lawmakers stressed that the votes on Tuesday were not intended to leapfrog other priorities for the federal funds — including legislation passed just weeks ago requiring the state to spend $335 million of the allotment to pay back money borrowed from the federal government to sustain unemployment benefits and $54 million to modernize the state’s unemployment insurance system.
“This is the agreement that we have, and we just want to make sure it's very clear to folks that we can walk and chew gum and fix two or three problems at the same time,” Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) said during the meeting.
Brooks said that the $2.7 billion was only a portion of the estimated $7 billion total in federal monies coming to the state in the form of direct grants to school districts, counties and cities, and myriad other programs. With all the different pots of money, he said lawmakers “want to make sure that there's no waste, and that it's going to the best and highest use, and there's no duplication.”
Here’s a look at some of the major funding allocations made by the committee on Tuesday:
Homeowner assistance program
Programs to help tenants catch up on rent have been up and running for the last year, but a vote on Tuesday gets the ball rolling on an entirely new, $121 million program to support struggling homeowners.
The Homeowner Assistance Fund is targeted toward property owners who have faced hardship since late January 2020 or after on account of the pandemic. Because the state needs time to set up a portal and put the project out to bid, it will probably take at least 90 days before applications are accepted.
Instead of being disbursed through the state and local government agencies, the fund will be managed by the Nevada Affordable Housing Assistance Corporation, which previously had been administering money from the U.S. Treasury’s Hardest Hit Fund that supported 18 states affected most by the Great Recession.
The Hardest Hit Fund was a $200 million program that ultimately supported about 8,000 individual homeowners. The new Homeowner Assistance Fund is expected to help about 6,800 households.
Carlton said federal COVID-19 aid had previously been reserved to help renters pay their landlords, on the understanding that tenants were exposed to the more immediate effects of the pandemic and mortgage forbearance initiatives would relieve pressure on homeowners. But she said many homeowners have been asking for assistance.
“Seeing a program come forward for homeowners is very gratifying,” she said.
Lawmakers approved spending 10 percent of the allotment to get the program up and running, with plans to build out technology infrastructure and ramp up staffing at the corporation that officials say is operating with a skeleton crew. The first initiatives are expected to be the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program — which would bring homeowners who are receiving unemployment benefits current on payments and help support a monthly payment — as well as a Mortgage Reinstatement Assistance Program geared toward people who have returned to work and need to get current with payments to avoid a foreclosure.
The unemployment program is expected to be capped at $54,000 per recipient, with the reinstatement program capped at $35,000 per recipient. But officials are eyeing a complete program limit of $100,000 per recipient, with the understanding that the program might evolve over time and people also could need principal reduction.
Officials plan to get the word out through partnerships with housing counseling agencies, legal aid organizations and more than 100 mortgage servicers. The outreach involves coordinated mail campaigns that put special emphasis on hard-hit areas.
The program is expected to last for about five years. Some lawmakers questioned whether the estimated $17 million in administrative costs for the program was too high; officials said the costs stem from the complexity of complying with U.S. Treasury guidelines and the fact that applicants may need widely varying amounts of money.
Preparing for education spending
The committee also approved a round of allocations of ARP funds for the Department of Education that included nearly $14 million to ensure that federal relief funds for K-12 schools are properly administered.
“This is a whole new world for us,” said Carlton, who also serves as vice chair of the committee. “So we just want to be able to build in some of that transparency and ongoing communication between the department and IFC on how these dollars are spent in the future.”
In order to ensure the department’s spending of ARP funds is in compliance with guidance from the U.S. Treasury, the agency plans to use $431,000 of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to hire an “education programs supervisor,” who will help oversee the rollout of ARP funds over the coming years.
The additional funds for the department will go toward other temporary positions aimed at supporting the administration of ARP funds, as well as a few other small programs, including $400,000 to help the department in its transition to the new funding formula.
However, one project included within the department’s allocation of ARP funds was hotly contested during the meeting — a request for $10 million to contract with an external auditor who would help ensure the department remains compliant with ESSER and ARP requirements.
Some lawmakers questioned whether the audit would be needed and how long the contract would take, while others expressed concern over giving the agency the full $10 million for a multiyear contract when the department still needs to reach an agreement with a third party to complete the audit.
“We totally appreciate the audit function,” Carlton said. “Not with the Department of Education, but with other departments, we've had problems where we've given it all to them and found out at the end that none of it worked. And we ended up in a lawsuit, and we had to fund it all over again.”
The committee settled on allocating $5 million for the contract, with plans for the department to come back to the committee when it needs the rest of the funding for the audit contract.
The IFC additionally approved $1.8 million for the department with the goal of identifying and supporting the needs of homeless students.
However, IFC Chair Chris Brooks questioned the breakdown of that allocation across different county school districts. The breakdown was not available for public viewing.
“Why does Carson City — a population of 50,000 people — get $170,000 and Clark (County) — population of two-point-something million — get roughly twice that $342,000?” Brooks asked.
Seng-Dao Yang Keo, director of the Office of Student and School Supports for the department, explained that districts are awarded the grants competitively based on a variety of factors that include percentage of youth who are homeless and county capacity for serving those youth, which is why “one might see the disproportionality.”
The committee approved a wide swath of work programs during the Tuesday meeting, including a few smaller allocations of ARP funding.
One allocation of federal funds will grant the Nevada Arts Council nearly $800,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts to help support non-profit arts organizations and individual artists as they recover from the pandemic.
The committee also approved $2.7 million to improve access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by bolstering the infrastructure of the program, which includes expanding the program’s call center capacity and reducing call center wait times. The allocation is meant to ensure benefits can better reach underserved communities.
Another allocation of a little more than $100,000 in ARP funds, along with more than $200,000 in CARES Act funding, will go towards setting up the Office of Small Business Advocacy, which was established by AB184 during the 2021 legislative session. The office is meant to provide assistance directly to small businesses owners, including connecting those owners directly to economic relief programs.
After some discussion, committee members approved an allocation of around $2.5 million in federal funds aimed at addressing health disparities among at-risk and underserved populations. Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) commended the Department of Health and Human Services’ ability to coordinate and work with a variety of stakeholders during the pandemic, but noted that “we also want to do a better job specifically on health equity, specifically on disparate impact.”
DHHS officials responded that the department is looking at continuing to fund its Office of Minority Health and Equity and support its Minority Health and Equity Coalition. Tina Dortch with the office of Minority Health and Equity said that the office has been cultivating relationships in minority communities and will keep working with those communities. Dortch added that the additional funding will allow staff to continue to develop those relationships and build out existing programming.
Legislators on the committee also approved allocating $283,000 to the Department of Motor Vehicles for computer programming costs associated with legislation approved in the 2021 session, including measures decriminalizing traffic tickets (AB116), changes to special license plates for the Las Vegas Golden Knights (AB123) and the “Divine Nine” Black sororities and fraternities (SB163) and prohibiting the suspension of driver license fees by a court over unpaid fees or fines (SB219).
Updated on June 24, 2021 at 8:25 a.m. to correct the amount of funding allocated to the DMV for implementation of bills passed by the 2021 Legislature.
Flanked by Gov. Steve Sisolak and more than a dozen state and local officials, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh announced a near-$4 million federal grant for apprenticeships in Nevada.
During a roundtable discussion at the College of Southern Nevada on Tuesday, Walsh said the money came as part of a broader $130 million program across 15 states to spur job training as the country’s pandemic recovery accelerates.
The announcement comes as the Biden Administration seeks to straddle a fine economic line in the post-pandemic period. Some key economic indicators, including inflation and supply chains, remain in flux.
Touting the recovery efforts from the White House, including both the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan, Walsh said the money would go toward developing, modernizing and diversifying apprenticeship programs nationwide.
“I've traveled, now, quite a bit in the last month and a half here ... and it was just amazing what's happening,” Walsh said. “When you think about what the pandemic has done, I think that we're going to come back and say the pandemic eventually strengthened the American workforce.”
Allocated to the Governor’s Office of Workforce Innovation, with partners across higher education and local government, the grant money will support apprenticeships in health care, manufacturing and information technology.
Sisolak has frequently homed in on the function of the state’s community colleges as necessary engines for workforce development. That includes an effort in which he led a legislative push to study the role of such workforce development programs at community colleges.
As part of that effort, Sisolak also spearheaded a call to explore possible changes to community college funding and governance structures — even down to pursuing a separate governing board for Nevada’s four community colleges.
Taken together, community college students comprise roughly 44 percent of all Nevada college students, with more students at CSN alone — 31,500 as of fall 2020 — than any other higher education institution in the state.
On Tuesday, Sisolak said that as the pandemic wanes, “we've got a lot of workers we need to retrain.”
“I've always maintained — from my time on the Board of Regents to the [Clark] County Commission to now as governor — our community colleges are underfunded and underappreciated and overlooked, unfortunately,” Sisolak said. “And it gives people an opportunity, they have to retrain themselves to get back into the job market to learn a skill that they otherwise wouldn't have.”
Tuesday’s announcement also comes in the context of yet another crisis for the state’s hospitality industry, cratering employment gains made after the years-long recovery from the Great Recession.
Even as vaccinations have led to the widespread reversal of most COVID-19 restrictions, Nevada’s headline unemployment rate lags the national average by roughly 2 percentage points, with the unemployment rate in Clark County double that of Washoe, 9 percent compared to just 4.5 percent.
The comparisons between the opening of Resorts World Las Vegas and the launch of The Mirage almost 32 years ago can’t be ignored.
Like its predecessor, the $4.3 billion Resorts World ends a decade-long lull of new Las Vegas Strip hotel-casino development. When it opened in 1989, The Mirage was the Strip’s first all-new casino resort in 15 years.
That’s where the similarities end, though.
Resorts World’ predecessor, Boyd Gaming’s Echelon project, was conceived at the apex of the Strip’s massive development phase in the mid-2000s, only to be halted 14 months after construction began as the Great Recession gripped the casino industry.
The site sat untouched for five years until Genting Berhad – the holding company for Malaysia-based Genting Group – acquired the property and added the Resorts World name. Construction started slowly in 2015 but didn’t kick-off in earnest until a few years later.
Thursday’s opening comes at an auspicious time in Las Vegas. The gaming industry has fully rebooted following 15 months of casino closures, operating restrictions and capacity limitations brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourism and gaming numbers have been picking up since March, and the Resorts World opening is creating a buzz.
A private party will kick off the evening until the public is allowed in around 11 p.m. Resorts World’s communications team have teased the potential for celebrity appearances and social media influencers on opening night.
Truist Securities gaming analyst Barry Jonas found the 3,500-room hotel, casino and entertainment complex has the highest room rates on the Strip heading into next week’s July 4th holiday weekend.
The connections are not lost on Resorts World Las Vegas President Scott Sibella, a long-time MGM Resorts International executive who moved into his role in 2019, shortly after departing a similar position he held for eight years with MGM Grand Las Vegas.
“I wish I could say I was a smart guy and that I planned it this way. But we planned a summer 2021 opening last year, either way, hoping things were going to be better,” Sibella said.
When Resorts World activated its 100,000-square-foot LED screen on its west tower on Independence Day a year ago, providing a digital fireworks display for a Strip audience scaled down because of the pandemic, the interest took hold.
“In many ways, it seems like an old-school Las Vegas resort opening,” said Bo Bernhard, who grew up in Las Vegas and is now executive director of UNLV’s International Gaming Institute and the university’s vice president of economic development.
The difference, Bernhard said, is the company behind the project. Genting’s Resorts World brand and concept are new to the Strip. The company has seven integrated Resorts World properties, primarily in Asia, including Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore and Resorts World Genting in Malaysia.
“This is an entirely new company with new ideas, and in this case, global ideas. It’s tremendous expertise that will help grow this market,” Bernhard said.
Denstone Group CEO Oliver Lovat said Resorts World is “the most international property that has ever opened in Las Vegas.” The real estate advisor and casino industry consultant said American visitors won’t be disappointed.
“It is designed and structured for international visitors as well as the U.S. market in a way no other resort in Las Vegas has ever been built,” Lovatt said. “It’s a fusion of casino development from North America and Asia.”
Sibella cautioned that tapping the overseas Asian customer market, the bulk of Genting’s database, is challenging because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. It’s an issue for all Strip properties that have a large Asian customer connection.
“We have an edge from our properties over there (in Asia), but we know it won’t change overnight,” Sibella said. “My hope is it gets better by the end of the year, and we see the next Chinese New Year as a big celebration. But we’re not counting on that right away.”
More than just casinos
Genting was founded in 1965, and its first Resorts World property opened in Malaysia in 1971 as a 200-room hotel.
The company is more than just casinos. During a presentation to Nevada gaming regulators in May, Genting highlighted its place as a multinational conglomerate with energy, agriculture and real estate holdings in addition to its leisure and hospitality business. The company’s assets have an equity worth of $25 billion.
Global Market Advisors Partner Brendan Bussmann said New Yorkers recognize Resorts World’s gaming approach through its casinos in the Catskills and at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens.
“While the local leadership team has strong experience on the Strip, Resorts World is looking to make its own splash and be a competitive product in the resort corridor,” Bussmann said.
Resorts World Las Vegas is the first classic megaresort associated with the Strip’s growth in the three decades since The Mirage opened.
The 117,000 square foot casino will have 1,400 slot machines, 117 table games and a sportsbook. A high-end gaming area associated with Crockfords, a European gaming brand owned by Genting, is a part of the casino floor along with three 66th floor private gaming salons. Two other private gaming salons are on the fifth floor.
“Crockfords is an iconic brand for gamblers in the U.K.,” Lovatt said. “It will have an immediate resonance with the gaming customer.”
Last week, Resorts World announced it would be the first casino in Nevada to offer cashless gaming capabilities for slot machines, table games and sports betting, as well as non-gaming activities throughout the property, such as retail, restaurants and entertainment.
The casino partnered with five gaming technology providers in the effort.
Through a franchise agreement, Resorts World is utilizing Hilton Hotel’s brands, expertise, technology and the lodging company’s 115 million-member Hilton Honors program to fill the 3,500 rooms and suites.
All of Resorts World’s rooms are in the Hilton system under the Hilton name, the high-end Conrad brand or ultra-luxury LXR Hotels, which has been paired with Crockfords.
The property also will unveil the bulk of its 40 restaurants and beverage options, including an Asian street-themed food court. Resorts World’s five-and-half-acre pool deck and 300,000 square feet of convention and meeting space also are opening this week.
Three areas – the 5,000-seat theater built in partnership with AEG, Zouk Nightclub and the spa – are being held back until the fall and winter months because “additional scope has been added.” Singer Celine Dion will open the theater in November followed by singer Katy Perry and country music stars Carrie Underwood and Luke Bryan.
“Everything we do here is nontraditional,” Sibella said. “We try to say, ‘let’s not do it the way people have done it before.’ Let’s be forward thinkers.”
Sibella said the bulk of the planned 5,000-person workforce had been hired as of early June. He said staff training has been taking place inside the property’s convention facility. Resorts World has “strongly encouraged” its workforce to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We have a clinic where we are offering vaccines,” he said.
Boyd Gaming CEO Keith Smith could see the progress of Resorts World Las Vegas from his office in the Hughes Center. He had an obvious interest in the development: The company actually started construction on what is now Resorts World.
“It looks like they took all the infrastructure we had in place, and built it from there,” Smith said.
Beginning in the 1980s, Boyd owned the iconic Rat Park-era Stardust, eventually adding a 32-story hotel tower to the resort. The company then purchased several adjacent lots next to the Stardust, creating an 87-acre site.
In November 2006, Boyd closed the Stardust and imploded the property four months later to make way for Echelon, a planned $4.8 billion resort envisioned with five hotels of varying sizes totaling 5,000 rooms and suites, all connected to a 140,000-square-foot casino.
A formal groundbreaking took place in June 2007. However, as the economy began to struggle and credit markets dried up, Boyd halted Echelon’s construction in August 2008. The project, a mix of steel structures and an unfinished parking garage, sat silent until Genting Berhad acquired the site for $350 million.
“First and foremost, there was a great confidence in the people that took over the property with the money they have invested and what they have built,” Smith said. “Las Vegas has a history of making these big incremental steps every so many years and giving customers more reasons to continue to come and visit. I think (Resorts World) will help grow the overall market in the long term. It’s very much a positive step for the city and our community.”
Boyd has 28 casinos in 10 states. It retained the Stardust name and trademarks, which are being used at the company’s growing online casino business in Pennsylvania.
When The Mirage opened, the $565 million cost left many aghast. At the time, it was the most expensive hotel-casino project ever built in Las Vegas.
That record for a single resort now belongs to Resorts World, at $4.3 billion, although the 2009 opening of CityCenter, which included multiple hotels, high-rise residential and retail, carried a $9 billion price tag. The last all-new hotel-casino on the Strip was the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, which opened in 2010 at a cost of $3.9 billion.
The Mirage’s opening was followed in 1990 by Excalibur. Over the next nine years, the Strip’s landscape dramatically changed as 11 new properties were added to the resort corridor, including MGM Grand in 1993, Bellagio in 1998 and the Venetian, Mandalay Bay and Paris in 1999.
Analysts said Resorts World won’t have the same influence when it comes to stimulating new casino development, but it’s success could lead to sales and renovations of existing Strip hotel-casinos. Derek Stevens opened Circa Casino Resort last fall – downtown Las Vegas’ first all-new resort in 40 years – and Virgin Resorts remodeled the former Hard Rock Las Vegas.
UNLV’s Bernhard noted the emergence of Genting may pave the way for other operators to join the Strip. For example, Rhode Island-based Bally’s Corp. is buying the Tropicana and Southern California’s San Manuel Indian Tribe is purchasing the Palms Casino Resort.
“Historically, gaming innovation has been outbound from Las Vegas. Now, the innovation is inbound with new operators,” Bernhard said. “The Strip is going to be better off because of that change.”
He likened the addition of Genting to the Strip’s roster to the change the late Sheldon Adelson brought to Las Vegas when he built the Sands Expo and Convention Center, along with the Venetian.
Bussmann noted that Genting’s move to develop a site started by Boyd was a good sign for Strip. The company completed a project at the north end of Las Vegas Boulevard that will add to the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion and the remodeled Sahara.
“While the future is still hazy for Fontainebleau and another parcel in the area, it definitely extends the experience for the leisure and business customer,” Bussmann said.
This week on IndyMatters, Reporter Howard Stutz and Host Joey Lovato are back with the second installment of our three-part series “Flashback,” which explores the history of the gaming industry in Nevada. Then, Joey and Reporter Tabitha Mueller interview Samantha Glover, a 16-year-old from Reno who helped write and pass a bill that would provide free menstrual products in school bathrooms in Nevada for students who struggle to afford them. At the end of the show, Reporter Humberto Sanchez discusses efforts in Congress to pass an infrastructure bill and more in the D.C. Debrief.
Resorts World Las Vegas plans to be the first casino in Nevada that allows gamblers to purchase chips from a table game dealer without having to flash cash.
Instead, the customer will flash their digital wallet attached to the property’s mobile app.
Cashless gaming capabilities for slot machines, table games and sports betting was part of a multi-tiered technology announcement by Resorts World on Wednesday.
Operators of the $4.3 billion, 3,500-room Strip property, which opens Thursday, said they partnered with five gaming technology providers to create a cashless payment program for both gaming and non-gaming activities throughout the resort, such as retail, restaurants and entertainment.
“When it comes to gaming technology, we’re doing many things that the city has never seen,” Resorts World Las Vegas President Scott Sibella said in an interview last week. “We will be more sophisticated than any casino in the world when it comes to technology.”
Nevada gaming regulators approved the use of cashless wagering technology last year. Wagering on slot machines through a mobile wallet has been increasing in the state, and most major gaming equipment providers have developed or are in the process of creating mobile wallets.
Resorts World is taking the technology a step further, by becoming the first casino in the state to allow a mobile wallet to fund table game play. The property’s mobile wallet, which was developed by gaming equipment manufacturer Konami Gaming, is part of the Resorts World mobile app.
“This is a seamless consumer experience to digitally transform the gaming industry,” said Sightline Payments CEO Joe Pappano. Las Vegas-based Sightline serves as the financial conduit, moving funds from a customer’s debit card, bank account, PayPal account or another source into the mobile wallet. The funds are FDIC-insured.
“The idea is not just connecting the entire casino floor, but also the non-gaming amenities at Resorts World,” Pappano said. “Resorts World will help accelerate this change in the gaming industry.”
Konami Gaming Chief Operating Officer Tom Jingoli said the launch of the system was “a significant historical moment” for both Las Vegas and the gaming industry.
“We set out to reinvent the hospitality experience in Las Vegas by bringing seamless interaction, leading-edge convenience, personalized engagement and catered service to every guest touchpoint,” Jingoli said.
The Resorts World cashless gaming system will technically be on a field trial when the property opens, said Gaming Control Board Chairman Brin Gibson. The system cleared the board’s testing lab, and Gibson can administratively approve the system after 30 days if there aren’t any issues. The maximum time the field trial could last is 180 days.
Resorts World’s 1,400 slot machines can be accessed by a customer’s mobile wallet via a wireless connection, often referred to as near-field communications. The player is then able to choose how much in wagering credits they want to load on the game. Players can cash out winnings back to their mobile wallet when the gaming session ends.
As for the property’s 117 table games, players create a QR code on their mobile wallet to establish their bankroll. A QR reader at the table then records the wagering total and the dealer provides the player with gaming chips once funds have been accepted. Cashing out is still accomplished at the casino cage.
“There was tremendous collaboration among the companies for this system,” Pappano said. Other technology for the property’s cashless gaming effort was provided by International Game Technology, NRT Technology and Genisis Gaming.
In April, Resorts World Las Vegas owner, Malaysia-based Genting Group, participated in a $100 million investment into Sightline that was led by Cannae Holdings, a firm headed by Vegas Golden Knights majority owner Bill Foley.
Sightline utilized part of the investment to acquire JOINGO, a Las Vegas-based mobile platform provider that developed the Resorts World Las Vegas mobile app.
Sightline cited statistics provided by the American Gaming Association that showed casino customers were interested in utilizing digital payments and mobile wallets following concerns raised during the pandemic. More than 60 percent of casino gamblers said they wanted a “contactless” payment option when they gambled.
The AGA has said casinos are one of the last cash-based industries in the U.S.
As Resorts World Las Vegas continues its march to the planned June 24 opening date, much of the spotlight will be shined on the vast amenities and ample star power heralding the opening of the 3,500 room, $4.3 billion casino resort.
But as guests arrive and fill up the Strip’s first new resort property since The Cosmopolitan opened in 2010, the electricity supporting everything from bedside lamps to the light show for a 4th of July Miley Cyrus concert will be powered by electricity procured or provided by NV Energy.
A business taking electric service from the state’s primary electricity provider may not seem like news, but Resorts World isn’t being treated like most other electric customers. Instead, NV Energy and the casino are asking utility regulators to approve a unique market-based electricity supply deal aimed at ultimately powering the property with renewable energy.
The proposed energy supply agreement application with Resorts World is in the same vein — a bifurcated supply agreement would first see the utility purchase electricity for the casino resort on the wholesale market, and later dedicate a portion of production from under-construction renewable generating power plants to service the casino resort property.
“The proposed clean energy supply agreement between Resorts World Las Vegas and NV Energy would provide the property with a dedicated, long-term resource for renewable energy for a minimum of 15 years, which we believe to be the next best step in achieving our goal of obtaining energy through 100% renewable resources,” Resorts World General Counsel Gerald Gardner wrote in an email.
The electricity pricing plan for Resorts World is called the Large Customer Market Price Energy Tariff, or LCMPE for short, and acts sort of like an incentive offered by cell phone companies — offered only to new utility customers who have not been approved by the PUC to purchase electricity on the open market and that average an annual hourly load of ten megawatts or more. It’s a pricing plan that NV Energy used on a similar project with Google’s Henderson-based data center.
The energy supply plan filing didn’t exactly come as a surprise — Resorts World and NV Energy announced back in 2019 that the companies had reached a 20-year-agreement for fully renewable bundled electric service, though most of the actual filings before the PUC have been made this year.
Because the proposed energy supply agreement was just filed this month, it will not take effect before the casino resort actually opens its doors and welcomes in visitors on next Thursday, meaning that Resorts World will pay the normal electric rates for a customer its size (residential, industrial and commercial customers all pay slightly different electric rates based on customer class).
The application submitted to the PUC splits the contract into short-term and long-term periods. The short-term period kicks in once Resorts World hits a certain threshold for average hourly electric load, and would see NV Energy serve electric needs by procuring and selling wholesale market energy to be “priced at an appropriate index pricing” or by using energy from excess capacity from the utility’s existing generating stations.
The long-term period would start no later than 2024, once under-construction clean power generating stations operated by or contracting with the utility achieve commercial operation — essentially cleaving out a portion of future produced renewable electricity for use by Resorts World.
In the application, NV Energy stressed that other customers would not see increased costs or forego benefits from the arrangement with Resorts World, but many of the specifics were kept under seal. The utility wrote in the application that keeping those portions confidential was a necessary step to ensure commercially sensitive information remained under wraps (an unredacted version was delivered to the PUC).
The redactions include information about the generating plants that Resorts World will receive dedicated electric service from and how long the contract extends, as well as anticipated electric load and the specifics on how electric pricing will be calculated.
In partially redacted testimony prepared by NV Energy executive Cynthia Alejandre, the utility said that approval of the energy supply agreement would be in the public interest not only by adding another major customer, but by also helping with job growth coming “upon the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic” and to serve as a “template” for other new large businesses coming to the state. (One additional rationale is also redacted).
More recently, NV Energy and Resorts World filed a joint petition with the PUC in April 2021 seeking a waiver to allow the casino resort to enroll in a special energy supply plan despite also temporarily taking normal service from the utility.
But PUC staff responded with concerns about granting a broad waiver before any details of an energy supply plan had been filed with the commission. In a separate joint filing made on Monday, NV Energy and Resorts World requested another temporary waiver against the requirement for a customer to not be a fully bundled customer of the utility, but “only for as long as necessary for the Commission to review” the energy supply agreement.
A North Dakota Indian tribe spent $12 million a year ago to acquire 8.7 acres at the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip. The purchase was largely ignored.
Recent activity centered on Las Vegas’ recovery from pandemic-related shutdowns and restrictions have brought renewed attention to the site, which is located roughly a mile east of Allegiant Stadium and in the shadow of Mandalay Bay.
The land, which is zoned for gaming and other uses, was part of the $100 million SkyVue observation wheel and entertainment project that stalled in 2013 and eventually went bankrupt.
“We’ve looked at all the different angles and options,” Mark Fox, chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, said Tuesday. The tribe, known as the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, bought the land through a bankruptcy court auction last July.
“For the tribe, the purchase was meant to diversify our portfolio and acquire a piece of property at a low price that we know will increase in value,” Fox said. “It was a good opportunity.”
The tribe’s acreage is located at 95 East Ali Baba Lane, just east of the MGM Festival Grounds, the location of the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting. The parcel is just south of the Diocese of Las Vegas Catholic Church.
Lately, the site has been used as the stage for “American Ninja Warrior,” a reality television competition.
The SkyVue project totaled 38.5 acres, which were divided up in the bankruptcy. A parcel that includes two unfinished pillars along the Strip that were expected to support the planned 500-foot-tall observation wheel were acquired separately by the project’s primary lenders.
Fox, who said he has made multiple visits to Las Vegas over the years with an idea of the tribe making an investment in the market, understands why there could be speculation surrounding the land deal.
“We have 25 years of experience in gaming,” Fox said.
The Three Affiliated Tribes operates North Dakota’s third largest casino, the Four Bears Casino and Lodge at its reservation in Fort Berthold, which has a 120,000 square foot casino and a 220-room hotel. Fox said the tribe is starting construction this year on a seven-story hotel tower.
Tribal interest in casinos along the Las Vegas resort corridor is on an upswing.
The gaming arm of Connecticut’s Mohegan Indian Tribe has been operating the casino at the off-Strip Virgin Hotels Las Vegas since March. In May, Southern California’s San Manuel Indian Tribe said it was acquiring the off-Strip Palms Casino Resort for $650 million from Red Rock Resorts.
Also, Florida’s Seminole Indian Tribe controls the name and trademarks for Hard Rock Las Vegas and has been actively looking at potential acquisition prospects along the Strip.
The Three Affiliated Tribes government primarily oversees an oil production facility with the reservation land accounting for almost one-fifth of North Dakota's oil production.
Fox said Indian gaming in North Dakota is small, producing $120 million to $130 million in annual revenues, far below the $1.5 billion wagered annually on state-run pull-tab machines.
Colliers International broker Mike Mixer, who oversaw the land sale and auction, said smaller gaming companies looked at the site, but the tribe saw the land for its long-term value.
“It’s generating some income (through the lease for the television show),” Mixer said. “Maybe they will build something down the road, but they saw the long-term value in the site.”
Because of the site’s proximity to McCarran International Airport, a developer would have to file an application with the Federal Aviation Administration for any proposed structure.
One idea Fox said the tribe considered was temporarily turning the site into a parking lot for the 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium. The Las Vegas Raiders will play one preseason game and nine regular season home games.
The team recently announced a parking plan that includes 35,000 spaces within a one-mile radius of Allegiant Stadium. The facility will control 13,000 spaces at multiple lots and priced per game at between $40 and $100. Approximately 22,000 additional spaces are located at nearby resort properties and neighboring businesses.
Raiders officials said the average parking price of $75 is comparable with other NFL stadiums.
Fox said the tribe wasn’t approached by the NFL team.
“Even if we do nothing and just flip the land in a few years, I’m confident this will be a good investment,” Fox said. He noted the large Harley Davidson dealership south of Mandalay Bay and other planned properties in the area.
“In 10 years, that southern part of the Strip will be a highly developed area,” Fox said.
Gov. Steve Sisolak joined members of the Culinary Workers Union in Las Vegas on Tuesday to celebrate the passage of the much-debated SB386 – referred to as the “Right to Return” bill – that guarantees the rights of laid-off gaming and tourism industry workers to return to their previous jobs.
Sisolak was met with applause and cheers after he was introduced by D. Taylor, president of the labor organization’s parent union, UNITE HERE. The event came after Sisolak signed the bill last week with little fanfare.
“The day I decided that we had to close down the Strip … I said ‘I’m going to put a lot of people out of work.’ That was hard. That was really hard. 98 percent of the Culinary members were unemployed after we did that. We only brought back 50 percent of them thus far,” Sisolak told the workers who grew quiet in the crowded union hall near downtown.
Sisolak credited the bill’s passage to the union members who relentlessly lobbied legislators in Carson City and fought to get the measure passed in May. However, he said there was still work to be done as long as there was a single worker there who did not yet have a job back.
Mario Sandoval, 56, is a Las Vegas resident and member of the Culinary Union who was a food server at Binion’s steakhouse for 36 years before he was laid off in March 2020. He is planning to retire in seven years and said he wants to do so with “dignity.”
For 13 months, Sandoval was unemployed. He spoke to lawmakers on the congressional Ways and Means Committee, at the Legislature and even to Vice President Kamala Harris when she came to visit Las Vegas in March.
“Anybody that would give me an ear, I would chew it off,” Sandoval joked.
Sandoval said he feels great that the bill passed, but that he is still not back to work because his company told him that they have until July 1, when the law goes into effect, to rehire him.
Norma Flores worked as a server at the Fiesta Henderson Hotel and Casino for 20 years before it was shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic. Like Sandoval, she knocked on doors and lobbied Nevada legislators to support SB386.
She described the financial and mental toll the pandemic took on her and other workers.
“We feel like we don’t have anything,” she said. ”We lost everything with the pandemic, and we know we have to [go] back to work, but we don’t know when. We go to sleep and we don’t know if … we’ll have [a] check for unemployment [tomorrow]. We don’t want to depend [on] that check. We want to work.”
Luceanne Taufa worked as a cashier at Fiesta Henderson for 17 years before she was laid off in March. After having multiple family members pass away and seeing others lose their livelihoods during the pandemic, she said she felt as if her heart was broken.
Both Flores and Taufa said the passage of the Right to Return bill was a major victory for workers. Taufa described herself as being “in heaven” after she had learned that the measure passed. She said that though she only has a few years of work left, she also fought to give other people hope for the future.
The measure was subject to lengthy negotiations before the union and other major players in the casino industry arrived at a compromise.
“This wasn’t about an argument about a bill … This was about people. This was about people that worked for a living – hard-working people that have built this city. They fueled this tourism economy. Without you, nobody’s coming to Las Vegas,” Sisolak told the workers. “I am committed to doing everything within my power to make sure we get every person back to work because that’s what it’s about.”
With two weeks left before the federal eviction moratorium is set to expire on June 30, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford is fighting for the U.S. Supreme Court to maintain the nationwide pause on evictions ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
On Friday, Ford joined a coalition of 23 fellow Democratic attorneys general in issuing an amicus or “friend-of-the-court” brief asking the high court to maintain the CDC’s order prohibiting evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In their amicus brief, the attorneys general argued that the moratorium should remain in place because eliminating the ban would “irreparably harm the states,” Ford’s office said. The attorneys general added in the brief that with roughly half of U.S. adults still unvaccinated and children under the age of 12 still ineligible to receive the vaccine, removing the ban could cause cases to surge across the country.
In March 2020, Congress passed COVID-19 relief legislation that included an eviction moratorium for certain rental properties. When that legislation expired in July 2020, the CDC issued an eviction moratorium order that was originally set to expire on Dec. 31, 2020 but has been extended multiple times since then.
After the appeals court denied the plaintiffs’ request to cancel the lower court’s decision, the plaintiffs brought their request to the Supreme Court.
In their amicus brief, the attorneys general argued that the CDC has the authority to issue the ban because it concerns the “public health” of the nation. Lifting the ban would not only harm individuals at risk of eviction, but also would put their communities at risk, they argued. In addition, the coalition said that eliminating the order would “throw state COVID-19 responses into disarray” and that COVID-19, being a nationwide pandemic, requires a national response such as the CDC’s order.
“According to the CDC, as many as 30-40 million American renters are at risk of eviction, and at least four million are at ‘imminent risk,’” the amicus brief said.
In a July 2020 study, the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, in partnership with the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project (CEDP), projected that had the moratorium not been extended, every county in Nevada would have been likely to experience an increase in evictions, with Clark County projected to see 249,700 people at risk of eviction.
State lawmakers recently passed AB486, which aims to speed up the backlogged process of distributing hundreds of millions of dollars of federal rental assistance. Maintaining the ban on evictions would give state and local governments more time to distribute payments to their residents, the attorneys general argued in the amicus brief.
Among the groups that are most vulnerable to COVID-19, those most likely to be harmed by a decision to lift the ban include persons of color and low-income people, according to a September 2020 study conducted by the Guinn Center. Americans at risk of eviction are also disproportionately unlikely to be vaccinated, according to the amicus brief.
Nevada had its own state-level eviction moratorium in place for much of the pandemic, but “the state moratorium will not be extended past the end of May,” Gov. Steve Sisolak has said.
In addition to the immediate impacts of extending protections for tenants for two more weeks, the decision on the ban also could affect the White House’s response to a public health crisis in the future, Lindsay Wiley, professor of law at American University and a public health law and ethics expert, told Law360.
Ford’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether potential long-term effects on the executive branch influenced his decision to join the coalition two weeks before it is set to expire.
“Americans need help, and that’s the bottom line,” said Ford in the recent statement. “While businesses are reopening, it will take time for those struggling to get back on their feet.”