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.
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.”
A California appellate court tossed a roadblock in front of Red Rock Resorts’ planned development of a tribal-owned casino near Fresno that has been tied up in legal maneuverings for some 18 years.
A three-judge panel said the defeat of a 2014 statewide ballot referendum precluded California’s governor from signing a gaming compact with the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians. The tribe has an agreement with Las Vegas-based Red Rock Resorts subsidiary Station Casinos to develop and manage the $350 million to $400 million off-reservation gaming project.
However, the ruling by the judges contradicted a separate decision by the California Supreme Court last fall that green-lighted the project. The ruling allowed Gov. Gavin Newsome to accept a U.S. Department of Interior ruling that permitted the tribe to utilize a 305-acre off-reservation site for the casino.
The competing court rulings leave Red Rock Resorts’ Indian gaming venture in limbo.
The company is without a tribal gaming contract after its three previous management deals – two in California and one in Michigan – expired.
Red Rock Resorts Chief Financial Officer Stephen Cootey said last month the casino operator and the North Fork tribe expected “to have a shovel in the ground” shortly after the end of June, which would begin a 15-to-18-months construction project.
“We’re excited to begin the development of this very attractive project on behalf of North Fork Tribe,” Cootey said during the company’s first-quarter earnings conference call last month.
Red Rock Resorts spokesman Michael Britt declined comment Monday on the California ruling.
A spokesman for North Fork Rancheria Tribal Chairwoman Elaine Bethel-Fink provided a statement.
“The North Fork Rancheria and its development partner, Station Casinos, are digesting this most recent ruling," the tribe said in an email. "We will have a more comprehensive statement when we have had a chance to discern the implications of this decision and the appropriate next steps.”
Cootey said in May the gaming operator was having “discussions with our lending partners as to how we can most efficiently finance this project.”
The North Fork Casino is planned for 2,000 slot machines, 40 table games, two stand-alone restaurants and a food court. Hotel rooms and other amenities are expected to be built at a later date.
Red Rock’s most recent casino management contract with the Graton Rancheria Tribe near Santa Rosa expired in February after seven years. In the three-month period that ended on March 31, Red Rock’s cash flow from its tribal operation was $7.6 million, a 56.8 percent decrease from a year earlier, due largely to the termination of the Graton contract.
Red Rock – then operating as Station Casinos – first signed an agreement with the North Fork tribe in 2003 to build and manage the gaming complex. The tribe has a 61-acre reservation near the town of North Fork, but long maintained the site was too small and too far removed for a casino.
The off-reservation site designated for the casino complex is in the town of Madera off Highway 99, roughly 42 miles from the tribe’s reservation and just 30 miles north of Fresno.
North Fork faced numerous legal obstacles from the beginning over the taking of non-reservation land into trust, a move that must gain Interior Department approval and is often opposed by competing tribes. California is the nation’s largest Indian gaming state, and its 70 tribal casinos produced nearly $9 billion in annual gaming revenues prior to the pandemic. The total was nearly one-quarter of all tribal gaming revenues annually according to statistics compiled by Washington D.C.’s National Indian Gaming Association.
The appellate court ruling was based on a lawsuit filed in 2013 by “Stand Up for California!” an anti-gaming public affairs organization that opposed the casino and the land-into-trust issue. The case suffered a loss in a lower court decision, where the judge agreed with the arguments brought by the defendants, which included the state, then-California Gov. Jerry Brown and California gaming regulators.
However, the appellate court, despite last September’s Supreme Court decision, agreed with the arguments raised by plaintiffs pointing to the defeat of the 2014 ballot referendum by 61 percent to 39 percent, prevented Brown from signing off on the land-into-trust issue. If the ballot question had passed, the casino would have been approved.
“We conclude the people retained the power to annul a concurrence by the governor and the voters exercised this retained power at the 2014 election by impliedly revoking the concurrence for the Madera site,” the appellate judges wrote.
Ahead of the busy July 4th holiday, Hilton Hotels Corp. will have nearly 5,400 rooms and suites available to customers on or near the Las Vegas Strip. And the company didn’t pay millions of dollars to build the accommodations.
Through partnership agreements at Resorts World Las Vegas and Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, and a management agreement at CityCenter’s Waldorf Astoria, Hilton brought several of its best-known worldwide brands – and the Hilton name – back to Las Vegas.
The Hilton product was synonymous with the gaming destination for more than 40 years through the Las Vegas Hilton. The company sold the 3,000-room hotel-casino in 2012 and the property is now known as Westgate Las Vegas.
“That resort, through Hilton’s ownership, helped legitimize Las Vegas as a place for corporate investment,” said UNLV history professor Michael Green. He considered the acquisition in 1971 “a crucial moment in Las Vegas history” because law enforcement and Nevada gaming regulators at the time were ending organized crime’s control of the Strip.
Green suggested that Hilton’s attachment to the 3,500-room, $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas is coming at another opportune moment. The opening could send a green light to worldwide travelers that the destination is in recovery following 15 months of shutdowns and operating restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is a certain irony to the timing,” Green said.
Through a franchise agreement, Resorts World is utilizing the Hilton brand, expertise, technology and the Hilton Honors program, a worldwide database of 115 million active users, to attract visitors to the first large scale integrated resort to open on the Strip since 2010. All of Resorts World’s rooms are in the Hilton system.
In a symbolic gesture to the partnership, Malaysia-based Genting Berhad – Resorts World’s developer – added the Hilton name and the company’s high-end Conrad brand to the Strip property’s 57-story towers. Crockfords, a European casino brand owned by Genting, is also named atop the building. Crockfords is paired with Hilton’s LXR Hotels, an ultra- luxury product.
Resorts World Las Vegas President Scott Sibella said the brands’ placement alongside the property’s rooftop insignia added credibility to the destination.
“It’s a resort complex,” Sibella said. “When you’re here, you’re at Resorts World and they are part of our complex. We love the brands.”
The agreement with Hilton is an expedited way to fill the hotel rooms with guests. Genting’s seven integrated Resorts World properties have a combined 10,500 rooms but are primarily located in Asia. Resorts World Catskills in upstate New York has 332 rooms while a 400-room Hyatt Hotel attached to Resorts World New York City at the Aqueduct Raceway opens this summer.
Access to Resort World’s Asian customer base won’t happen until international airline travel to the U.S. fully reopens.
The Resort World customer database, while significant, doesn’t have the reach provided by the Hilton system.
Sibella is pleased with the Hilton relationship, saying the Las Vegas property is nearly sold out for 4thof July with “the highest room rates on the Strip,” between $400 and $500 a night.
‘A sought-after destination’
The Hilton presence remained in Southern Nevada following the Las Vegas Hilton sale through smaller brands, such as Homewood Suites, Hampton Inns and Garden Inns that dot the resort corridor and the Las Vegas Valley. Two Hilton-operated timeshare/vacation ownership properties are also on the Strip.
However, that wasn’t enough for the company, even with nearly 6,500 hotel properties across 119 countries and territories.
Hilton Hotels Executive Vice President Danny Hughes said, “Las Vegas is one of the most iconic destinations in the world.” Hughes, who has been with Hilton for 34 years, added that the company has been presented with many proposals over the years to come back to Las Vegas, but Resorts World “was an opportunity worthy of this effort.”
Hilton views Las Vegas as a multiple-use destination for its customer loyalty program.
“Someone might seek a luxury experience like Waldorf, or he’s staying at a Hampton Inn because he’s taking his kids to a travel baseball game,” Hughes said. “Our strategy for Vegas views it as one of the most sought-after destinations.”
The 88-acre Resorts World site and hotel component presented Hilton with a resort campus larger than the former Las Vegas Hilton.
The two towers will be separately branded. Las Vegas Hilton at Resorts World will cater to the tour and travel and convention consumers, offering 1,774 rooms and suites. Conrad Las Vegas at Resorts World has 1,496 rooms and suites. Conrad is Hilton’s upscale international brand that has eight locations in the U.S. The Resorts World tower is considered Hilton’s largest Conrad property in the chain.
Atop the Conrad tower is Crockfords Las Vegas, LXR Hotel, which has 236 rooms and suites and will be associated with the Crockfords casino inside Resorts World’s 117,000-square-foot gaming space. LXR Hotels & Resorts is considered Hilton’s newest luxury brand.
“Crockfords is not just a casino. It’s a high-end brand, and we’re excited to introduce it in Las Vegas,” Sibella said.
Hilton quietly re-established itself in Las Vegas in 2018 when a Southern California real estate investor bought the 389-room Mandarin Oriental at CityCenter. The group partnered with Hilton to convert the non-gaming property into Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas. Because of the “importance of the brand,” Hughes said Hilton decided to manage the resort.
In March, Hilton added the 1,500 rooms at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas to its Curio Collection, a global portfolio of nearly 100 properties, such as the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, Martinique New York on Broadway and Sable at Navy Pier in Chicago.
“What was unique about this deal is we’re competing alongside a well-known operator (Virgin Resorts) in the same building,” Hughes said. Hilton is also managing its own reservation process at the off-Strip property.
At Resorts World, Hilton will provide a team to assist the property staff through the opening. Ultimately, all hotel rooms and suites will be overseen by Resorts World employees. The property will utilize Hilton’s technology, including a virtual room key system.
“Hilton has some cool features for the guest,” Sibella said. “They have been great partners to work with.”
Deal with Resorts World serves a purpose
Patrick Scholes, who follows the lodging and hotel industry for Truist Securities, said the operating model between Resorts World and Hilton is not unique, especially in larger convention cities.
“It works well in a sense for both customers and hotel operators,” Scholes said. “It’s still kind of a niche concept. It allows the customer to choose different price points that fit their personal budget. That's important for convention goers.”
Resorts World is located across the Strip from the West Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center and operates 250,000 square feet of its own meeting space. The property is scheduled by late August to be the first Strip resort added to the Convention Center’s underground Loop transportation system that utilizes Tesla vehicles to transport convention and tradeshow attendees.
Macquarie Securities gaming analyst Chad Beynon, who also follows the lodging sector, said the 3,500 rooms at Resorts World “isn’t going to move the needle” for a company the size of Hilton, which had more than 1.02 million rooms worldwide at the end of 2020.
But the Hilton’s partnerships in Las Vegas serve an important purpose for Hilton’s rewards program members.
“It’s all about earning and burning your points,” Beynon said. “Business travelers might earn all these Hilton points all over the country, but then they want to use them in places like Vegas, and Florida and Hawaii.”
For Resorts World, Beynon said acquiring customers through Hilton reduces the fees paid to online hotel booking sites, often referred to as OTA fees.
For Hilton, Beynon said the partnerships in Las Vegas allows the company to grow its luxury product.
“Hilton has been more of a mid-to-upper scale company,” Beynon said. “Utilizing luxury brands such as Waldorf, Conrad and some of the soft brands like LXR is a great way for them to grow that (segment).”
Hughes said Hilton would continue to look at opportunities in Las Vegas, even with 5,400 Strip corridor rooms and suites within the portfolio.
“We would want to make sure we weren’t diluting an existing partner,” Hughes said. “It would only make sense if it were a new customer base we could go after.”
Las Vegas Hilton’s history
UNLV’s Green said the Las Vegas Hilton was one of the most profitable hotels in the entire Hilton chain during the property’s heyday. It was the first casino to add a large sports betting facility, which still carries the “Super Book” name.
The property served as the location for many historic non-gaming events.
Singer Elvis Presley headlined in the showroom up until his death in 1977. The Las Vegas Hilton Pavilion hosted numerous championship fights, including the 1978 world heavyweight title victory by Leon Spinks over Muhammad Ali, which is considered one of boxing’s biggest upsets.
Green noted Resorts World Las Vegas sits on the location of the former Stardust, which was considered a mob-run casino until Boyd Gaming took over the property.
“The site has a great history,” Green said. “Maybe it’s a way Hilton has come full circle.”
This week on IndyMatters, Reporter Howard Stutz and Host Joey Lovato present, Flashback, part one of three on the history of the gaming industry in Nevada. Then Editor Jon Ralston continues his breakdown on the 2021 legislative session from last week, talking about the freshman class, one legislative leader who will be retiring and more. At the end of the show, Reporter Megan Messerly talks about vaccines as the state reopens, the 70 percent vaccinated goal set by the Biden administration and vaccination rates in the rurals.