I asked CityCenter president Bobby Baldwin about that notion and he found it "completely ridiculous."
Baldwin: He has an affinity to making money and he knows he couldn't make any money at CityCenter if he didn't have a powerful casino-resort. So there was never any discussion of having no casino at all in there.
Friess: Right, but you are a gambler. You understand the appeal of gambling.
Baldwin: So does Jim Murren, even though he's not a gambler. ... He knows that the casino component of any casino-resort is the economic driver of its economic results. So he's acutely aware of that.
OK. So Murren knows it's necessary. That's not the same as liking it and most of the company's planned future expansion outside of Las Vegas aims to rebrand MGM Mirage as a hospitality company with non-gaming hotels in Dubai, Egypt, China and elsewhere.
The reason I bring this up is because Jon Ralston asked Murren today about his admission -- boast? -- to me that he'd never been in Encore or Palazzo. Here's that quote to me in its entirety:
Now, it's not just that he's saying he's never been in but that he seems proud that he doesn't even know when the last most significant events in his marketplace occurred. That would seem strange in and of itself -- surely the head of Coffee Bean knows when a new Starbucks opens nearby, right? -- but now comes Murren's further explanation of the remark to Ralston in a TV interview for Ralston's "Face To Face" show. According to Ralston's transcript of his interview with Murren, which should air tonight on Las Vegas One, Murren said:
Whoa, whoa, WHOA! Baldwin said Aria's casino is the economic engine of the whole she-bang and Murren knows that. But Murren doesn't even care if his neighbors ever see it and, if he didn't have to because he gets millions to do so, he might never bother either! This is not a ringing endorsement of the most significant financial element of your new endeavor, is it?
So let's remove Aria from CityCenter. Without it, you're left with four buildings containing private residences, two of which are also hotels that contain no shows or casinos. And you have a 500,000-square-foot "retail and entertainment district" with some of the most expensive products anyone can sell anywhere in the world, not exactly a locals-friendly shopping experience. Plus a whole lot of terrific art and an oft-mentioned pocket park that Murren recommends as a neat place to sit even though there's no place (yet) to sit. (Note to fellow journos: There is only one pocket park at CityCenter. One. So "pocket parks" is not accurate. Thanks.)
Again, there are lots of elements of CityCenter I love. But it is worrisome when a massive gaming company is being piloted by someone who isn't personally aware of his competition and seems so personally uncomfortable with the heart of his business.
I asked Steve Wynn about this, too. In the old days, it was customary for the casino moguls to walk one another around their properties pre-opening. It was standard for them to attend one another's openings, too. And here's what Wynn replied when told of Murren's statement:
Wynn has walked CityCenter or at least the Crystals, by the way, with his former
protege Bobby Baldwin. No idea what he thought of it, though. His company did this on Sunday...
Oh, and one more thing. You think maybe if I wore a disguise and pretended to be Murren, Wynn would show me all that stuff, too? Worth a shot, no?