Wednesday, December 23, 2009

When Gaming Execs Can't STFU

Here's this week's LVW col, which avid readers of this space recall from its draft form two days ago when it was posted for a couple of hours before I decided to expand it into a full column. Enjoy! -sf

Casino execs: Why all the hatin'?
Vegas collegiality only seems to work in times of plenty


"There is an unwritten rule within the gaming industry: Don't disrupt another casino operator's grand opening."

Review-Journal gaming scribe Howard Stutz's Sunday column about the decision by Boyd Gaming to issue its Station counter-offer on Aria’s opening day contained this hilarious line. It’s not hilarious because Stutz is wrong. He’s totally right. It’s hilarious because he wrote about Boyd’s untoward acts of last week, when he easily could have been talking about Sheldon Adelson, Donald Trump, Phil Ruffin, Steve Wynn or even George Maloof.

As Stutz wrote, Boyd did themselves no favors dropping a bomb that would've been front-page news on a normal day last week. But at least Boyd didn't try to steal the spotlight the same way Adelson, Trump and Ruffin did. Consider:

* Adelson gave his onceish-a-year in-depth interview to Forbes' Matthew Miller on Aria's Opening Day. It's a fascinating exchange in which Adelson goes on about how important his Forbes billionaire's list ranking is in a manner I've never heard any mogul speak. And as for CityCenter? "Even though there is a lot of publicity about it, I haven't heard anyone who's seen it tell me it is going to be a winner. They have no strategy. They have no obvious plan. If they try to compete in the travel and tour business, they will cannibalize all their other properties, like the Bellagio. They don't have a convention space big enough to make an impact. So they built it without a strategy. How ill-advisable is that?"

* Trump: He went on "Larry King Live" on Aria Eve to declare CityCenter ugly, "an absolute catastrophe." Norm Clarke of the R-J theorized that Trump was reacting to MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren's remark to me for my L.A. Weekly opus that the Trump tower in Vegas is hardly prime-time stuff. Either way, MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman had probably the most hilarious comeback of the year, telling Norm of Trump, "I can hardly imagine anyone's opinion that matters less than his." That didn't sit well with Trump, who couldn't bear to give his competitor the last word. He dashed off a hand-written note to Norm, who published it on Saturday, that read: "The CityCenter is architecturally unappealing -- It will be the biggest bust in the history of real estate -- good concept but badly designed and really badly executed. Too bad."

* Ruffin: The owner of the Treasure Island is painted in another Forbes piece out this weekend as something of a savior of CityCenter for buying the resort from MGM Mirage when they were desperate for cash. Ruffin's happy to play that role, sure, but then he drops this completely buried bomb: "They have so many billions of dollars of debt on that project. They are going to have to make so much money every month just to service that debt. That's going to force the MGM guys to go through a lot of pain again, and they'll have to renegotiate their debt but probably also sell off another property or two. I've got at least $500 million in cash and loans I haven't drawn down. And I'd love to own the Bellagio or Mandalay Bay." Shame, really, that he's putting Gilley's in the TI when it would've been so great where the underperforming Conservatory is, you know? But maybe he could get Cirque du Soleil to give him a "Cold Beer, Dirty Girls"-themed show for Mandalay Bay?

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com


J.T. said...

In regard to Adelson: I'm no expert, but I'll say it anyway: I've seen CityCenter. And I think it's going to be a winner. I also think that when he says of his former managers, "They were the reason our stock dropped 99%", it comes across as an unwillingness to accept any responsibility. There's no shame in acknowledging that he, like almost everyone else, failed to foresee the Great Recession.

In regard to Trump: "an absolute catastrophe"? "unappealing"? "good concept but badly designed and really badly executed"? Sounds to me like someone talking about Trump's hair weave.

In regard to Ruffin: If Treasure Island is worth $775 million, then Mandalay Bay and (especially) Bellagio are worth a lot more. Better open a new line of credit.

In regard to Wynn: I still think we should start a pool on how long it takes him to put his elbow through the Rembrandt. (Just kidding.)

And as for Maloof: I think he overreached a little when he said of Lady GaGa, "She's dedicated to being the top artist in the world." Let's not get ahead of ourselves, shall we? There is some competition for the title.

Michael said...

Love the footwork here Steve, I read the Ruffin interview and about choked on my sandwich when he mentioned the possible purchases, and I also thought Aldeson's comments were in poor taste. I think CC is going to have some serious growing pains, but for the week/month most operators would have been better off helping promote Vegas with the attention it was receiving.

It's one of the things that the 'new' Vegas doesn't seem to do so well and that's realize they are all in the same boat together on the strip. As they've built bigger and more, they continue to think that the average person will be happy staying at their property all trip and never venture out. While I have no doubt there are some that do, the real question is why build on the Vegas strip then and pay the extreme land prices?

Anonymous said...

Why are you shocked that these casino execs speak their minds? That's what's so great about the gaming industry: the people who run it have big egos, personalities and opinions. I love the fact that they speak their minds. Makes the competition mighty heated. When was the last time you heard a hotel president dis another hotel company in public?

But why aren't you questioning Jim Murren about the lie he is perpetrating about CityCenter being his vision? It's not. It was Terry Lanni's vision. Murren didn't take over until it was way down the road. And he might be sorry he buried Lanni when it goes bust, which I think is more likely than not. Six months from now you might see MGM Mirage in bankruptcy.

atdnext said...


I was thinking the exact same thing! And again, I know Steve Wynn doesn't like it when anyone mentions this, but the remarks from Adelson, Ruffin, and Trump remind me of what everyone was saying when Wynn opened The Mirage 20 years ago.

"It will sink in debt!"

"It needs to earn $1 million a day to service all that debt."

"People don't come to Vegas to eat, sleep, and shop. They just want to GAMBLE!"

And of course, Steve Wynn proved all the naysayers wrong. CityCenter Prez Bobby Baldwin certainly must remember all of this, since he was there with Wynn 20 years ago when they opened The Mirage. Hopefully in the next few months, he'll get the last laugh again.

Btw, I have a hard time seeing MGM Mirage unload a real winner and cash cow like Mandalay Bay. Maybe they'll let go of The Bellagio (rumors have already surfaced that they will NOT do renovations next year as originally planned), but I have a feeling they'd be more likely to let Ruffin more "problem child" casinos like Excalibur that they've grown weary of trying to "redo".


Anon: I'd be broke if casino execs always played nice, so I don't mind it at all. Just surprised by the timing which is, as Stutz noted, a break from long-established Vegas convention.

On the other matter, you're simply flat wrong. Lanni was CEO but everybody on every level have always said from the very beginning that CityCenter was Murren's idea. And it shows; it's not something that someone like Lanni, a Californian and Westerner at heart, would have ever conceived of. Murren has a lot to answer for, but this is not one of those things.

ucsb1990 said...

atdnext -

Good point. The Excalibur and (especially) the Circus Circus just don't fit in with their brand anymore. Those would be the logical ones to get rid of, if they could get a decent price -- a big "if", by the way.

atdnext said...


Well, at least MGM Mirage has good reason to hold onto Circus Circus: PROFIT! It may not be high-end like M-Bay, but it is another cash cow and even Jim Murren himself has admitted that they can't afford to lose this venue to make money off "families" and "budget travelers".

Excalibur, OTOH, has been more problematic lately as MGM Mirage has tried to transition it from another "family-friendly budget casino" (a la Circus Circus) to a low rent "adult party palace" (basically a low-end Luxor, which is now the more affordable alternative to M-Bay). Perhaps Murren may soon be desperate enough to let Phil Ruffin or someone else have Circus Circus and/or even M-Bay, but I have a feeling MGM Mirage is more likely to first let go of other properties (like TI) that aren't making as much money for them these days.

Anonymous said...

Murren may claim that Sickly Center is "green", but yesterday we encountered the overpowering toxic odors of solvents, cleaners, new carpet, etc.

Was quite strong, especially at Crystals (Meth).

Anonymous said...

What exactly are solvents, cleaners, and new carpet supposed to smell like? Even the eco-friendly versions of these products have a chemical smell!

Also note that the Aria Casino was not given LEED status because smoking is allowed.