MGM Resorts eyes new opportunities

Jul 31, 2019 3:00 AM

Don’t look for MGM Resorts International to leap into the acquisition or merger market with a big splash. The company hopes to be investing elsewhere.

Company officials could not be happier with the recent performance of its myriad Las Vegas properties, a point that company officials made clear during last week’s conference call with Wall Street analysts who did not miss the emphasis on the expanding list of non-gaming options on the Strip or close to it.

The message was clear: sure, there’s lots of gambling available but we’re surrounding it with a lot of nice things that have nothing to do with slots and blackjack tables.

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In the meantime and elsewhere, the company has re-affirmed its hopes for new projects in Japan, New York near Manhattan and elsewhere. Who knows what might rise to the surface as the result of political action and shifts in publication preferences?

Chicago looks like a good bet based on nothing more than the utterances of the mayor who has said she wants to see the city get a city of its sooner rather later and the sooner the better. Chicago has been looking like a land of opportunity for some of Las Vegas’ biggest companies for about 25 years.

But the challenges have been daunting to say the least, mostly because politicians have never been on the same page. Maybe they are now, at least Gov. J.B. Pritzker probably has a better sense of the benefits of the travel industry than most people like him.

That’s not the way CEO Jim Murren likes to play the let’s-make-profit game. Murren, by his own admission, has learned a lot since the economic meltdown a decade ago and he’s not inclined to deal with everything of the company’s impressive list of assets.

As the “center of gravity” on the Strip moves further south, Murren said, his mind has been on the new home of the Raiders. The company has some of the area’s brightest new attractions.

A spokesman for the gaming board, which regulates all Illinois gambling, declined to comment on the feasibility study other than to note that the expansion “makes significant changes to gaming law in Illinois. The Illinois Gaming Board is working through these changes and on implementation of the Act.”

At a news conference alongside Pritzker last week touting the capital bill, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she wants the city casino to open as soon as possible.

“Obviously we’ll be involved in the process,” Lightfoot said of the study. “I’m hoping we can get it done relatively soon, so we can start the process of moving forward.”

But nearly a month after signing the massive gambling package into law, Pritzker has yet to name a chairperson and fifth member to the gaming board, which soon will be responsible for scrutinizing a slew of new licenses. 

What’s the holdup on Pritzker’s appointments? The process of “working to identify qualified candidates,” the freshman Democrat’s office says.

Analysts say the job is a tough sell. That’s the best bet for what’s behind the delay, according to a Chicago newspaper quoting former Board officials. The board is currently tasked with licensing, taxing and regulating 10 casinos and the 32,000-plus video gambling machines sprinkled across nearly 7,000 establishments statewide.

“It’s not an attractive job. Not at all, especially for the chairman,” says retired Cook County Judge Aaron Jaffe, who led the board for 10 years starting in 2005.

I wonder why he stuck around?

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