MGM's Murren full of optimism on local economy
February 27, 2018 3:00 AM
by Phil Hevener
What can the Las Vegas gaming business look forward to now? In a word – opportunities, lots of them.
MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren has some thoughts on the subject that he shared during a recent discussion highlighted by his description of what looks like a banner year for the local economy, thanks to major events calculated to draw more people spending more money than a year ago.
Yes, Steve Wynn is gone – for the moment – but there is no mistaking the fact his influence has given Wynn Resorts momentum that will carry the company he founded forward for years.
Murren made no mention of the Gaming Control Board’s decision to investigate the “sexual harassment” complaints leveled against Wynn and which sparked some shareholder suits that suggested the board of directors failed in its duty to keep an eye on all aspects of their chairman’s leadership.
There are still a number of unknown facts about what is happening to Wynn and within his publicly owned eponymous company.
What had Murren gushing optimism was all the individual elements in the what’s-happening-now story that are coming together in a perfect moment of economic activity that boosts jobs and spending by resort visitors.
Murren is looking forward to the U. S. Supreme Court’s handling of the case that could open the door to possible versions of wide-open sports wagering that still makes Nevada unique among U.S. gaming jurisdictions.
He said there is good reason to believe the court “will approve” sports betting with a decision that federal lawmakers of 25 years ago erred in deciding states were not free to operate the kind of gambling that still exists only in Nevada.
Murren recognizes, as others have, there is much more interest in sports wagering then there was in the early 1990s when Congress approved the Professional and Amateur Sports Preservation Act.
Since the major sports leagues combined to sue New Jersey to stop the state’s bid to expand the list of gaming options available in Atlantic City casinos the owners of National Football League franchises voted overwhelmingly to approve the move of the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, the NBA decided it has no problem with well-regulated wagering activity and the National Hockey League launched its first season at a new Las Vegas arena, compiling a record that has made it a favorite for the post-season Stanley Cup playoffs.
The success of the Las Vegas Golden Knights in drawing crowds of more than 18,000 to ice hockey games in the desert has not been lost on club owners who are always following the money, whatever the sport happens to be.
It’s easy to imagine the justices asking for a show of hands saying something like, “What are we arguing about?”
“Las Vegas has become a sports lovers’ paradise,” Murren said, not bothering to point out sports fans able to obtain tickets to big money events also have a predisposition to gamble.
And Las Vegas is where it all comes together. The field of profitable possibilities this year could be expanded to include states such as Michigan and Mississippi, both states where MGM owns market-leading casinos. The company will be opening its Massachusetts casino later this year and from there, well… Murren expects to keep an eye out for expansion opportunities that offer a satisfying return on investment.
The company does not anticipate any mergers or acquisitions involving the Strip this year but that kind of activity may get more attention from its real estate investment trust that owns some of the resorts managed by MGM Resorts.
On the Strip, the company’s increased reliance on the convention and meetings business is paying increasing dividends thanks to additions such as the just-finished meeting facilities at CityCenter’s Aria.
Looking at Japan, Murren pointed out the company’s ongoing interest where the discussion of legal casinos has been slowly moving forward for years and the MGM sees itself as well-suited to a possible partnership, assuming lawmakers can produce a satisfying plan.
On the Strip, Murren likes what he is seeing. “The high end is very healthy now and our market share is growing. He sees an increasing level of domestic business coming through the doors at MGM properties.