Resorts World on track

Nov 27, 2019 3:00 AM

Thirty-years-ago, the Mirage casino set a new level for investment in Las Vegas when Steve Wynn spent $620 million to build a property that set the stage for the modern Strip resort. 

Thousands waited on a November morning for the Mirage to open to see the resort that had a tropical setting with lagoons, a volcano, and an atrium as well as palm trees. An estimated 750,000 people visited the resort that first weekend.

Three decades later, a lot of things have changed in Las Vegas.  Among the changes are that visitors today spend more on non-gaming amenities, such as restaurants and shows, instead of putting their dollars into slot machines or on table games.

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But most notably is the cost to build these temples to gaming and entertainment have more than quadrupled since Wynn teamed up with financier Michael Milken to build the Mirage.

The Bellagio at $1.6 billion took the title of most expensive resort when it opened in 1998 on the site of the former Dunes. Then in 2003, Wynn Las Vegas opened at a cost of $2.7 billion.

Topping them all, was the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, which was the last new casino-resort to be built on the Strip, at a cost of $4.18 billion.

Now, that title will belong to Resorts World Las Vegas when it opens in the summer of 2021. Genting Group, who hinted last month that the project would initially open in late 2020, will spend $4.3 billion on the resort. 

Resorts World Las Vegas is being built on the former Stardust site that Boyd Gaming had hoped to build the Echelon resort before the recession halted those plans. The project, which was first conceived by Genting in March 2013, was originally designed with a Forbidden City influence featuring Chinese architecture. It was to be the first Asian-focused property in Las Vegas.

But recently, Genting said Resorts World will have only “Asian-inspired touches,” curtailing the company’s original Asian theme. Scott Sibella, president of Resorts World Las Vegas, said they’ve been working diligently to perfect the vision of their project. 

Genting’s decision to rework its project comes after the failed Lucky Dragon project was sold in April for $36 million to Don Ahern, chairman and CEO of Ahern Rentals.  The $160 million Lucky Dragon, which was built on Sahara Avenue just west of Las Vegas Boulevard, opened its doors in 2016 as an Asian-themed boutique casino in an effort to attract Asian locals and international visitors.

But the Asian theme was not enough to draw enough gamblers to the property, forcing the Lucky Dragon to close and file for bankruptcy in January 2018.

In a project update, Sibella said he believed Resorts World’s “unique design and commitment to providing cutting-edge amenities” is the foundation to curating a thoughtful resort experience. 

Resorts World will feature a 110,000-square-foot casino floor with slots, table games, high limit gaming areas, private gaming salons, and a dedicated poker room. Sibella said an adjacent 14,000-square-foot entertainment zone will house a sportsbook.

Two hotel towers will offer a combined 3,500 rooms, including luxury suites, villas, penthouses, open balconies, and even a sky casino.

Sibella said the goal is to “redefine the luxury hotel standard in Las Vegas.”

Resorts World will also feature 350,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, seven unique pools, and 75,000-square-foot day and nightclub. 

The property will also try to draw in Strip pedestrians with a 50-foot diameter video globe displaying over 6,000 square feet of LED content. Additionally, the West Tower will host a 100,000-suare-foot LED screen and the East Tower will have a 19,000-square-foot display.

As Genting continues construction on Resorts World, an adjacent 34.6-acres of land sits vacant as Wynn Resorts Ltd. remains unclear what it will do with the property. Wynn Resorts bought the old New Frontier site and some adjacent property in December 2017 from Crown Resorts, who had planned to build a hotel-casino on the land.

During their third-quarter earnings call, after an analyst asked what Wynn Resorts plans to do with the site, CEO Matt Maddox said the company likes owning that land for its “option value.” 

“We are continuing to think about what could work on the (property) across the street,” Maddox said. “But in order to really understand what would work, we believe that first we need to see how Resorts World opens … watch the Raiders stadium come in.”

Right now, Maddox noted, “It’s expensive to build in Las Vegas, so we’ll wait to see what most sense to increase shareholder value from the property."

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