MGM ‘monopoly’ passes FTC ‘go’

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It appears that the issue of MGM Mirage gaining a room
monopoly on the Strip through its merger with Mandalay Resorts is no longer an
issue.

Insiders say the question has been handled to the
satisfaction of the Federal Trade Commission to the point that their approval of
the deal is imminent.

Once the FTC approves MGM Mirage’s acquisition of the
Mandalay Resort Group, it is on to hearings before Nevada gaming regulators,
possibly by February.

Sources in a position to know speculated approval might have
come before the end of 2004, but they now say the “holiday slowdown”
got in the way.

So how did the Federal Trade Commission get past the argument
that this deal will put about half of the Las Vegas Strip’s hotel rooms in the
hands of one company?

“Very easy,” an insider says. “While the
argument about MGM having close to half of the rooms may hold true for the
moment, that share will diminish as we move into 2005 and beyond.

“Think about it,” the source continued. “Steve
Wynn will open his place in April. That’s more than 2,500 rooms.”

Moreover, Wynn previously said he expects to have as many as
20,000 rooms on his roughly 200 acres by the time his property is fully
developed.

And Sheldon Adelson is adding to what he has (at The Venetian
and on adjacent property).

The point is that room count is a dynamic figure. Other ’05
additions will include rooms at the Palms, whatever Boyd Gaming decides to do at
the Stardust and the thousand or so rooms that will be part of the South Coast
opening late this year.

There’s also Frontier owner Phil Ruffin’s hopes for using
his 40-50 acres to create a 4,000-room resort, even as Donald “You’re
Fired” Trump fires up his long awaited plans for going into business on the
Strip.

Trop gets a reprieve?

Although officials with Tropicana owner Aztar Corp. aren’t
talking, there are signs that the venerable Strip resort is not yet ready for
the wrecking ball.

The 48-year-old south Strip resort is now booking business
into June.

Remember that the company’s last official word about its
future in Las Vegas was to have been made in March. Options include renovation,
sale or demolition and building a new resort.

But a senior industry source familiar with thinking at the
company says, “It is now less likely than ever that there will be
significant expansion in Las Vegas by the current owners.

Of course, things could change, but with longtime Chairman
Paul Rubeli scheduled to retire at the end of March, there hasn’t been a
whisper from the company about its Las Vegas plans.

All this should generate more than the usual interest in the
company’s first quarter conference call, since this report should also include
updated information on the apparently successful opening of the company’s big
new Atlantic City addition known as The Quarter.

Terror on the mind

Post 9/11 fears have changed the way people respond to
relatively inconsequential events ”¦ such as power outages.

That’s why the New Year’s Eve outage at the Palms, Rio
and Orleans produced far more trauma among guests and executives than was
reported in the local news media.

Has there been an act of terrorism? This was the gist of the
first calls from frightened guests in rooms, hallways, elevators and stairwells
as a transformer near this cluster of hotels blew.

A mid-level manager who spoke only with the promise of
anonymity said he was surprised at the number of children who had been left in
rooms by parents who went off to party.

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