DeathWatch V : VegasTripping Interview With Nick Christenson 2009
Turn Your Head and Cough Las Vegas, The Doctor Is In (again)
They say that to maintain proper health, one should have a physical check up every year. Prevention and early detection are the best methods to surviving the most dreadful diseases. For the last five years, we've brought our favorite play mates - Las Vegas casinos - to have pulses checked, orifices eyeballed and a series of coughs with head turned for each and every one of them. Sometimes, you don't catch it until it is just too late. Las Vegas, the doctor will see you now. Dr. Deathwatch, the original Las Vegas blogger - Nick Christenson from the Trippies2006 award winning website, the Las Vegas Casino Death Watch.
VT: You've been tracking the health of Las Vegas casinos for over ten years, have you ever seen anything like what has happened in the last year since the inception of Las Vegas Casino Death Watch?
Nick: Nothing close. By far these are the most distressing times to be in the Las Vegas casino business, probably ever. The months following 2001 were difficult, but nothing like what we're seeing today in terms of duration or severity. Plus, the timing couldn't have been worse. This is a bad time to be in this business, especially as highly leveraged as the modern casino conglomerate became in the last few years.
VT: The news out of MGM Mirage is getting worse by the day. What's the prognosis?
Nick: A great example of just how tough it is. MGM is in the middle of building City Center without the last leg of financing in place. Clearly they don't want to be opening the world's largest hotel/casino/complex/construction project right now, but they figure the way forward is easier than the way back. So, here they are, on the verge of defaulting on their debts, and their bond holders give them until May to come up with a payment plan, and WHAM! just this week their City Center partners, Dubai World, turn around and sue them. Nasty. This is the casino equivalent of having a cartoon anvil fall out of the sky and land on your head. Casino operations as written and drawn by the late great Chuck Jones.
VT: What properties do you see MGM Mirage shedding, and who would buy in this market?
Nick: The list of buyers is easiest to accumulate, mostly because it's short. Penn Gaming is looking to buy on the Strip. They've got the cash to buy one mid-range property. Also, Boyd has some cash and an existing credit line they can tap into. At any time they can buy MGM out of their half of the Borgata in Atlantic City, but, obviously, Boyd isn't it a big hurry. Not only can they probably get better terms as time goes by, but they're still happy to put the screws to Station Casinos for a while and see where that leads.
MGM Mirage has already sold off the TI, and if someone, including Phil Ruffin, wants to make a real offer on the Mirage, they'd sell that in a heartbeat. Heck, the Bellagio is on the block as well. Circus Circus? You better believe it's on the table. The plot of land they own across from the Sahara and south of Mandalay Bay? Both on the block. Want the Excalibur? Make an offer. Heck, make an offer on one of Kirk Kerkorian's houses. I expect he'd be receptive.