Nick's Picks 2005: Interview with Nick Christenson from the Las Vegas Casino Deathwatch

Boom, Bust or Ba-Boom! - what's up in Vegas for 2005 and beyond

Posted by Chuckmonster

VT: With Caesars selling off its stake in the Las Vegas Hilton to Resorts/Colony Capital, it seemed for a second there that Colony Capital might try and rebrand the place in a Palms/Hard Rock off Strip hipster kind of mold. With the recent signing of Barry Manilow, it appears that this isn't going to happen. Can the Las Vegas Hilton survive as-is? If you were running the place what would you do?

NPC: I don't really know what Colony is planning, but I think they have a very viable property on their hands. I agree that with Manilow they're not likely to go for the hipster crowd. However, there's still a lot of money to be made from the nostalgia/kitsch angle in Las Vegas, so this could be a good move. Is this any sillier than Celine Dion? Heck, loads of people show up for that, although few of them seem willing to admit it.

Colony is basically targeting much the same demographic as Celine and Elton John, a very successful set of shows at Caesars. One of the most successful shows in town is an Abba musical for goodness sake. Why wouldn't you sign Manilow? That said, I'd take Big Elvis at the Barbary Coast, Cook E. Jarr at Harrah's, or Lon Bronson and His All-Star Band at the Golden Nugget any day, but that's just me.

Some day Colony will have to shed the "Hilton" name from that property. I think it would be really cool if they changed it back to the "International". That's about the only place where I'd chime in right now.

VT: Project CityCenter is a new condo/casino combo envisioned by pre-merger MGM Mirage group, occupying the space between Monte Carlo and Bellagio where the Boardwalk sits currently. We're surprised it took them this long to decide to level the Boardwalk. What do you see happening to "south central Strip" when PCC opens?

NPC: No, I'm not surprised it took them this long to make a decision. I am surprised at how bold the vision is. Building new resorts is all about timing. Deep down, there are very few visionaries working in Las Vegas who can sense changes in the market and build new places to anticipate these changes, rather than just react to them. There are a few leaders, like Wynn, and just about everyone else is a follower. MGM Mirage, after Wynn, is just like any publicly traded company that is beholden to its shareholders. It needs validation before it can embark on a new venture. In this case, the way I see it, it needed three things to happen:

1) They needed capital at a reasonable price to be able to afford to do this, especially in the wake of their announced merger with the Mandalay Resorts Group. Their rising stock price has really helped their balance sheet.

2) They needed to see visitor numbers rise so they can justify building more rooms. This has happened, 2004 is on pace to shatter Las Vegas visitor records.

3) They needed someone else to blaze a trial for a new wave of construction. Wynn and some less ambitious, but apparently successful, expansions around town have done this.

So, the time is exactly right for them to build a new resort.

I love the idea, though. Put a casino, restaurants, hotel rooms, condos, and even office space all under one roof, then remove the roof. It's bold, and I think it will be successful. I expect this to be the new wave of casino growth. Property on the Strip is now too valuable to turn into a single 120,000 square foot casino with 3500 hotel rooms. Economics says density needs to go up. Expect Boyd to execute a similar concept on their Stardust property. Also, Wynn is sitting on over 200 acres of land. Do you think he's got anything grand planned for that real estate in the long term? I know which way I'd bet.

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Comments & Discussion

I work at Circus Circus, and it won't be getting demolished for sometime. Actually, there's enough cash flow to renovate the place into it's original decorating scheme (Circus Colors, pinks, whites, reds, purples) that it had before the 1997 renovations. And other than that, MGMMirage needs a mid-level resort to send their customers to, and thats exactly what Circus is.

We frequent Las Vegas 3 times a year. Tried many hotels. Our favorite hotel/casino is The Flamingo. Location is the key. Can you comment on any future plans for The Flamingo. It needs some upgrading particularly in the vent system The air does not circulate well enough to handle all the smoke in the casino. Hopefully something will be done to help this problem. Other than that we are happiest there.

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