by M&C Staff | April 01, 2010

CityCenter complexNew, ambitious developments have created some positive buzz for the gaming industry. The enormous CityCenter project in Las Vegas is a case in point: Its opening could fuel some growth this year in both city visitors and Las Vegas Strip revenue, according to reports from Standard & Poor's and real-estate company CB Richard Ellis, respectively. In Pennsylvania, recent legislation approving table games has sparked development plans from prominent gaming companies such as Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts. And business is strong in Macau, a gaming market that could grow by as much as 15 percent this year, according to Standard & Poor's.

Generally speaking, though, the casino market still faces significant economic challenges. S&P expects overall gaming revenue to be flat or down slightly for the year. Any increased revenues at some properties will likely represent decreases at competitors. Room rates in competitive markets remain low. Of course, for planners, that competition represents a continued opportunity to score a good deal in gaming destinations.

Las Vegas
Things began looking up last fall for Las Vegas, and as of press time the cautious optimism remains. In September 2009, the city experienced an increase in the number of visitors, the first such boost since May 2008. In December, Las Vegas welcomed nearly 140,000 convention attendees, a rise over the previous year by almost 12 percent. And despite a 4.5 percent drop in overall occupancy for 2009, Vegas still filled 81.5 percent of its guest rooms for the year -- more than 26 percent above the national average, as reported by Smith Travel Research.

But perhaps the most significant shot in the arm for the city came last December, when MGM Mirage and Dubai World began opening properties in their CityCenter mega-development. The $8.5 billion project created 12,000 jobs in a city where the high unemployment rate was due in large part to hospitality industry layoffs.

Two nongaming properties were the first to open, at the beginning of December. The 1,495-room Vdara Hotel & Spa, a 57-story, all-suite condo-hotel, offers several meeting and event rooms on the lobby level, with a total of 10,000 square feet of meeting space. The property also has an outdoor pool with a 40,000-square-foot deck and a two-level spa. Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas, was the second CityCenter hotel to open, a 392-room luxury property with an entrance on the Strip. Among its amenities are a 27,000-square-foot spa; a cocktail lounge on the 23rd floor with sweeping views of the city; and a modern French fusion restaurant, Twist, by celebrated French chef Pierre Gagnaire. The Mandarin Oriental offers 12,000 square feet of meeting space.

Both hotels are within easy walking distance of the 4,004-room Aria Resort & Casino, the only gaming property in the development, which opened in mid-December. Aria's designers positioned the resort's 300,000 square feet of meeting and convention space to one side of the casino so that attendees could check in to the hotel and find meetings without walking through the gaming area. The LEED Gold-certified Aria has a green-meeting infrastructure in place, including an arrangement with a local pig farm to dispose of any food waste. Aria also offers 14 dining venues, including a handful by big-name chefs such as Michael Mina and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, as well as a spa and fitness center and the 150,000-square-foot casino.

December also brought the opening of Crystals in CityCenter, a visually arresting architectural playground of high-end retail outlets, as well as several restaurants that welcome groups. Among them are Eva Longoria Parker's Beso, a collaboration with chef Todd English, with a menu heavy on fine steak cuts and traditional Latin American dishes.

Still slated to open at CityCenter are the 400-room Harmon Hotel, although its previously announced opening target of late 2010 has been indefinitely delayed; and the residential Veer Towers, a pair of distinctive yellow-tinted glass towers tilted at opposing angles.

Another long-awaited development on the Strip, the Fontainebleau Las Vegas, was purchased early this year out of bankruptcy court by investor Carl Icahn for "only" $150 million. The original developers already had sunk about $2 billion into the project, which is about 70 percent complete. Icahn has claimed he won't do any more work on the 3,800-room resort until the market improves.

Station Casinos, which runs 14 properties in the Las Vegas area, including the Red Rock Resort, Aliante Station and Palace Station, reached an agreement in late February with some of its creditors on a reorganization plan.