April 30, 2020

Itching to visit Las Vegas again? MGM Resorts says these Strip hotels will reopen first


When will travelers be able to slide $20 bills into a slot machine, feast at a celebrity restaurant or see a show in Las Vegas again?

MGM Resorts, operator of a dozen properties in the gambling and entertainment capital, can’t answer that question because the decision rests in the hands of state and local officials weighing when to lift coronavirus restrictions.

But on the company’s quarterly earnings conference call Thursday, executives did provide the first glimpse of what visitors can expect from the chain when Las Vegas reopens.

MGM won’t open all its hotels at once, but rather start with two or three targeted at different traveler budgets, acting CEO Bill Hornbuckle said.

On the list right now: New York-New York Hotel & Casino, a midprice hotel on the south end of the Strip with a roller coaster, arcade and Irish pub, and Bellagio, a swank mid-Strip resort that is home to the famous fountain show, high-end shops and restaurants, a conservatory and a museum.

“Then from there we’re talking about what other properties should open, if any, at that point in time,” he said. “We’ll go slow. We’ll be responsive and responsible.”

MGM Resorts, which owns casinos like the Bellagio, says it's seeing a good deal of pent-up demand for the Las Vegas strip to reopen.

MGM also doesn’t plan to open all the restaurants at each hotel. Some will be open and there will be takeout food and beverage options, as well, he said.

Will there be any shows or sporting events? 

Hornbuckle said big concerts, sporting events and professional fights are likely out of the question in the near term.

“I think the idea that we’re going to get 15,000 people in T-Mobile (Arena) for a concert anytime this year is probably a stretch,” he said.

As for Raiders football games at the new Allegiant Stadium, in what Hornbuckle calls MGM’s back yard, the initial NFL games this year might be without fans.

“If we’re fortunate enough to see real fans, it won’t be (the stadium capacity of) 65,000,” he said.

MGM is thinking about starting small on the performances front, reopening more “intimate” shows first. Hornbuckle cited Carrot Top’s show at Luxor Hotel & Casino versus, say, a large-scale Cirque du Soleil production.

Hotel check-in and room cleaning will look different 

MGM, like its competitors and most consumer businesses hoping to rebound post-pandemic, is crafting plans to make sure guests feel safe about visiting.

“Getting these properties up and operating and doing it in a safe manner for both our employees and guests is priority one,” Hornbuckle said.

At check-in and elsewhere around the hotel, guests will find new  “touchless” technology.Get the Travel newsletter in your inbox.

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There will be more stringent cleaning and sanitizing policies, especially in guest rooms.

“The protocol to clean a room in this environment is going to be intensive,” Hornbuckle said.

He said it’s likely that some travelers will decline daily room cleaning during their stay, at least initially.

“If I’m a guest in Bellagio, I want to know that my room is pristine when I go in,” he said. “And during my stay, unless I want and need clean towels, I’m probably not going to let a guest-room attendant or other service personnel in my room.”

Social distancing on the casino floor

In the casino, visitors will find more space between slot machines and gaming tables.  MGM is installing new carpet in its Park MGM and Aria casino hotels, Hornbuckle said, and is using that time to space things out.

“So the environment will feel a little different when people walk in from Day 1,” he said.

Does anyone want to return so soon?

MGM officials said they are optimistic there’s a pool of people itching to return to Las Vegas as soon as it is open. 

One key reason: About half of visitors drive to Vegas rather than fly and peak summer vacation season looms.

“We do think there’ll be some pent-up demand,” Hornbuckle said.

What the chain doesn’t want, though, is a repeat of what happened in California when the beaches reopened last weekend, only to have the governor close some again in response to large crowds.

Among the first people expected to return: gamblers who receive generous offers to stay at the hotels. Bookings are strong for later this year and into next, the company said.

MGM officials said frequent gamblers at high-end resorts like Bellagio are especially anxious to return.

“They were the last to leave when we closed down (in mid-March),” said Corey Sanders, MGM’s chief financial officer. “I have a feeling some of them will be back the day they (the hotels) open. So that’s positive.”

By Dawn Gilbertson

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