Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009 | 4 p.m.
MGM Mirage’s Aria hotel-casino, the centerpiece of the company’s $8.5 billion CityCenter development, was licensed by the Nevada Gaming Commission today.
There were no surprises from the five commissioners who unanimously supported the application after a 2¼-hour hearing, setting the stage for Aria to open to the public on Dec. 16.
Company officials said they are optimistic that CityCenter will be a catalyst for an economic rebound for Southern Nevada.
There was never any doubt that commissioners would approve the license considering MGM Mirage’s lengthy track record and history in the state and the glowing recommendation of approval from the state Gaming Control Board in its special meeting Friday.
The road to approval is usually easier for applicants that have been before regulators before and while CityCenter has been billed as industry-changing, commissioners said they were confident in the MGM Mirage team and its 50-50 partner, Dubai World, which also has been before regulators in the past.
Commissioners were glowing in their praise for the companies and the project.
Commission Chairman Peter Bernhard said CityCenter wasn’t a slam-dunk project, but met all the state’s regulatory obligations.
“You have met the bar and anyone who thinks otherwise would be wrong,” Bernhard said minutes before the 5-0 vote.
“Nevada is fortunate to have MGM (Mirage) and its leaders,” added Commissioner Joe Brown.
“I couldn’t think of a better team to have on the field in gaming” during the recession, said Commissioner John Moran Jr.
Christopher O’Donnell, president and CEO of Infinity World Development Corp., a Dubai World subsidiary, said his company would use its global contacts to attract international visitation to CityCenter.
Bernhard questioned MGM Mirage Chairman and CEO Jim Murren and O’Donnell about the legal scrape MGM Mirage and Dubai World encountered when the Middle Eastern company sued its partner earlier this year.
Murren said the companies have a dispute-resolution process in place similar to the one it has with a joint-venture partner on another development – Boyd Gaming, on Borgata in Atlantic City.
“Should disputes arise – and there will be some – we have a mediation process to resolve any problems,” he said.
O’Donnell admitted that it’s been “a very bumpy road,” but he, too, was comfortable with the dispute-resolution process in place.
Bernhard said the explanation made him more comfortable.
“We don’t want to see the greatest project in the world have its partners suing each other,” he said.
Bernhard said he was concerned not only about the cannibalization of customers from other properties but also the taking of the best employees from other properties.
Aria chief operating officer William McBeath pointed to his own experience with the company to address the employee issue, noting that the company’s growth has helped many employees and executives move up in their careers.
The question on employees enabled Murren to comment on MGM Mirage’s diversity program, which he said he was proud of, but admitted he wanted to improve.
“This couldn’t really happen at a better time for our company and our community,” Murren said in opening remarks. “There has been no project anywhere that will provide 12,000 jobs at one shot.”
He said he expects CityCenter will help lead Las Vegas out of its economic doldrums and that the development’s financial performance will be better than what Wall Street expects. Murren said the development’s public art, open space and architecture will inspire people who visit.
“I understand that we need to succeed in order for the state to succeed and if we fail, the state also will fail,” Murren told commissioners.
McBeath said all of the buildings on the CityCenter complex have received LEED Gold certification, making it the largest environmentally sustainable development project in the world. The jobs the development will provide is the nation’s largest source of new employment.
Aria has a small casino by Las Vegas standards – 150,000 square feet. But it has new technologies making their Las Vegas debut and an abundance of natural light. High-end players will have exclusive salons with high-limit slots and table games. More than half of the casino floor will have server-based-gaming slots and none of the slots are on walls.
The installation of server-based games, slots that are managed from a central computer server, was the buzz at this week’s Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. The concept has been discussed for three years, but Aria is the first property to have them installed on a large scale.
Bernhard asked whether CityCenter officials had tested the server-based machines. McBeath said the company tested the system at the Monte Carlo next door since June. He said International Game Technology is providing most of the server-based games. And, in case of a system failure, each machine has been equipped with a special harness to drop processors into individual slots, he said.
Gaming chips with a value of more than $20 will have embedded radio-frequency identification chips to enhance security.
There are 2,600 cameras installed to monitor areas in CityCenter and the control center for the entire development would be housed in Aria.
The 4,004 rooms include 568 suites with floor-to-ceiling windows. Company officials say as guests first enter, they will be “greeted” as curtains open, lights turn on and the TV displays a menu of preferences. Guests can wake up through controlled temperature, preferred music or TV channels and the opening of curtains. A “good-night" button turns everything off – from TV and music to lights – as the privacy notification goes on.
Aria also will house the new Cirque du Soleil show, “Viva Elvis.”
First to open at CityCenter will be the Vdara, an all-suite, smoke-free, non-gaming hotel that is connected to MGM Mirage’s Bellagio.
The 57-story Vdara, which opens Dec. 1, has 1,495 suites ranging from 500 to 1,650 square feet. The property also has an 18,000-square-foot, two-level spa with 11 treatment rooms and three relaxation lounges.
Two days later, the development’s major retail and entertainment component, Crystals, will open.
The 500,000-square-foot center will have luxury retailers Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Prada, Christian Dior, Bulgari, Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany & Co., Mikimoto and Ermenegildo Zegna. Eva Longoria Parker’s Beso will be among the restaurants in the center. Others include Mastro’s Ocean Club and two new Wolfgang Puck restaurant concepts.
On Dec. 4, Mandarin Oriental will debut in the Las Vegas market with its 47-story non-gaming hotel with 392 rooms and suites and 227 residential units.
The Mandarin Oriental also will have a spa, a two-level, 27,000-square-foot area with 17 treatment rooms, including seven couple’s suites. The property also will have a restaurant on the 23rd floor, Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, a world-renowned, three-star Michelin chef.
The final piece for December is the one on which the Control Board focused on the most.
Other components of CityCenter – the Harmon hotel, which was delayed by construction flaws discovered in mid-development and reduced to 23 floors, and the two leaning Veer towers, a residential property – will open next year.
McBeath said there is a subterranean network of roads to help facilitate taxi and limousine traffic to and from the development.
A 2,000-space parking garage – 25 percent more than required – will service customers and an 8,000-space lot was built for employees.
Murren said it would cost $170 million to complete the Harmon, which he called “the most overengineered building in the world,” and that it will be dormant until the market improves.