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August 18, 2019

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As free parking dwindles on Strip, resorts guarded about following suit

MGM Parking

John Locher / AP

Cars enter MGM Grand on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in Las Vegas.

The decline of free parking in Las Vegas — one of the Strip’s few hallowed traditions — continues.

In the last two days, two major Strip resort companies announced they will join MGM Resorts International and charge for parking. Even resorts that insist they have no plans to charge fees are leaving the possibility open.

The dam burst in June, when MGM announced it would begin charging for valet parking at all of its properties on the Strip and for self-parking at all properties except Circus Circus.

On Tuesday, Caesars Entertainment announced that a similar program will be phased in starting this month, at all of its Las Vegas properties except for the Rio.

Caesars' move was no surprise to one Las Vegas insider.

“It was just a matter of time,” said Anthony Curtis, a longtime Las Vegas observer who runs the lasvegasadvisor.com blog. “I was like 'Yep. Here we go.’ Everybody knew it was going to happen. There was no doubt. From the time MGM announced it you knew Caesars was next.”

Then on Wednesday, Wynn Resorts announced it would start charging for valet parking — not self-parking in the garage — at the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore beginning mid-December.

And while it seems to be a trend, some resorts won’t come down one way or the other on whether they might make their customers pay extra for using a car to travel to their properties.

The Cosmopolitan, for example, would only say it is evaluating its business needs and the landscape in regards to paid parking.

Others said no to parking fees but didn’t expressly rule them out. A spokesperson for the SLS, located at Sahara Avenue and the Strip, said the SLS Las Vegas has no plans to charge for parking "at this time."

Others were slightly less equivocal. “The Las Vegas Sands has no plans to charge for parking at our Las Vegas properties,” said Ron Reese, ‎vice president of communications at Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Michael Storm, general manager of Hooters Casino on Tropicana Avenue across the street from the MGM Grand, said he and his team had thought about charging parking fees but decided against it.

“We did (evaluate it) maybe about six to eight months ago,” Storm said. “We explored it and we thought about it and you know we realized that it’s a competitive advantage not to do it.

“Part of our charm is we’re not like the big megaresorts and we appeal to a more locals kind of crowd. And we want to do things to cater to them. So yeah, we took it off the table.”

Randi Kolesar, vice president of marketing at Tropicana, said the property has no plans to implement parking fees, either for valet or self-park.

Since the move to fee-based parking is so new, it’s difficult to gauge what effect it’s having. In some cases, it could be pushing customers to park at one casino before walking to another.

Storm suspects some people may be using his garage to avoid MGM’s fees, but said many non-Hooters customers were going there when parking at the MGM was free.

“People have been doing that anyway,” he said. “And for us, I’m actually fine with that. Park here, go across the street and see David Copperfield and then come back here and have some wings and then go home.”

Yvette Monet, corporate communications manager for MGM, said the fees haven’t reduced the number of people parking at MGM properties. “Our customers have really taken this in stride,” she said.

Still, the reason Caesars gave for introducing fees was to discourage non-Caesars customers from using the company’s garages, suggesting that MGM’s parking fees had a cascading effect.

“It just makes sense that requiring some modest payment to park will be a disincentive for people who are just looking for a place to park and then are cruising the Strip,” said Richard Broome, executive vice president, public affairs and communications for Caesars Entertainment.

And while he was initially cynical about Broome’s reasoning, Curtis now says he thinks it makes sense.

“I’ll be honest,” Curtis said. “I read that and that was my first reaction. ‘Here we go with these excuses and smokescreens. But the garages are getting very, very crowded, especially on weekends. I was in Flamingo on Saturday and could not find a parking spot.”

The effects of fees may even reach beyond casinos and into retail spaces on the Strip.

Brian Sorrentino of ROI Commercial Real Estate is an observer of retail on the Las Vegas Strip. He said there’s no doubt the shopping centers on the Strip will be affected by parking fees.

“The short answer is yes, at any specific property that has shopping and where people are going to be charged for parking and you can’t get validated if you’re a local, it will have an effect,” Sorrentino said. “It’s going to turn away someone unless those spaces have a tenant the customer is specifically going to visit.

“It gives an advantage to the Fashion Show mall," he said. “It’s a significant competitive advantage.”

Sorrentino said parking fees probably won’t affect business for smaller retail spaces inside casinos. But for the larger retail spaces, like the Miracle Mile, Crystals or the Forum Shops, they could spell trouble.

“I don’t think it will do anything to discourage people once their on-site,” he said. “Once you are on property you’re going to buy what you came for. But it could turn people away from other places.”

Sorrentino said Las Vegas locals are surprisingly important for retailers on the Strip.

“For the Fashion Show it’s a fairly significant number,” he said. “It’s like half of their business. For Town Square it’s 60 percent. I don’t know what the mix is for the Forum Shops. I think it’s more tourist driven. But even if it’s a 70-30 split that’s huge.”

Sorrentino said he expects that at some point, the casinos will have to figure out a way to deal with the issue.

“With the kind of rents those properties are getting, I think they’re going to have to figure something out,” he said. “It’s going to have an effect. How much and how soon everybody deals with it remains to be seen.”

“The retailers will start screaming and then the operators of the mall will start screaming and then they will have to figure something out. My guess is it would be some kind of validation for locals.”

However, validation for locals won’t be needed for a while. In June, when MGM announced its parking policy, it said locals would not be charged for parking until Dec. 29. On Wednesday, Monet said that deadline is still in effect.

Caesars’ announcement said locals can self-park for free with no mention of a time limit. And Wynn Resorts said everyone, locals and tourists alike, can self-park for free at the Encore and Wynn Las Vegas. Only valet customers will have to pay.

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