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Indy Gaming: After Durango, what’s next for the locals’ market in Las Vegas?

Plus: The door may have opened slightly on the Strip for ESPN Bet through Penn’s deal to acquire Wynn’s New York sports betting licenses.
Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz

The Kansas City Chiefs’ 25-22 overtime win in Super Bowl LVIII over the San Francisco 49ers was pretty close to my prediction of a Chiefs’ 27-24 victory. That said, I will not be replacing the CEO/Editor in prognosticating the upcoming election cycle.

In this week’s Indy Gaming, analysts wanted to know what Las Vegas’ two largest locals casino operators have planned following December’s openings of the Fontainebleau Las Vegas and Durango Casino Resort. The companies provided a few clues during their recent fourth-quarter earnings conference calls. Also, has ESPN Bet found a path into Nevada? 

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The $780 million Durango Casino Resort in southwest Las Vegas has been open for a little more than 60 days and has wowed its visitors — including the competition. 

“I've been through it. I think it's a beautiful building,” said Boyd Gaming CEO Keith Smith, whose company competes with Durango developer Red Rock Resorts throughout Southern Nevada.

Smith told The Nevada Independent last week that he visited Durango shortly after the property — Southern Nevada’s first new locals casino since 2009 — opened.

“Those folks [Red Rock Resorts] do a great job building and operating properties,” Smith said. “I'm sure it's going to be very successful in the long run.”

Red Rock executives also heaped praise on the property last week when the company announced quarterly earnings. 

“The property is performing above our expectations,” Red Rock Resorts President Scott Kreeger told gaming analysts in an earnings conference call. “We think that it’s right on track. We’re working through the efficiencies of Durango and everything is really trending as we expected.”

Smith said Boyd hasn’t lost many customers to the new casino near the 215 Beltway and Durango Road. The company’s closest properties to Durango are Suncoast and Orleans, both of which are 8 miles from the new resort. 

“We haven't seen any significant impact,” Smith said. “We're pleased with the way our operating teams have been able to manage through this.”

Red Rock is designing its second phase of Durango, which includes additional hotel rooms, restaurants and entertainment activities. Management told analysts that 75 percent of Durango’s initial revenue stream has come from the casino floor.

Boyd Gaming CEO Keith Smith during a news conference on Feb. 3, 2023, announcing a partnership with the gaming company and the Las Vegas Raiders. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

But Red Rock, which owns six development sites covering more than 500 acres throughout Clark County, isn’t planning to build additional properties in Las Vegas this year.

“We want to get Durango fine-tuned,” Red Rock CEO Frank Fertitta III said last week on the conference call. “In 2025 we will be in a position to evaluate which new projects we should be bringing online.”

The company is far along in the development and design process for 49 acres in the west Henderson community of Inspirada. In November, the Henderson Planning Commission approved plans for Inspirada Station. The property is similar in design to Durango, but a development date wasn’t provided.

“We're going to get Durango dialed in before we announce the next move,” said vice chairman Lorenzo Fertitta. “The good thing is the company has more optionality from a growth standpoint with deals and pieces of real estate that we control and we can bring online whenever we think it fits.”

Boyd doesn’t own multiple development sites in Southern Nevada, but does have eight properties — three downtown and five in the locals markets — that are targeted for hotel room remodels and new restaurant operations. It also doesn’t plan to build any new properties in Las Vegas this year.

“Room remodels and new restaurants provide a great return [to] keep a strong balance sheet and low leverage that allows us flexibility if something interesting comes along,” Smith said. “[Mergers and acquisitions] happen on its own time frame.”

Boyd operates 20 casinos in nine states as well as the Sky River Casino in Northern California for Wilton Rancheria Tribe, which opened last summer. The tribe and Boyd are planning an expansion. 

Analysts posed several questions to Boyd about potential casino acquisitions or sales in other states. Las Vegas, however, didn’t come up. Boyd acquired the two Cannery casinos and Aliante Casino in 2016. The Eastside Cannery on Boulder Highway has been closed since the pandemic and Boyd does not have any immediate plans to reopen it.

“We are extremely bullish on Las Vegas,” Smith said. “If we're able to expand our footprint here, we’d like nothing better because it's our home. At the same time, there are opportunities elsewhere in the country to expand. If there was an opportunity to expand in Las Vegas we certainly [would] take a look at it.”

The former ESPN set inside the Linq on the Las Vegas Strip is seen on Oct. 20, 2020. (Howard Stutz/The Nevada Independent)

Did the door to Nevada slightly crack open for ESPN Bet?

Penn Entertainment said Tuesday it was paying Wynn Resorts $25 million to acquire the company’s mobile sports betting licenses in New York. Pending approval by New York gaming regulators, Penn expects to launch ESPN Bet in the state later this year.

ESPN Bet, which Penn unveiled last year through a 10-year $1.5 billion agreement with the sports and entertainment network, replaced the casino operator’s Barstool Sportsbook and currently operates in 17 states.

Could Nevada be next?

At the groundbreaking ceremonies for Penn’s $206 million expansion at M Resort, CEO Jay Snowden alluded to Nevada’s in-person registration requirement for mobile sports betting as a hang-up that will keep ESPN Bet on the sidelines for now.

“I would say it will happen at some point, but the online sports betting law is a bit nuanced,” he said. “It’s a more challenging issue since we only have one property in Las Vegas right now. So it's convenient for some, but not for all. I would say it's definitely in the future.”

Wynn closed the bulk of its WynnBet sports betting operations last year and recently pulled the name off its sportsbook at Encore Boston Harbor in Massachusetts. WynnBet is still tied to the sportsbook at Wynn Las Vegas.

So, could Penn strike another deal with Wynn and rebrand the Strip casino’s sportsbook as ESPN Bet? That would give the brand a physical location for in-person registration. Any agreement would need Nevada regulatory approval. Snowden may field questions on this topic Thursday when the company hosts its fourth quarter and year-end conference call with analysts.

New York had the largest sports betting market in the U.S. last year, generating $1.7 billion in gaming revenue. As a comparison, Nevada’s sports betting revenue in 2023 was $481.3 million.

“New York has been highly competitive since day one of legalization, as Penn will compete with [some of] the largest brands in online gaming,” JMP Securities gaming analyst Jordan Bender wrote in a research note Tuesday. “The market has proven lopsided since launch as operators have generally taken a conservative approach toward spending on promotions and marketing.”

Rendering provides a view of the planned $3.9 billion Wynn Al Marjan Island in the United Arab Emirates. The project is expected to open in 2027. (Courtesy of Wynn Resorts)

Wynn’s UAE project is progressing 

Speaking of Wynn Resorts, CEO Craig Billings didn’t say much about the company's $3.9 billion project in the United Arab Emirates last week. Wynn’s fourth quarter and year end results, which saw a 42 percent increase in revenue during 2023, drew more attention from analysts than a development not expected until 2027.

Still, Billings gave a status update on Wynn Al Marjan in Ras Al Khaimah, which may become the UAE’s first casino resort.

“We have a substantial growth opportunity in the UAE that will further diversify our portfolio and expand our brand into new markets,” he said last week. “We have a project that's actually coming out of the ground in the UAE, and that's going to be a very substantial opportunity for us.”

He said much of the foundation for the hotel and podium are complete and work on the 1,000-foot tower is expected to begin shortly.

Fans arrive for the Super Bowl LVIII Opening Night event at Allegiant Stadium on Feb. 5, 2024. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

News, notes and quotes

Culinary announced another organizing effort at Allegiant Stadium

Ahead of Super Bowl LVIII, Culinary Workers Local 226 announced an effort for Allegiant Stadium to organize some 1,500 nonunion workers that handle concessions at the venue. The union announced the effort in conjunction with the NFL Players Association.

The union organized roughly 800 workers at Allegiant after the venue first opened. Nonunion workers make roughly $13 an hour. As a comparison, unionized cashiers at the Las Vegas Convention Center earn $23.54 per hour.  

Culinary leaders said the union sent letters to 27 Allegiant Stadium service providers demanding card check neutrality agreements. The union also released a Jan. 25 letter from Las Vegas Raiders President Sandra Douglass Morgan who said the team would “always respect the legal right of employees to select a bargaining representative of their choosing” and “will not do anything to impede their right to do so if they are so inclined.” 


Red Rock expects to raise financing for California tribal casino

Following last month’s approval by the National Indian Gaming Commission, Red Rock Resorts Chief Financial Officer Stephen Cootey said last week that the company is in the final stages of design for a casino project on behalf of California’s North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians.

Cootey said Red Rock invested an initial $40 million toward the project’s construction budget, which has a balance of $110 million, and that the company “would anticipate raising North Fork’s financing around the project.”

The property, which will have a 100,000-square-foot casino and restaurants, will be located on a 305-acre site off state Route 99 in Madera, 30 miles north of Fresno. 


Stevens hoped for a much different Super Bowl

Circa Casino Resort CEO Derek Stevens brought the atmosphere of Super Bowl LVIII, which was played at Allegiant Stadium near the Strip, to downtown, including a game-time party on the deck of the massive Circa Swim. But the entire property might have been repainted with Detroit Lions colors if the team had not lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game.

Stevens, a native of Detroit, is a die-hard Lions fan and attended the game on Jan. 28, only to see the Lions blow a 17-point halftime lead in the third quarter and ultimately lose 34-31.

“That third quarter will go down and haunt me for the rest of my life, as it will for every other Lions fan,” he said. “I rewatched it four times. I still can’t believe what I saw.”


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