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Native American gaming activity in Las Vegas draws attention to North Dakota tribe’s year-old land deal

Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz
Economy & BusinessGaming
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A North Dakota Indian tribe spent $12 million a year ago to acquire 8.7 acres at the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip. The purchase was largely ignored.

Recent activity centered on Las Vegas’ recovery from pandemic-related shutdowns and restrictions have brought renewed attention to the site, which is located roughly a mile east of Allegiant Stadium and in the shadow of Mandalay Bay.

The land, which is zoned for gaming and other uses, was part of the $100 million SkyVue observation wheel and entertainment project that stalled in 2013 and eventually went bankrupt.

“We’ve looked at all the different angles and options,” Mark Fox, chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, said Tuesday. The tribe, known as the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, bought the land through a bankruptcy court auction last July.

“For the tribe, the purchase was meant to diversify our portfolio and acquire a piece of property at a low price that we know will increase in value,” Fox said. “It was a good opportunity.”

The tribe’s acreage is located at 95 East Ali Baba Lane, just east of the MGM Festival Grounds, the location of the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting. The parcel is just south of the Diocese of Las Vegas Catholic Church.

Lately, the site has been used as the stage for “American Ninja Warrior,” a reality television competition.

The SkyVue project totaled 38.5 acres, which were divided up in the bankruptcy. A parcel that includes two unfinished pillars along the Strip that were expected to support the planned 500-foot-tall observation wheel were acquired separately by the project’s primary lenders.

The Three Affiliated Tribes site is outlined in purple at the top right. At center is Mandalay Bay. Allegiant Stadium is to the left. (Map courtesy Clark County Accessors Office website)

Fox, who said he has made multiple visits to Las Vegas over the years with an idea of the tribe making an investment in the market, understands why there could be speculation surrounding the land deal.

“We have 25 years of experience in gaming,” Fox said.

The Three Affiliated Tribes operates North Dakota’s third largest casino, the Four Bears Casino and Lodge at its reservation in Fort Berthold, which has a 120,000 square foot casino and a 220-room hotel. Fox said the tribe is starting construction this year on a seven-story hotel tower.

Tribal interest in casinos along the Las Vegas resort corridor is on an upswing.

The gaming arm of Connecticut’s Mohegan Indian Tribe has been operating the casino at the off-Strip Virgin Hotels Las Vegas since March. In May, Southern California’s San Manuel Indian Tribe said it was acquiring the off-Strip Palms Casino Resort for $650 million from Red Rock Resorts.

Also, Florida’s Seminole Indian Tribe controls the name and trademarks for Hard Rock Las Vegas and has been actively looking at potential acquisition prospects along the Strip.

The Three Affiliated Tribes government primarily oversees an oil production facility with the reservation land accounting for almost one-fifth of North Dakota's oil production.

Fox said Indian gaming in North Dakota is small, producing $120 million to $130 million in annual revenues, far below the $1.5 billion wagered annually on state-run pull-tab machines.

Colliers International broker Mike Mixer, who oversaw the land sale and auction, said smaller gaming companies looked at the site, but the tribe saw the land for its long-term value.

“It’s generating some income (through the lease for the television show),” Mixer said. “Maybe they will build something down the road, but they saw the long-term value in the site.”

Because of the site’s proximity to McCarran International Airport, a developer would have to file an application with the Federal Aviation Administration for any proposed structure.

One idea Fox said the tribe considered was temporarily turning the site into a parking lot for the 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium. The Las Vegas Raiders will play one preseason game and nine regular season home games.

The team recently announced a parking plan that includes 35,000 spaces within a one-mile radius of Allegiant Stadium. The facility will control 13,000 spaces at multiple lots and priced per game at between $40 and $100. Approximately 22,000 additional spaces are located at nearby resort properties and neighboring businesses.

Raiders officials said the average parking price of $75 is comparable with other NFL stadiums.

Fox said the tribe wasn’t approached by the NFL team.

“Even if we do nothing and just flip the land in a few years, I’m confident this will be a good investment,” Fox said. He noted the large Harley Davidson dealership south of Mandalay Bay and other planned properties in the area.

“In 10 years, that southern part of the Strip will be a highly developed area,” Fox said.

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