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Regulators allow Hard Rock to operate The Mirage; sale to close Monday

Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz
EconomyGaming
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Hard Rock International CEO Jim Allen wanted to clear up any “misunderstanding” from his company’s appearance in front of the Nevada Gaming Control Board last week.

There are no plans to close The Mirage, which is expected to undergo a massive 26- to 30-month renovation and expansion after Hard Rock acquires the operations from MGM Resorts International for nearly $1.1 billion. Hard Rock is owned by Florida’s Seminole Indian Tribe.

The resort will eventually be renamed Hard Rock Las Vegas. The property will include a guitar-shaped hotel tower but The Mirage Volcano will be silenced.

Allen told the Nevada Gaming Commission on Friday that Hard Rock will operate The Mirage well into 2023 while renovation plans for the 33-year-old iconic Strip resort are finalized. He said the design and construction plans should be finalized by next summer.

“It’s important for us to be on the record, 100 percent,” Allen said. “We are not closing the building. There seemed to be some confusion last week about that. There's no intention at this time to close the building.”

Allen acknowledged, however, that plans could change based on the construction schedule and the timeframe will continue to be evaluated.

“Like any company, we will look at the economy, whether or not there is a recession,” Allen said.

Gaming commissioners unanimously signed off on the transaction following a nearly three-hour hearing in Las Vegas. The all-cash deal is expected to close on Monday, with Hard Rock taking over operations of the resort sometime that day.

In a statement following the approval, Allen said the company is “eager to finalize the purchase of The Mirage and look forward to welcoming the 3,500 team members to the Hard Rock family soon.”

In a somewhat scaled-down version of the presentation he made a week ago, Allen said The Mirage would undergo an extensive renovation and be stripped down to its concrete shell. Much of the surrounding spaces, such as the pool areas and outside grounds along the 77-acre site, will be demolished and reconfigured.

"The Mirage's existing 3,000 rooms will not be renovated. ... They will be gutted," Allen said, adding that simply changing the carpets and upgrading the bathrooms was not an option. "This is a monumental step."

One of the new features is an all-suite guitar-shaped tower at the front of the property alongside the Strip that will be between 600 feet and 700 feet tall. The plans have not yet been approved by Clark County. Allen displayed several conceptual views of the planned hotel tower.

Gaming Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Togliatti commented that whether the tower is 600 feet or 700 feet didn’t matter.

“I'm going to say on the record whatever it ends up to be, the design of the building is very cool,” she said.

Allen also confirmed, however, that The Mirage’s faux volcano, a focal point of the tropical island-themed Mirage when it was opened by Steve Wynn in 1989, will be demolished. He said the property “sits on the 50-yard line” of the Strip, which calls for an iconic feature.

"We're very respectful of the legacy of the volcano, but we recognize that is part of The Mirage of the past,” Allen said. “We will not be continuing to operate the volcano once we commence construction."

Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen, who is CEO of Seminole Gaming, speaks during a suitability hearing for the purchase of The Mirage on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022 (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The initial plans call for the re-branded Hard Rock Las Vegas to have 3,700 rooms and suites, a 174,000-square-foot casino, an additional 50,000 to 85,000 square feet of convention space, 21 restaurants and a new Hard Rock Live entertainment space. Allen said The Mirage villas would remain but be remodeled.

He said Hard Rock had looked at different locations on the Strip before first inquiring about The Mirage a few years ago when Jim Murren was MGM’s CEO. He said the company needed a presence in Las Vegas.

“In Florida alone, there's over $700 million worth of business leaving the state of Florida coming into primarily Las Vegas but also the state of Nevada,” Allen said. “So now, having a property ownership, which we can direct our customers to, is something that's been part of the business plan for quite some time.”

Hard Rock had leased the name, brand and trademarks associated with Hard Rock Las Vegas to the former operators of an off-Strip property that has since been rebranded as Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.

Hard Rock took control of the brand in 2020.

The opening of The Mirage in 1989 attracted international attention and marked the first new Strip resort in 15 years. Built at a once unheard-of cost of $630 million, the opening kicked off a building boom on the Strip that lasted several decades.

The Seminoles will become the first American Indian tribe to operate a casino on the Strip.

In March 2021, the gaming arm of Connecticut’s Mohegan Indian Tribe opened the casino inside Virgin Hotels Las Vegas along Paradise Road and Harmon Avenue, just east of the Strip.

Southern California’s San Manuel Indian Tribe reopened the off-Strip Palms Casino Resort in May after acquiring the property for $650 million from Red Rock Resorts. The hotel-casino is on Flamingo Road, roughly a mile west of the Strip.

Allen said Hard Rock signed a deal with Cirque du Soleil to keep “The Beatles Love Show” in place through the end of 2023.

Hard Rock Atlantic City executive Joe Lupo has been brought in to serve as general manager of The Mirage and oversee the transition to Hard Rock Las Vegas.

The Mirage property is owned by real estate investment trust VICI Properties and Hard Rock will assume the 25-year lease on the site. VICI and Hard Rock have a similar landlord-tenant relationship with Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati.

MGM Resorts will retain the name Mirage for future use.

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