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The Nevada Independent

Indy Gaming: F1 officials working through year one issues as second race looms

From traffic snarls to millions in taxes, a new report by Clark County highlights the challenges and benefits from the first Grand Prix in Las Vegas.
Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz
EconomyFormula 1GamingSports

You know things are hectic during Formula One when even Gordon Ramsey can’t get a temporary kitchen permit for the race. F1’s inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix event had its highlights and its lowlights. With eight months to go until the checkered flag is waved, the race’s newly appointed top local executive said she is working to improve the experience. 

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Last week was a tale of competing Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix storylines.

On Friday, Grand Prix Plaza, the race’s $500 million centerpiece building, served as the media backdrop as organizers announced the start of presales of 7,000 low-priced general admission tickets to Nevada residents for November’s event — nearly three times the number offered a year ago.

A few days earlier, race officials sat through a Clark County Commission meeting centered on a 113-page debriefing report outlining the benefits and challenges of hosting the inaugural race on a 3.8-mile course that included a 2-mile stretch of the Strip.

The report, produced by county agencies with the economic portion handled by Las Vegas advisory firm Applied Analysis, outlined several race highlights. The nighttime event was televised to the largest global audience in Las Vegas history and provided a total economic impact of $884 million. The Las Vegas Grand Prix generated $77 million in state and local taxes, the highest figure recorded for a single event.

In the months before the report, Strip gaming companies cited mixed results from F1 —  luxury casinos reported a steady flow of high-end customers while other operators suggested the race scared off regular customers.

The county’s report cited dozens of challenges faced by government agencies, public works, law enforcement, the water district, the fire department and public transportation. 

The fire department highlighted more than a dozen issues in simultaneously trying to keep up with the construction of the Plaza building and racecourse. The building department noted a request to allow celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey to have a “cooking area” in an unused garage. “However, no permit applications or schematic plans were submitted.”

County staff spent almost 17,100 hours working on the Grand Prix with 89 percent of the costs paid through licenses, fees and permits.

The biggest disruption was the nine-month build-out of the racetrack that included resurfacing county-maintained streets with a special asphalt designed for F1. Adding cement firewalls, lights and other track safety features compounded the traffic issues. 

According to the Regional Transportation Commission, more than a half-dozen bus routes were detoured in October, affecting 25,000 customers daily and causing up to 60-minute delays.

Business owners whose locations are on or near the racecourse complained last year that road construction and traffic detours deterred customers, resulting in millions of dollars in lost revenue. They reiterated those points in public comments and want F1 to compensate them for their losses.

Restaurateur Randy Markin said he’s considering legal action after not getting answers in talking with F1 officials, tourism executives and county leaders. Markin owns Battista’s Hole in the Wall restaurant on Flamingo Road and Linq Lane and manages the neighboring Stage Door Casino, which has a small slot machine business and an attached convenience store.

“We're going to have to engage attorneys to take it to the next level because we lost so much money between our two businesses,” Markin told The Nevada Independent on Monday. The road construction and detours caused “hundreds of cancellations” at Battista’s because customers “had to go out of their way to get into the parking lot or rideshare drivers wouldn’t pick up or drop off.”

Markin said the conversations with race and county officials offered “nothing that could even come close to getting us whole.”

Betsy Fretwell, chief operating officer of Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix, during a fireside chat at Preview Las Vegas 2024 on Jan. 24, 2024. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Betsy Fretwell said she knew of the challenges she would be navigating when she was named the Grand Prix’s chief operating officer in January. Fretwell spent three decades in the public sector and private business leadership roles primarily in Las Vegas.

“There were no surprises in that report,” Fretwell said Friday. She spent nine years as city manager of Las Vegas. “We were already working toward addressing many of those issues. We’re becoming more efficient, coordinating better with the county [and] enhancing our communication.”

Although she wasn’t involved with last year’s event, Fretwell said the racetrack development was the largest disruptive factor. However, the course will not need to be resurfaced for several years, and she suggested the setup for November’s race will only take three months with fewer disruptions. 

“It was a new event and it was complicated because it was a street circuit,” she said. “We have to make sure all these businesses have openings and closings.”

Fretwell said she had early conversations with the business operators.

“I'm working on a small-business program where we can activate our small businesses in the region to take full advantage of what we have to offer here and be a part of what we're providing,” Fretwell said.

She also plans to increase public access to the 300,000-square-foot, four-level facility Plaza, which serves as the centerpiece for the race with the start-finish line and temporary grandstands lining the track area, along with pit row and adjoining garages. 

The upper levels include high-end luxury suites and a rooftop space where the NFL held its Super Bowl media party for 6,000 guests.

Fretwell said the race organizers are exploring several uses for the 38-acre site at Harmon Avenue and Koval Lane.

“We're building out our program and we want it to be experiential,” Fretwell said. “We want people to come here and learn about racing and learn about F1.”

Meanwhile, major casino operators are embracing the race again. MGM Resorts International announced Monday it was bringing back the three-level Bellagio Fountain Club, which was built trackside at the front of the Bellagio Casino Resort. But a three-day ticket to the exclusive venue now costs $12,500, up from $10,000. 

A rendering provided by Boyd Gaming shows the redesigned sportsbook at the Suncoast Hotel & Casino. (Courtesy)

Boyd begins extensive renovation to the Suncoast

A year after completing the remodel of the Fremont Hotel & Casino, Boyd Gaming has turned its attention to the company’s nearly 25-year-old property near Summerlin.

Boyd has begun a renovation of the Suncoast Hotel & Casino, including a new race and sportsbook in place of the showroom, the eventual addition of a food hall and a complete remodel of the 95,000-square-foot casino. A company spokesman said a final budget hasn’t been determined.

The centerpiece of the casino floor will be a 70-seat raised bar, which company officials said would modernize the property and greet guests entering through the porte cochère doors.

The showroom near Suncoast’s east entrance was closed last year and will be converted into a stadium-style sportsbook with large wraparound LED television screens that include electronic odds boards and theater seating. The venue is expected to open by the start of the NFL season. The former sportsbook space will be converted into a new bingo room.

The food hall will eventually take over part of the closed buffet space and an area currently used as a sports bar. Part of the former buffet space is now a high-limit gaming area. Last year, the company opened William B’s Steakhouse as one of the initial renovations to the property.

Other changes include a renovation and expansion of Suncoast’s banquet and meeting space and a new hotel front desk and check-in area. Suncoast’s bowling center will also be modernized.

The redevelopment is expected to be completed in 2025.

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DraftKings claims a former executive stole company secrets.

Tom Osiecki in CDC Gaming Reports: Faces of Gaming: Joe Asher — From the newsstand and racetrack to sports-betting icon

I learned something new about the longtime sports betting proponent.

Sports bettors stand in line to use the BetMGM sports betting kiosks at Mandalay Bay ahead of Super Bowl LVIII on Feb. 11, 2024. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

News, notes and quotes

MGM looking to sell Ohio, Massachusetts casinos

MGM Resorts International is considering selling the operations of MGM Springfield in Massachusetts and a racetrack casino in Northfield, Ohio, according to Bloomberg News. The developments are leased from real estate investment trust VICI Properties.

CBRE Equity research analyst John DeCree suggested MGM may be looking to reboot previous merger talks with United Kingdom sports betting operator Entain Plc., which owns 50 percent of the BetMGM sports wagering business.

“The sale of two regional assets could be a capital raise in front of larger plans,” DeCree wrote in a research note.


Golden names younger Sartini as chief operating officer

Las Vegas-based Golden Entertainment named Blake Sartini II as the gaming company’s chief operating officer. His father, Blake Sartini Sr., is chairman and CEO. The younger Sartini joined the company in 2007, working in Golden’s tavern businesses. 

He most recently served as executive vice president of operations, which included oversight of the company’s taverns and five casinos in Las Vegas and Pahrump. He replaces Steve Arcana,  who became the company’s chief development officer.


IGT announces management changes 

Ahead of its planned $6.2 billion merger with Everi Holdings, International Game Technology announced several changes to its management structure.

Marco Drago stepped down as a non-executive director and is being replaced by his son, Enrico Drago, who has been CEO of the company’s digital division. Gil Rotem will become president of the digital division and will report to IGT CEO Vince Sadusky.


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