An Asian gaming powerhouse is planning a $2 billion Asian-themed mega-resort on the Las Vegas Strip where the old Stardust was imploded and the stalled Echelon was planned.
Genting Group plans to build the 3,500-room Chinese-themed resort with a 175,000-square-foot casino. The company calls it the “first phase” of a property to be named Resorts World Las Vegas.
The company plans to build a replica of the Great Wall of China and develop an enclosure for pandas for public display.
Executives for the Genting Group, a Malaysian multinational company considered a gaming industry powerhouse in Asia, were introduced at a news conference this morning attended by Gov. Brian Sandoval, Clark County Commissioners Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani and local business leaders.
Boyd Gaming, the Las Vegas company that started and stopped construction of a resort it called Echelon, is selling the 87-acre site for $350 million to Genting, which says it will spend between $2 billion and $7 billion by the time the project is complete. The land sale is scheduled to close today.
The groundbreaking is planned for 2014, with the first phase opening in 2016. Technically, the project already is under way because Genting plans to use some of the Echelon superstructure already in place.
Phase 1 of the project will be 8 million square feet, with at least 3,500 rooms, 210,000 square feet of dining, 250,000 square feet of retail space, more than 500,000 square feet of convention space, a 4,000-seat theater, and 300,000 square feet of pool and water park features.
According to a release issued by Genting, the casino space would be spread across several gaming floors, and several luxury restaurants and retail stores are planned.
At the news conference, Las Vegas casino designer and architect Paul Steelman said the water amenities would include an indoor water park.
The project is expected to bring thousands of jobs to Southern Nevada at the property and during construction.
Boyd made the announcement this morning in advance of its quarterly earnings call.
Genting, based in Kuala Lumpur, has casino properties in Malaysia, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and the Bahamas. It may be best known as Las Vegas Sands’ rival in Singapore, where it operates Resorts World Sentosa, one of two casinos authorized by Singapore’s government.
Sentosa is an island off Singapore’s shore, and the resort complex includes a Universal Studios theme park. Resorts Worlds Sentosa reported gaming revenue of nearly $3 billion in 2012.
Genting also operates the casino with the largest slot machine floor in the world at the Aqueduct Race Track in New York City and proposed building a major convention center there, a project that was rejected last summer.
It was also a player in failed proposals to bring commercial gaming to Miami Beach’s South Beach.
The company also is attempting to enter Macau’s gaming market through a partnership with an existing licensee.
Genting is a 45 percent owner of the Norwegian Cruise Line and Star Cruises brands.
Genting’s top executive hailed the announcement as a major opportunity for the company. “We are incredibly grateful to the leaders of the state of Nevada, Clark County and the city of Las Vegas for joining us in announcing what will be a fantastic addition to the top resort destination in the United States,” K.T. Lim, chairman and CEO of the Genting Group, said in a statement.
“This is a great day for Genting, Las Vegas and the state of Nevada and we look forward to taking full advantage of this exciting new opportunity,” he said.
Genting is not licensed in Nevada and will have to be scrutinized by the state’s gaming regulators, a process that could take more than a year to complete.
While negotiations between Boyd and Genting have been ongoing for some time and were secret, the state’s political leaders were apprised and quoted in Genting’s announcement today.
“The entrance of one of the world’s leading resort gaming developers into Nevada is another fantastic sign that Las Vegas and the Strip are poised for great things moving forward in 2013 and beyond,” Sandoval said in the release.
Sandoval said he first learned of the project over the Labor Day weekend when he met with company executives over chorizo sandwiches at an Elko restaurant.
“The Genting Group and Resorts World Las Vegas will bring several thousand new jobs to our state and will help us in keeping our economic resurgence on the right path towards success,” Sandoval said. “I’d like to welcome Genting to the great state of Nevada and we all look forward to the ground-breaking of this dynamic project.”
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., also weighed in.
“Las Vegas is considered the gold standard in the world of gaming, resorts and entertainment and this project is an incredible addition to the thriving industries that call Las Vegas and Nevada home,” Reid said in a statement. “A project of this size and magnitude will not only attract more visitors to our state, but will be a boon to the Nevada economy, both in terms of jobs and Southern Nevada’s continued economic recovery and growth.”
But not everybody is happy.
Rival Strip properties will see a flood of new capacity as a challenge and Genting has global experience behind it. One analyst described the announcement as “unhelpful” to existing companies.
“We view the Genting’s relatively low per-acre purchase price and a potential ‘early’ restart of Echelon as unhelpful to existing operators with Strip exposure,” said Los Angeles-based gaming analyst David Bain of Sterne-Agee.
“In 2012, Las Vegas citywide room occupancy was 84 percent, fairly flat year over year, though average daily room rates rose to $108 from $105,” Bain said in a report.
For Boyd, the announcement is closure of its presence on the Strip.
The company bought the Stardust in 1985 and acquired what once was the Barbary Coast in its acquisition of the Coast Casinos group.
The company announced plans to build what earlier was called Echelon Place, then shortened to Echelon, a $4 billion, four-hotel, 5,300-room resort that was likened to MGM Resort International’s CityCenter.
To obtain the land required to build the massive megaresort, Boyd acquired acreage from what was then Harrah’s Entertainment — now Caesars Entertainment — resulting in a swap in 2006 of the Barbary Coast for land held by Harrah’s. The Barbary Coast eventually was renamed Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and is now closed to be converted to a boutique hotel.
The Stardust closed in late 2006 and was imploded in March 2007. Three months later, ground was broken on Echelon.
Then the recession hit.
Work stopped on Echelon on Aug. 1, 2008, a move that was applauded by most gaming analysts because it prevented Boyd from going into bankruptcy.
Since then, critics have called the site an eyesore. Last summer, Clark County officials ordered Boyd to install strategically placed coverings to hide the skeletal frame of the interrupted construction.
Resorts World Las Vegas would become the first major casino resort opening on the Strip since the Cosmopolitan opened Dec. 15, 2010. The property opened to critical acclaim but was financially wobbly in its first quarters of operation. Since then, the company has announced plans to build a 3,000-seat auditorium scheduled to open by the end of 2013.
Several gaming analysts predicted that the Cosmopolitan would be the last major casino project to be built in Las Vegas for at least a decade.