Musical chairs on the Las Vegas Strip

May 21, 2023 9:53 AM

Musical chairs on the Las Vegas Strip

Photo: Caesars Entertainment (courtesy)
  • Ken Adams, CDC Gaming Reports
May 21, 2023 9:53 AM
  • Ken Adams, CDC Gaming Reports

On March 24, Bally’s Las Vegas became the Horseshoe. It was a day of celebrations and speeches. Local officials were glad that Caesars was continuing to invest in Las Vegas. Company executives were excited to introduce the Horseshoe brand to the Strip. Caesars operates 10 Horseshoes, a popular and successful brand. Caesars believes a Horseshoe on the Strip will be equally successful.

The best speech was the shortest. Jack Binion gave a small token of luck, a horseshoe, to the Chairman of the Board and COO of Caesars. Gary Carano accepted and thanked Jack. Jack is the son of Benny Binion, the founder of the Horseshoe in Las Vegas. Benny had a reputation for being a gambler willing to take a risk and give the player a fair chance. Jack paid Gary the highest of compliments. He said that the Carano family knew how to treat customers and run a casino, just as his family did. It was a true and honest compliment and Gary flushed with pleasure.

The Las Vegas Strip is famous for its grand casino-resorts. Each new one that is built tries to outdo those that came before it. The Strip is also famous for its game of musical chairs and ever-shifting landscape of names. The Horseshoe property was Bally’s just a day before. It had been called Bally’s since the slot machine company, Bally’s Manufacturing, purchased the property in 1986. Before that it was the MGM Grand. When Kirk Kerkorian sold the MGM Grand to Bally’s, the Grand name did not go away; it moved down the Strip and became truly grand—the largest hotel in the world, the biggest casino, and the most expensive casino-resort ever built.

The Bally’s name will also probably move to a new grander location, to where the Tropicana now sits. The Trop is most likely going to come down to build a new stadium for the Las Vegas A’s. The company that now owns the name Bally’s used to be Twin River Worldwide Holdings and was based in Rhode Island. After buying Bally’s Atlantic City from Caesars, it developed a national strategy tied to the Bally’s brand. Currently, the corporation is too busy building Bally’s Chicago to do much on the Strip, but that day will probably come.

Back to name changes: The Stardust became Resorts World, the Sands the Venetian, and most recently, the Mirage is becoming a Hard Rock. It is a tradition.

One of the hotel towers of Bally’s is going to break away from the Horseshoe and join Paris. Caesars says it is part of the upgrading of Paris. The tower will give Paris significantly more rooms and allow for a luxury tower. That clearly separates Paris and the Horseshoe. Paris is a Las Vegas resort; the Horseshoe will be more of a regional casino. Outside of Las Vegas, the Horseshoes are all regional casinos, known for their well-designed casino floor, good food, and friendly service. While it might not seem like it, those are values that distinguish it from its competitors on the Strip.

The Strip business model is a resort. Resorts have pricey amenities, nightclubs, and big-name entertainers. Strip resorts are not focused on the casino floor. As Jack Binion said, the Carano family’s experience is much like his family’s. They gained the opportunity to buy Caesars and jump to the top of casino food chain by operating casinos with good food and friendly employees. It certainly helps that Caesars owns the World Series of Poker (WSOP) brand. The WSOP began at the Horseshoe under Benny Binion in 1970. In 2004, Harrah’s bought Binion’s Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas. Harrah’s – now Caesars – sold the casino, but kept the WSOP. Poker is coming back home to the Horseshoe. The Horseshoe again will be the worldwide capital poker.

Succeeding on that corner is no slam dunk. The original MGM Grand was never very successful. It was conceived as a Las Vegas version of the Grand Hotel from the 1932 movie. But name alone was not enough and then in 1980, a fire killed 85 people and gutted the property. It was rebuilt, but just four years later sold to Bally’s. At the time, Bally’s was doing very well with its slot machine business and looking to diversify. It bought a chain of fitness centers and two casinos, MGM Grands in Reno and Las Vegas. In the casino business, Bally’s struggled. It relied too much on its own slot machines at a time when IGT was taking over the industry. It also lacked a resort philosophy. In 2005, the property sold to Harrah’s as part of the purchase of Caesars.

Finally, after several more name changes, sales, and acquisitions, Carl Icahn bought a controlling interest in the stock and forced its sale to Eldorado – the Carano company. And that leads us to March 24 and the latest move in the game of musical chairs. The Horseshoe, née Bally’s, née MGM Grand, may have finally gotten lucky. Sitting in the Horseshoe chair is a company with a background in regional casinos, suited to not only rebrand the property, but to reimagine its operating philosophy as well. It might not be Benny Binion’s Horseshoe, but it is very close to Benny Binion’s Horseshoes.