In 1958, the Stardust Hotel Casino opened in Las Vegas on the Strip. It closed 48 years later to make way for a grand new casino resort; Boyd Corporation imploded the building intending to build a $4 billion dollar project called Echelon Place. The Place ran afoul of the economic downturn and construction was halted in 2008; the unfinished building has stood there since, a testament to optimism and a booming economy and a critic of both the optimism and the boom.
The old Stardust was a legend and an icon. The sign was an icon by itself and for years dominated the skyline, dazzling passers-by with its technological magic. The Stardust featured the French review, Lido de Paris, which titillated audiences for 35 years. At one time the hotel was the largest in the state, the property had a drive-in theater, the Strip’s largest swimming pool, gourmet restaurants, high-rollers galore and unfortunately for the Nevada tax collectors, a skimmer or two. In the end, its skimmers made the Stardust more famous than anything else; they made the career of Dennis Gomes, gave Nicholas Pileggi a plot for his book Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas and helped push Boyd Gaming into the big-time with a Strip property.
Over the course of 10 years and after some changes of management, teamster loans, bodies in the desert, investigations, trials and the largest fine Nevada had ever administered, the Stardust was rescued from a life of crime by the Nevada Gaming Control Board and Boyd Gaming in 1984. In the Boyd era, the Stardust was successful, but not dynamic, trend-setting or titillating. The rest of the Strip continued to evolve, the Stardust did not – except for having the most aggressive line in the sports betting world – the Stardust was know more for what it did not have than what it did. However, Boyd was going to fix that – and maybe it would have, had not the economy fallen off a cliff.
Now, five years after Boyd suspended construction, the old Stardust site and the bare-bones, unfinished structure of Echelon Place have a new lease on life. Genting, a mega-casino (among other businesses) operator from Malaysian, is buying the site, as is, from Boyd for $350 million. Genting has said it will spend as much as $7 billion in developing a Resorts World, the Genting casino brand, where the Stardust once stood. Seven billion, are they kidding? This is 2013, not 2005; all of the major investment on the Strip has dried up, no one has proposed a new casino resort in 6 or 7 years.
Why would any developer want to spend almost as much as MGM spent on CityCenter? That is hard to believe – except, Genting has a pretty good track record. It has casinos all over the world, including the Americas, Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and United Kingdom. For 2013, Genting reported $1.2 billion net profit on $5.6 billion in revenues. Genting never seems to be short of money or plans for expansion; Genting has a casino in New York City and has proposed one in Miami.
Genting has released some preliminary plans and ideas for the property, it is early and construction is not set to begin for a year, so the plans may change. However, the broad strategy – Asia – is not likely to change. Genting is an Asian company, its home-base is in Malaysian and it has casinos in other Asian countries. And that is the basic strategy; Asian tourism is increasing dramatically – especially Chinese tourism – Genting is planing to be ready to welcome those Asian travelers to Las Vegas with a familiar brand and a property and staff eager and able to make them feel at home in the strange land of Las Vegas.
It sounds like a great strategy to me and it sounds very, very good to the governor, mayor, state gaming regulators, construction workers, dealers, real estate agents, tax collectors and pretty much everyone else in Las Vegas. Just when they all thought Las Vegas was in a terminal stall, a masked man on a white horse rode into town and threw some stardust in everyone’s eyes. Wow, this was a surprise, it should not have been a surprise, but it was, at least for me.