The Biggest Casino Rumors & News Shaking Up Las Vegas Right Now

Posted By Marc Meltzer on February 18, 2021

The coronavirus pandemic has changed how businesses around the world operate. Las Vegas casinos and adjacent businesses are no different.

2020 was obviously a difficult year for casino operators. Being closed for a couple of months and lower visitation even after casinos reopened in June wasn’t good for business.

But Las Vegas casino operators have positive attitudes moving forward. Capacity restrictions are being increased so more people can enjoy casinos, bars and restaurants. Shows are slowly returning and the casino operators are hoping that things will return to form later in 2021.

Casino earnings across the board in 2020 were down drastically from 2019. While that’s bad, the companies worked through the difficult times.

Procedures have been streamlined to accommodate the reduced capacity. The efficient cost-savings efforts will likely continue even as more visitors are allowed inside casinos, bars and restaurants.

“Buy low, sell high” is an investing term and casino operators are on the prowl for low-priced assets. Not all companies are transparent about buying other properties. This is an effort to keep potential interest by competitors from driving prices up.

There are some properties in Las Vegas that could be changing hands this year. New casino operators in Las Vegas could also mean there will be new sportsbook operators. This would be a nice change from the consolidation in the past couple of years.

But before we get into some of the news and rumors flying around Las Vegas right now, here’s an update on what’s open in Vegas.

Las Vegas slowly increasing capacity limits in casinos and restaurants

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak recently revealed a plan to increase capacity at businesses around the Silver State.

Open Las Vegas casinos, bars, and restaurants can now have 35% capacity instead of the 25% limit which had been in place since last year.

Restaurants may now seat six people at one table. Additionally, guests will no longer have to make a reservation for restaurants. Unsurprisingly, this was an issue for many visitors who don’t make plans when visiting Las Vegas, but would rather do things on the fly. After all, this is Vegas, baby! Anything should go.

Venues eligible for large gatherings will be capped at 20% of fixed seated capacity. This means more shows will be opening. The Vegas Golden Knights have already put together a plan to allow fans to watch games in person for the first time in a year.

Next capacity increase coming in March

If coronavirus cases in Nevada continue to decrease, there will be another change with how many visitors will be allowed in businesses. If all goes well, casinos, bars and restaurants will be allowed 50% capacity on March 15. Coincidentally, that’s just a few days before March Madness is scheduled to begin.

During its recent earnings call, MGM Resorts representatives said the company would like to have all of its properties operating seven days a week. Fast forward to Feb. 17 and they announced that Park MGM, Mandalay Bay and The Mirage will resume daily operations on March 3.

May 1 could be the next capacity increase

The Governor is planning on re-addressing the capacity limits again by May 1. If coronavirus case numbers continue to decrease there should a plan to increase capacities

Another thing that won’t be decided until May is the future of late-night entertainment. Adult entertainment establishments like nightclubs, strip clubs and brothels will remain closed until at least May 1.

Some nightclubs have been opened as cocktail lounges. The experience isn’t the same as there are still capacity limits. These are not venues for loud music and dancing. Meanwhile, dayclubs and pool parties are planning to open as soon as March 5. Capacity limits will be in place so expect that the experience won’t be the same as pre-coronavirus parties.

Las Vegas is slowly getting closer to being open to 100% capacity. It will take some time before limits are back to normal. Auto traffic to Las Vegas was only down 12% last year. However, the number of passengers who deplaned in Las Vegas was down 57%, according to the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority.

About half the visitors to Las Vegas fly to Sin City from around the world. The Las Vegas experience will be closer to “normal” when potential visitors are comfortable flying again, especially international travelers. This essentially means few coronavirus cases and more people getting the vaccine.

New Las Vegas casinos opening this year

There will be at least two casinos opening in Las Vegas this year. Virgin Hotels Las Vegas recently announced it will be opening on March 25. The Mohegan Sun Casino inside the hotel will be open on that date as well. However, it looks as though Betfred won’t be taking bets until the summer.

Resorts World Las Vegas is on schedule to open this summer. Word on the street is that it will open shortly before Memorial Day Weekend at the end of May. The actual opening date should be revealed soon.

Possible smaller casino openings

A small casino in Henderson, NV (about 25 minutes away from the Vegas Strip) should be reopening under new management this year. Eldorado Casino has a new name since being sold by Boyd Gaming. Pass Casino will receive a facelift and should be open before the year is over.

During its most recent earnings call, Red Rock Resorts (Station Casinos) said it has no plans to reopen its closed casinos any time soon. There’s no specific plan to reopen its local casinos – Fiesta Henderson, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station.

Multiple Las Vegas casinos could change hands

Multiple casinos could change hands regardless of the pandemic. For example, Caesars has been planning to sell a property since before the merger with Eldorado Resorts was finished last year.

The company could sell Planet Hollywood, Bally’s or both. Rumors continue about Planet Hollywood so that might be the next Las Vegas casino to change hands this year.

Similar to increasing resort fees and short pouring liquor, any Caesars casino sale would be part of cutting expenses to increase profit.

Penn National Gaming (PNG) didn’t mention the Tropicana once during its recent earnings call. The casino across the street from MGM Grand, New York-New York and Excalibur isn’t participating in PNG’s latest hotel partnership announcement either. The company sold the land under the casino last year and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see someone else take over casino operations this year. The casino is on the market for less than $350 million. That’s a relative bargain compared to other casinos that could be sold.

Luxury properties could be on the move

Blackstone Real Estate has made major renovations since buying The Cosmopolitan in 2014. The plan has always been for the real estate company to flip the property. The casino has been on the market since 2019 but hasn’t found a buyer yet. The estimated $4 billion asking price will likely keep bargain hunters away for the time being.

There are rumors that The Venetian could be sold this year. However, there are also rumors that the casino has been pulled off the market. Like the Cosmopolitan a high asking price estimated at $6 billion might be a bit much for most casino operators. For what it’s worth, The Venetian price includes The Palazzo and Sands Convention Center.

Possible off-strip deals

Station Casinos says it’s keeping Palms closed until leisure tourists return to Las Vegas. The company could also be holding onto the property while prices appear to be on the low side. During its recent earnings call, Station Casinos seemed more interested in building a new off-strip casino – Durango Station – instead of reopening Palms or other closed properties. Station Casinos could sell Palms to raise money to build a new casino for its core Las Vegas locals market.

Rio All-Suite Casino and Hotel could see a new operator this year or next year. Caesars sold the property in 2019 and currently lease the property. Caesars might renew the lease but the new owners are planning for the future of the property that may not include the current tenant.

Who’s buying Las Vegas casinos?

There are potentially more than a handful of Las Vegas casinos that could change hands this year. The possible buyers aren’t being too loud about their interest in most properties. Speaking about deals could drive up prices and nobody wants to do that.

The large casino corporations don’t give firm forward-looking statements to keep onlookers away from potential deals. Rumors passed on usually come from third parties that might be ancillary to any possible purchases.

First casino sold but won’t be opening soon

Las Vegas already has a new casino owner this year. Koch Real Estate and Fontainebleau Development teamed up to purchase the casino formerly known as The Drew and Fontainebleau. The future of the big blue unfinished property on the north end of the Vegas Strip is unclear right now.

More casino buying rumors

In 2009, Boyd Gaming made an offer to buy Station Casinos. There have been rumblings for the past couple of years that Boyd, owner of Gold Coast, the Orleans, and Fremont casinos, could make a play for some Station Casinos properties. Palms may not fit the local’s casino brand for Boyd Gaming. However, Texas Station and the other closed Station Casinos properties could make sense.

Hard Rock International purchased the rights to Hard Rock Las Vegas last year. The company appears to be moving forward with its plan to buy a Las Vegas casino. The company has been tied to Caesars properties but is large enough to have money to buy The Venetian or Cosmopolitan.

The San Manuel tribe in California has been making donations to various efforts in Nevada over the past year or so. The tribe could be setting up a foundation to purchase one of the casinos on the market.

DeSimone Gaming purchased Eldorado Casino late last year. The new name of the property will be Pass Casino and it has plans to invest and reopen the property this year.

New sportsbook operators coming to Las Vegas

At this point, there’s only one new sportsbook operator planning to open up shop in Las Vegas this year. Betfred will operate the sportsbook at the Mohegan Sun Casino inside Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. Mohegan Sun will operate the sportsbook if there’s a problem with Betfred getting a gaming license.

The other new casino opening in Las Vegas this year could have a new sportsbook operator for the state. While a sportsbook operator hasn’t been announced for Resorts World there are three options on the table.

Rumors persist that Resorts World has been negotiating with an existing US sportsbook operator that is not in Las Vegas yet. Resorts World has supposedly been negotiating with an existing Nevada sportsbook operator to run its sportsbook. Lastly, there’s also a rumor that the casino good operate the sportsbook itself. The company should make an announcement soon as it should open in a few months.

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Online Sportsbooks could be coming soon

One thing holding back rapid sportsbook operators from entering Nevada is the mobile registration signup rule. Unlike most states, players have to physically walk into a casino to set up a mobile sports betting account.

The online sportsbook apps don’t need a retail sportsbook to operate and see this as a hindrance to entering the state. If this rule is changed, watch out for an influx of new sportsbook operators in Las Vegas.

Potential online sportsbooks coming to Las Vegas

Wynn Bet is planning to take online bets in 10 or more states this year. However, the company has not launched in Nevada yet. Las Vegas is the only US city with a retail Wynn sportsbook. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Wynn Bet launch in Las Vegas in the future.

Las Vegas Sands (The Venetian) is exploring online casinos and sports betting. If the company decided to enter the market they could possibly take over operations at The Venetian and The Palazzo.

Hard Rock International just started a company similar to what Las Vegas Sands is exploring. Hard Rock Digital was created for online casino games and sports betting. If Hard Rock buys a Las Vegas casino don’t be surprised to see the company operate its own sportsbook.

Boyd Gaming has a partnership with FanDuel to operate its sportsbooks. The deal is operational outside of Nevada. While it’s not as easy as flipping a switch, FanDuel should be coming to Boyd Gaming properties in Las Vegas someday.

Here’s a fun one: Bally’s Corp. does not own Bally’s Las Vegas…yet. Late last year the company purchased Bet.Works and will form its own sportsbook operation. Over the past year, Bally’s been buying casinos around the country. Based on the name alone it might make sense for Bally’s to buy Bally’s from Caesars. If this happens there could be another sportsbook operator in Las Vegas.

Pass Casino in Henderson is supposedly spending $800,000 to renovate its sportsbook. That’s a lot of money for an off-strip locals casino. Don’t be surprised to see a new sportsbook operator to Nevada take over operations even though William Hill operates the sportsbook at the owners other property, Railroad Pass.

There is one sportsbook operator not likely to enter the Las Vegas market. PNG is planning on making its Barstool Sports app available in about 10 states this year. Nevada isn’t one of those states. Unless something changes the Barstool Sports betting app won’t be coming to Las Vegas.

Photo by John Locher / Associated Press
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Marc Meltzer

Marc grew up on the mean streets of the South Bronx. He's the rare combination of Yankees and Jets fan which explains his often contrarian point of view. Marc is a freelance writer and social media consultant. Writing about steak, booze, gambling and Las Vegas is a tough job but somebody has to do it.

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