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Gambling Goes Green In The Vegas Desert

Written By Steve Friess | Updated:
Environmentally friendly casinos emerge

Las Vegas is a bizarre, water-sucking abuse of the natural world. Even as the Colorado River runs dry from epic drought, someone thinks it’s wise to build thousands of new homes and hotel rooms, not to mention a whole new airport. It’s a little like selling tickets for the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.

And yet, as bizarre as this sounds, the corporations that run the casino resorts there and around the world actually do seem to care about their impact on the environment.

I know, I know. Who would believe that? But as skeptical as I try to be about everything these massive conglomerates do, I’m also constantly struck by the aggressive ways they spend money and set policies to reduce water and carbon use.

I’d love to snark that it must all be a rouse to make customers feel better about their vacation habits, but that cynicism is belied by a few facts. For one, there is zero evidence that any substantial number of travelers choose their holiday destinations based on whether the building is green or the fountain’s water is recycled. Second, when was the last time a casino resort really shoved its anti-climate change measures in your face in an advertisement?

If anything, people who go on trips to Vegas – or anywhere else, really – expect to be able to indulge guilt-free in all sorts of behaviors that could be seen as toxic. They fly in airplanes, go motorboating, take long, hot showers and buy lots of food products that deploy single-use plastics.

But companies like MGM Resorts, Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts, Caesars Entertainment, IGT and Boyd Gaming all have major initiatives aimed at mitigating their environmental impact.

Read more from the State of Play column:

An industrywide effort with remarkable goals, results

Consider MGM Resorts. I remember in the Aughts learning that it had an army of employees who sort all the trash to remove the recyclable materials. I didn’t really believe it, actually. But since then I’ve seen news stories and other evidence that it’s true.

MGM really started pushing the boundaries, though, when it built the super-modern mixed-use CityCenter complex anchored by Aria and bragged about landing gold and silver LEED ratings by the U.S. Green Building Council. There was also the intriguing footnote to that in which it reclaimed 80% of the debris from the imploded Boardwalk Hotel for reuse.

That all turned out to be the preamble, though, to spending millions on its 100-megawatt, 640-acre solar array 30 miles north of Vegas that provides 90% of the daytime energy needs of its 13 hotel-casinos.

“I know your question is why we do this,” says Michael Gulich, MGM’s vice president for Environmental Sustainability and ESG Reporting, a recent hire after overseeing the green initiatives at Purdue University. “It’s just part of the DNA of the senior leadership team. It’s an important value. We don’t see it as mutually exclusive to having a good time in Las Vegas. While we’re making money, we can support those other goals.”

MGM isn’t alone, though. Boyd has a 46-page “Caring the Boyd Way” report in which one of the first topics addressed is “Why we care” to which the answer is the correct one: “As one of the largest casino operators in the United States, we strive to do our part in the collective effort to slow climate change.”

Last year, the slot-and iGaming designer IGT joined the Science Based Targets initiative, a partnership between the United Nations Global Compact, the World Resources Institute, CDP Worldwide, and the World Wide Fund for Nature that demands companies set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands, too, have similar initiatives that involve efforts to reduce waste, water use and carbon-based energy sources that date back more than a decade. Encore Boston Harbor, for instance, opened with a plan to get all of its electricity from renewable sources of power. Sands and the non-profit Clean The World linked up in 2019 to create the Drop by Drop Project, which funds environmental research and projects at the University of St. Joseph Macao and Conservation International Singapore.

That’s especially remarkable because both corporate founders and former CEOs, Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson, have also spent portions of their fortunes backing Republican politicians who openly insist climate change is a liberal hoax to control the public.

MGM Vegas solar panel fieldMaybe casino execs are human after all?

Perhaps you’re unconvinced, and that’s fine. In theory, it would be better if there were not a city of 2 million people that draws more than 40 million visitors with more than 150,000 hotel rooms in one of the world’s driest deserts.

But it’s there already. And people love it. And those people would be going somewhere else to waste water and pollute the air anyway. So I, for one, am happy that there’s some motivation, however mysterious, propelling gambling resort executives to do all of this.

Neither the marketplace nor the law demands it. Maybe, amid all the artifice of Vegas and other casino destinations, this is – dare I say it – genuine.

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Written by
Steve Friess

Steve Friess writes the State of Play column for PlayUSA twice a week. He's a veteran gambling-industry reporter who began covering Las Vegas in 1996 and covered the openings of resorts in Asia, Europe, and across the U.S. His bylines have appeared in The New York Times, Playboy, New Republic, Time, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, New York magazine, and many others. He, his husband, their children and three Poms live in Ann Arbor.

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