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Hard Rock reveals plans to close The Mirage, gut and expand property

Updated December 8, 2022 - 7:47 pm

Hard Rock International plans to close The Mirage, gut the entire three-wing hotel and casino and spend billions to expand and upgrade the property beginning in late 2023 or 2024, the company revealed Wednesday.

Hard Rock, owned by the Seminole Indian Tribe, took a major step toward acquiring The Mirage on Wednesday when the Nevada Gaming Control Board recommended approval of its $1.08 billion purchase from MGM Resorts International.

If the sale is approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission on Dec. 22, Hard Rock CEO and President James Allen said that when the resort expands, it will increase from the 3,044 rooms The Mirage has to 3,640 rooms under the Hard Rock brand.

It also will expand the casino from 94,000 square feet to 174,000 square feet and the convention space from 200,000 square feet to 283,000 square feet. The number of slot machines will grow from 836 to 2,000 and the number of table games will go from 51 to 212.

The expanded resort will also increase the size of its theater from 3,278 seats to 6,265 and boost the number of food and beverage outlets from 18 to 21.

Hard Rock also will replace one iconic feature at The Mirage — the volcano — with a 550-foot guitar-shaped tower. Allen said he wanted to make the guitar tower even taller, to nearly 1,000 feet, but those plans were rejected by Clark County.

“Certainly the volcano is legendary, but as you saw in the renderings, the guitar-shaped hotel replaces the volcano,” he said during the hearing. Allen didn’t mention the timing of the fate of the erupting volcano, which was conceived by former Las Vegas gaming executive Steve Wynn.

The expanded and upgraded resort would look to reopen in 2025 or 2026.

Allen said current Mirage employees would be invited to retain their jobs when the property moves to Hard Rock ownership, adding that that because of the expansion, more workers are also expected to be hired.

BetMGM will continue to operate the property’s race and sportsbook.

Allen also said the Hard Rock signed an agreement to keep the Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles-themed “Love” show at the property.

During his testimony, Allen reiterated the Nov. 22 disclosure that the animals at Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat and enclosures within the resort that housed dolphins, tigers and jaguars would be permanently relocated. The attractions have already closed.

Historic vote

After Wednesday’s nearly four-hour hearing, Allen told the Review-Journal he was thrilled with the Control Board’s action.

“Certainly it’s a great day for the Hard Rock entity, and we’re looking forward to taking the next step with the Nevada Gaming Commission,” he said.

Wednesday’s vote was also a historic one.

Hard Rock would become the first operation owned by an Indian tribe to serve customers on the Strip. Two other tribal entities beat the Seminoles to Southern Nevada: Connecticut-based Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment, which opened Virgin Hotels Las Vegas in March 2021, and California’s San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, which reopened the off-Strip Palms in April.

Ironically, Virgin Hotels previously was operated as the Hard Rock Hotel by a different ownership group that also held the Hard Rock brand.

While Florida’s Seminole Indian Tribe owns the company, Allen said a separate board of gaming executives would make all decisions about resort operations.

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity, and as we stated in our testimony, we really take our hats off to MGM,” he said. “They really have maintained the property incredibly well, so we’re proud to operate it going forward until we make the change to the Hard Rock brand.”

A Las Vegas presence

Brittnie Watkins, in her first meeting as board chair, and board member Philip Katsaros voted to approve licensing of Hard Rock. After final regulatory approval, the deal is expected to close within days.

Allen said he is excited Hard Rock will have a presence in Las Vegas.

“I think Las Vegas is still the gaming and entertainment capital of the world,” he said. “I think we all understand there’s a tremendous amount of business in Macao, but it’s just not the same type of destination that Las Vegas is. It’s a monumental historic day for us to be a part of this amazing history.”

Regulators queried top executives in the licensing hearings, with many of the Seminole members of the company’s Board of Managers appearing in traditional tribal attire. Agnes Billie-Motlow and Carla Gopher greeted Control Board members in their native languages. Board of Managers member Jim Shore, who is legally blind but made the trip from Florida to Las Vegas to testify, shared some of the tribe’s history.

Katsaros said all the tribal members seeking licensing had some of the cleanest background checks he had ever seen.

The board also recommended licensing for Board of Managers member Michael Rumbolz, who recently retired as CEO of gaming equipment manufacturer Everi Holdings and once served as chairman of the Control Board.

Katsaros and Watkins offered high praise for the application.

“This property itself is iconic in that it seemed to sort of trigger the rebirth of the Strip, the new Strip that we see today,” Katsaros said prior to his motion to approve licensing. “I’m very familiar with the Seminoles’ operation, the history, the success that they’ve had in Florida and Atlantic City.

“This helps elevate our game. Are they suitable? Absolutely. There’s nothing (problematic) concerning their background. Does this help Nevada? Absolutely. This is going to elevate the game for everybody on the Strip and everybody’s going to have to have their best foot forward, I think, as we have a new competitor in town. I welcome their entrance into the market and I’m happy to support the application,” he said.

Watkins, who took over as chairwoman of the board after former Chairman Brin Gibson resigned last month, said she was appreciative of being part of a historic moment.

Watkins expects to learn by next month whether Gov.-elect Joe Lombardo will reappoint her to the board.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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