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Top 10 Las Vegas business stories of 2019

There was hardly a dull moment in Las Vegas’ business community in 2019. From mega-deals involving some of the valley’s most well-known resorts to investigations into prominent business leaders, it was a year to remember.

Here are the 10 biggest local business stories of 2019, as selected by the Review-Journal staff:

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10. Return of Sahara

In August, SLS Las Vegas announced that it would be circling back to the iconic Sahara name. The 1,720-room property had been operating as the SLS for five years. The change comes after Meruelo Group founder Alex Meruelo, owner of the Grand Sierra in Reno, purchased the property in 2017 and is part of a $150 million renovation and rebranding project. The property originally opened in 1952.

9. Sale of Bonnie Springs

Developer Joel Laub closed his $25 million purchase of Bonnie Springs Ranch, a decades-old desert attraction west of Las Vegas, in April. The replica Old West town, which closed in March amid the pending sale, offered mock gunfights and hangings, a petting zoo, horseback riding and a motel. Laub drew up plans for 20 custom-home lots, a 25-room motel, a restaurant and a 5,400-square-foot event barn.

8. Housing slowdown

Las Vegas’ housing market cooled off in 2019 after a heated run sparked affordability concerns. Home prices grew at a much slower pace than in 2018, builders closed fewer sales, and the once-shrunken tally of listings without offers climbed back up.

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7. Building of Circa

Downtown Las Vegas casino owner Derek Stevens announced the name and details of his planned 777-room resort at Main and Fremont streets. Circa will open its doors in late 2020, and throughout 2019, Stevens provided updates on the project, including details of a three-level sportsbook, a six-pool swimming deck that will double as an outdoor amphitheater, and the “Garage Mahal,” a parking structure that will serve as a first-of-its-kind ride-hailing hub.

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6. MGM 2020

On Jan. 3, MGM Resorts International announced plans to cut its U.S. staff. The MGM 2020 initiative lays the groundwork for the company’s digital transformation and is meant to improve cash flow by $200 million annually by the end of 2020 and an additional $100 million by the end of 2021. By May, MGM had eliminated 1,070 jobs. More than 80 percent of those were Las Vegas employees, many of whom said they struggled finding new work in the Las Vegas hospitality market.

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5. Stadium naming rights

Las Vegas-based Allegiant Travel Co., parent company of Allegiant Air, in August won the naming rights for the 65,000-seat, $2 billion football stadium that will become home to the Raiders and UNLV’s football team next year. The Allegiant Stadium naming was one of the first of several partnership deals signed by the Raiders as they prepare to move into the new venue and a new Henderson headquarters in 2020.

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4. $17.3 billion merger

The $17.3 billion merger between Reno-based Eldorado Resorts and Caesars Entertainment Corp. was announced in June. Eldorado CEO Thomas Reeg told investors in November that he expects the company to close its acquisition of Caesars within the first three months of next year. The combined company plans to take the Caesars name — with its existing debt — and keep its headquarters in Reno. The merger is slated to create the largest casino company in the world by gaming assets and is still pending regulatory approval.

3. Wynn investigations

State gaming regulators fined Wynn Resorts Ltd. a record $20 million in February over violations of state gaming regulations for failing to act on allegations of sexual harassment and assault by co-founder Steve Wynn, who denies the accusations. Later, he was named personally in a state Gaming Control Board complaint, and the Nevada Gaming Commission in December determined it has the authority to discipline him, a decision that is expected to be appealed to Clark County District Court.

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2. Las Vegas resort sales

2019 was a big year for resort sales. Caesars Entertainment Corp. closed its sale of the Rio to Dreamscape Companies for $516.3 million Dec. 5. In October, MGM Resorts International agreed to sell Circus Circus to Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin for $825 million. Hooters Hotel was sold to India-based hotel company Oyo in August. And in November, MGM closed the $4 billion sale-leaseback of the Bellagio to The Blackstone Group.

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1. LVCVA gift card scandal

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority continued to endure a scandal involving executives’ personal use of Southwest Airlines gift cards acquired with taxpayer money. Former LVCVA President and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter, who retired in 2018, had a consulting contract terminated before its scheduled completion while Chief Marketing Officer Cathy Tull and Brig Lawson, who oversaw business partnerships for the organization, both resigned last year. All three face felony charges.

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