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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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Business Videos
MGM Resorts last Las Vegas operator standing in Osaka bid - VIDEO
Japan is getting ready to issue three highly coveted gaming licenses. The country’s gaming market is estimated to be worth more than $25 billion a year once resorts open in 2025. If the estimates stand up, Japan would become the second-largest gaming market in the world behind Chinese gaming enclave Macau. MGM and at least eight other companies had been vying for the Japanese licenses. In 2019 Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Resorts Ltd. turned their attention to other areas. Caesars Entertainment Corp. dropped out of the race altogether. MGM teamed up with Japanese financial services group Orix for its bid for a gaming license. MGM/Orix group was the only one to participate in the RFP process. "We think MGM is in a very good position in Osaka at this point" - Union Gaming analyst John DeCree
Plans for luxury hotel on south Las Vegas Strip - VIDEO
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Two years until “I Do” - VIDEOY
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Chairman, CEO of MGM Resorts Jim Murren stepping down - VIDEO
MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren will be stepping down as chairman and CEO. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wynn Las Vegas opens new convention center space - VIDEO
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New report shows January home sales jump - VIDEO
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Newest tech gadgets at store in Forum Shops at Caesars - VIDEO
A new store at Forum Shops at Caesars, b8ta, encourages shoppers to play with the hottest tech gadgets. (Elizabeth Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Preview Las Vegas 2020 - VIDEO
Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, hints at new branding slogan for Las Vegas, which will no longer be “What happens here, stays here.” The new slogan will be unveiled Jan. 26 during the Grammy Awards. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
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The Blackstone Group has partnered with MGM Resorts to acquire more properties - VIDEO
A few months after the Blackstone Group bought the Bellagio for more than $4 billion, it has partnered with MGM Resorts on a deal to acquire two other Las Vegas Strip properties. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Young Innovator Award winner explains ReDawn - VIDEO
Sofia Ongele explains ReDawn, which uses a Chatbot named Dawn to help users find resources after a sexual assault. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: MedWand ties for title of Last Gadget Standing - VIDEO
Dr. Samir Qamar of Las Vegas presents MedWand, a medical device that allows physicians to examine patients remotely anywhere in the world, at CES 2020. (Elizabeth Page Brumley /Las Vegas Review-Journal) @elipagephoto
CES Flying Taxis
Bell Nexus EX4 and Hyundai SA-1 flying taxi prototypes from CES 2020. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020 attendees rides in autonomous BMWs - VIDEO
BMW is pitching its reconfigured i3 Urban Suite, which holds a single passenger on a lounge-style seat, as the possible future of chauffeured rides at CES 2020. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: Small appliances unveiled in Las Vegas - VIDEO
The small appliances on show at Sands Expo at CES 2020 in Las Vegas include a Keurig cocktail maker, autonomous cooking system, nitrogen coffee ampules and more. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: The scooter that will remind you of Wall-E - VIDEO
Segway unveiled the egg-shaped S-Pod Scooter at CES 2020 that’s a seated version of their original scooter that can reach 24mph. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: Before the floor opens at Sands Expo on Day One - VIDEO
CES 2020 opened its doors at 10 a.m. Tuesday, welcoming more than 170,000 attendees to the annual electronics show. (Elizabeth Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: A suitcase that follows you, video games to heal you at Pepcom's Digital Experience - VIDEO
Get a glance at Pepcom’s Digital Experience! a showcase of products that will be at this week’s CES convention. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: Impossible Foods Inc. Debuts Impossible Pork - VIDEO
At a pre-CES news conference at Mandalay Bay’s Kumi restaurant Monday night, a company representative announced that the participants were the “first people in the world” to try the new plant-based product, which it provided as samples in the form of Impossible Pork banh mi, char siu buns, dan dan noodles, pork katsu, pork shumai and sweet-sour-and-numbing meatballs.
CES 2020: Impossible Foods debuts Impossible Pork in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Before a packed press conference at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Impossible Foods executives introduced Impossible Pork, its newest product. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: The Future of Transportation - VIDEO
Many automotive companies at CES unveil their plans for the future of transportation including safer driverless cars, safety features and a partnership between Uber and Hyundai. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: What you've missed so far - VIDEO
Catch up on the tech and events presented at CES 2020. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2020: Samsung debuts 8k TV, MicroLED TV - VIDEO
2020 is set to be a major year for 8k screens, according to Samsung executives. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review Journal)
Las Vegas resorts welcome dogs to stay
Las Vegas properties are welcoming dogs more than ever. MGM Resorts International announced a new dog-friendly program across all of its Las Vegas properties in December. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Musk 'hopeful' for 2020 completion of underground Las Vegas project - VIDEO
Elon Musk tweeted Friday night that The Boring Company’s underground tunnel project in Las Vegas will be “hopefully fully operational” within the next year. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
World Market Center celebrates topping-off ceremony - VIDEO
Las Vegas elected officials including Councilman Cedric Crear attend topping-off ceremony for the Expo at World Market Center in Las Vegas.
MSG Sphere in Las Vegas will be the largest spherical building in the world - VIDEO
The Madison Square Garden Sphere at The Venetian has now been under construction for about one year and is expected to be completed in 2021. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Aria still thriving after 10 years - VIDEO
The Aria opened on the heels of the Great Recession and managed to survive. It is now known for its art, environmental sustainability and poker. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
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