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MGM Resorts layoffs filled with Vegas industry vets

Updated May 4, 2020 - 12:01 pm

The aftermath of MGM Resorts International’s upper-level layoffs Friday: Fewer executives will have expanded responsibilities. High-ranking officials are heading up operations at multiple resorts to cover those who have been terminated as the company narrows its management team in COVID-19 cost-cutting.

A list of the new leadership model, shared by company spokesman Brian Ahern on Friday afternoon, shows the remaining MGM executives controlling the Strip market will be in charge of two or three properties each.

In restructuring, the company has reportedly moved Mandalay Bay President Chuck Bowling to a dual role with that hotel and Luxor; Anton Nikodemus, former chief operating officer of regional operations, is now heading up Bellagio and Park MGM/NoMad, Michael Neubecker of the MGM Grand is now also running New York-New York, and Nik Rytterstrom, president of The Mirage, has also taken on the president position at Excalibur. Steve Zanella remains president of Aria and Vdara.

In his expanded role, Nikodemus also oversees all of the company’s Las Vegas properties.

MGM Resorts pared its team by letting go of four of its presidents in widespread cost-cutting moves announced Friday. Randy Morton of Bellagio, Cindy Kiser Murphey of New York-New York, Cliff Atkinson of Luxor and Eric Fitzgerald of Excalibur were all laid off. Several corporate heads were also let go.

Also cut from the company were such well-established execs as Senior Vice President of Entertainment and Operations Mark Prows, Vice President of Entertainment and Outdoor Spaces Daren Libonati, Vice President of Corporate Entertainment Marketing Suzanne Richardson; and Vice President of Corporate Ticketing Cynthia Jones.

All were industry veterans. Prows had been with the company more than 25 years. Libonati, a UNLV grad, has served as a live-event manager since his days at the Thomas & Mack Center and Sam Boyd Stadium in 1988, including two stints with the MGM Grand. Richardson worked at AEG Live for more than a decade before signing on with MGM Resorts in March 2019. Jones’ tenure in the company’s box-office operations dates to 1995.

Acting MGM Resorts CEO Bill Hornbuckle has said New York-New York and Bellagio would reopen first, along with a not-yet-determined third property. No timeline has been set for those hotels to return to business, though the state Gaming Control Board did post requirements late Friday for reopening.

Josh Swissman, founding partner of Las Vegas gaming and hospitality consulting firm The Strategy Organization, said it would make sense for MGM to look at cutting back the number of executives controlling regional properties next and that he believes the move suggests “additional announcements are coming.”

“In the short term, (letting go of these executives) makes sense because of the phased opening approach and because of the … lower demand that everyone’s expecting,” he said.

Prows put the COVID-19 layoffs in human terms. The industry vet posted a message on Facebook on Saturday, saying his career with the company had “ended abruptly with a Microsoft TEAMS phone call from my beloved boss and an HR VP. No parties, no fanfare. Just a choked up and somber big-hearted man introducing me to what is next.

“I want to assure you that MGM has been nothing but amazing to me over all these years and technically did all the right things in my separation agreement … and I thank them for that!”

Prows said he cried at the news, hugged his fiancée, Christi Horst Trent, and ended his post with “my job does not define who I am … and that I have amazing friends and family who will support me and help lead me to the next ‘promised land.’ ”

Libonati posted Saturday night that he’d embarked on a 30.78-mile bicycle ride to reflect on his his career and future.

“No matter what chapter I opened in my entertainment memories, from 1988 in the parking lot of the Thomas & Mack to yesterday, sending out a goodbye message to my team, I find myself cherishing all the ‘Moments of Truth,’ ” said Libonati, whose team was on site and acting as first responders at the Oct. 1 shootings at the Route 91 Harvest festival in 2017. “The moments with my co-workers, teammates, guests, vendor teams, franchises, artists, agents, managers and so on. You know who you are.

“I’ve always understood and most importantly believed in the process of the task; the time, thinking, ability to create, and finally how we execute. To me, the process has been home to my most rewarding memories. As I reflected on my ride, I came to realize that it never mattered to me what position I was playing on the team … It’s always been about the collaboration of the people involved. The ability to create a vision of what we want to accomplish and share it with a team … That to me is priceless.”

NF’s hope

Since 2011, Jeff Leibow has raised funds and awareness for the Neurofibromatosis Network, which supports families suffering from the genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on any nerve in the body without warning. Leibow and his wife, Melody, and 10-year-old daughter, Emma, are not letting COVID-19 stop this year’s event.

Leibow, who co-starred in “Jersey Boys” at Palazzo Theater and Paris Theater, is taking the NF Hope Concert online at 7 p.m. Monday on the organization’s Facebook Live and YouTube pages. Donate to the effort during the livestream, or after, on those platforms.

Scheduled to perform are sax great Dave Koz, Debbie Gibson, ex-“Jersey Boys” co-stars Travis Cloer, Erich Bergen and Deven May; ex-“Baz” cast member Ruby Lewis; former “Phantom” and “Million Dollar Quartet” cast member Kristen Hertzenberg; Ben Hale, also from “MDQ”; and “American Idol” finalist Jasmine Trias.

Emma Leibow suffers from the disease, and Jeff Leibow has headed up the NF Hope Foundation since leaving the “Jersey Boys” cast in 2014.

Leibow says his daughter is fine, but she and the entire family are suffering from cabin fever.

“Fortunately we have a backyard and a trampoline,” he says. “We’re learning front flips. Next, it’s back flips.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats! podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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