Vegas rolls the dice on CityCenter

The CityCenter development is a lot like Las Vegas -- about as subtle as a bull in a China shop.

At a cost of about $11 billion, the largest private development in the city's history features every amenity imaginable for anyone who wants to strike it rich in Sin City. Being rich already certainly wouldn't hurt, particularly if you want to live in any of CityCenter's 2,400 residences, some of which are reportedly selling for $1 million, though the Las Vegas Sun reports that some buyers are balking at the price and threatening to walk away.

The project includes everything from a two-story spa and restaurants by celebrity chefs to luxury shopping courtesy of Tiffany & Co. (TIF), Louis Vuitton and Bulgari in the 500,000-square foot retail and entertainment district. For visitors, there is an array of choices for hotels, all of them lavish.

Rooms at The ARIA Resort & Casino, a 61-story, 4,004-room gaming resort, offer "panoramic views" of the Las Vegas Strip. There are also luxury non-gaming hotels, including the Mandarin Oriental and Vdara Hotel & Spa. An official grand opening is scheduled for Dec. 16. Another hotel, the 400-room Harman, is due to open on the 68-acre site at the beginning of next year. Of course Las Vegas would not be the same without Elvis, who will "appear" at the ARIA courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.

The importance of this project -- which bills itself as the Capital of the New World -- for Las Vegas cannot be understated.

"CityCenter will have a huge impact on the Las Vegas economy," says Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman in a statement to DailyFinance. "I say my prayers every night and in those prayers I pray for CityCenter's success. If it is successful it will be a shot in the arm for Las Vegas and it will give everyone a sense of optimism."

Whether CityCenter will be a jackpot for Las Vegas remains far from certain. People are increasingly able to play casino games in their home states.
Many consumers also remain unsure about whether they will be able to hold onto their jobs as unemployment hovers above 10 percent. Some analysts argue that the development will flood the already-saturated market on the Vegas Strip, where room prices have fallen 25% from last year.

Gamblers, though, may find that a vacation at the opulent new development is more affordable than they think.

The hotels appear far from sold out. The ARIA is offering introductory rates of $169 a night on its website, along with a $75 "resort credit." Last I checked, rooms appeared to be available in February. Rooms also seemed to be available at that time at the Vdara and the Mandarin Oriental.

Of course, Rome or Las Vegas was not built in a day. It will take time to build up business for these hotels -- but it better happen fast. One sign of a "double-dip recession" and CityCenter is in big trouble. Considering how poorly some gaming IPOs have done lately, Las Vegas may have few friends on Wall Street.

For MGM Mirage (MGM), one of the developers of the project, the birth of this project has been particularly rocky. Las Vegas has been hit particularly hard by the recession. In September , total gaming win at Las Vegas casinos fell 8%. It is down 10.67% between October 2008 and September 2009, according to the Nevada State Gaming Control Board. Earlier this year, the project -- also backed by Dubai World -- flirted with bankruptcy. There also were construction delays and a nasty lawsuit among the partners, which has been resolved. CityCenter won't be affected by the recent economic troubles in Dubai, according to MGM.

The project will either be a roaring success or a spectacular failure, just like many of the gamblers who will enter its doors. That's Vegas for you.
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