The M National

The M National

10 Oct 2010 | 11:08 Author: Francesca Soler

On March 1, 2009, I left my home in Rexville, drove over to the brand-spanking-new M Resort, and took some video of the interior mere minutes after the property opened its doors to the filthy public.  As a matter of fact, the video still lives on YouTube:

Even though I thought the property was visually attractive, I felt that the opening was horribly bungled.

For instance, only "VIPs" were allowed to watch the opening fireworks from within the M property line.  Everyone else was forced to park on the side of public roads or watch the show from afar.  Non-VIPs were not even allowed to park in the M parking lot until after the fireworks ended.  In my opinion, this was a miscalculation as it left a terrible first impression amongst the unwashed rank-and-file customers ... people who comprise about 99% of the M's customer base.

Sure, all new Vegas businesses inexplicably launch by shitting on their target demographic, but for a year prior I had been assured that "The Marnells" were different.  I was told that they somehow possessed a special genius when it came to catering to the local customer base, and this is why I was quite surprised to see the exclusivity of the first day.  The pretentious "VIP-centric" opening was evidence to me that the Marnells were not all that different from their competition.

The insulting opening and the ridiculous $25 "resort fee" (which has since been done away with) made it difficult for me to bond with the property at first, and those two things are also why I don't feel too bad about the following development:

Penn National Gaming, Inc has purchased the outstanding debt of the M Resort casino-hotel in Las Vegas for $230.5 million.

"This should put [Penn National] in a position to eventually own the asset," Brian McGill, an analyst at Janney Capital Markets, said in a research note.

The M Resort, developed by the Marnell family and located on 90 acres about 10 miles south of the Las Vegas Strip, was built at a cost of $1 billion and opened in March 2009, at the height of the financial crisis that continues to buffet Las Vegas, where foreclosures are rampant and unemployment is high.

"While we don't view the acquisition as a major positive in the near term given the depressed Las Vegas locals market, we believe Penn purchased a nice asset for a fraction of the total project cost ($230.5 million for a $1 billion facility) that doesn't need any maintenance capex over the next several years," J.P. Morgan analyst Joseph Greff said in a research note.

Penn came close earlier this year to acquiring the bankrupt and unfinished Fontainebleau resort, which sits at the northern end of the Las Vegas Strip, but in the end was outbid by financier Carl Icahn.

Hey Marnell brothers, where are the VIPs now?

Remember the folks you trotted around for hours pre-opening and treated to a fantastic fireworks show as Vegas locals sat and watched at stoplights?  The superficial fair-weather friends who never miss a chance to see and be seen.  The media, wannabe-media, celebrities, and wannabe celebrities.

Yeah, those VIPs. 

Couldn't they at least stick around and play long enough to help you make your interest payments?


I'm shocked ... shocked I tell you!

I digress.

I'm probably being unfair since every property opens in this manner, but perhaps that's Vegas' problem.  It forgets the little guy at its own peril.

Aside from my minor problems with the bullshit outlined above, I eventually came around and found the M Resort to be an attractive place.

I've been back over half a dozen times since the joint opened, and I've always enjoyed decent odds coupled with very good service.  In addition, I've found the M Resort Studio B Buffet to be of admirably high quality for an off-strip joint.  The M certainly gives the Red Rock a run for its money as the finest resort located more than 5 miles from the Bellagio.

Reality is reality, however, and the Marnells financed their property under grossly unfavorable terms at a grossly unfavorable time.  The big banks got bailed out for their unwise risk taking, but everyone else has to pay up.  Because of this, it appears that the M Resort will have a new owner in the near future.

Frankly, I don't expect a huge change at the M if/when this happens.  After all, besides a new name, what else is there to do?  The resort is already a pretty solid offering, and if it can weather the rest of the depression there is no reason that it wouldn't thrive as Green Valley Ranch did during the roaring 00's.  This all assumes that the Vegas Depression will end, of course, and I am not convinced that it will ... but August gaming win and visitation was up significantly ... so there are signs of hope.

I'd like to think the depression has humbled some of the resort executives and has taught them not to spit in the eye of their core constituency, but I'm sure I'm giving them too much credit.  As 6:5 blackjack and resort fees continue unabated, I think the recovery will continue to be low, slow, and incognito.

In any event, the "M" portion of the M Resort may someday be a thing of the past.

May its new benefactors treat it with kindness.

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