|By Ed Komenda, Las Vegas
SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 19, 2013--It's not often casinos dump truckloads of cash into projects that take customers out of buildings and put them under the sun.
But that's the idea behind MGM Resorts International's new $100 million plan to transform land along the Strip between New York-New York and the Monte Carlo into an outdoor plaza and mall, anchored by shops, restaurants and a park.
The project -- which aims to spruce up the now-cluttered passage between the two casinos -- smashes the long-held belief that resort operators want people to stay inside, get lost in a maze of games, bask in artificial light and landscapes, and spend more money along the way.
Experts say MGM's park is part of a growing trend that's pushing the business model out of the casino and into the community.
"Clearly, this shows the recognition of and move toward open spaces and navigability," said Bo Bernhard, a fifth-generation Las Vegan and director of UNLV's International Gaming Institute. "Openness wins."
Research has shown casino patrons don't like feeling shut in.
In a random sample of Las Vegas slot players in 2003, UNLV mathematician Tony Lucas found that players were more satisfied in areas that were easier to navigate.
"People don't want to feel trapped," Bernhard said. "When was the last time you felt frustrated with a design or layout of a place and were immediately inclined to consume more there?"
Revenue on riverboats illustrates the point, too.
The most secluded games, located on the boats' upper decks, typically attract the lowest revenue because people want to be around other people. Customers avoid seclusion and enclosed spaces, Bernhard said.
As a general rule, slot revenue decreases with each deck that's added; the least secluded first floor pulls in the highest amount of money while the top deck attracts the lowest.
Resort executives are taking heed.
"Today's customer wants to be out in the open and wants to be independent," said Jim Murren, MGM Resorts' CEO. "They don't want to be told what to do. They don't want to be captured and trapped in any kind of resort."
Take a peek at artist renderings of the development and you'll notice the MGM project resembles more of a downtown neighborhood than a thoroughfare between resorts.
In the coming weeks, the company expects to turn the crowded sidewalk between New York-New York and the Monte Carlo into a tree-dotted plaza lined with benches, food trucks and shops.
Steps away from those stores, the replica of the Brooklyn Bridge will remain. Coming attractions will include a beer garden and Shake Shack, a high-end burger restaurant made famous in New York.
Then, there's the plaza, intended as a transitional space leading to a 20,000-seat arena slated for a plot of land behind the two casinos.
MGM isn't alone in its vision. Several local casino companies are bringing their business outdoors.
Caesars Entertainment has long planned to open the Linq, an outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment promenade between the Flamingo and Quad anchored by a 550-foot-tall observation wheel. Construction on the project is underway now.
On the 63rd floor of Steve Wynn's Encore, five private gaming parlors offer floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing natural light to pour into the rooms.
And the Cosmopolitan's Boulevard Pool has become a popular stop for concertgoers who once had to drive to Fremont Street to catch an outdoor show. The resort's open-air pool overlooks the heart of the Strip and uses a communal atmosphere to attract people to its movie nights and cookouts.
"Again," Bernhard said, "what resorts are trying to create are total entertainment facilities."
MGM expects to open its new entertainment district by early 2014.
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