MGM Closes Sale-Leaseback of Aria, Vdara in Las Vegas

MGM Resorts has closed its agreement to lease the Aria (pictured above) and Vdara hotels on the Las Vegas Strip after selling both properties to Blackstone Group for $3.89bn. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Two more assets sold

MGM Resorts International has closed a sale-leaseback arrangement with Blackstone Group for a pair of Las Vegas hotels. The two parties initially agreed on details of the deal in July this year.

In a Tuesday statement, the casino operator confirmed that it had purchased Infinity World’s 50% interest in CityCenter Holdings. The $2.13bn deal gave MGM full ownership of the Aria Resort & Casino and Vdara Hotel & Spa. They both sit on the 76-acre urban complex on the Las Vegas Strip.

MGM will pay $245m per year to rent the real estate

After completing this purchase, MGM sold the real estate of Aria and Vdara to private equity firm Blackstone for $3.89bn. The gambling firm will lease the hotels as part of the agreement, continuing to manage and operate the properties. MGM will pay $245m per year to rent the real estate.

Bill Hornbuckle, the company’s CEO and president, commented on the deal in July. He said: “This transaction demonstrates the unprecedented premium value of our real estate assets and is testament to Aria and Vdara’s status as premier destinations on the Las Vegas Strip.”

MGM backs lease agreements

The Aria and Vdara agreement follows a string of similar sale and lease deals as MGM pursues a strategy described by Hornbuckle as “asset-light.” Speaking in July this year, the chief executive said selling the properties would allow the operator to enhance its “financial flexibility and secure new growth opportunities.”

A similar major deal in 2019 saw MGM sell the Bellagio’s real estate to Blackstone for $4.2bn. The operator now pays $245m per year to rent the land. Around the same time, Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin purchased MGM’s Circus Circus Las Vegas for a total of $825m. Ruffin’s business now operates the 3,900-room hotel-casino.

In another lease agreement announced this week, MGM agreed to take over the operations of The Cosmopolitan casino resort in Las Vegas. The firm secured the deal after Blackstone sold the property for $5.65bn to three new owners. MGM will pay $1.63bn in cash to lease the real estate for 30 years, agreeing to an annual rent of $200m. This cost will increase by 2% annually for the first 15 years.

Speaking this week, MGM Resorts CFO Jonathan Halkyard said The Cosmopolitan lease would provide a greater level of choice for the company’s Las Vegas guests. In the year prior to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the hotel-casino saw net revenue of $959m.

An eye on global expansion

There is another reason for MGM’s recent asset-light approach. The company has revealed a shifting focus towards online gaming, unveiling plans to expand in markets across the world.

aim of becoming the most trusted and best-known brand in the gaming space

Halkyard outlined the company’s new strategy during a Bank of America Securities 2021 Gaming and Lodging Conference earlier this month. He said MGM will expand its operations with the aim of becoming the most trusted and best-known brand in gaming.

Noting the lack of opportunity for investment in casino resorts outside of the US, Macau, and Japan, Halkyard said the company will look to grow its online BetMGM brand internationally. This will include the implementation of an omnichannel strategy offering global customers the chance to join MGM’s M Life Rewards program.

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