More bullishness for Las Vegas in 2023 after records set in 2022
The optimism started with a strong finish to 2022 that had Nevada breaking its 2021 gaming revenue record by the time November ended. By the end of December, Nevada had recorded 22 consecutive months in which gaming revenue exceeded $1bn. The 2022 figure of $14.8bn was 10.5% higher than in 2021.
But what topped it off was how the Strip, in one of its slowest periods of the year in December, set an all-time revenue record of $814.1m, a 25% increase over December 2021 when Omicron slowed visitation.
During 2022, the Strip took in $8.2bn in revenue, a 17.1% increase over the $7bn in 2021. That’s without visitation numbers, including foreign travel and convention business, returning to normal.
A respectable 38.8 million visitors came to Las Vegas in 2022. While that figure is 20.5% higher than 2021, it is still 8.7 million below the pre-pandemic levels of 42.5 million in 2019.
Convention business continued to bounce back, with nearly 5 million attendees – up from 2.2 million in 2021. But that’s still well below the 6.6 million who visited in 2019.
That’s important because pre-Covid, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimated that the average convention visitor spent around $970 per trip, about 22% more than the $792 average per-trip direct spend of a leisure visitor.
All that helped Las Vegas reach 79% occupancy for the year, but even that was down nearly 10 points from 2019.
Nevada’s 296 major casinos generated $4.1bn in net income during the 2022 fiscal year that runs through 30 June, which is the largest amount in history. Compared to the pre-pandemic 2019 fiscal year, net income improved by $2.1bn – or 100.7%. The casinos on the Strip posted net income of $1.8bn, the second highest of all time.
The Strip casinos had a net loss of $1.95bn in fiscal 2021, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board report released in mid-January.
The rationale behind the bullish outlook lies in how 2023 has already started – and what’s to come.
In early January, CES, formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, surpassed expectations and had 115,000 attendees, 40,000 of whom were international from 140 countries. That blew past the 45,000 visitors who turned up a year ago, and the attendee numbers are expected to edge closer to the pre-Covid figure of 170,000 when CES meets again in January 2024.
Elsewhere, Las Vegas hosted 100,000 people during the last week of January as part of the International Builders Show.
The Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix is scheduled for mid-November, with 100,000 attendees expected in what is generally a slow period for Las Vegas. Visitor spending alone is estimated at just shy of $1bn for the event.
Less than two months later, Super Bowl LVIII will take place at Allegiant Stadium and that’s expected to have $600m in economic impact.
Foreign visitors are one of the last pieces en route to a full recovery from Covid-19. Las Vegas had 238,000 international passengers pass through Harry Reid International Airport last November – the most recent month available – but that is down from 305,000 in November 2019.
The return of foreign visitors made an impact in 2022 as seen in table games. Baccarat winnings recorded $148m in revenue, an increase of 68.7% over 2021. The drop of $856.7m increased 20.3%. Baccarat’s hold percentage was 17.28% versus 12.33% in 2021.
The return of Las Vegas
All this comes as the Strip is scheduled to have two new destinations open in late 2023. The $3.2bn Fontainebleau Las Vegas, which is set to open in the fourth quarter, will have 3,700 rooms next to the Las Vegas Convention Center. The $2.1bn MSG Sphere at The Venetian will open by the end of the year and will contain 17,500 seats, an exosphere with 580,000 square feet of programmable lighting, and the largest and highest-resolution LED screen on earth.
“2023 is going to be a spectacular year in Las Vegas and a special year,” says LVCVA president Steve Hill. “Lately, I have been asked a lot of questions on how we’re doing on recovery, the points we have to make up on occupancy and the headwinds that may be coming from a recession.
“Frankly, for me, I think for Las Vegas those questions are void. If we have a small recession, we’re going to roll right over it. That’s who we are. Las Vegas is a category of one. There’s not only no other place like Las Vegas, but there’s no other place that’s close.”
Hill talked about other casino resort projects planned along the Strip, including one by Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta that will bring more visitors to the city. In January, Universal Studios announced plans for a year-round horror park just off the Strip.
Simply put, people across the country and around the world want to be a part of Las Vegas, Hill says.
“What we’re going to have with the MSG Sphere is something no other city has,” he explains. “There’s not going to be any other entertainment venue like that. It’s going to open every single day of the year and is a spectacular addition to the Las Vegas community and a real difference maker.”
Meanwhile, the Formula 1 race in November will bring one of the biggest events in the world to the Strip, according to Hill.
“It’s going to be a spectacle that the world has never seen, and it will be along with the Super Bowl, if I can extend 2023 about six weeks into 2024, the two biggest events in my lifetime in Las Vegas,” he continues. “We have one opportunity to get the first race and first Super Bowl right.
“We are going to show the world what we mean by being a category of one. There is no other city in the world that even has the opportunity to try and treat 65,000 attendees at the Super Bowl or 100,000 attendees at a Formula 1 race like VIPs. We’re going to do that here and make a statement while we do it.”
Josh Swissman, a Las Vegas-based casino consultant and founder of The Strategy Organization, says there are still strong gaming months ahead in 2023 for Las Vegas and the Strip should continue to see record-breaking months. The convention calendar is strong for the first half of the year, which will drive even more visitation.
“What I do think we will see is a slowing down of the growth,” Swissman says. “Last year, it was common to see double-digit growth in gaming revenue year-over-year. Sporadically throughout the year there will be a little bit of retraction in revenue but 2023 will still be a growth year.”
A big boost to Las Vegas should come with foreign travel, he explains. Even though the US eased restrictions in November 2021, there hasn’t been a resurgence yet in travel from China.
“In pre-pandemic times, Chinese tourists and high-end gamblers and convention-goers were a pretty important part of the overall economy in Vegas,” Swissman continues. “[During the pandemic] they were basically non-existent and I think you’ll see some tailwinds there from international visitation tied to conventions, tourism and high-end gaming activity.
“Those things make me bullish. Then you have F1 and the Super Bowl coming through like a bulldozer that will have a huge economic impact on the city.”
Swissman says how big of an impact there will be from the broader economic conditions is anybody’s guess as concerns are raised that the US will at least suffer a mild recession in 2023 and 2024. The Federal Reserve continues to raise interest rates to slow the economy and inflation.
“I think for Las Vegas [the recession] probably won’t be as big as it might be in other parts of the country,” Swissman says.
Brendan Bussmann, managing partner with B Global, agrees that Las Vegas is in a good position and is well-positioned with the return of international travel and conventions since more countries like China are opening up further.
“The question that remains is how much of an impact does this recession, that either we talk ourselves out of or into depending on who you talk to, have along with the geopolitical forces that continue to plague us for the last two years,” Bussmann says.
In some areas, Bussmann says Las Vegas is already at full recovery from the downturn caused by Covid. However, he thinks it may take another six months for international air travel routes to return to the city.
“We’re continuing to move in the right direction but what do the first two quarters look like versus the last two quarters? You hope you continue that trend,” he says.
The lone negative is how gaming revenue in casinos off the Strip and in downtown Las Vegas have seen slowdowns. In December, casinos that serve locals saw revenue fall by 1.7% year-over-year compared to 2021.
Downtown Las Vegas, where revenues rose 4.5% in 2022, saw a decline of 6.9% year-over-year in December. That can be triggered by reduced disposable income caused by inflation and high fuel prices.
Tourists and other visitors, however, haven’t been deterred from rising room rates that, on average, reached $171 a night in 2022, which is 28.9% ahead of 2019.
Even David Kieske, CFO of the largest property owner on the Strip, VICI Properties, is bullish on Las Vegas going forward.
VICI is a real estate investment trust that owns one of the largest portfolios of gaming, hospitality and entertainment destinations, including Caesars Palace Las Vegas, MGM Grand, The Mirage and the Venetian Resort Las Vegas. It owns 10 properties on the Strip and has an investment in another in the Fontainebleau.
Kieske says what makes Las Vegas great is its content can’t be shipped to a home like a product from Amazon. The experiences the casinos provide to their end users with their food, entertainment and nightlife can’t be replicated, he added.
“We love Las Vegas and the Strip,” Kieske says. “No other road in America can showcase what goes on the Strip. It’s $7.5bn in gross gaming revenue and $42bn of spend. The boxes have stayed there because the operators continue to reinvent themselves and put money, attractions and new draws to the assets.”
A further sign the Strip is returning to normal is the breakdown in revenue. In the late 1990s, gaming revenue accounted for 50% of revenue but that increased to closer to two-thirds in the 2000s as it focused more on entertainment and food and beverage. That dropped back down to closer to 50% during the pandemic as many casino amenities were shuttered or limited because of Covid.
In the latest Gaming Control Board report, Strip room, food, beverage and other accounted for 69.8% of total revenue in 2022, up from their 58.9% combined share recorded in 2021. Non-gaming revenues totalled $12bn and increased $6.9bn, or 135.1%, versus 2021.
Swissman says it’s no surprise the percentage of gaming revenue dropped to its normal level with the return of the convention business, which helps non-gaming revenue more than gaming revenue.
“When you have strong shows at the end of year like the Global Gaming Expo and specialty equipment in the automotive industry show, that makes sense to me that gaming as overall revenue would start to go down,” Swissman says. “It’s a positive thing.”
For Kieske, what’s wonderful about the Strip is that casino resorts are more than just gaming properties. The Venetian has 17 million square feet but only 250,000 square feet is gaming, he says.
“It is amazing that when you think about food and beverage, the room revenue, entertainment revenue and other revenue that comes out of the city, part of the reason we love it is that it is constantly reinventing itself and bringing new things to the city like F1 and the Super Bowl. It’s a city where a 21-year-old can call it their own or a 75-year-old can call it theirs. There’s no other place like it on the planet.”
Buck Wargo is a Las Vegas-based business and gaming journalist. He’s a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times. He has a degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas and worked as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East.