MGM Mirage

[The Strip Sense]

For MGM Resorts, bad luck isn’t only in the cards

The charred upper floors of the Monte Carlo show where a fire broke out Friday, Jan. 25, 2008.
Photo: Sam Morris

The flames devoured the roof at such a dramatic pace that the Monte Carlo seemed doomed. Somehow, amid that horrifying imagery, I reached MGM Resorts spokesman Alan Feldman for an update. Feldman was uncharacteristically shaken, asking, “What else could possibly happen?”

What else, indeed. That fire was less devastating than it looked, with no serious injuries and an insurance payout to fund a beautiful top-floor redesign. But in the annals of star-crossed corporations, it is difficult to think of one to suffer a longer parade of more peculiar mishaps than MGM Resorts.

The Feldman exchange came to mind after a week in which the company contended with a Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak at Aria and engaged in a public brawl with builder Perini that seems likely to end with an unused $500 million building imploded before ever opening.

Both are things of weirdness. Legionnaires’ has hit Vegas before, but at places like decrepit Polo Towers. Aria is, by contrast, new and sparkly; a waterborne infection is hard to fathom. It means nothing and is easily fixed, but MGM execs had to wonder again what they’d done to offend the gods.

The depressing Harmon saga is wilder still. A hotel-condo conjured by the firm of Lord Norman Foster, one of our greatest living architects, was built wrong and probably will be demolished. Scour the globe and the web and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any example of such an esteemed designer with such a budget in such a high-profile development facing such a fate. Not even in this nation rich with legendary government-built construction boondoggles have we seen something like this.

These two are mere cappers, though, to a string of events that question in a metaphysical sense whether these folks ought to even be in the luck business.

Consider this abbreviated hit list, which leaves off the financial drama surrounding CityCenter, because that was the result of specific decisions by top management:

• An onstage tiger attack in 2003 nearly kills a Vegas icon, Roy Horn, and ends one of the most storied Strip careers.

• An Easter 2004 power failure shutters the iconic Bellagio for four days, costing at least $20 million in lost revenue. Staffers snack on expensive, spoiling leftovers and overheated security dogs swim in the unfiltered pools.

• In 2007, the new reservation system crashes for seven MGM properties in three states, including Bellagio. Front-desk folk manually assign rooms, a painstaking and inexact process in which some guests are embarrassingly assigned to the same rooms.

• Mandalay Bay loses a three-day Goldman Sachs conference in early 2009 after President Obama makes the bailout-imbibing bankers uncomfortable about chilling in Vegas.

• In 2010, Vdara guests discover a design flaw in which the sun intensifies as it reflects onto the pool deck from the hotel’s concave glass façade, allegedly melting plastic and singeing hair. (The story melted away, too. Not even a mention in 2011.)

• Last Christmas Eve, a gunman holds up a craps table for $1.5 million in chips and escapes on a motorcycle.

What else could possibly happen? Let’s just say I’d rather not stand beside CEO Jim Murren in an electrical storm.

On a vaguely related note, I also mourn ex-MGM CEO Terry Lanni, who died last week at 68 following a monumental career overseeing two of the most significant companies in gaming history. May he rest in peace.

Follow Steve on Twitter at TheStripPodcast or head to for his blog and weekly celeb-interview podcast, The Strip. E-mail him at [email protected]

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