Paid parking/valet service is coming to the Strip via MGM Resorts, and unsurprisingly, locals have been hoisting their digital pitchforks.
Blame the forthcoming opening of the 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena and 5,000-seat theater at Monte Carlo; transportation woes on the Boulevard; and bean counting, profit maximizing and freebie slashing by corporate casinos. But the era of free parking as a loss-leader for gaming—revenues having dwindled to roughly 30 percent—appears to be ending. Questions abound, and we found some answers.
Who’s charging? Mandalay Bay, Delano, Luxor, Excalibur, MGM Grand, New York-New York, Monte Carlo, Aria, Vdara, Bellagio and Mirage, for both self- and valet parking, starting sometime in the spring. You can add the 3,000-space lot to be built behind Excalibur and due next spring, also included in MGM’s announcement. Who remains free? Circus Circus will begin charging for valet service, but not self-parking. Mandalay Bay Place shops, the Crystals mall at CityCenter and the Signature towers behind MGM Grand will be exempt from parking fees. No other casino companies or properties in the tourist corridor have said they’ll join the fray just yet.
How much? According to last Friday’s news release, those staying overnight and self-parking “will pay $10 or less.” MGM Vice President of Corporate Communications Gordon Absher elaborated to say while overnight guests “who pay the fee at one MGM property will be able to park at other MGM facilities without paying another parking fee for that day,” non-overnight guests—i.e. those coming to eat or shop—will pay a lesser rate. (A full rate schedule is forthcoming.) As far as the potential of parking validation, Absher would only say that “all guests ... will be subject to a modest parking fee,” which makes any refund unlikely.
No love for locals? MGM has only promised a residential grace period for an undetermined period of time once the fees go into effect—and when it’s over, locals (and tourists) can retain that exemption provided they’re members of MGM’s M life customer loyalty program and reach a specific credit tier (to be revealed), which means you’ll be paying one way or the other.
Does MGM offer anything for free anymore? “I’m not really sympathetic to somebody that says ‘I want everything free’ when we’re the ones spending the capital to build the amenities that are to the benefit of the tourists and the locals,” MGM CEO and chairman Jim Murren told Vegas Inc last year. The company has been scaling back amenities and incentives since last year’s launch of its Profit Growth Plan.
Is this what they call a game-changer? Sorta. MGM is the first casino entity on the Strip to jump into the tricky waters of parking fees. The gaming-free hotel Mandarin Oriental charges overnight guests for its valet service, and Downtown properties have been charging for use of their garages and lots for years, though most of them validate. Hotels in other big cities charge guests for parking—at rates much higher than $10—but they typically don’t have as many revenue streams (i.e. gaming, dining and entertainment options) as ones on the Strip, which also has a longtime tradition of incentivizing visits.
What’s stopping me from parking elsewhere? Nothing yet, though you better believe the other properties are strategizing against the use of their limited parking facilities without getting any business inside the casino, hence the conventional wisdom that other hotel-casinos will also adopt parking fees (and/or additional security/entrance measures).
What are my alternatives? There aren’t many, given our limited public transportation. The RTC buses in the tourist corridor can get awfully crowded. The monorail only hits about half of the Strip’s east side. And we appear to be years away from having a light-rail option. Locals may want to investigate park-and-ride/shuttle services.
What about Lyft or Uber? Good luck paying under $10 for a one-way trip from residential Vegas to the Strip, let alone for round-trip service or during peak hours, when price surging can exponentially raise rates.
What else is gonna suck about this? Possible longer ingress with gated entrances (where drivers will receive tickets to insert into a payment station just before exiting the garage or lot). Rental-car agencies could take a hit if tourists flying in reconsider hassling with a car during their stay. And off-Strip destinations may see a downturn in patronage if fewer tourists are driving around during their visits.
Will a boycott work? Probably not. MGM surely anticipated this response and felt empowered by Vegas’ steadily growing visitor base. Will locals hold out when their favorite concert acts—or a potential Las Vegas hockey team—come to MGM’s many venues? Time will tell, but if you’re still steaming, visit facebook.com/groups/boycottmgm/.