When Hakkasan Group acquired Light Group at the end of 2014, the deal sent serious shockwaves up and down the Strip. The two hot new nightclubs in Las Vegas at the time—Hakkasan at MGM Grand and Light at Mandalay Bay, both opened in the spring of 2013—were suddenly under the same banner. More significantly, the once-dominant Light Group ceased to exist, and an upstart outfit that had no Strip presence just two years earlier became the largest non-gaming entertainment company in Las Vegas.
Just a couple of years later, it appears to be happening all over again, in a manner even more striking and shockwave-inducing. SBE recently announced that it’s deep into discussions to absorb Hakkasan Group’s 50 restaurants and nightlife venues in the U.S., Europe, India, Asia and the Middle East. Add that stuff (and Hakkasan’s planned expansions in Indonesia and the States) to SBE’s explosive portfolio in the U.S., London and Istanbul (plus projects in progress in Qatar, Mexico, Egypt and the Bahamas) and you’ve got something close to “the most dynamic hospitality, residential, restaurant and entertainment company in the industry,” to quote SBE CEO Sam Nazarian.
The impact is even greater on the Strip, where Hakkasan has been the biggest name in nightlife in recent years, currently operating nine restaurants, five nightclubs, three dayclubs and four casino lounges. Some of these venues are the most talked-about spots on the Strip, like Omnia at Caesars Palace, Hakkasan restaurant and nightclub, the 10-year-old Wet Republic pool club and the new Level Up “interactive” lounge. SBE’s current Vegas operations include Hyde lounge and nightclub at Bellagio, Hyde Lounge at T-Mobile Arena, Double Barrel Roadhouse restaurant and bar at Monte Carlo and the Delano hotel at Mandalay Bay.
If and when the merger is finalized, don’t expect all the Hakkasan venues to survive the transition. Remember that after it opened Omnia in 2015, Hakkasan dumped Light Nightclub that October.
Some of these venues are particularly ripe for a different kind of change. Hakkasan had been planning a full revamp of the Bank Nightclub at Bellagio this year. SBE would now operate that space, plus Hyde, plus Lily Bar & Lounge, all at Bellagio. Who knows what will happen to the Bank now?
Sleepwalking open-format club 1 OAK at the Mirage is also in need of a sprucing up, and that property also hosts the popular topless pool club Bare. SBE could easily fork these operations over to MGM Resorts if they don’t fit the company’s fresh and sexy image. And speaking of MGM, it just shuttered the only nightclub it was running itself—LAX at Luxor. Will SBE get involved with that space?
What about Jewel, owned by MGM and operated by Hakkasan and still finding its rhythm at Aria? Or Fix at Bellagio and Stack at Mirage, two Light Group-era restaurant fixtures? And how does all this affect Light Nightclub, which is owned by the Yucaipa Companies, also owners of a 25-percent stake in SBE? There’s quite a bit to sort through here.
Another huge question: What kind of presence will Nazarian have in Las Vegas equipped with this new Godzilla-sized company? When he proudly opened SLS Las Vegas in 2014, he talked about making a home here and emulating his hero Steve Wynn. (SBE no longer operates SLS in Vegas.) With this expansive, high-end collection of dining and nightlife venues on the Strip, he’ll be going head-to-head with Wynn. Will the new SBE, which The Wall Street Journal reports would have an equity value of about $1 billion, have the same independent, risk-taking spirit it showed in opening SLS back then? Or will it be a more corporate nightlife affair, closer to Hakkasan Group’s operational methods?