In the fall of 1999, my wife, daughter, and I, went to Las Vegas for a vacation. We hadn’t been there for a couple years so we were completely taken aback on a cab ride from the Mirage to Mandalay Bay when we drove by the newly renovated MGM Grand. Gone was the giant lions head entrance; replaced by a more traditional entrance and a bronze statue of Leo the Lion to keep with the Lion theme.
The hotel had only opened in 1993, which to me, was still a very new hotel. Why on earth would they spend millions to renovate a five year old hotel? I remember first checking out the hotel on a visit in 1996 and being enchanted with the Wizard of Oz theme. With the yellow brick road walk-through complete with the cornfield, apple orchard, and haunted forest, as well as audio-animatronic figures of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Wicked Witch of the West. It was all still so new and elaborate so why spend millions to change it all?
The cabbie told us that the Asian gamblers were staying away in droves. Walking through the mouth of a lion was considered bad luck in their culture and created bad feng shui. I said to the Cabbie that these renovation must have cost millions and that I couldn’t get my head around it. The cabbie just chuckled and said “In Las Vegas, it doesn’t matter how much it costs. You just have to keep the gamblers coming back and spending. That’s the only thing that matters in Vegas.” I guess he was right!
Later that week, my daughter Laura wanted to check out the MGM Grand adventures theme park. It was incredible! This was a full size amazing theme park. But it was also empty. Laura had always dreamt about having an amusement park all to herself. This was a dream come true for her. We had a huge fully staffed amusement park all to ourselves. We went on the water raft ride five times because there was no lineup. There was no line up for anything!
And again, I couldn’t reconcile my simple understanding of real world economics with the reality of Las Vegas. Why would a Hotel property spend a fortune to fully staff an empty over-the-top theme park. This could only be possible in Las Vegas where the profits from gambling can make some very strange and amazing things possible!
On our next visit to Las Vegas a couple years later, were weren’t surprised when we drove by the MGM Grand in a cab and noticed that the theme park was gone.