Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

May 29, 2007

Detroit Casinos

Posted by detroit1051

Detroit is a 2,000 mile drive from Las Vegas, but it's an interesting market of only three casinos (plus Casino Windsor across the river in Canada) with revenues of $1.3 Billion in 2006. MGM Grand $490 Million, MotorCity Casino $469 Million and Greektown $345 Million. The three commercial casinos are moving into their next phase. The casinos were authorized in the mid-1990's as a source of tax revenue in struggling Detroit. Many operators presented proposals, including Steve Wynn. The three selected were MGM Grand, Mandalalay Resort Group and the Sault Ste Marie Chippewa tribe of Michigan. The three selected companies were required to have local partners, but in effect, the local partners had little power. They did, however, make a lot of money from the very successful casinos. The law permitted the casinos to operate in temporary or interim facilities while they planned and built permanent casinos with hotels. Like many political projects, hotel requirements changed and ultimately were watered down to 400 rooms each. Detroit's former mayor had visions of the casinos being together on the Detroit River, but there was so much opposition that each company went its own way in separate locations. Two of the three casino hotels will open by the end of this year.

More on Detroit's progress and the status of the projects after the jump.

MGM Grand opened its interim casino in 1999 in a former IRS processing center building on the edge of downtown.
From the beginning, MGM Grand Detroit has been the revenue leader and most successful casino, adding more to MGM Mirage's bottom line than some of its Las Vegas properties. Mandalay's MotorCity Casino opened in an historic building, Wagner Baking Company, about three miles from downtown in a depressed area which intimidated some suburban customers. Greektown opened in an old 19th century trapper's building in downtown.

MGM Grand Detroit will be the first to open its new facility, probably in November, which is going up two blocks from the current casino. Both the interim casino and the new one will be faux art deco which MGM seems to like so much. MGM's website shows that the rooms, spa and restaurants will be a significant addition to downtown. However, some of the comments on aren't too complimentary, likening it to a typical office building.

MotorCity Casino was sold to Marian Ilitch, one of its local partners, after MGM Mirage acquired Mandalay. Casino operators are limited by law to only one casino in Detroit, so MGM was forced to sell MotorCity. The Ilitch family has been very beneficial to Detroit, and they have invested many millions into the city. Mike Ilitch, Marian's husband, owns the Detroit Tigers and Redwings. They also own Little Caesars Pizza. Since professional team owners aren't allowed to own casinos, MotorCity makes it very clear that Mike Ilitch has no involvement. In my opinion, Marian is the brains of the family, and thus far she has done an excellent job with MotorCity Casino The Detroit Free Press has a preview of the expanded facility, including some photos. While MGM did a good job in building a first class interim casino, MotorCity devoted more time and money to reflect Detroit's automotive heritage in its interim space. Since MotorCity is merely expanding at the same location, they kept their design detail and built upon it.

Greektown has constantly limped along behind the other two. It is also lagging in its construction of the permanent facility which will not open until the end of 2008.

As soon as both MGM Detroit and MotorCity open their new facilities, I will make a trip home to check them out...even if it will be winter up there.

Some links to information on Detroit:
A Safe Bet New MotorCity Will Impress

MotorCity Casino Shows Off New Flair

MotorCity Casino website

MGM Grand Detroit website

Greektown Casino website's photos of MGM Detroit and MotorCity


Read archived comments (28 so far)
May 29, 2007 3:07 PM Posted by mike_ch

Neat post. Out of what's shown I think MotorCity looks the "best" of this bunch, I love old historic buildings although it gets a bit weird when they leave the old name up on the roof and newcomers can't figure out what's what anymore. :)

MGM2 looks bit too much like a bank building for my taste, but if their previous facility was an IRS center (anyone else see something funny about that?) complaining about design seems almost wrong.

May 29, 2007 5:49 PM Posted by detroit1051

Mike, when I was a kid, my dad drove us by the Wagner Baking Company on the way downtown. We'd always open the car windows so we could smell the bread baking. The first time I went to MotorCity, I could swear I smelled bread...hallucinations, I suppose.
The IRS Center moved to a new building next door, so it and MGM Detroit are still neighbors. It caused some problems for MGM after 9/11 because they barricaded the service drive and any access near the IRS building. MGM had to reconfigure its Valet exit.

May 30, 2007 5:35 AM Posted by detroit1051

The Detroit News has added its take on MotorCity Casino. The article has links to more photos than were in the Free Press yesterday. The hotel will open in September, several months before MGM Grand Detroit:

June 5, 2007 5:31 PM Posted by detroit1051

MGM Grand Detroit is beginning to start its press campaign:

Also, the website is taking reservations beginning November 1. The rates are higher than I expected, starting at $299 per night.

June 6, 2007 1:40 PM Posted by Jeff

You know what, out of all three I think Greektown is the best casino. More chic, younger crowd, etc.. I don't stay at the casinos though. Detroit does, believe it or not, have some nice hotels. Myb favorite is Marriott at the Renaissance Center. From the guestroom to the lounge this place rocks!

June 6, 2007 4:14 PM Posted by socalduck

I have not visited Greektown or MotorCity, but I have been to MGM Grand on a couple of occasions. The place is always crowded, even in the middle of the day. On the days I visited, BJ table minimums started at $25 (!) on up, and this was midday. Craps was $15 and up. Without the overhead of the hotel and other amenities found in Vegas, the ROI on this place must be phenomenal.

June 6, 2007 6:33 PM Posted by detroit1051

Socalduck, when MGM used to break out individual Strip properties on their earnings reports, MGM Detroit's EBITDA was often in third place, only surpassed by Bellagio and MGM Grand. Not bad for a casino in Detroit with, as you said, few amenities and low overhead. I'm sure MGM would rather not have to open a hotel and build the new facility, but the license with Detroit/Michigan requires it.
Jeff, The Ren Cen Marriott is far better than the old Westin that was there before. I haven't been back to Detroit in two years, but next time I'm up there, I want to check out MGM Detroit, MotorCity and also Coach Insignia and Seldom Blues in Ren Cen.

June 7, 2007 5:15 AM Posted by detroit1051

The Detroit Free Press has an interview with Marian Ilitch, owner of MotorCity Casino, and another article on the VIP Signature Lounge. Although I give a slight edge to MGM Grand Detroit overall, MotorCity has some great features. The VIP Lounge has complimentary extensive, high quality food offerings and a comfortable place to get away from the casino. It looks even better now. The photos, one of which shows a sconce inspired by a 1950's Buick, demonstrate the greater sense of detail MotorCity puts into the property compared to the more generic approach used by MGM.
Marian Ilitch interview:
VIP Signature Lounge:

June 8, 2007 7:08 AM Posted by detroit1051

Are you in Vegas or Detroit???
Doesn't make any difference. MGM's restaurants are ubiquitous: Michael Mina, Wolfgang Puck, Tony Chi design, blah, blah, blah.

July 13, 2007 5:46 AM Posted by detroit1051

Uh Oh. I hope Marian Ilitch isn't getting involved in every decision like a certain unnamed operator in Vegas:

"Marian Ilitch, vice chairwoman of Ilitch Holdings and wife of Little Caesars Pizza magnate Mike Ilitch, wanted nothing but the best. He said Marian Ilitch even got involved in picking out linens.
"It's high-end quality," Farag said. "We are using 300-count linen. Marian Ilitch said if she uses it in her home, her guests should have it in her hotel. That's the philosophy of this property."

I like the rooms shown on MGM Detroit's website better than these.

July 22, 2007 10:07 AM Posted by detroit1051

The following story from the Detroit News is excellent for Detroit. It shows MGM is committed to a first class casino hotel in Detroit. The new executive chef comes from Tribute, the finest restaurant in Michigan, imo. Yamauchi replaced Takashi at Tribute who left in 2005 to open Okada at Wynn Las Vegas. Takashi subsequently left Wynn for Chicago to operate a small, high quality restaurant.
It's interesting that the Detroit News refers to Michael Mina, not MGM Mirage. It seems to me that one of MGM's strengths is that it lets its restaurateurs alone and doesn't interfere with the operations. This is very good news for MGM Grand Detroit.

August 2, 2007 4:00 PM Posted by detroit1051

Four recent press releases on MGM Detroit. It will be a huge success:

August 13, 2007 10:28 AM Posted by detroit1051

MGM Grand Detroit is only seven weeks from opening. I'll be in Detroit later this week and will take some photos of the progress. MGM will be a great addition to the city. Good PR is already underway. I'm attending a farewell party next weekend at the current location's fine restaurant. It will then close so the staff can start training/preparing at Michael Mina's restaurants in the new building.

August 15, 2007 7:11 PM Posted by detroit1051

Here are a few photos of MGM Grand Detroit taken August 14. There's still a lot to do in seven weeks. Someone told me J.D. Clayton, who used to head up MGM Detroit's casino is now at Wynn Macau. I'm traveling for the next week, so I'm behind in all the messages here. Tomorrow, I'll check out the newly renovated MotorCity Casino.

August 16, 2007 11:47 AM Posted by detroit1051

I added seven photos of MotorCity Casino to the album I posted here yesterday.
MGM Grand Detroit will outpace everyone else because it started with a clean slate and is downtown. MotorCity Casino elected to build a hotel tower next to its current casino and also added 25,000 sq ft of gaming space as permitted by law. It looks patchwork. The old casino is the same, and the new gaming space is very industrial-modern. It didn't appeal to me. The hotel is across the street and will be connected by a bridge to the existing buildings. I was disappointed, but last month's revenues exceeded MGM's. That will change when MGM opens on 10/2.

August 18, 2007 7:33 PM Posted by detroit1051

Casino Windsor:
It was an eye-opening trip across the border. I haven't been to Windsor in two years. Going into Canada through the tunnel, there was no delay, but we saw the tunnel jammed with U.S. bound cars, bumper to bumper the entire length. The exhaust fumes must have been terrible for them. The Canadian border guard checked our passports and waved us through. Casino Windsor was almost empty at 11 AM. I'm sure the border crossing hassle is a primary reason along with the no-smoking laws, HET has done a nice job managing the place, and it is beginning to look like a mini-Caesars. I went to the Players Club and they found my Total Rewards number and issued me a duplicate card. When we left, we decided to take the bridge back into Detroit. We sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic, on the bridge itself, for 1 hour 15 minutes before reaching U.S.
Border guards scanned our passports and let us through, but I wouldn't go back to Windsor for a casino trip. Who wants to go to the casino for an evening and then sit for over an hour to get home? The toll collector told me this is a typical wait. Also, with the U.S. and Canadian dollars close to par, there's no reason to cross over. Plus, the toll is now $7.50 round trip. Ridiculous.
Photos at:

September 26, 2007 6:15 AM Posted by detroit1051

MGM Mirage may be using the MGM Grand brand, but it's clear that MGM Grand Detroit is intended to be the Bellagio of Detroit casinos. Staff I've talked with say it puts Detroit into an entirely new league, and Mina's and Puck's restaurants have already hired away the top local restaurant talent in Southeastern Michigan. Detroit and Michigan need a success story. This is it.
Here are links to both Detroit newspapers today:

September 27, 2007 7:56 AM Posted by detroit1051

Talk about overkill! The Detroit Free Press has eight stories and 40 photos of the new MGM Grand. When you look at the restaurants and lounges, it's even more clear MGM wants this to be the Bellagio or Wynn of Detroit. I'll have to go up to see it.

September 27, 2007 1:26 PM Posted by mike_ch

I'm getting a Red Rock meets Mandalay vibe from those photos myself. That's not an insult, as anyone who has taken the trip out to Red Rock would know.

September 27, 2007 7:18 PM Posted by detroit1051

Mike_ch, that's an interesting observation. I'll see for myself later this fall.

October 1, 2007 4:55 AM Posted by detroit1051

What will Detroit media talk about after tomorrow? MGM couldn't have bought such good coverage. Today's Detroit News piece includes a helpful interactive map of the property layout.

October 1, 2007 5:55 AM Posted by Jason Robar

Detroit, did you catch the MGM Grand special that aired on the Detroit NBC affiliate on Saturday? I watched it expecting to see more detail about the property, but it seemed as though it was a half hour recruitment video instead.

October 1, 2007 11:53 AM Posted by detroit1051

Jason, no, I didn't see it. Contrary to my ID, I'm in South Florida now. I plan on being in Detroit before winter to see MGM Grand. I'll bet there will be a lot more coverage Tuesday evening for the black tie preview and then the opening at midnight.

October 1, 2007 2:34 PM Posted by mike_ch

I think the state's budget woes will probably take some attention away from the opening. They just narrowly avoided a shutdown of the state government the other night.

October 3, 2007 5:00 AM Posted by detroit1051

Roger Parent's firm, Realisations, has done a lot of work for MGM Mirage. His latest is MGM Grand Detroit which had its grand opening at midnight.
"Parent calls his art "moving architecture," and they are one-of-a-kind installations that dot the MGM Grand Detroit."
Here are links to Parent's work:

November 10, 2007 9:40 AM Posted by detroit1051

A few photos of MGM Grand Detroit. I've been there three times this week, and I continue to be impressed. For the first time, a Detroit casino is a dining/entertainment destination drawing customers from the entire metropolitan Detroit area.

November 20, 2007 6:04 AM Posted by detroit1051

"It's as fun as going to Las Vegas, but I don't have to get on a plane."
That quote is obviously a stretch, but MGM's $800 Million investment in its new Detroit casino/hotel was a very smart move. October revenues were huge even without a full 31 days.

May 3, 2008 7:28 PM Posted by detroit1051

I went to MGM Grand Detroit and MotorCity Casino Thursday.

What recession??? Both very busy, but I guess that could also be people in tough economic times looking for a quick fix. A bartender (often the source of accurate information) told me MGM Detroit does better than MGM Grand Vegas because of the greater slot play in Detroit, lower expenses for entertainment and mostly because of liquor revenue. Michigan law prohibits comping alcohol, so even if one gets comped meals, there's still a big wine or drink bill, plus they sell a lot of drinks on the floor.
Additional layoffs this week. Wolfgang Puck Grille, a very nice upscale but casual restaurant allegedly laid off 30 employees possible due to cutting restaurant hours.

MGM Detroit's slot floor didn't seem as modern to me as it did when I was in town in November. BYI still is well represented, but some of the IGT and Aristocrat games looked like they needed updating. Maybe this is because I just saw all the new product when Seminole Hard Rock installed all their Class III's.
MGM opened its VIP Lounge which is hidden off the casino floor near the high limit table and slot rooms. You have to be buzzed in. It's very rich looking, but the finger-food offerings were a little skimpy. Again, with no comped alcohol, there's nothing free about it. The VIP Lounge at Seminole Hollywood Hard Rock is twice as large with a huge food spread and, of course, comped wine and drinks. MGM's lounge was sparsely attended in early evening.
Ate at Wolfgang Puck Grille which is better than any of the Puck casual places in Vegas. Very good food/service in a nice space with a wall to wall fireplace in the bar area.

MotorCity Casino:
The hotel opened since I was here in November. It's across the side street, but connected to the casino by an interior bridge. The bridge reminded us of an airport connecting bridge. Needs some color. The hotel lobby is first class with elevator access to the 16th floor where Iridescence, the fine dining restaurant is with window walls overlooking downtown Detroit, the Detroit River and the Ambassador Bridge to Canada. It's a great view in evening. Iridescence's bar and lounge, with piano, is too small. A contemporary/industrial glass wall separates the bar from the lounge. Should have been a bigger space. Dining room is also very contemporary, perhaps too contemporary for comped casino guests who equate luxury with old-fashioned steakhouse furnishings. We didn't eat there, but in the past, Iridescence was always superior to MGM's Brown Derby restaurant in food selection and appearance.
We were one week too early to see "Amenesia", MotorCity's ultra-lounge, which will also be on the 16th floor overlooking the city and river. Marian Ilitch is a shrewd business person who will make MotorCity succeed even though its location is not as good as MGM's. MotorCity's facade still isn't totally completed, but it doesn't look as rich as MGM.
Haven't been to Greektown yet to check on progress. Maybe later if I have time.