Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

Jeff's latest is a few random thoughts on MGM, Bobby Baldwin, and the renovation progress at The Tropicana.

Read on after the jump and feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

I keep a list of things I'd like to tackle in my column but I can't always dedicate a full column to each idea. As a change of pace, this time I'm going to try to address a couple of different thoughts and I hope you'll find them worthwhile.

First, why is Bobby Baldwin still MGM Resorts' chief design and construction officer? (He also serves as CityCenter's president and CEO and a member of the MGM Resorts board of directors.) He's one of the great gaming guys in the business. He should be in charge of hotels and casinos, not running a dormant development operation. (Bill McBeath runs Aria and its casino, Baldwin runs the whole CityCenter campus -- lucky him -- giving him control of the struggling parts of the development: condos, Crystals, Mandarin Oriental and Vdara.

Outside of Steve Wynn, Jack Binion and Michael Gaughan, I can't think of a casino boss as savvy about the gambling side of the business. Baldwin's experience working at Wynn's right hand developing Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio and Beau Rivage made him a logical choice to helm MGM Mirage's once overflowing development pipeline. But with development plans (outside of Macau) seemingly years away, why waste Baldwin in his current role? CEO Jim Murren should figure out a better way to use Baldwin, perhaps with a title and role similar to Rob Goldstein, president of global gaming operations for Las Vegas Sands. The Sands website describes Goldstein's job: "As president of global gaming operations, Mr. Goldstein has a wide variety of responsibilities, but his primary focus is overseeing the company's gaming operations in the United States, Macau, and Singapore." That sounds like a perfect title and role for Baldwin. Using his company's talent wisely is one of Murren's most important responsibilities. He should reshuffle his executive team to better capitalize on Baldwin's brilliance.


I've checked out the Tropicana a few times in the last couple of weeks and I'm impressed with what the property's bosses have done to make the property relevant again. I'm very happy the table games pit sits under the Tiffany-glassed ceiling, that the regular pool has been restored and that the property looks clean. Restaurants and most other outlets look good, as do the poker room and race and sports book. It's hard to argue with the cleaner look of all the white paint and I applaud the Trop's owners for investing enough to make it a decent place again.

I do still have some issues. Parking remains lame and I doubt the Trop entertainment options will excite visitors that much. I also question whether Nikki Beach will be able to attract the kind of big-spending guests that frequent the city's swankiest daylife venues, as it's going to be tough to mix the Trop's hotel and casino clientele with the kind of folks who spend on cabanas and bottle service. (And what's the deal with those tee-pees?)

One big, much bigger than pet, peeve I have is how Las Vegas media folks can't resist effusive praise for new or remodeled resorts. One recent example was from a talented journalist at, John Katsilometes (who I think is one of the two best headline writers in the state, the other being the R-J's Matthew Crowley) who recently threw caution to the wind in his description of the Tropicana transformation.

"With the gadgetry-laden Mob Experience finally in full operation and a showroom featuring entertainment both classic (Gladys Knight) and contemporary (Recycled Percussion), the Trop is fast apace in its efforts to return to the highest level of Vegas resorts," Kats wrote. The highest level of Vegas resorts? Come on, John. Wynn, Encore, Aria, Caesars Palace, Cosmopolitan, Venetian and Palazzo crush the Trop in quality. As do Mandalay Bay, Mirage and MGM Grand. And maybe -- even without much entertainment -- Red Rock, Green Valley Ranch, M Resort, South Point, Palms and Hard Rock do as well. I don't think I'd place the remodeled Tropicana ahead of or even with Planet Hollywood, Monte Carlo, New York - New York, Treasure Island, Paris or Luxor.

It probably has leapfrogged Excalibur, Bally's, Circus Circus, Las Vegas Hilton, Hooters and the Westin. I'd put it on par with the Flamingo. Maybe.

At our last -- and maybe the last [ed: Family Picnic coming in October] -- Vegas Podcastapalooza, the Vegas Gang interviewed Tropicana President Tom McCartney, who told us that when renovations were complete property executives expected the Trop to be at the top of the next-to-best tier of Las Vegas resorts. I was skeptical at the time, noting that I considered Mandalay Bay as the top of the second tier (and that's with a very inclusive first tier that includes the Sands hotels and Caesars Palace). I admire the Trop team's effort in turning around what was once a dirty, rundown property with a demoralized, skeleton staff that was run by Kentucky imbeciles, and the change has been startling. But you can't spend less than $200 million and leapfrog billion-dollar properties. It just isn't possible.

-- Jeff Simpson, May 2011

Follow Jeff on Twitter: @simpsonlasvegas


Read archived comments (7 so far)
May 23, 2011 12:02 PM Posted by Paolo

Totally agree with the thoughts on Baldwin. As far as global operations, maybe he doesn't want to spend too much time away from Vegas or he doesn't like to travel? Maybe he made his nut and short of being CEO, he's happy doing what he's doing? But I agree, it seems like they could be better utilizing him. Great column.

May 23, 2011 1:36 PM Posted by Harmy G

Is it just me or does the Trop seem incredibly small now?

May 23, 2011 2:23 PM Posted by Chris Hall

Jeff, I mostly agree with you regarding the eminence of the Trop in the Vegas hotel hierarchy. Personally, I feel like the basic room product is a few steps up from the basic rooms at Paris, PH, Monte Carol, NYNY, and Luxor. The pool scene is certainly on par with the best in town (Mandalay, MGM, Flamingo), but the entertainment and dining is currently a large part of what is preventing them from becoming another Mandalay Bay or Venetian/Palazzo. The Mob Experience seems like a tourist trap to me, and while I will not deny her talent, I can't see how Gladys Knight is currently relevant at all or will be able to draw consistent numbers long term. I remember hearing that they were in talks with Gloria Estefan, and while she's been out of the spotlight for years, I feel like she has more mass appeal and would fit well with the "South Beach" theme. With the room product they are offering now (I have seen a few of their higher end rooms and I think they are well designed, comfortable, and luxurious), the excellent service, and their pool scene, do you think that the addition of some higher end dining and bringing in better long term headliners or a production show would elevate them to near the top of the "2nd tier"?

May 23, 2011 4:50 PM Posted by detroit1051

MGM's Proxy shows Baldwin's total compensation in 2010 was $10.1 Million plus he owns 1.3 Million shares. That may soothe any ego issues he has with Murren or his position.

May 23, 2011 5:19 PM Posted by jinx

I can't argue with most of your points on the Trop. It's definitely improved, but it's not near the high level places and as you pointed out, it's behind Mirage, PH, TI, Paris, and possibly Monte Carlo. It probably settles in above Flamingo, Monte Carlo, Luxor, Excal, and Ballys, but that's more due to the fact that the rooms at these haven't been refreshed for years (save Excal) Flamingo GO rooms are starting to wear and have to be near 4-5 yrs old. The Deluxe rooms are a mess.

I've been saying for a while that the Trop's focus on the high end is going to fail for them, it's just not a high end resort and it won't be a hip resort either. I know the recession hit hard after PH was remodeled,but it's not like that place was doing huge business after the remodel, they just aren't going to draw the HR/Palms crowd away from those too without something really hip, and they are going to fail miserably vs the heavy luxury hitters.

May 23, 2011 6:04 PM Posted by Jeff Simpson

Chris Hall,
I can't see the property ever rising to the top of the second tier (Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, Mirage. Additional improvements on the entertainment, nightclub/bar and dining side might allow them to move up a little. Look at the amenities those second-tier properties have: superior convention centers, a lot more (and way better) restaurants, better clubs, better entertainment, superior high-end accommodations, better parking (and if MGM Grand's parking is better, you're hurting), and an overall more luxurious appearance.
Finally, I'm not sure if the Trop still is putting non-remodeled rooms on the market. If so, that is a serious hindrance to any aspirations for further upward mobility.

May 23, 2011 6:15 PM Posted by Jeff Simpson

A point well taken (Bobby has long been exceptionally well compensated), but I'm not really worrying about Baldwin's feelings. I think MGM Resorts is failing to capitalize on Baldwin's strengths, a mistake that I think is costly to the company -- and to Jim Murren's prospects for success as the company's Chairman and CEO.
Baldwin may be MGM Resorts' best building and property-opening guy, but there's no doubt he's the company's top casino executive. In the absence of significant development and openings, reshuffle the deck and get him back in charge of the casino floors.
One obstacle is MGM Resorts' traditional reliance on property (and property president) autonomy. But the company had twin divisions before (MGM Grand Resorts and Mirage Resorts divisions, with Baldwin running the Mirage side) and the company could easily figure a way to get Bobby back in charge of important gaming operations.