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Soo Kim

Chairman, Bally’s Corporation

Soo Kim

Soo Kim has his hands full. As chairman of Bally’s Corporation, he’s leading a company that has been on the front pages of gaming news for the last couple of years. As the operator of the former Tropicana in Las Vegas, Kim is preparing to build a new resort on that land, minus the nine acres dedicated to a baseball stadium for the Las Vegas A’s. He’s also grappling with running a temporary casino in Chicago, where Bally’s will be the only casino inside the city limits, as well as designing and building a permanent facility. And finally, he’s also preparing a bid for one of the three casino licenses in the New York City area, where Bally’s bought the former Trump Golf Course in the Bronx. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros during the East Coast Gaming Congress at the Hard Rock Atlantic City in April. To see and hear a full GGB Podcast of this interview, where Kim addresses the company’s online gaming operations, visit the podcast article here.

GGB: Let’s start with the Trop in Vegas. It closed on April 2. Where are we going from here?

Kim: The Trop was a wonderful casino—literally part of the fabric of the history of Vegas. But look, it was state of the art in the 1950s, more than 50 years ago. As you know, Vegas is not sentimental, and it does rebuild itself and reimagine itself. It’s a city that is so laser-focused on growth through attracting tourism that you can’t afford to be sentimental. We are absolutely part of that evolution. We’ve been able to attract a Major League Baseball franchise. And so we did our part. We contributed very valuable acreage.

And it’s the Athletics. It’s a franchise that has won championships in the past and has a storied history.

Although some people don’t like domed stadiums, this one is different. It’s such a unique design.

Two things on that: As the next-door neighbor to the stadium, I actually started by saying, “Guys, you have to make it a retractable roof. If you’re just going to put a dome next to me, I’m not excited.” But when you consider the weather, it’s just really hard. You would have to keep it closed during every hour of sun exposure, otherwise the concrete heats up too much. So to solve the integration we tried to capture the energy through good design, and I actually loved the big design. It looks like the Sydney Opera House, or what it actually looks like is the Crystal Arc, the showroom at the original Tropicana in Havana.

How does it feel to be part of the effort to draw the A’s to Las Vegas?

I grew up a baseball fan, a Mets fan. I grew up in Queens. And the notion that I would be involved in a team move goes against everything I believe. I wouldn’t do it. It’s not a money thing. It’s just, I wouldn’t do it.

But when I did the due diligence on this, I realized that they spent years trying to figure out a way to stay in Oakland. These guys had huge economic incentives to stay right in the Bay Area from the fan base to the media contract, and the league telling them to stay. And despite all that, I think it was a failure of leadership that they couldn’t come to a deal. It just wasn’t going to happen. So, I said if you’re going to leave anyway, then we would love to welcome you.

What will you build around the stadium? It’s got to be something equally as spectacular.

Look, let’s be real. We are a medium-sized gaming company. We are not the largest. We specialize, frankly, in operating in regional markets with high tax jurisdictions—in some ways very difficult markets. Destination markets like Vegas are a different business. We know that we are just baby steps in that business. Right now, there’s a delay in terms of what we want to do. We’re just trying to get it right in terms of a master plan. We need a plan for the remaining 27 acres that the A’s are not using so that it seamlessly integrates, and it takes advantage of the 2 million-plus traffic that this ballpark will bring just on baseball alone. If you were to do other events there, you’re talking about another number over and above that. Then we can pencil out the economics to build most likely in phases. I don’t think we’re going to do it alone. We’ve been open to partnership.

In Chicago, you have a temporary casino operating. People were a little concerned about the early revenues, but of course, it’s a three-level casino, which is always tough to operate. Are things picking up?

Sometimes people don’t see what we see. We knew that it was just a phased opening and they were just getting comfortable. Sure, the Illinois gaming board was getting comfortable with the idea of gaming in Chicago. Public safety was getting comfortable with gaming in Chicago. And so we did the right thing. We opened it on time, on budget, and then we went with them at their pace. It took them a long time to test, get the systems running and be comfortable. But remember this casino is literally just off the Magnificent Mile. This is the center of Chicago. There was a lot of desire for everyone to just get this right.

We knew that they were setting limitations in terms of operating hours, in the way we could promote. We’re just working with only a partial tool kit, so revenues would be slow out of the gate. That’s OK because it is by design. We are absolutely confident about the revenue potential in that city, that population. It’s going to be great.

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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