Virginia Valentine has led the Nevada Resort Association, which represents Nevada’s largest resort casinos since 2011. As the pandemic winds down, she reflects on how the industry has rebounded and what this rebound says about the future of gaming in the state. But there are still areas that have not recovered and Valentine discusses the challenges facing the industry going forward. She talks about the increasing importance of sports and sporting events to the town now that it’s home to several professional teams. She spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros at the NRA offices in the Summerlin section of Las Vegas in May. (View video below).
GGB: The pandemic was a tough time for the industry, shutting down the entire Las Vegas Strip and every resort in the state. But since then Vegas has really bounced back. Why has it bounced back so quickly?
Virginia Valentine: I think that after two years of not doing much, a lot of people have had that pent up desire to get out and travel. So I think with this return to normalcy, travel is a big part of that. Those 78 days of complete shutdown were quite an amazing period. It was unprecedented. So, now the signs of recovery are good. There’s still some areas that are not quite back to pre-pandemic levels yet. Meetings and conventions, international travel and business travel are not quite back. But there are some very encouraging signs.
When Las Vegas did come back, there was a mask mandate for quite a few months on top of that. Was that a negative?
There are, of course, a lot of views on masks. But our view was that if it’s a state requirement, we’re going to comply with it, and of course we did. But for people in the hospitality industry where the employees are there to make the guests have a great experience, it created a little bit of friction. Our role primarily was to make sure that we followed all of the requirements. Those that felt comfortable came back and those that didn’t probably didn’t come back. But now that we’re wide open, it feels good.
We just had the NFL Draft, which according to all measurements, maybe except for gaming, was a success. Formula One just booked an event for the Strip in 2023. And of course the Super Bowl in 2024. Are these city-centric events really important to Las Vegas?
Oh, I think it’s huge. If you just think about it in terms of the number of impressions, the people around the country and the world who were able to see the iconic Strip, it’s awesome. I love the new tagline just adopted by the LVCVA (Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority), which is the “Earth’s greatest arena.” In terms of the value of people seeing Las Vegas and thinking, “I want to see that and I want to go there,” it’s absolutely huge.
Let’s talk about development on the Strip. MGM just closed on the Cosmopolitan. Caesars is trying to sell the Flamingo. MGM operates 60 percent of the rooms on the Strip. Are you concerned about the concentration of ownership on the Strip, or do you think new properties like Resorts World and Fontainebleau will dilute that?
We have new management and new companies coming in here. There’s some rebranding that will go on, along with new capital investment in these properties. I think it is an opportunity for each owner and operator to develop some synergies for them in operating. There’s some opportunity also to get a little more diverse and have some more niche properties. And so I don’t really see a problem with it.
Nevada has a big election coming up, electing a new senator and governor. Is the NRA going to support candidates in that election?
This year, for the first time in a long time, we have a political action committee and we’ve raised some money. And we are going through the process now of interviewing candidates and looking for candidates who understand the tourism industry and its importance to the state. So along with our chairwoman, Ellen Whittemore from Wynn, and our executive board, we will identify and support the candidates who will make a difference for our state.