MGM Buys Half of CityCenter and Strikes a Deal for Aria and Vdara for $3.89B

MGM Resorts International is taking over. It has announced that it will pay Infinity World Development $2.12 billion for a 50% interest in CityCentre, giving it 100% control of the property. The deal will reportedly give the property a valuation of $5.8 billion.

Surprising News at a Surprising Time

Some real estate market experts are calling this transaction a stunning move. When it wraps up, MGM will sell the real estate of the Aria and Vdara properties to Blackstone for $3.89 billion.

James Harris, senior managing director at Helmsley Spear, said that the news of Blackstone, Vdara and Aria came as a surprise. He adds that before the pandemic MGM CEO Bill Hornbuckle expressed no interest in selling the two properties, “particularly at what appears to be a bargain price.”

Is this the best financial decision?

As May’s gross gaming revenue (GGR) figures hit a new high and data confirms Las Vegas is recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, some experts debate the timing and price of the Aria/Vdara divestment. The market is getting better; however, the domestic gaming industry still isn’t at its pre-pandemic state and recent sales in Las Vegas haven’t fetched very good prices. Operators that were expected to sell their properties on the Strip have actually held back, perhaps due to the still low prices on gaming real estate.

Perhaps this is not the best comparison, but MGM sold Bellagio to Blackstone for $4.25 billion in October 2019, thus it’s a bit odd that it is considering a sale of Aria and Vdara for $3.89 billion now. This is also substantially less than the $4.6 billion the company gained when it sold Mandalay Bay and MGM Grand in January 2020, when Blackstone was again present in that deal.

However, this sale still goes well with MGM’s asset-light strategy. The casino giant, already owner of one of the industry’s largest cash stockpiles, will add to it with a difference of more than $1.7 billion between the sale of Aria and Vdara and what it’s paying for half of CityCenter.

Blackstone’s End-game

The private equity company is creating together an impressive collection of Strip real estate. Harris said that the current question is “What does Blackstone see in Las Vegas revenues future that it is compiling a corner on the Strip Gaming market?” He added that if they wanted to rule Vegas as if they were a corporate Howard Hughes, all they need to do is get Wynn.

It’s expected the Aria/Vdara transaction will close in the third quarter. After the deal is complete, Blackstone will own these two venues and Bellagio. It also has substantial stakes in Mandalay Bay and MGM Grand, as well as its outright ownership of Cosmopolitan.

MGM is leasing back Aria and Vdara from Blackstone with an initial annual rent of $215 million. That means that the $3.89 billion price tag represents a multiple of 18.1x rent.

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