In a $ 1 billion roll of the dice, MGM mogul Kirk Kerkorian opened the MGM Grand, the world’s biggest hotel and casino, Friday night amid a Hollywood flourish of celebrities and glitz despite the protests of several thousand union workers.
The complex — which includes a 33-acre Disneylike theme park, and a courtyard of four-star eateries and upscale shops — preemed officially five hours ahead of schedule Saturday after an opening-night bash that left special guests and journalists astounded by the sheer magnitude of the place.
“It’s nothing if not big. It’s pretty sensational,” said one visiting scribe who had been invited as one of 3,000 guests.
Added one British wag: “With 5,005 rooms, you could put 12,000 people into this place. That’s a whole town in England.”
With a nod to Hollywood, the pricey resort bears likenesses and references to MGM and its musicals. Pedestrians from the Las Vegas Strip enter through the mouth of a seven-story Leo the Lion, meander down a Yellow Brick Road and through an Emerald City — the first signs of a Wizard of Oz theme found throughout the resort.
On Friday, celebs by the doz-ens turned out for the fete, but the biggest names were probably boxers Evander Holyfield and Sugar Ray Leonard and tennis star Andre Agassi, and former Chrysler topper Lee Iacocca and financier Adnan Khashoggi.
MGM Grand exec veep Alex Yemenidjian said the $ 1.028 billion resort is part of a new-look Vegas intended to appeal to families looking for destination resorts. “We are not in the gambling business. We’re in the entertainment business,” he said.
Yemenidjian sees the theme park as a lure for traffic to enter the casino, much the way the pirate ship battle at Treasure Island Hotel sends more than 1, 000 pedestrians through its casino every two hours.
The MGM is the third family-oriented resort to open in the last nine weeks, with the $ 375 million, 2,526-room Luxor and the $ 450 million, 2,900-room Treasure Island opening in October.
The MGM gala went off Friday with a minimum of controversy as several thousand union workers carried signs and chanted slogans against MGM Grand CEO Robert Maxey across the street.
Officials from Culinary Local 226, which reps tens of thousands of Vegas hotel and restaurant workers, have criticized Maxey’s public attempts to keep the resort non-union.
Maxey has said he would welcome an employee vote on unionization, but only under the guidance of the National Labor Relations Board.
Glen Arnato, spokesman for Local 226, said the union wants the MGM Grand’s 7, 000-plus employees to choose for themselves whether to join. The union has charged Maxey with running an anti-union campaign of literature and films shown to employees, saying the MGM has “run a very intimidated one-sided corporate campaign.”
Two of the state’s top politicos were no-shows over union concerns. Gov. Bob Miller and Las Vegas Mayor Jan Laverty Jones said days before the event that they couldn’t cross even an informational picket line.
For Kerkorian, whose Tracinda owns 70% of the resort stock, the MGM Grand marks the third time he’s has built the world’s largest hotel — all in Vegas.