MGM Buys Half of CityCenter, Sells Aria, Vdara Real Estate to Blackstone for $3.89B

Posted on: July 1, 2021, 10:10h. 

Last updated on: July 1, 2021, 12:02h.

MGM Resorts International (NYSE:MGM) is busy again on the Las Vegas Strip. It announced today that it’s acquiring the 50 percent of CityCenter it didn’t previously own, and is selling the property assets of Aria and Vdara.

Aria sale
MGM’s Aria on the Vegas Strip, pictured above. The company is selling that venue and Vdara to Blackstone. (Image: YouTube)

The casino operator is paying $2.12 billion to Infinity World Development for the 50 percent interest in CityCenter, valuing the complex in the heart of the Strip at $5.8 billion. That’s based on net debt of $1.5 billion when accounting for a recently sold two-acre piece of land for $80 million.

When that transaction wraps up — in what some real estate market experts are calling a stunning move — the gaming company will sell the property of Aria and Vdara to private equity firm Blackstone (NYSE:BX) for $3.89 billion in cash.

The Blackstone, Vdara and Aria new news is a complete surprise,” said James Harris, senior managing director at Helmsley Spear, in an interview.

He notes prior to the coronavirus pandemic, MGM CEO Bill Hornbuckle expressed no interest in selling the two venues, “particularly at what appears to be a bargain price.”

Aria, Vdara Price: Is It Right?

While data confirms Las Vegas is recovering from the pandemic, some analysts may debate the pricing and timing of the Aria/Vdara divestment. May’s gross gaming revenue (GGR) figures from the Nevada Gaming Control Board hit a record.

Though it’s making progress, the domestic gaming industry isn’t all the way back from the global health crisis and recent venue sales in Sin City haven’t fetched inspiring prices. In fact, some operators that were widely expected to sell Strip properties this year appear to be opting against such moves, perhaps owing to still-depressed pricing on gaming real estate.

It may not be an apples-to-apples comparison, but the $3.89 billion MGM is commanding for Aria and Vdara is less than the $4.25 billion it sold Bellagio to Blackstone for in October 2019. It’s also well below the $4.6 billion the gaming company hauled in when it parted with the property assets of Mandalay Bay and MGM Grand in January 2020. Blackstone was part of that transaction as well.

Still, the sale jibes with MGM’s long-standing asset-light strategy, and with a difference of more than $1.7 billion between what it’s paying for half of CityCenter and what Aria and Vdara are being sold for, the casino giant adds to what’s already one of the industry’s biggest cash stockpiles.

Blackstone: Howard Hughes of the Strip?

As for the private equity company, it’s cobbling together an impressive portfolio of glitzy Strip real estate.

“The question now is this, What does Blackstone see in Las Vegas revenues future that it is compiling a corner on the Strip Gaming market?,” Harris said.  “All they need is Wynn and they will rule Las Vegas as if they were a corporate Howard Hughes. What is Blackstone’s end-game?”

After the Aria/Vdara transaction closes in the third quarter, Blackstone will own the real estate of those venues and Bellagio, along with its partial stakes in Mandalay Bay and MGM Grand, as well as its outright ownership of Cosmopolitan.

MGM is leasing back Aria and Vdara from Blackstone at an initial annual rent of $215 million. The $3.89 billion price tag represents a multiple of 18.1x rent.