SLS Las Vegas, the beleaguered and soon-to-be-sold north Las Vegas Strip property, has garnered a perhaps surprising cash cow in the Royal Saudi Air Force, which has reportedly booked the resort’s entire W hotel tower for most of August.
The 10th Squadron Saudi military unit will be in town for Nellis Air Force Base’s Red Flag “war games” combat training exercises from August 14 through the 25, and it’s not clear if they have already arrived in Sin City, or if rooms were booked before and after to allow for the accomodations to be made appropriate for a culture that eschews gambling and public displays of sexuality.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that W Las Vegas’ 289 rooms are entirely booked from August 5 through August 28. The hotel, which is owned by SLS, confirmed a group had blocked out the rooms, but refused to say who. An anonymous employee told the media outlet that it is indeed the Royal Saudi Air Force, although public relations staff has only confirmed that the W is sold out and records show that there is no availability through to August 28.
Red Flag exercises draw allied fighter pilots from around the globe to perfect their air combat skills. The Saudi military unit’s decision to stay on the Strip, however, could be perplexing to some.
Gambling is strictly outlawed in Saudi Arabia. The culture’s views on women seems to make the choice of a Strip property for the entire force an odd choice, and according to the R-J story, female employees will likely be out of sight for the whole month. The suggestion from some hotel insiders is that they may be moved to invisible positions for the duration, such as kitchen staff, but some workers are even reportedly being shipped temporarily out of state.
Summer pool parties in Las Vegas are famous for attracting the skimpiest of skimpy bikini-clad guests, and to that end, the W pool area will be closed to the public until August 28, as will bars and a salon on the property.
Estimates are between 175 and 210 fighter pilots from the Saudi squadron will be making the W their home for the duration of this Red Flag cycle. Nellis AFB is about 11 miles north of SLS. The military base offers lodging to foreign air forces that come to Nevada to participate in training exercises.
“While we encourage foreign participants to stay in our base lodging for ease of travel during the exercise, they are welcome to make arrangements anyplace they prefer,” a Nellis statement to the Review-Journal read.
One of the largest air force bases in the world, Nellis has invited NATO and other allied nations to participate in combat training exercises since 1975. Between four and six simulated “war games” take place each year.
No Protests Over Gender Inequality Likely
According to reports, SLS prepared to welcome the Saudi Air Force by removing certain artwork featuring perhaps less than fully clothed women in prominent areas of the resort.
Saudi Arabia remains one of the most gender-segregated countries in the world. Females live under the supervision of their male family members. They are barred from driving, must be modestly dressed with no body parts except hands showing in public, and only recently received approval from the government to study and work without a man’s permission.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has one of the best-funded defenses in the Middle East, with about 25 percent of its government budget, or $88 billion, allocated for the military. The SLS stay is reportedly costing around $1.4 million for the room bookings alone.
SLS likely isn’t asking any questions regarding why the Saudi Air Force sought occupancy at its resort. Its owners are presumably just happy to get a major booking on at the northern Strip property.
Stockbridge Capital Partners agreed to sell SLS Las Vegas to the Meruelo Group in May for $415 million. The deal is expected to be completed this fall. The Meruelo Group owns the Grand Sierra Casino in Reno.