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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Marnell: M Resort is at "turning point"

21 March 2013

LAS VEGAS -- Of all the changes made at the M Resort since the property opened in March 2009, among the most gut-wrenching for Anthony Marnell III was closing Veloce Cibo, the hotel-casino’s 16th floor restaurant with expansive views to the north of the Strip.

“It was a heartbreaker for me, but I made the decision,” Marnell said Wednesday of the November 2011 closure of a restaurant that received high marks from customers and critics, but didn’t perform financially as well as other M Resort eateries.

“I loved that restaurant, but it was the right thing to do for the property.”

The space has since become a facility for special events, such as weddings and corporate receptions, and is much more profitable than it ever was as a restaurant.

The decision was one of several tough-love changes undertaken by Marnell since his family built and opened M Resort at a cost of nearly $1 billion.

The hardest was seeing the stylish hotel-casino taken over by regional casino giant Penn National Gaming. That company, best known for its Hollywood Casino brand, acquired M Resort’s debt in a bank-directed reorganization in October 2010. Penn National was officially licensed as owner by Nevada gaming regulators in June 2011.

Today, M Resort is in a much stronger financial position with Penn’s backing and Marnell directing the property that he helped create and open.

“The property is doing substantially better from when they bought it,” Marnell said.

M Resort’s quarterly financial results are reported by Penn Gaming as part of the company’s east-west division, which includes Hollywood casinos and racetrack casinos in Maine, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Mexico.

In 2012, the division was responsible for almost $1.35 billion of Penn’s total revenues of $2.9 billion.

In Nevada, M Resort’s results are part of the Gaming Control Board’s Boulder Strip reporting section, which includes casinos along Boulder Highway and in Henderson. Last year, the segment collected $796.7 million in gaming revenues, an increase of 2.3 percent.

Marnell, 39, negotiated a deal to remain as the property’s president with Penn, which allowed him to focus solely on operating M Resort, something he couldn’t do for much of a year.

“When you’re in a day-to-day battle with the banks, you don’t spend as much time being able to operate or refine the business strategies,” he said.

He brought Penn a list of various changes, much of which was agreed upon. Veloce Cibo was closed and two other restaurants were converted; the coffee shop was taken over by the popular Hash House a Go Go brand and the steakhouse became Anthony’s Steakhouse.

The casino floor was given a make-over and M Resort now has 1,800 slot machines and 64 table games. There are still plans to relocate the high-limit gambling area.

One of the better moves, Marnell said, was adding M Pavilion last year, a 27,000-square-foot facility for large conventions and entertainment. As an arena, the site seats 2,200 and Marnell said M Resort has changed the focus of its entertainment offerings.

“We’re not bringing in the big and expensive headline acts,” Marnell said. “The entertainment we’re bringing is a good value proposition for our customers.”

Later this year, M Resort’s player loyalty program will interface with Penn National’s players card, which could provide M Resort customers with additional benefits, Marnell said.

Penn National has 29 casinos and racetrack facilities in 19 states and the province of Ontario. The company has said it sends customers from around the country to M Resort.

Marnell said the 390-room M Resort is still dependent on the Las Vegas locals market for the bulk of its business. The property’s 90-acre footprint is master planned for expansion.

“The master plan is in place and that’s one of the values of this property,” Marnell said. “We’re taking it slow. We believe 2013 will be the turning point.”