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Howard Stutz

CityCenter licensing gets own hearings

4 November 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The casino licensing for CityCenter has warranted its own separate hearing from Nevada gaming regulators.

The Gaming Control Board tentatively plans to discuss the $8.5 billion project, which is a 50-50 joint venture between MGM Mirage and Dubai World, the investment arm of the Persian Gulf emirate, on Nov. 13 in Las Vegas. Next week's scheduled control board hearing in Las Vegas has a larger-than-average agenda.

Nevada Gaming Commission would then take up the CityCenter issue on Nov. 19 in Las Vegas. The control board makes recommendations to the five-member commission, which has the final say on licensing matters.

Control board Chairman Dennis Neilander said agents are still going over material for the hearing, including documents that need to be translated into English from Arabic.

Attorney Ellen Whittimore, who represents MGM Mirage, said CityCenter, the largest privately funded construction project ever undertaken in the United States, deserves a separate hearing.

The Strip development, which has taken more than five years of planning and construction and covers 67 acres between Bellagio and Monte Carlo, will have roughly 6,000 hotel rooms and 2,400 high-rise residential condominiums within five towers and 500,000-square-foot retail, dining and entertainment district. CityCenter opens in phases starting in December.

"This is a major project that deserves the full attention of the board members, especially because of what this projects means to the community," Whittimore said. "This way, the board members will receive a full presentation without feeling rushed."

Whittimore said it was unclear who will attend the hearing from Dubai World, which spent almost $6 billion in 2007 to buy half of CityCenter and 9.4 percent of MGM Mirage's outstanding shares.

Dubai World's investment has decreased dramatically in value. The entity paid $80 a share for MGM Mirage's stock, which closed Tuesday at $9.65 on the New York Stock Exchange.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this month, MGM Mirage said the value of its half of the CityCenter joint venture was worth $2.44 billion, meaning the project is now worth a little more than half the construction costs.

Dubai World needs to be licensed to share in the gaming revenues from the casino inside Aria, CityCenter's 4,004-room centerpiece. Vdara, a 1,500-room hotel and condominium tower, and the Madarian Oriental, are both nongaming boutique hotels.

A year ago, when gaming regulators approved Dubai World status as an investor and allowed the entity to increase its stake in MGM Mirage, officials asked that Dubai World Chairman Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulaymen and Chief Financial Officer Maryam Sharaf file routine gaming license applications with the state.

Dubai World's corporate structure is governed by the emirate's laws and regulations.

In March, Dubai World filed a surprise lawsuit against MGM Mirage in Delaware, saying its joint-venture partner had mismanaged the CityCenter's development costs. Dubai World also refused to make its half of monthly payments that were due to keep CityCenter construction moving forward.

MGM Mirage was able to gain approval to pay both its portion and Dubai World's portion of the payments, keeping CityCenter from shutting down and ending up in bankruptcy.

A month later, MGM Mirage and Dubai World ended their feud by agreeing to a comprehensive plan to fully fund and complete CityCenter. Dubai World dropped the lawsuit.

CityCenter licensing gets own hearings is republished from