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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Q+A: Gamal Aziz

30 May 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The latest annual report for MGM Mirage forgoes descriptions of casino floors in favor of haute cuisine, stage performances and museum pieces.

And lest there be any remaining doubt about a new direction of the company, "Transformation" is printed boldly on the cover.

Such is one outcome of the company's move to create a subsidiary that will focus on building luxury nongaming hotels worldwide, both on its own and through partnerships with casinos and non casino companies.

Today, the company is to announce the appointment of MGM Grand President Gamal Aziz to lead that subsidiary, MGM Mirage Hospitality LLC. Aziz will continue to oversee MGM Grand along with his new duties. Primary among them: hiring veterans of the hotel - versus gaming - industry.

Aziz, who spent 15 years with the Westin hotel chain before arriving in Las Vegas 11 years ago to assume a food and beverage position at Caesars Palace, has played a role in MGM Mirage's desired transformation from gam ing giant to international hotel company.

Recruiting other executives from the hotel business, Aziz fostered a melting pot of ideas at MGM Grand that helped transform the casino's Disneyland atmosphere into a less-themed luxury hotel befitting discriminating travelers.

What might seem like a sudden love affair with all things nongam ing is instead a long-term business strategy driven by customer demand, Aziz said in an interview .

Is MGM Mirage's changing focus from a gaming company to an international hotel brand a byproduct of growth or does it reflect a new business strategy?

The strategy has been to grow the brand. And as the company's non gaming revenues have grown over the years to almost 60 percent of our entire business, it's only natural that we grow in a non gaming direction.

Isn't it ironic that the executive who opened Bellagio should be heading up a nongaming division at Nevada's biggest casino operator?

I spent my first 15 years in the hotel business with Westin Hotels and Resorts. Before I came to Las Vegas I worked in London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., in the nongaming sector. I've had the opportunity to see both sides of this business.

The biggest single chunk of the company's revenue still comes from gam ing rather than other activities. Isn't that the big allure for customers who come to MGM Mirage properties, even if they aren't really gamblers?

Sure, and we're going to continue to excel at that. But we see growth opportunity in the nongaming sector.

Will we see MGM Grand hotels in the world's major cities a few years from now?

In certain cities they will be MGM Grands and in others we will create new brands. We've excelled at creating new brands. Skylofts, the West Wing rooms and the Mansion at MGM Grand have gained worldwide recognition as sub-brands. We aren't tied to existing brands, as some hotel companies have been.

Why not stick to what MGM Mirage knows best - the gam ing resort business?

That would have been a relevant question 10 or 15 years ago. Today there are few companies that are just building casinos. We have developed a boutique hotel experience at our properties and are operating convention facilities. Extending the brand internationally is a strategic direction we've been working on for a while. Also, many people at this company are hoteliers who come from non gaming backgrounds, like myself.

Will the company's biggest growth in the coming years come from non gam ing hotels rather than casinos?

The growth in non gaming definitely has the potential to be higher , in my opinion. It's really hard to expand in gaming because of the limited number of jurisdictions. And, you don't have the same restrictions in the nongaming world.

Q+A: Gamal Aziz is republished from