Need for speed: Off-Strip casinos find ways to participate in F1 weekend

The Nevada Independent
Need for speed: Off-Strip casinos find ways to participate in F1 weekend
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Ellis Island, Palms take creative approaches with hotel room packages and customer incentives during November’s Las Vegas Grand Prix.

Unlike its Las Vegas Strip neighbors, Ellis Island Hotel and Casino doesn’t have high-end luxury suites among its 300 hotel rooms. There isn’t a high-limit gaming lounge or a baccarat table inside the small casino that offers 300 slot machines and 15 blackjack tables.

Ellis Island’s restaurants include the Village Pub and The Front Yard, neither of which are operated by a celebrity chef and focus more on offering what they call “THE BEST deal in Las Vegas” — a $9.99 steak special.

“Our location allows our little hotel to stay competitive in the market,” Ellis Island Vice President of Development Christina Ellis said of the casino that was started by her grandfather in the late 1960s and now sits in the shadows of Planet Hollywood, Paris Las Vegas and Horseshoe Las Vegas, one block east of the Strip on Koval Lane.

“We’ve always been a place where locals have a good time or out-of-town guests find the convenience of being close to the Strip,” Ellis said.

But the upcoming Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix offers Ellis Island a way to change its humble persona — for at least a weekend.

The casino is just around the corner from the $500 million Formula One Paddock Building, the heartbeat of November’s inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix that includes the race’s start-finish line, pit row, garages, primary grandstands and high-end luxury hospitality suites.

Through a partnership with Formula One, Ellis Island became an “official venue” of the race and is offering 1,000 grandstand seats at the front of the property along Koval, just past where F1 cars will exit Turn 4 of the 3.9-mile circuit and onto a straightaway crossing Flamingo Road heading toward the Sphere in Las Vegas.

Casinos on and off the Strip corridor are eagerly anticipating the Nov. 16-18 Grand Prix, offering a mix of promotions and expensive race-viewing packages with price tags ranging from three to six figures. Though the race marks Formula One’s debut on the Strip, gaming analysts say excitement around the race and deep-pocketed visitors could translate into one of the city’s highest-ever gaming revenue weekends. 

“We saw the value of Formula One and having the facility right next door, we knew we wanted to find a way to get involved,” Ellis said. “We got into conversations pretty early on how we could be good neighbors.”

Ellis Island is offering $1,500 tickets for grandstand seating for all three days of the race, which includes complimentary food and non-alcoholic drinks. Cash bars will be available throughout the viewing area.

Other changes are coming to the property ahead of the race.

Ellis said the palm trees in front of the property will be removed and boxed up to make way for grandstands and will be replanted after the race.

For $5,000, the casino is offering a special — a two-bedroom suite that includes two tickets for all three days, along with the grandstand seating and access to an observation deck viewing area that will be built adjacent to The Front Yard Restaurant, which is an indoor-outdoor beer garden.

The hotel, which is connected by a porte cochere to the casino, was operated by Super 8 until 2014 when the Ellis family took over and remodeled the rooms. On a normal weekend, the hotel rooms go for between $125 and $200 a night.

As of last week, Ellis Island was listing all of its hotel rooms for Friday and Saturday nights during the Formula One weekend for a minimum price of $999 per night.

Ellis said the property has received interest from locals seeking a less expensive place to watch the race for the weekend.

“We’re the smallest place on the track, and we're excited to welcome people to the property,” she said.

As a comparison, Formula One is building hospitality suites on the opposite side of Koval Lane — where tickets cost $8,000 per person for the three days of racing. Las Vegas Grand Prix Chief Commercial Officer Emily Prazer said a benefit to holding a race in Las Vegas is that F1 can “leverage existing venues along the track and partner to create fun, unique viewing options.”

Getting in the game

Ellis Island is not the only hotel-casino without a Las Vegas Boulevard address embracing the international racing circuit.

The Palms Casino Resort on West Flamingo Road is marketing various Las Vegas Grand Prix packages to its customers, including using several of the high-end suites the casino’s previous ownership spent millions of dollars to create.

One package in the 9,000-square-foot Empathy Suite has a $777,000 cost and includes seven nights, two Formula One hospitality suite tickets, six grandstand tickets and a variety of resort VIP hospitality offerings.

A $75,000 package includes two nights in a Sky Villa Suite with its infinity pool that overlooks the Strip, two Formula One hospitality suite tickets, four grandstand tickets and other resort perks and amenities.

Palms General Manager Cynthia Kiser Murphey said the property is still offering its 766 hotel rooms starting at $399 a night during the race weekend, hoping “to be the affordable place” for Formula One fans. She didn’t say how many tickets the Palms has for the race, but the property has multiple levels of ticket packages.

“Our goal is to play in every market price range,” Murphey said. “We have the very, very high end and then we've got something that's affordable to that fan who just wants to come to be part of the action.”

She acknowledged complaints that have been raised on social media and other channels by Las Vegas residents about the high cost of tickets to the event. The Las Vegas Grand Prix has an agreement with Clark County for the race to take place each year over the next 10 years.

“It’s the first year and Vegas will figure this out,” Murphey said. “At the Palms, we’re going to do the best we can to make sure our people aren’t being shut out.” 

The Palms, which is roughly a mile from the intersection of Flamingo Road and the Strip, will provide transportation to and from the grandstands for its guests. The casino will also televise the race throughout the property and offer various promotions, much like Super Bowl weekend.

The casino, acquired in 2021 by the gaming arm of Southern California’s San Manuel Indian Tribe, expects to draw many racing fans who are already customers of the tribe’s flagship Yaamava' Resort Casino in San Bernardino County.

“What we’re trying to do is make our property accessible to all price points,” Murphey said. “We’re very focused on making sure we can serve our customers. We know there is a lot of hype around this event.”

Other non-Strip gaming companies, including Boyd Gaming and Red Rock Resorts, declined to comment about plans for Formula One. 

A record for gaming in November?

The Strip has never experienced a $1 billion gaming revenue month. However, analysts and casino executives believe casino play during Formula One weekend could help the industry smash previous records.

The Gaming Control Board said Strip casinos set a single-month gaming revenue record of nearly $835 million in August. Through the year’s first seven months, the region’s revenue figure is up 6.5 percent from the same point in 2022, when casinos collected a single-year record $8.2 billion.

The upward gaming revenue trend has led to predictions that high-end customers associated with Formula One who are staying in resorts situated along the 3.9-mile race circuit will help fuel record-setting casino numbers.

“Operators' gaming expectations have increased with many believing the weekend could be one of the highest-grossing gaming events in city history,” Truist Securities gaming analyst Barry Jonas wrote in a research note Thursday following meetings with resort and casino executives in Las Vegas.

“Commentary around the inaugural F1 race being a baseline was encouraging,” Jonas added. “Operators believe that this year’s event should be a launching-off point for future events.”

Many of the Strip’s biggest properties, including Bellagio and Caesars Palace, are creating venues along the racing circuit to keep their high-end players close to their properties so they won’t wander too far away.

Last week, Wynn Resorts and Formula One announced the Wynn Grid Club, a $50,000 membership that includes access to a private hospitality suite with views of the start/finish line and turns one and two, along with tickets for the opening ceremony, practice rounds, qualifying, race day and a post-race day brunch. Wynn Las Vegas will provide transportation to and from the Wynn Grid Club.

MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle said in August that more than 70 percent of the company’s Las Vegas Grand Prix ticket allotment was committed to its top gaming customers.

“Early front money and credit data suggest that Formula One is shaping up to be an all-time record casino event for the company,” Hornbuckle said on MGM’s second-quarter earnings conference.

Cashing in

Ellis Island Vice President of Operations Anamarie Ellis agreed with Hornbuckle’s opinion that casinos could see record revenue totals. The results would be on a much smaller scale for Ellis Island compared to MGM, which operates Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Aria and six other Strip properties.

“We’ll base our table game business like every other casino does,” she said. “We always have two or three $5 blackjack tables and we’re planning on adding more games,” she said. “We’re excited that our location [along the circuit] allows us to do something that we can offer to our guests.”

Murphey said having racing events in the late evening hours leaves the rest of the day for customers to enjoy the resort’s other offerings

“You can go to the spa. You can have long dinners, you can hang out in the casino,” Murphey said. “I think it's great that you don't have to be anywhere early.”

Leadership at Palms and Ellis Island view the Las Vegas Grand Prix as similar to Las Vegas Raiders home games at Allegiant Stadium.

“We’ve seen what sports has done for our property and what it has done for the town,” Christina Ellis said. “It’s not just Raiders fans, but the away team’s fans as well. I think our location has helped. We stay competitive in pricing and we’re only one street off the Strip, and the Strip fills up.”