Centerpiece casino of CityCenter opening in Vegas

LAS VEGAS - Casino executives prepared to open the newest and most expensive joint on the Las Vegas Strip on Wednesday night - a 4,000 room resort at the heart of the $8.5 billion CityCenter complex.

The 61-story Aria Resort & Casino was to be publicly unveiled with fireworks and fanfare, fitting for the heart of a project that has taken center stage in the struggling casino industry.

CityCenter owners MGM Mirage and Dubai World planned to remotely ring the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange after a morning ribbon-cutting ceremony at the resort's main valet.

MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren told employees in an e-mail that Aria's opening will let tourists experience CityCenter as it was envisioned, instead of in bits and pieces. Other parts of the 67-acre development opened earlier this month.

"This isn't just another opening," Murren said. "This is a game-changer."

Once Aria opens, its rooms along with those at CityCenter's Mandarin Oriental and Vdara hotels will increase room capacity on the Las Vegas Strip by 8.5 percent, UBS Investment Research analyst Robin Farley said.

That increase has competitors worried, as visitation to Las Vegas has decreased in the past two years as consumers spent less time and money traveling and gambling.

On Tuesday, a representative of the venerable Sahara hotel-casino less than three miles from CityCenter said it would shutter two of its towers until demand improves. On Monday, Binion's Gambling Hall & Hotel in downtown Las Vegas closed its 365 guest rooms and cut 100 jobs to cut costs.

Competitors worry that CityCenter brings immediate pressure to lower room rates to keep hotels filled. But Murren and other MGM Mirage officials predict CityCenter will help Las Vegas as a whole, spurring visitation and bringing a catalyst for long-term prosperity.

MGM Mirage owns the most casinos on the Strip, but Murren told employees that CityCenter will help, not hurt, the company's other resorts.

"Once you do experience it, I believe you'll better understand and appreciate it and its importance to the future of our company and our city," Murren said. "I also think you will agree with me that CityCenter is key to our future as our company's single best marketing tool - not just for Aria or Vdara, but for every one of our resorts."


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