Maybe the Palms is finally catching a break.
The off-Strip Las Vegas casino and resort, which opened soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, has been through the Great Recession, nagging financial difficulties, ownership changes, and a two-year pandemic shutdown. But now, it’s reopening just as Vegas is experiencing a vibrant upswing.
The Palms – now owned by the San Manuel Tribe of Mission Indians, who operate a casino near San Bernardino, California – reopens on Wednesday.
Though the Palms casino-resort’s history has been dotted by challenges, its re-introduction comes just as the town welcomes an anticipated 200,000 visitors for the NFL Draft beginning Thursday. The festivities are expected to run through the weekend in an extravaganza that will shut down The Strip to traffic for a time.
Perhaps more important to a successful future for the Palms is that Las Vegas seems to have regained its allure as the pandemic wanes and its calendar has been filled with sports and entertainment events. Convention business is beginning to pick up, and room rates have been rising dramatically.
The Palms will add 766 rooms to the city’s inventory, including some over-the-top suites, and its restaurants will include steakhouse Scotch 80 Prime, Mabel’s BBQ, Send Noodles and the Serrano Vista Café.
On the horizon is the return of the Ghostbar, made famous in the Palms’ heyday in the realty TV show The Real World, and the Pearl music theater.
The 73,000-square foot pool area is described as multilevel with two main pools and the attendant cabanas, daybeds and lounge chairs.
The Palms’ current ownership by the San Manuel Tribe of Mission Indians is history in itself.
More than two decades ago, the casino-resort was opened by members of the Maloof family when they also owned the NBA’s Sacramento Kings at a moment when it was considered ground-breaking to have such a close connection between pro sports and a casino.
Eventually, the casino-resort was sold to Red Rock, a subsidiary of Station Casinos, in 2016. After it took over the Palms, Red Rock began a renovation of more than $600 million but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Las Vegas was shut down.
In the midst of the shutdown, the San Manuel Tribe of Mission Indians agreed to purchase the Palms for a reported $650 million from Red Rock Resorts.
The tribe’s ownership marks a first for Las Vegas in that the casino-resort is fully owner-operated by Native American interests. Several blocks to the east, at the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas (the former Hard Rock casino), the Mohegan Sun Tribe of Connecticut has substantial operational responsibilities but ownership includes British billionaire Richard Branson.
When the Palms opened more than 20 years ago, it tried to straddle two markets – the locals market during the week, Monday to Thursday, and a hip, younger market, Friday to Sunday.
Its location on Flamingo Road, about 1.5 miles from the Strip, is an interesting mix of advantage and disadvantage. For starters, it’s not really within walking distance of The Strip so casino-hopping tourists can’t stroll in on foot. But it is just off the Interstate 15 exit on Flamingo Road, which means that locals can take the highway and visit a casino with a Strip vibe without having to deal with the crowded tourist activity of The Strip itself.
The Palms got a huge lift-off in its early days when it was featured as the locale for one of the first reality TV shows, The Real World on MTV, that made it a must-see attraction for younger visitors. And the 55th-floor Ghostbar, with a glass floor, was one of the hottest and hardest-to-get-into nightspots in Vegas.
However, as challengers for the young market came onto the Vegas scene, such as the Cosmopolitan at the center of The Strip, the Palms had a difficult time keeping up with the ever-changing Las Vegas landscape and the fickle nature of a demographic that’s always looking for the next trendy thing.
This time, the Palms has the advantage of a Las Vegas market that might need more capacity soon. With an NFL franchise (Raiders) and NHL team (Golden Knights) already in town, good prospects for luring the MLB Athletics from Oakland, and a Major League Soccer team just about a certainty, Las Vegas is brimming with potential.
For the Palms, a casino-resort that has seen its share of challenging times, that would be a welcome change.