As it prepares to welcome back patrons for the first time in over two years, general manager Cynthia Kiser Murphey discusses the property’s – and Las Vegas’ – transformation.
Reopening an iconic property, especially one that has been shuttered since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, is a daunting task. For any property manager, the stakes are high. But this is not Cynthia Kiser Murphey’s first time spearheading such a project.
Murphey is a 15-year veteran of MGM Resorts, with more than a decade’s experience running New York New York. That background made her a perfect fit for the general manager position at the Palms, a role she took in September 2021.
Her track record is certainly an asset for the Palms project; not only is it reopening following a long period of closure, but its new ownership makes it something of a pioneer. The $650m sale of the Palms to the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians made it the first resort in Las Vegas to be owned by a Native American tribe.
“We are super proud, humbled and quite excited to be making history as the first tribal Las Vegas casino resort,” Murphey says. “It’s really an element of humble pride for our tribe. So it’s our job to do it right, to make it a really positive experience.
“Las Vegas is a unique place because the more Las Vegas adds, the more diversity it brings for guests and locals to come and experience.”
And there is certainly a significant, and lucrative, audience flocking to the city. Nevada rebounded strongly from its Covid-19 shutdown in 2021, with statewide revenue hitting a record $13.4bn for the year, including a 10-month streak in which revenue surpassed $1bn every month. That may mean there’s increased competition for consumers’ attention, but that’s something that Murphey welcomes.
“[As] long as we keep our amenities sharp and up to date, and continue working hard to offer a great experience for the guests, the more [competition] the better,” she says of the ever-developing Las Vegas landscape.
“That might sound a little bit unusual but we’ve always welcomed and embraced our community developments because it means more people are coming.
“I believe a lot of operators and a lot of investors are really interested in Las Vegas. Nevada is a really favourable business climate, and it’s great to diversify our economy, to have more and more investment.”
To maintain this, she adds, it’s down to the hospitality industry to continually reinvent itself, to make the city as exciting as possible – for players and investors.
“The more [people] that come to our city the better, and we can create and build out the Las Vegas experience for the future.”
All hands on deck
And as it prepares to become Las Vegas’ newest property, the Palms is working to contribute to that new and improved Vegas experience. Having led a number of property launches in her career to date, Murphey has the knowledge and maturity to deal with whatever issues may arise from opening a property of such scale and stature.
“I’ve done a large number of openings,” she says. “What’s most important is that opening a property is a really big undertaking.
“It takes a tremendous team of people who really pull together and apply their talents. Because when you’re opening properties you never quite know what’s going to happen.”
This natural spontaneity, alongside the cross-functional work and variety of talents and stakeholders involved, she explains, is what made her take the job.
“A lot of times you don’t necessarily stay in your own lane,” Murphey says. “So you might be the food and beverage person, and you’re working on a hotel operations project.
“You might be the gaming person that happens to be working on entertainment. For me, that’s probably one of the reasons why my skillset aligned towards this job.”
It’s natural to assume that opening any new casino property, never mind one of the Palms’ heritage, could be a stressful experience. But for Murphey that comes as part of the territory.
“If you jump into an opening, it’s really important that you know it’s going to be very consuming,” she says. “If you love that, and if you love the people you’re doing it with, then stress isn’t really what I’d call it. It’s quite invigorating and extremely consuming.”
“It’s interesting, because a lot of the things occurring are not in your control.”
It’s definitely a case of sweating the small stuff – as part of the Palms’ overhaul, just about every element was considered, to ensure the property felt new and fresh.
“For example, we had to redesign all our gaming chips,” Murphey explains. “We had to order chips, cards, dice and linens coming from all locations. A lot of initial things are going to be thrown at you from the beginning.”
“It’s going to happen, so it’s really how you respond to it. It’s about being creative and having a lot of energy.”
That energy has been used for a root-and-branch overhaul of the Palms. Here, the San Manuel Tribe has some experience; it rebranded its San Manuel Casino in Highland, California, to Yaamava’ Resort & Casino at San Manuel in September 2021.
And to create a link between the two properties, it’s natural that some elements of the California casino will be seen in the Palms redesign.
Yaamava’ has its own distinct look and feel, and these elements will influence the updated Palms’ composition. “Yaamava’ is well known for the true spirit of hospitality and a really strong culture,” she says. This, in turn, creates a unique cross-selling opportunity.
“It’s all about community and people first. So it’s our responsibility to bring that to the Palms and invite the Yaamava’ guests to come to Las Vegas.”
When it comes to specific elements, Murphey emphasises that key Yaamava’ features will be brought over to Vegas, to replicate its look and feel. The attention to detail is evident: the Palms’ coffee shop, for example, will be renamed the Serrano Vista Cafe, and its loyalty programme will be renamed Club Serrano to link to its Yaamava’ counterpart.
“We are redesigning the gaming floor and one of the main goals is to add a lot of energy, a lot of excitement to the floor,” she adds. “[We] wouldn’t be surprised to see some pop-up entertainment on the gaming floor.
“We’re going to incorporate the best of Yaamava’ so that when people from southern California visit they feel a sense of familiarity, yet a sense of excitement at being in Vegas.”
While bringing the sense of familiarity is important, the Palms will also feature some new and completely refreshed elements that will benefit a wider range of customers and the local community.
“We’re also putting in a brand-new sportsbook, we have a partnership with William Hill,” Murphey adds. “We have 14 movie theatres and they’re being completely refreshed with some special local artists’ approaches to the common area, and all-new luxury seating. We’re going to bring those elements in.”
The Palms’ entertainment venue, The Pearl, will also be overhauled.
“We’ll have our grand opening of The Pearl a little after the opening of the property,” says Murphey. “We’re very excited about that. We have a few exciting things in the works.”
Pressure to perform
The Palms’ opening comes at a time when numerous construction projects are gearing up in Las Vegas, and while Murphey says every new outlet only adds to the appeal of Las Vegas, there will be increasing pressure on operators to make a success of their presence there.
But to make this work, Murphey says operators must not look at the grand scale of projects in the city. Instead, she says it is vital to view the experience from a customer’s perspective and integrating features that align with that.
“My personal philosophy is that there is a desire by the customer to have more ‘small footprint’ entertainment and more social,” Murphey explains.
“You don’t have to buy a ticket and get in your seat, but you can experience entertainment, experience food without having a set agenda where you have to be in your seat at a certain time.”
Murphey says this more relaxed attitude to entertainment offerings creates a certain type of community atmosphere, which aligns with her ‘more the merrier’ philosophy.
“[The relaxed atmosphere] also ties nicely to employing local artists so we can bring in local musicians, local sculptors,” she continues.
“It’s almost like you have a lot of street fairs, but you can do that in a casino now and have a little bit more of a discovery experience as opposed to, ‘I have to be in my seat at eight o’clock for a show’. And I think that’s great too.
“I believe for the Palms, we can blend that community into an entertainment experience that the guest really enjoys.”
The Palms’ reopening is set to be a monumental moment, effectively representing both a return and a new entry to Las Vegas. Murphey has led one icon in New York New York; now the pressure is on to ensure San Manuel’s new venture has that same impact.