The top four floors of the Cosmopolitan hotel in Las Vegas have been vacant since the day the casino opened in 2010. But as part of a five-year capital investment plan by the Blackstone Group that shifts the hotel’s focus from culinary destination to stylish casino hotspot, they’ve finally been furnished and opened to the public.

Well, sort of. The 21 Boulevard Penthouse suites that now fill those top floors have balconies overlooking the Bellagio fountains and Vegas strip, designs by Adam Tihany, and $56,000 bottles of Louis XIII Black Pearl cognac—and a minimum buy-in of $1 million at the Reserve, the Cosmopolitan’s high-roller lounge. According to travel specialist Jack Ezon of Ovation Travel, that may make them the most expensive hotel rooms anywhere in the world.

The main driver here is to attract so-called whales. Before, those who wanted to play a million or more in the casino could go elsewhere and get more than what the Cosmopolitan was offering. “They were players and not stayers,” explained Brian Benowitz, senior vice president of casino operations. “People play more where they sleep.”

So what will those high rollers get now? Bloomberg took a first look inside the Richmond Penthouse to get an idea.

About that Price Tag ...
In Vegas, a million-dollar buy-in isn’t unheard of—at least not on big weekends such as those that straddle the Super Bowl, the Chinese New Year, or New Year’s Eve. But even the nicest rooms in town—such as the villas at Bellagio and the Mansions at the MGM Grand, where built-in massage rooms, indoor swimming pools, and billiard rooms all can come inside the suite—are regularly available for far less money. MGM’s Mirage Villas? They hover around $20,000. The 10,500-square-foot, David Rockwell-designed villa atop the Nobu Hotel (which is part of Caesars Palace)? It's dripping with gold, besides having an Instagram-worthy tub and piano—and it's about $35,000 per night.

Ironically, managers of top Las Vegas suites have been dropping the high-roller requirement in recent years, opening them up to regular, nongambling guests—so long as they’re able to pay. Prices shift depending on time of year, who you are, and what kind of a relationship you have with the marketing manager, but sometimes these palatial rooms can go for as little as $5,000. Not bad, compared with the Cosmopolitan’s buy-in.

“Our guests were telling us that even if they weren’t in the casino, they wanted a villa experience, so we opened it up to anyone, and people love it,” said Melissa Bailey, director of Sky Suites at MGM’s 4,004-room Aria. From a business perspective, she says the move has helped the hotel compensate for midweek slumps, when whales aren’t working the baccarat tables.

A Risky Bet
Here’s why many Vegas managers have been ditching the “high roller” in their high-roller suites: According to the University of Nevada Las Vegas Center for Gaming Research, casino revenues have declined sharply, and consistently, since 1984. Back then, gaming represented nearly 59 percent of total revenue on the Strip, with hotels pulling in just 16 percent. By 2012, that had shifted to 36 percent casino revenue and 25 percent hotel business. Today, that gap has continued to narrow, with casinos now pulling in 34 percent and hotels yielding 28 percent.

It goes to show that whales aren’t the only big spenders in Vegas.  The conference business, it turns out, is where MGM is putting its money. “It’s not always about the casino guests,” said Aria’s Bailey “It’s about functions and hosted events—a wedding or the launch of an app, or anything in between—and the importance of conventions.”

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