Jim Murren, Former MGM CEO and co-founder and Chairman of Acies Acquisition, joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the Acies Acquisition SPAC IPO, the future of live entertainment, and his work helping to control COVID-19 in Nevada.
ADAM SHAPIRO: All right, if you’ve been to Las Vegas, then there’s a good chance you’ve been to places like Bellagio, ARIA, Mandalay Bay. There’s a whole slew of resorts that are part of MGM Resorts, but that means you know our next guest. And that would be Jim Murren.
He’s the former CEO of MGM Resorts, and he’s also the Nevada– the governor there put him in charge of their COVID task force and relief recovery program. But he’s just launched a brand new SPAC, and it’s called Acies. He’s here to talk about that and everything else. So it’s good to see you again, Jim. Welcome to the program.
JIM MURREN: Thank you for having me.
ADAM SHAPIRO: Let’s start with the SPAC because it– what does it actually mean, Acies? And you’re going to be targeting is it entertainment, or is it new kinds of entertainment?
JIM MURREN: Well, it’s a tough-sounding name, but it’s Latin. It means resolute focus. So our management team and our board, which is uniquely collected as entrepreneurs and operators, are focused on a handful of situations in digital entertainment, both social-casual gaming as well as in the e-sports, sports, igaming field, as well as live entertainment. And there are a handful of opportunities that we’re looking at of dislocated valuations of live entertainment companies.
And so that– the board and the management team– it’s a SPAC. It’s only $200 million. We’re already in discussions with companies that we know quite well, companies that I’ve known for decades in some cases. And we hope to get to a founder-based solution to acquire a company and bring in some pipe investment in order to effectuate a nice transaction over the near term.
– Hey, Seana, I think you’re muted.
SEANA SMITH: Sorry about that. Jim, I want to ask you just about those conversations that you were just talking about, especially when it comes to the live entertainment portion of this. What are you hearing from the companies that you’re talking to, just in terms of how you’re situated right now and whether or not they’re positioned to get to the other side of COVID and be successful?
JIM MURREN: Well, it’s very company specific, and that gets back to that being focused. Some companies have a very strong balance sheet. They’re going to be able to endure this dark period for however long it takes. But others are family-owned businesses. They’re, obviously, private businesses. Their balance sheets are already stretched. They were showing some really good cadger of revenue and EBITDA growth leading up into 2019, and then the lights went out.
And so it really is company specific. And if you take a look at our board, we have folks such as Ted– Sam Kennedy, the CEO of Fenway Sports Management, Zach Leonsis from Monumental. They own the Caps, the Wizards, the Mystics. We have Andrew Zobler the genius that created NoMad in New York and other great brands. And we have Brisa Trinchero from live entertainment, from Broadway.
So between our board members and some of the relationships I have and my other folks, we do see some real good opportunity in live entertainment. But we’re focusing a lot on the digital side as well.
ADAM SHAPIRO: Jim, I have a two-part time question for you. First, with the SPAC, is there going to be movement, do you think, some kind of announcement before the end of the year? Can you share that with us? And then I wanted to get into the time horizon for just the kind of entertainment a lot of us enjoyed in Las Vegas, which it was in-person, crowded kind of stuff, when that might be coming back.
JIM MURREN: Right, so you know, SPACs typically have a– the clock started about a week and a half ago. We have two years in order to effectuate a deal. It’s not going to take two years. I wouldn’t have done this if I felt it would take that long. I would hope that we would have a transaction in the very early stages of the SPAC’s lifecycle, meaning within the next six months, we should be able to chat with you about a deal that makes sense to the founders, the owners of the company and how we could shepherd that company through the entrepreneurial, operational, capital-markets lifecycle as a public company.
SEANA SMITH: And Jim, just going off of Adam’s second question there, just what are you seeing just in terms of the recovery right now that’s playing out in Las Vegas? Because COVID has been so devastating, especially for your city. I know you were appointed by the governor of Nevada to lead the state’s COVID response. So what does it look like right now, just in terms of where we are for that?
JIM MURREN: Well, we’re exactly where the health experts said we would be, as you’ve talked about on your show today. And we long ago gave up on relying on federal help here in the state. I took on this task force back in March. MGM was very kind to me. They let me leave a few months early to chair this task force.
And the first thing we did was spool up PPE, and we’re using Wynn and Sands and MGM and NV Energy. And we have stockpiled a tremendous amount of vitally important PPE for first responders, the medical community. We’re continuing to do that because we do expect it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Secondly, we built up testing capacity. Nevada has ceded– had ceded its role on testing to other states. Frankly, we were held hostage to out-of-state testing companies, which meant we weren’t getting test results back within a proper period of time. So my task force built a large testing capacity here in Las Vegas. We can test 15,000, 20,000 people a day just here alone, which was 200 a day when we started, and we’ve done that statewide.
We’re really focused on contact tracing now. We’ve set out a digital app called COVID Trace. We’re trying to get people to download this and be responsible on the contact-tracing side.
The good news about Las Vegas and gaming in general. And you’re speaking to other forms of entertainment. We’re a highly-regulated industry. Every gaming company has been required to submit robust health safety plans to the Gaming Control Board or the other gaming regulatory bodies throughout the country, and they have to adhere to them.
And so I see a very focused effort on health, safety, and I think what that will mean is we’re going to see gradual reoccupancy of live entertainment events– gradual. And I think we’re not going to see a robust recovery until 2022, but I think you’re going to start seeing folks being able to go to fights, concerts, theatrical events, and conventions as early as in the coming months, even with the backdrop of what we’re seeing on a national and a state level, because of these health safety measures we’re putting into place.
ADAM SHAPIRO: You know, Jim, I was thinking a headline for this could be, should bet on Vegas to lead the kind of recovery to get back to normal. But I’m curious, will Vegas be the same after this pandemic, or is it going to be changed forever?
JIM MURREN: Well, I think that consumers are going to change the way they consume, just as travelers changed the way we traveled after 9/11. And it didn’t mean we stopped traveling. It meant that there were different safety protocols put into place with TSA, and then the private sector came involved, like Clear, as an example. Clear is involved in health safety right now.
People have a fundamental need to be entertained. They want to be with other people in entertainment and in conventions, and that will come back. But we’re going to consume entertainment differently, more responsibly, and with more protections in place. Tomorrow night, I’m going to a fight at MGM. It’s nationally televised– ESPN. My wife and I are going to go.
What are we going to do? We’re going to download an app from Clear. We’re going to get a PCR test right there. We’re going to wait until we’re cleared and become COVID negative. If we’re not, we’re going right to the doctor. We’re going to be able to socially distance. We have downloaded a contact-tracing app. We know that the protocols are put into place at theaters and convention centers.
And you are right, the headline is that Las Vegas will lead the way, in terms of live entertainment and hospitality. We have no choice. Without live entertainment, without conventions, Las Vegas is just another hotel town, and that’s not acceptable to us. And so my prediction is you’re going to see folks in Allegiant Stadium and in T-Mobile Arena and in the convention centers gradually and responsibly later this year and into 2021 but only if the operators, the state, and the public health officials believe it’s safe to do so.
And I want to make a point on education that you made. We’re spending a lot of time on this on my task force. We’ve been online here in Clark County for eight months. We connected over 800,000 families around the state to the internet, and 300,000 of them are here in Clark County. But we also need to provide health-safety protocols in these schools.
Why does Bellagio have a better HVAC system than a public grammar school? It’s just not right. And so we’re taking a lot of what we’ve learned in the hospitality sector, and we’re being– we’re deploying it into public health, public facilities, like education, so that we can try to help get the kids back to school responsibly in a health-safety environment that you’d expect to have at a resort.
ADAM SHAPIRO: Jim Murren is the former chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International. He’s also the co-founder of Acies Acquisition. It’s always good to have you here, and we look forward to you coming back with that announcement in hopefully less than six months. All the best to you, Jim.
JIM MURREN: Thank you for having me.