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A $375 million Vegas project with no slot machines

What happened in Vegas ... keeps changing.

Over the years, Sin City has continually reinvented itself, from the Rat Pack to family-friendly to super-sexy to Chinese gambling mecca to club hub for millennials.

There has always been one constant: Gambling.

Now, not so much.

A general view shows T-Mobile Arena on April 5, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The USD 375 million, 20,000-seat sports and entertainment venue, a joint venture partnership between MGM Resorts International and AEG, opens on April 6.
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A general view shows T-Mobile Arena on April 5, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The USD 375 million, 20,000-seat sports and entertainment venue, a joint venture partnership between MGM Resorts International and AEG, opens on April 6.

Opening Wednesday night is the $375 million T-Mobile Arena, a 50-50 joint venture between MGM Resorts International and AEG. Inside the 20,000-seat venue are all kinds of places to eat, drink and be merry. But not to gamble. Las Vegas is increasingly making money away from the gaming tables, and the new arena is the biggest bet yet that the non-gaming trend will continue.

"The market really needs it," said MGM Resorts Chairman and CEO Jim Murren said of the large arena. "We turn away a lot of great acts every year, people that want to perform, but they don't have the venues."

Las Vegas-born band The Killers will open the Arena Wednesday, along with Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton. This weekend, Guns 'N' Roses reunites for the first time in over 20 years. The T-Mobile Arena will also have George Strait as an artist in residence, and upcoming events include Billy Joel, Garth Brooks, and UFC 200, where Conor McGregor will seek vengeance on Nate Diaz.

Up until now, UFC events have taken place across the street at the slightly smaller MGM Grand. Murren admits the T-Mobile Arena will not cannibalize his other properties, at least for now. "We want this to be the hometown arena for Las Vegas," he said, "and if we lose some events at MGM and Mandalay, but it's good for the town, it's good for MGM."

His partner, AEG President and CEO Dan Beckerman, agreed. "It reminds me a lot of when we went into London and build the 02 in London and thought, 'Geez, could there be more events?' And really, the new venue creates new events." AEG is one of the largest promoter and owner of sports and entertainment events.

More supply is on the way, however, as MGM is also constructing a new 5,300-seat theater right next door at the Monte Carlo, similar to the Colosseum at Caesar's Palace. Up the strip, Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson is pitching the concept of a $1.3 billion stadium to lure an NFL team. The Adelson plan requires public funding. MGM Resorts and AEG privately funded the entire T-Mobile Arena.

AEG landed several naming rights and sponsorship deals before breaking ground on the arena, and all 42 luxury suites are sold out, some going for $235,000 a year. Those upfront commitments were critical to getting financing for the project. "With so many events coming in ... it's a staggering, the number of events," Beckerman said, "so this will be a good investment."

The arena includes an 18,000 square nightclub with bottle service and views of the Vegas Strip. Cox Business has built in a 10-Gigabit fiber optic network and installed over 500 wireless access points for free WiFi. Opening night fun facts include nearly one million ounces of beer being delivered. However, the most distinguishing features are two platforms on the top level which jut out high above the arena floor. They look like two versions of the USS Enterprise. Here visitors can watch from above with a good vantage point for taking selfies.

Both CEOs said they planned the arena before there was any chance the NHL might expand to Las Vegas, and they reportedly expect 100 events a year at T-Mobile without a team. "It's just going to be more fun for the town if we get one," said Murren. Owners reportedly have to decide by June if a team can come to Vegas in order for one to be here by the 2017-18 season.


The arena also brings with it the first open park along the Las Vegas Strip ... and paid parking. People coming to events will have to pay $10 to park at nearby MGM properties. There is no on-site parking yet. There will be public transit to and from the venue.

Opening a new stadium is not new to AEG, but it is new to MGM Resorts. CEO Murren is no stranger to risk. He helmed the gaming giant as it nearly avoided bankruptcy to build CityCenter during the recession. MGM is opening a new facility in Cotai even as gaming revenues in Macau continue to disappoint. Now, a big arena without any guarantees of a sports franchise? "We own 42,000 hotel rooms here, we know this market better than anyone else," Murren said. "To find a partner like AEG and to build right in our neighborhood, this is as safe a bet as you can make in Las Vegas, and we'll prove that out in the next year."

The proof begins right now.


—By CNBC's Jane Wells. Follow her on Twitter: @janewells