LAS VEGAS – Much of Las Vegas changes dramatically in early December, when the City of Lights becomes better known as Cowboy Town in honor of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
The MGM Grand Hotel and Casino does more than dabble in the Western lifestyle for two weeks – the resort tackles the immense popularity of ProRodeo’s premier championship in typical MGM Grand fashion by continuing its rich tradition as the Home of Champions. With amenities that reach as far as the Wyoming sky, the MGM Grand has become a comfortable home to the greatest players in the sport.
“My family and I stayed at the MGM last year, and it was the easiest that week has been on my family since we’ve been going to Vegas,” said Bobby Mote, a four-time world champion bareback rider from Culver, Ore., who has qualified for the Wrangler NFR 11 times in his career. “We stay at The Signature Towers, and you go in and out through a separate entrance. We were able to have our own kitchen.
“Basically it was like a house. If you have a place like a house, then you have a place to reset yourself. That’s a big factor.”
There are many factors for rodeo cowboys and cowgirls who are in Las Vegas competing for their share of the $6 million prize pool. This is a business trip, and partnering with the MGM has given each of the contestants that kind of feel.
“They have a history of having the champions there,” said Will Lowe, a three-time world champion bareback rider from Canyon, Texas. “It’s one of the original casinos in Las Vegas, and it has the biggest sporting events. More than that, it’s one of the nicest places overall to be at in Las Vegas.”
It’s no wonder there are 33 people representing 56 ProRodeo world championships who are making the MGM Grand their home while the best in the business battle for the most prized hardware in the sport, a Montana Silversmiths gold buckle given to each world titlist.
“The MGM is great, and the people there really make you comfortable,” said Trevor Brazile, a 15-time world champion who owns a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association record eight all-around gold buckles.
Whether it’s a convenient “home” in the main hotel at the corner of Tropicana and Las Vegas Boulevard or a suite at The Signature, champions know what they get when they arrive at the MGM Grand.
“This will be my first time staying there, and I’m very excited about it,” said Cody Whitney, a three-time Wrangler NFR qualifying bull rider from Asher, Okla. “Actually, last year we stayed at the MGM more than we did our own place because it was just so nice.
“We get more area for my kids to run around, since they’re going to be cooped up in the room more than not. There are a lot of great things for the kids to keep them occupied for 10 days, and if I want to go play a little, I can. Last year we had a Crown Royal team meeting at one of the MGM’s restaurants, and the food was excellent. I’ll have to go back this year now that we’re staying there.”
Whitney plans to stay in the main hotel, but fellow bull rider J.W. Harris and his family will reside in The Signature. A year ago, Harris’ wife, Jackie, gave birth to the couple’s first child, Aubrey, on Nov. 30, just two nights before the first round of the Wrangler NFR; the MGM Grand’s comfort became more of a necessity for the family than most who are in Las Vegas for the championship.
“It’s just so nice,” said Harris, the three-time reigning world champion bull rider from Mullin, Texas. “Where we are in the towers, you don’t have to walk through the casino. You come back from the Thomas & Mack Center, and you don’t have to push the baby through the smoke and all that other stuff. There’s valet parking, and they make it comfortable.
“They dang sure take good care of you. It’s like a home away from home.”
Harris said those creature comforts were one of the reasons he was able to focus so much on the tasks at hand when it came time for the competition, when he was facing the nastiest bucking beasts in the business for 10 straight December nights.
“When you’re there for two weeks and you have so many other things going on like taking care of your horses or doing appearances and all the other things that go into it, it’s nice to not have to worry about where you’re staying,” said Brittany Pozzi, a two-time barrel racing champion from Victoria, Texas. “They know my name and they know which rental vehicle I’m in. It’s very quaint, very refreshing.”
Jason Miller, the 2007 world champion steer wrestler from Lance Creek, Wyo., isn’t new to the resort, but this is his first time with Team MGM Grand. He knows the benefits well, and he’s looking forward to a long relationship.
“It’s close to the arena, and the restaurants are good,” Miller said. “Everything you want is right there in the MGM Grand. If the rodeo was at the MGM, you’d never have to leave.
“It’s a great location, but not just for the rodeo. You’re right off the strip. If you want to do anything, you’re right there.”