MTR primed for Binion’s takeover

Dec 21, 2004 6:29 AM

Szepelak says he will import two or three people from the management team at the Speedway, including the director of table games and the director of slot operations, and recruit a few outsiders.

His leadership team at Speedway has an established track record of turning properties around as the casino went from a $1.5 million deficit in 2000 to a $600,000 profit in the most recent nine months.

Since Binion’s has a large casino but only 365 guest rooms, its priorities will be obvious. "We’re going to be a gambling hall first and a hotel second," Szepelak says.

Right now, Binion’s Horseshoe, which is being run by the Harrah’s, is showing a profit. If the property is still in the black on March 12, Harrah’s collects a $5 million bonus from MTR, which earlier this year paid $20 million for the property, a fire-sale price that Szepelak considers a steal for MTR.

The bonus provides an incentive for Harrah’s to make sure the property isn’t in a downward spiral when MTR takes the reins, but much work needs to be done if Binion’s is to regain its place as a major downtown attraction.

Szepelak hasn’t decided on any specific promotions to restore the lost luster of the famous casino, but he is looking forward to "making some changes and making the property really blossom."

One of the changes he seeks is for the Fremont Street Experience to tie its light show into major tourist events such as the National Finals Rodeo, NASCAR races and the Las Vegas Invitational Golf Tournament. While he sees the Fremont Street Experience as an asset for downtown, Szepelak is still "trying to figure out how to best use it." He added he wants downtown to be a "fun, great value and high energy place."

Szepelak started his gaming career in 1988 as an accountant at the Rio, and then worked his way up to chief financial officer before leaving for Texas Station, where he became assistant general manager. The divorced father of two boys has been in his current role for five years.

Once the changeover is complete, Szepelak says Binion’s will offer attractive table game minimums and liberalized craps bets such as higher odds bets. Slot players will also be able to choose from a wider variety of penny slots and multi-denominational games.

Perhaps most importantly, he says Binion’s will "foster an environment (similar to) when Binion’s was THE place. We’re going to re-create that feel and that atmosphere."

Ultimately, the bottom line will show whether his team has been successful in resuscitating the property, Szepelak says. But his bosses at MTR Gaming Group, which has its base in Chester, W. Va., must be optimistic because they would like at least one more property in southern Nevada. The youthful casino executive is also optimistic about restoring Binion’s to the lofty place it once held. And his reasoning rests on a very basic premise: customers are always on the prowl for good value. "The product is good," he says, "and the pricing is a lot more customer-friendly across the board at Binion’s."