Harrah’s ponders tantalizing options

Jun 14, 2005 4:34 AM

Harrah’s Entertainment may move to develop a new signature resort on the Las Vegas Strip as quickly as possible. There are good arguments for moving beyond the mere renaming of existing properties.

That’s one of the views offered by a source with a good view of the possibilities now under study as Harrah’s considers how to maximize the use of its new Las Vegas Strip frontage

If the company that just swallowed Caesars Entertainment chooses to move in this direction, then the new Harrah’s will probably, I’m told, be built on land that includes the current site of Bally’s Las Vegas.

Harrah’s might then, my source suggests, move to re-brand the current Harrah’s Las Vegas as a Horseshoe hotel and casino.

But whether this happens may depend on whether Harrah’s is able to acquire the several acres on the corner of the Strip and Flamingo Road where the Barbary Coast is located.

"The thinking is not altogether clear yet," the source said. "But it must be nice to have these kinds of options."

One thing seems certain: Harrah’s Chairman Gary Loveman would probably like to showcase his most appealing four brands in close proximity to each other as soon as possible. This could mean Caesars Palace, a new Harrah’s and the highly-regard Horseshoe brand would be within an easy walk of the well-positioned Flamingo on the Las Vegas Strip.

But, wait a minute, I said four brands.

The fourth is the World Series of Poker, which has evolved into a highly-recognized marketing powerhouse since it was acquired last year from the former owners of the Fremont Street Horseshoe, which is now known as Binion’s.

Don’t believe that the World Series just a poker tournament.

According to Harrah’s, the World Series is a valued addition to the company’s extended list of assets.

As a matter of fact, the World Series finished second only to Caesars in a Harrah’s survey to determine which of the company’s brand names would generate the best response among prospective Las Vegas visitors.

There was no reference to the Flamingo, Rio, Showboat or Bally’s on Harrah’s short list of brands with star appeal. This is not necessarily surprising, since Loveman has previously explained that Harrah’s would move toward a focus on the Horseshoe, Caesars and Harrah’s as the future takes shape.

Some analysts speculate that Harrah’s might simply re-flag Bally’s as the "new" Harrah’s on the Strip.

But Bally’s is essentially a quarter-century old. The hotel and casino built and then rebuilt (after the 1980 fire) by Kirk Kerkorian and his team no longer has a high level of efficiency. With the cost of operations soaring yearly, this becomes an important point. Also, the acreage between the Bally’s front door and the Strip has long been regarded as one of the most under-utilized spans of property on the Strip.

Besides, where is there a better place to showcase a 21st century signature Harrah’s than on one of the busiest corners in the world?

This property has also been discussed as the site of a new Horseshoe, the casino that was the birthplace of the World Series of Poker. But Harrah’s hasn’t stated definitively that it wants to hold future World Series events in a new Horseshoe.

The power of television and the Internet has the ability to put a game, an event or a single table on display before the world. Harrah’s officials want to make the most of this relatively new fact gaming of life.

Next year, for instance, the WSOP is apparently headed for Caesars Palace. If that’s the case, and no one is saying anything official at this point, the parent company would have a great opportunity to combine two of its most popular brands.

Whatever the eventual plan for maximizing the revenue-producing power of its properties on the east side of the Strip, a final Harrah’s development decision may depend on the willingness of Boyd Gaming to sell the Barbary Coast.

This would enable the Flamingo — or whatever it is called — to extend to the corner.

Stay tuned for further developments as the largest casino company in the world ponders its tantalizing options.