Harrah’s targets Flamingo corner

Aug 9, 2005 4:12 AM

Those Harrah’s bosses are all over the place planning the redevelopment of their Las Vegas acreage as they also massage a variety of ventures intended to keep the company’s profile moving upward.

Recent real estate purchases on Flamingo Road opposite Bally’s and behind the Flamingo make it rather clear that the company expects to do some big time building.

This will be a lot more than the re-branding of a hotel or two.

The creation of a new flagship Harrah’s and the hoisting of the Horseshoe marquee on land now occupied by one of the tired, under-performing Strip resorts is likely. It’s just a matter of time.

Look also, sources say, for some action at the Rio. There is a bit more than 100 acres of real estate on that one site alone, more than enough for something significant.

But one thing at a time, please, and Harrah’s has enough development possibilities on its plate to keep the company busy for years.

Harrah’s Chairman Gary Loveman said recently, "It is clear that we consider the intersection of Flamingo and the Strip to be very important to our future in Las Vegas ”¦ Properties near the intersection are essentially contiguous. Bally’s is a significant under-performer and it is on probably one of the best pieces of real estate in the city.

"So we are actively at work thinking about alternatives for that intersection which include the land we have bought behind the Flamingo as well as ... land behind the current Bally’s structure. We don’t really have too much to say about that yet as we’re pursuing the various elements of a master plan. This is now a number one priority for us."

But the company is also spreading its energies across a number of fronts, including some interesting efforts to expand its position relative to high-profile poker events. Harrah’s will soon

announce that it will use Caesars Palace as the site of the second National Heads-Up Poker Championship.

Phil Hellmuth, one of poker’s best-known personalities, won the first Heads-Up event, which proved to be a ratings hit for NBC when it aired in May after being filmed at the Golden Nugget.

The popularity of this event has been boosted by the fact that participation comes only as the result of an invitation which ensures the presence of poker’s best known names.

Unofficial sources say the tournament will probably be filmed in the early spring and aired in May. It’s based on the same format as the NCAA’s March Madness with 64 invited players facing off against each other until only one is left standing.

Harrah’s officials clearly gave themselves a big shot of confidence in their ability to make poker pay off as a casino event when they saw a 50 percent increase in casino volume during the month of June, thanks to the presence of the World Series of Poker.

The Series attracted 32,000 entries and about 22,000 different players who spent all or part of six weeks chasing a slice of the $106 million in prize money that their single or repeated buy-ins generated.

In its wake, Loveman said, "We are continuing to look for ways to leverage the World Series of Poker."

So look for a World Series of Poker retail shop coming soon to a Harrah’s near you. Yes, they’re on the way.

Condos still hot

High-rise living is not cheap. Figure on a six-figure entry price, but it is proving to be very, very popular in Las Vegas, particularly for projects with a strong hotel connection.

MGM Grand Resorts President John Redmond is not yet ready to say whether a fourth residential high-rise tower will be built on land that was once the Grand’s theme park.

But it could happen. The first two towers are sold out and unit sales are moving briskly in the third. Purchasers are paying, on average, better than a million each for what Redmond says may be a second, third or even a fourth home.

These are generally not people, he says, who are sensitive to minute fluctuations in interest rates.

Owners have the option of putting their units into the hotel’s room inventory when they’re not in use. Redmond says it is too early to say how many owners will elect to use this option.

"But people love the hotel component associated with something like this," he said.

One of the important factors to be considered before deciding to build a fourth tower, according to Redmond, is whether the Grand’s roster of restaurants and customer service amenities must be expanded.

In the meantime, a similarly high-priced residential tower at the nearby Hard Rock is oversubscribed by something like three to one, according to President Kevin Kelley.