Downtown piquesgamers’ interest

Sep 20, 2005 7:14 AM

Fremont Street looks like it is getting ready to rock-n-roll. There’s continued talk of a renaissance in the downtown area where Las Vegas gaming got its start.

Landry’s seafood restaurants Chairman Tilman Fertitta is preparing to wrap up his company’s purchase of the Golden Nugget.

And word is another potential buyer is looking at a downtown alternative to soaring real estate prices on the Las Vegas Strip.

The impact of this rejuvenated interest is already being felt along the Fremont corridor, an area that has not seen significant new construction since the Fremont Street Experience was installed in the early 1990s.

"Some downtown properties are going for five million an acre now," said an impressed casino industry observer. He didn’t want his name used, partly because he continues to have an interest in his own deal-making along Fremont Street.

Reliable sources stand behind previous reports that MTR Gaming would like to rid itself of Binion’s Gambling Hall. Apparently, the West Virginia firm has decided that it bit off more than it cares to digest by buying the late Benny Binion’s historic gambling hall.

Boyd Gaming, which owns several downtown casinos, is said to have taken a close look at this property, but whether that interest will produce a deal remains to be seen. Stay tuned.

More TV poker

A new look in poker reality shows is being readied for one of the networks, which are hungry to satisfy the public’s appetite for poker programming.

Sources say there won’t be any elimination or heads-up competition. Instead, the plan is to create a high-stakes hold’em game and invite eight or nine people to sit down and see what happens — kind of like in real life!

Some players might leave; others might join the game in a somewhat laissez faire format. The point is to duplicate a real cash game, except that the cameras will be looking over the shoulders of the players.

The players will be invited, presumably on the basis of their poker and perhaps conversational skills. Knowing TV, it won’t hurt to be photogenic, thin, charming and effervescent.

Nevertheless, the idea is to encourage players to behave as they normally would over a matter of hours and then edit the result into segments that will be shown over a matter of weeks.

No name has been attached, but we’re thinking along the lines of Survivor meets John Beresford Tipton (the Millionaire).

Colony to unify

Colony Chief Operating Officer (COO) Roger Wagner has moved into corporate headquarters at the Las Vegas Hilton, from where he plans to put Colony’s six casinos under a single corporate umbrella while respecting the differences of each.

A unified players club card will be introduced next spring even as each property pursues its differing markets. The Las Vegas Hilton, for instance, will continue to be aimed at conventions and meetings. Conversely, the Atlantic City Hilton will be positioned as a high-end niche property.

Wagner says there’s a lot of room for expansion. Additions can be expected over time at the 60-acre Hilton site. In Atlantic City, two of the last undeveloped Boardwalk casino sites belong to Colony. They’re adjacent to its Resorts and Hilton hotels at opposite ends of the Boardwalk.

Harrah’s to rebound in New Orleans

There are two things we can count on as the Gulf Coast moves past the nightmare of recent weeks.

First, the next generation of Gulf Coast Mississippi casinos will be built on dry land (if they are built at all).

"I can’t imagine a company wanting to go through something like this every 30-40 years," said an industry executive, who gave voice to his thoughts only with the promise of anonymity.

Second, Harrah’s can be expected to seek an enhanced assortment of amenities for its New Orleans casino. Harrah’s may argue that to create jobs and tax revenues, it must be able to compete with the full-service attractions of Mississippi resorts.

In hindsight, the never-fulfilled expectation of a billion dollars or more in annual revenues was a huge enticement that resulted in Harrah’s paying far too much for a New Orleans presence.

It’s a good bet the strategists at Harrah’s have not forgotten how much hard-nosed negotiating (and spending) took place 10 years ago.

At the outset, many local interests greeted the arrival of Harrah’s like they would an unwelcome dinner guest.

And they successfully kept the casino from having much more than a buffet or food court. Harrah’s even had to buy guest rooms from New Orleans hotels.

It will be interesting to see how Harrah’s goes about reclaiming its gaming center in the Crescent City.