Is Trop onthe block?

Oct 11, 2005 5:39 AM

Tropicana bosses have once again drawn a line in the sand, saying they are not booking any business after about the middle of February.

The reason? A reservation clerk explained what most people already know: The big thinkers at Aztar Corp., which owns the Tropicana both in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, are considering a redevelopment of its 34 acres at Tropicana Avenue and the Strip.

So when will we know if guest rooms will be available in March or April? I asked a helpful room reservation clerk.

"Why don’t you try back near the end of the year," she said, referring to what many businesses do in this situation — establish cut-off dates only to later move them.

There’s no reason to believe Aztar officials intend to redevelop in Las Vegas any time soon, not with the company already thinking out loud about another Atlantic City expansion and the possibility of an investment in Pennsylvania.

Besides, the price of what the company once expected to do in Las Vegas for about $750 million would probably cost a billion in today’s world. That’s a lot of money for a company that has not shown an interest in making a bold Las Vegas statement in more than 20 years.

Harrah’s weighs expansion options

Speaking of development, Harrah’s remains at least six months away from finalizing the concepts that will be used to develop or re-develop its several hundred acres of Las Vegas real estate.

The criteria for eventual decisions have been the subject of brain-storming sessions that put a focus not merely on what Las Vegas customers want today but what they are likely to want 10-15 years from now.

These are not easy decisions. There’s not a lot of room for error, not when the decisions will eventually involve billions of dollars in spending and the interests of people who may not yet be considered Las Vegas visitors.

But there is good reason to believe the eventual conclusions may include a signature Harrah’s. It seems logical in a city where the company has centered so many of its resources.

Moreover, there should be a Harrah’s headquarters.

Many of the possibilities speak for themselves. The company has two significant parcels of under-developed real estate: everything connected with the Bally complex and the many acres at the Rio that are now mostly used for parking.

It also has a network of narrow roads and alleys around the Harrah’s Las Vegas property, and the recently acquired Imperial Palace and Flamingo properties can be made more user-friendly and compelling.

Harrah’s CEO Gary Loveman has publicly mentioned his dissatisfaction with the current use of the Bally land. The late Arthur Goldberg said much the same thing when he headed Bally Gaming and then Park Place Entertainment.

Loveman has had almost nothing to say about what might happen at the Rio where there is plenty of room to add everything from another hotel to an assortment of attractions. One thing seems certain, there will one day be a link between the Rio and Caesars and the complex of Harrah’s properties around the corner of the Strip and Flamingo.

But the Harrah’s plate is already full with projects on several fronts — Atlantic City, Las Vegas and, of course, the Gulf Coast, where possible changes in the rules applying to all casino operators are being discussed even as this is written.

Ever wonder what you’d do with the chance to go back and try certain important things all over again?

That’s the fascinating quandary facing Gulf Coast casinos.

Loveman has already hinted at the possible shape of things to come with his statement that the company will definitely rebuild in Biloxi, but it’s hard to say what will occur with respect to its Gulfport casino.

Then there’s New Orleans, where Mayor Ray Nagin says an expanded casino district would be a great idea. But it’s hard to imagine expanded gambling in that area any time soon.

That’s why the Big Easy raises, as another top industry executive confided, "so many questions that are anything but easy to answer. It is impossible to say when Harrah’s casino will re-open, just as it is also impossible to say how much company Harrah’s might eventually have."