Small casinos succumb to progress

Nov 8, 2005 3:20 AM

The list of closings among small, aging Strip gambling halls that once had loyal followings continues to grow.

The Imperial Palace and Barbary Coast will likely be added to it over the next year as new owners look to the future, which is what successful business is all about.

The future of the IP may not be known until mid-2006, when Harrah’s is expected to begin sharing details of its Strip development.

As for the Barbary Coast, Harrah’s will either buy it and raze it or current owner Boyd Gaming will find a way to shoehorn something significant onto its four-acre site.

Recent announcements have signaled the demise for Bourbon Street, and the Boardwalk, small though popular in their own way.

Remember those goofy Boardwalk buffet commercials featuring Butter Bean?

And there’s the Westward Ho, another victim of the bigger-is-better trend. In a previous era it was known as the world’s largest motel.

But the Strip has become known for its "survival of the biggest" mantra.

But let’s go back a few years. Remember Churchill Downs? The roster of race and sports betting pros who learned their trade behind its doors is a long one.

The Dunes hobbled along under a variety of owners for years before Steve Wynn blew it up to build the Bellagio.

None of the replacement properties keeps former Dunes employees from their regular reunions to talk about the way things used to be.

And then there was the Castaways — the first place on the Strip to advertise 97 percent or 98 percent return on slots. And they had the friendliest dealers in town, no doubt. Also, do you remember its Hole in the Wall Sports Book, which was run by the Runyonesque Sonny Reizner?

The book was so crowded sometimes that — to borrow an old line — you had to walk outside to change your mind.

But these days, "small" only works for hamburger stands.

Getting back to the 21st century, one way or another the Barbary Coast is not long for this world. And it’s just a matter of time as former front line resorts such as the Riviera and Sahara lose their ability — and owners lose their desire — to compete with the big new super stores, or their owners simply get tired of trying.

Remember the Landmark? It was a towering, well, landmark in those pre-Stratosphere days. Las Vegans trotted visitors over there to give them an overview of all of Las Vegas. But, eventually it became a parking lot near the Convention Center as the needs of the meeting business grew.

And how about the Silver Slipper with roots on the Strip that go back to the days before there was a Strip? Do you remember the hokey little country western show with the gals in their boots, hats and short skirts? It is also now a parking lot on the north side of the Frontier.

It makes you wonder what people will be talking about maybe 20 years from now, perhaps at the opening of CityCenter’s third phase or the announcement that Aztar has finally decided what to do with its Las Vegas Tropicana.