Suitors wink at Regent!

Jan 2, 2001 11:12 AM

Buzz! Buzz! With all the holiday activity, it wasn’t possible to review the insider buzz about the bankrupt Regent Hotel in Summerlin. The weekend skinny was that the bankrupt resort is being seriously courted by two Las Vegas casino giants ”” Station Casinos (STN) and Mandalay Bay Group (MGB).

The talk is on the lips of some in-the-knowsters who usually know of what they speak. Stay tuned!

ICAHN LOVES TO GAMBLE! Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor with casinos on his mind, is taking his search for high rollers to Atlantic City.

"Icahn is a player himself and his role model is the late Benny Binion, the king of the legendary Binion’s Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas," said a rosebud.

More bud: "His first move in the Benny Binion direction came last year when he upped the bet limits at his Stratosphere Tower. Icahn allowed a player to set his own bet limits by the size of his first cash bet. He put a $100,000 limit ”” less than Binion’s $1 million pop ”” but it is working in the world of corporate casinos. The offbeat Stratosphere has been attracting big players. Credit lines have gone up sharply.

"Now Icahn is offering gamblers at his Sands Hotel in New Jersey loosest slots and $100,000 table bets. The Icon led the Sands out of 33 months of bankruptcy protection and is on a roll. Billboards leading into the seashore city boast of the Sands’ new high-roller status. At designated blackjack and baccarat tables the Binion-style of action is offered. He has also offered single zero roulette games."

The rosebud continued: "Carl Icahn’s formula for casino success is a lot different than corporate ones. He is convinced that he gets to keep 1% of the handle ”” the bigger bets he fades, the more he wins."

GAMBLING WAR IN CALIFORNIA? "Indeed," said a pipe. "And, an increase in legal gambling in the Golden State is a cinch to happen."

More pipe: "Bill Clinton did the anti-gambling groups in when he signed a bill which would enable a landless tribe of 200 Indians to open a casino in San Pablo, a hop, skip and a jump from San Francisco along I-80.

"Look for the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians to quickly go to the state to negotiate a gambling compact. Governor Gray Davis is seriously concerned about the increase in Nevada-style gambling on Indian lands in California. He may have no choice but to grant a compact. It would be similar to the ones signed with 60 other tribes throughout California.

"A funny thing about the Lytton band. They were dissolved, and its reservation eliminated in the early 1960s. Hope springs eternal though, and they’re back on the front burner. The bill paves the way for the purchase, and for the Department of the Interior to hold the land in trust for the tribe. Guess what’s next? Other tribes will try to do the same."

Card clubs and race tracks are digging in to block the casino compact. If they can’t, then they want approval to put slot machines in their dens.

Among the card club opponents is Artichoke Joe, a colorful race and sports book operator who operated for years outside of Carson City. Joe made his fortune growing artichokes, opened a card room years later and rounded off his mission with a betting parlor in Nevada. The building, which housed Artichoke’s Joe’s, was a one-story structure. However, the betting room featured a 30-foot-high ceiling. When Joe wasn’t selling tickets behind the counter, he would climb up a tall ladder and with binoculars would oversee the betters, which ”” at best ”” numbered less than a dozen patrons.

WHAT GOES with Japanese businessman Kazuo Okada? To be an angel for the Magicman so that Steve Wynn can develop his master plan dream at the Desert Inn? A company (Aruze Corp) is accused of hiding $35,000,000 in income, as a result a $14.9 million penalty tax followed. Kazuo needed further approval of state regulators to do the deal with Wynn. He currently is president and sole owner of Universal Distributing of Nevada, which may have been used to hide income.

Earlier GamingToday reported that Kazuo plans to invest $260 million in the Desert Inn Project; which would include two 3,000-room 59-story towers on the banks of a 30-acre man-made lake. In the deal the Japanese company, would own a 50% stake in Wynns privately held operations.

THAT’S LIFE! And, Vic Salerno knows all about it. The American Wagering (BETM) chief executive officer, who operates 47 LeRoy’s horse and sports books in Nevada, is being listed among the companies shot down. Don’t bet on it. And, don’t be surprised to see that he’s flying high in April. The company crashed when state regulators forced them to divest themselves of the Internet gambling site it had set up in Australia. In a sting-like operation, the company (MegaSports) illegally took bets from an undercover Gaming Control Board agent. That created a panic among shareholders and the stock went from 153/8 to its current price of 34 cents a share.

Salerno kept the faith. American Wagering showed a profit of $545,000 (6 cents a share) in the third quarter, which ended Oct. 31. He credits innovations as part of the success of the quarter. Installing kiosks in local sports books allowed gamblers to place bets without employees. It made the cash register ring.

If Salerno is flat on his face, don’t be surprised when he picks himself up and gets back in the race.

DITS AND DOTS . . . It ain’t so! So says Imperial Palace General Manger Ed Crispell. He denies reports of a San Francisco mortgage broker (Crown Capital Commercial Corp.) planning to buy the center-Strip resort. Crispell said he has never heard of the company and figures they are making the announcement as a way for them to raise capital to buy the property. He quickly adds that Ralph Engelstad, owner of the resort, is willing to sit down with potential buyers . . .

TWO HUNDRED LARGE! A search firm out of Philly is trying to come up with the right person to lead the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors authority. There would be an annual salary of up to $200,000 plus performance bonus.

"I hear the hunt is down to five candidates. Look for a decision by mid January," said Pike. "And, the winner will have his hands full he will be expected to guide the Washoe County’s visitor-based concern."

"It won’t be a piece of cake with the Indians in California about to launch a massive casino operation. The new leader will likely earn his keep. To boot, there is a $105 million expansion plan on the front burner."

The Reno group got rid of Phil Keene as CEO last March. It seems he was using a company credit card for personal expenses and took six months to pay it back.