CEO taps Vegas connection

May 2, 2006 3:56 AM

The right partner could make all the difference in the world.

This was the thinking of Foxwoods CEO Bill Sherlock as he considered the fiercely competitive marketing struggle that has pitted the tribal owners of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut against each other.

Foxwoods was the early role model for tribal casinos everywhere. Nobody had done things on a grander scale than the Pequots. And, although the Mohegan Sun is the new kid on the block, it has generated a following.

Competition between these two Indian gaming giants was easy to anticipate. In fact, some observers have recently said that Foxwoods has been getting its you-know-what kicked by the Mohegan-owned facility just down the road.

Both casinos have generated a lot of money over the years. But the Pequots have acquired real estate and the taste to expand.

So why not bring in a partner savvy enough to make a big difference? This was the mindset that had Sherlock thinking of his former employer, MGM Mirage. (See related story on page 5).

Sherlock was the president of New York-New York in Las Vegas nearly a decade ago when the architecturally-unique resort was a joint venture of MGM and Gary Primm’s casino company.

It was Sherlock who brokered the deal announced last week that will have MGM acting as a consultant and joint venture partner.

Coupled with plans to expand its Foxwoods brand into Biloxi, Mississippi and California, as well as a bid for one of two casino licenses in Pennsylvania, the Pequot tribe appears ready to advance to a new level — gaming giant.

We’ll see if the Mohegans have an answer.

Aztar ”˜auction’ has MGM smiling

It was easy to imagine MGM Mirage President Jim Murren on the other end of the telephone, shaking his head in wonder at the unexpected frenzy seen in efforts to buy Aztar Corp. (owner of the Tropicana).

"Wow," or something similar, is what this veteran of previous merger battles seemed to be saying as he assessed the ongoing Aztar drama.

MGM executives have good reason to be intrigued. They are on the front row, so to speak, with properties occupying three of the four corners at Tropicana Avenue and the Strip in Las Vegas. Aztar’s 34 acres are, of course, on the forth corner.

"All I can say is I’m glad we did our deal with Mandalay when we did a year ago," said Murren, sounding like the guy who filled his tank last week before prices really got out of hand.

Murren’s point was that the most recent bids for Aztar "imply" a per acre value that is well above twenty million — "in the mid-20s" — was the way he put it.

Who could have imagined?

Whatever the eventual Aztar selling price, Murren may be thinking it’s nice to have this kind of runaway spending driving up the value of neighborhood real estate that just happens to include hundreds of MGM-owned acres.

Fifteen of those MGM acres are immediately south of the Tropicana with nothing but a street separating the holdings of the two companies.

Isn’t it sweet, this being in the right place at the right time.

IP gets new
lease on life

There’s more life in the Imperial Palace than many people first believed when Harrah’s Entertainment bought the hotel and casino last year, announcing that the purchase of its 20 acres was vital to the future redevelopment of the area that includes other Harrah’s properties.

Imperial Palace employees have now been told the IP will be taking business into the middle of 2008. It’s easy to imagine even this deadline being extended as Harrah’s deals with major development issues elsewhere.

Harrah’s executives say that in the meantime, they will be able by the third quarter of this year to talk in more detail about re-development goals on the Las Vegas Strip.

Harrah’s bosses HOPE they will soon be very busy in Singapore. The company is one of the bidders for a destination resort project there with a price tag that will run into the billions.

Harrah’s has also announced plans to replace its devastated Biloxi hotel and casino with a "world class" resort that will benefit from the new ability to build inland, up to 800 feet from the high-tide mark.

What exactly does "world class" mean?

And how about the Disneyesque approach Loveman wants to use as the company pumps more pizzazz into its Las Vegas Strip holdings?

These are questions over which the company’s big thinkers have agonized, as it has also added to the list of jurisdictions in which major projects or improvements are planned.

Big improvements at the Hammond, Indiana Horseshoe have recently been added to the things-to-do list.

And let’s not forget the already-announced half-billion dollar (or so) addition of entertainment features, rooms, etc., at the Harrah’s properties in Atlantic City.

That’s a lot to keep one company busy and this is before Harrah’s has even discussed the scope of redevelopment at resorts that include Caesars, the Rio, the IP and the adjacent Flamingo and Bally-Paris complex.

The Imperial Palace will go away eventually, but it may have a lot more life in it as Harrah’s plans and budgets for a string of big money projects from Atlantic City to Singapore