Turmoil plus more turmoil has equaled stability and success for Tony Miller and the upgraded Golden Nugget.
"Things have really changed at the Nugget," said Miller, who left Red Rock and under the tutelage of gaming magnets Art Manteris and Chuck Esposito, took the ball as head of the new and improved Race & Sports Book and ran.
"We’re packed to the gills this weekend for the NFL playoffs," said Miller, who noted that all the games were getting excellent two-way action.
"It’s the many prop bets we put out that separate us from the pack and make the Nugget so popular with our customers," he said "Many were willing to lay 7Â½ with the Eagles and betting that (Colts WR) Marvin Harrison would score the first TD (against Baltimore)."
Back in August, it was Steve Harvey in charge of Race & Sports, with the Golden Nugget operating out of a revamped Keno room until the expansion was completed several months later. In between, Harvey had decided to return to Laughlin, citing some business and family reasons. It left Miller with an opening that he personally needed to fill.
"It had been a terrible 2005 for me and my family, losing my daughter to a freak shooting in Egypt while vacationing," he said. "She was one of three Americans killed in random shootings. She died on her birthday at a taxi stand. Wrong place, wrong time. I flew to Cairo devastated. It’s been a tough year and a half, but thanks to this business ”˜I’m on my feet."
The same could be said for the Nugget, which went through the glitz of a maverick two-owner setup with reality TV and wound up having to pick up the pieces when expectations came up short.
"Both Landry’s and Tillman Fertitta," Miller said. "They put lots of money back into a full renovation of the Nugget.
"Tillman refurbished the whole place, from the book to the shark tank and swimming pool to the rooms. This is a resort second to none. Yes, there’s still the stigma of being downtown compared to the Strip, but we are finding ways around that."
Near capacity crowds virtually every night in the new Nugget book certainly helps.
"We take the highest betting limits and customers appreciate that," Miller said. "Plus, the book itself is so inviting to our players. We have more high-definition TVs (105) per square foot than any book in the state of Nevada."
The book is not large, but it never was — even in the Nugget’s heyday under Steve Wynn during the early 1980s.
"There are four video walls with nine 36-inch high-def TVs per wall that can be broken down into one big screen or nine little games," he said. "We have leather couches seating seven in front of video walls.
"In back of the book, we have four carousels with round couches in booths," he said. "There are 36 booths with TVs next to individual seats mainly for race players. Eight windows are available for wagering. The book is connected to a brand new bar. There’s a grill with great food right there and you can just look up and see TVs hanging from the ceiling."
The betting hours are daily from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. with what Miller claimed was "98 percent seating occupancy" midweek.
"The NFL is always overflowing, but our customers fill the place each night," he said. "Every now and then a bad apple strolls in, but management is committed to restoring the Nugget’s high-class image. I have noticed our clientele getting more upper class. That’s Tillman Fertitta getting his message across."
Apparently the Arena Football’s Las Vegas Gladiators caught the drift. Management has booked all visiting teams into the Nugget for this coming season.
"We’re glad to have the Gladiators organization involved and representing the Nugget," Miller said. "We really don’t feel there is any competition downtown to compare to the Nugget. Now it’s a matter of fighting the stigma, which we are."