Venerable Sahara to be sold

Mar 6, 2007 6:04 AM

Owners of the Sahara Hotel and Casino, a Rat Pack hangout and the setting of the original "Ocean’s Eleven" film, have agreed to sell the aging property to an investor group.

Officials from Los Angeles-based SBE Entertainment Group and San Mateo, Calif.-based Stockbridge Real Estate Funds said they’ve entered into a contract to purchase the Moroccan-themed casino and hotel from Gordon Gaming Corp.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the price is estimated at between $300 million and $400 million.

"The Sahara is one of the last remaining original properties on the Las Vegas Strip, and we are thrilled with the possibilities that it presents," SBE Entertainment CEO Sam Nazarian said in a statement last week.

The sale includes a 17.5-acre parcel on the north end of the Strip and the hotel-casino with 1,720 rooms.

The Sahara is one of the oldest properties on the Strip. It lost its high-end clientele as upscale development on the Strip moved south.

Nazarian, who also operates a restaurant group, a nightclub operation, a hotel group, a real estate division and a Hollywood production company, did not comment on specific plans for the property, but some analysts said extensive renovation would be likely.

SBE plans to manage the hotel and its food and beverage operations. The Navegante Group, owned by Nevada gaming executive Larry Woolf, will operate the casino under a lease arrangement.

Gordon Gaming has managed the Sahara since casino pioneer William Bennett bought the property in 1995 for $193 million. Bennett spent more than $100 million upgrading the resort before his death in 2003.

Development at the "bottom" end of the Strip — the area closest to Sahara Avenue — has never taken off like it has further south. The corner parcel directly across from the Sahara has sat idly for decades, mostly because owners have demanded ridiculous prices.

And the parcel next to the Sahara — the old Wet ”˜n’ Wild water park — was earmarked by Paul Lowden to become a below-the-sea-themed mega-resort, but those plans never came to fruition.