Casinos for downtown?

July 03, 2001 8:15 AM
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The three finalists to develop 61 acres Downtown don't have plans for new casinos. But don't count gaming out yet.

The City Council is scheduled to meet on Thursday to select a master developer for the municipally owned property. However, none of the three has garnered clear support from the council. One of their drawbacks appears to be the absence of hotel-casinos.

“Nothing grabbed me by the neck and said this is it,'' Councilman Gary Reese told GamingToday. Reese's colleagues, including Mayor Oscar Goodman, have echoed his lack of enthusiasm.

Industry sources, speaking anonymously, say the city would be blowing a bet if it doesn't build gaming into the old Union Pacific property. Included in that mix, they say, should be “multi-level entertainment.''

So far, the talk has centered on everything but casinos -- a university medical plaza, film studios, a performing arts center, a new baseball stadium for Las Vegas' Triple-A team, and a smattering of offices and shops.

But downtown is, above all, a casino zone. Though far behind the Strip, it still ranks among the top three gaming markets in the nation. And for 10 of the past 12 months, its gaming revenues have been up.

Reese says he now believes that additional gaming venues would help -- not hurt -- Downtown casinos. “Expansion certainly hasn't hurt the Strip. If there's room for one more hotel it's here.''

No gaming companies have publicly announced a desire to build on the Downtown parcel, but Silverton owner Ed Roski suggested that the city turn the acreage over to a master developer on a participatory land lease. Such leases, used by McCarran International Airport with Roski's Majestic Realty Co. and other master developers, convey the land for free, with the government agency receiving half of all future revenues.

Roski, whose bid to buy the Las Vegas Hilton has landed in court, might be interested in a Downtown parlay, said Silverton executive vice president Craig Cavileer.

“There are more people Downtown at any one time than there are at Mandalay Bay,'' Cavileer noted. “There needs to be a critical mass, and I don't think a medical plaza and a furniture warehouse are going to do it.''