City’s cooking up casino deals downtown

August 14, 2001 6:02 AM
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Odds for a new Downtown casino are improving as developers from New Jersey and Texas eye gaming venues on the old Union Pacific land.

The New Jersey-based Chelsea Property Group is quietly talking with hoteliers about a four-acre site. And Southwest Sports of Dallas is considering a casino component for its planned stadium venture.

Meantime, the city has extended casino zoning to the entire 200-acre UP site and some councilmen want gaming to be part of the mix. “It’s OK with me if they want to build 50 stories high,’’ said Councilman Gary Reese.

Hilton Hotels reportedly is discussing a 20-story hotel west of the Clark County Government Center as part of Chelsea’s 39-acre development plan. Neither Hilton nor Chelsea would confirm those reports.

Chelsea spokeswoman Michelle Rothstein said it was “premature” to name names. “We’re talking to many people. A hotel is just one of the components,’’ she said.

Southwest Sports and Los Angeles-based Mandalay Sports — looking to build a baseball stadium on 60 city-owned acres — are leaving the door open for a casino project.

“Obviously, no one has a problem with gaming here,’’ said Don Logan, general manager for the Las Vegas 51’s, which are owned by Mandalay. “Southwest knows that we have the best and brightest in the gaming world.

“The key is to convince gaming and to get something on a fast track,’’ Logan told GamingToday.

Industry sources speculate that a small- to mid-size operator might find a lucrative niche in the new development area. “Remember that Downtown is the third or fourth largest gaming market in the country,’’ said one source.

Boyd Gaming, Coast Casinos and Pinnacle Gaming are among the firms whose names have cropped up, though none has publicly confirmed any interest thus far.

Some question Chelsea’s plans for a 400,000-square-foot outlet mall. “It’s just not big enough. There’s not enough critical mass,’’ said one industry observer.

By contrast, a hotel could work, said Mark Paris, head of the Fremont Street Experience.

“We’re always interested in seeing more hotel rooms,’’ he said. Paris, however, was not so effusive about plans for a casino. “It’s premature to talk about that,’’ he cautioned. But Paris added that the downtown group is “supportive of Mayor Goodman,’’ who isn’t averse to more casino development.

State gaming officials say a new casino could boost business Downtown — if there is good access linking the east and west sections.

Yet some industry analysts say the best play might be at an existing property. Amid tight construction financing, Downtown operators may be willing to make a better deal. The Four Queens, for example, is reportedly being shopped for $20 million. 

Owned by the Elsinore Corp., the Four Queens had been under a management contract with Riviera Holdings. But Elsinore resumed operating responsibility and is said to be seeking a buyer.

“That’s a pretty good price,’’ said one source who believes that building a brand new property in a new area is a far riskier proposition. As another real estate expert put it: “The problem with pioneers is that they get shot in the back.’’