Dressing up Rancho scene

Jan 29, 2002 3:49 AM

“Bigger isn’t always better,” Wildfire general manager George Thompson said in describing the thought behind the newest casino venture in North Las Vegas.

Wildfire was the creation of John Bauchman, who bought Ernie’s and turned the 1950s landmark bar on and slot club off North Rancho Dr. into a small version of the Desert Inn.

“When we took over Ernie’s, it had 65 slots,” Bauchman said. “Being that it was an nonrestrictive license, my brother and I thought putting in a sports book would create a mini-locals casino.”

The implosion of the Desert Inn opened the door for the purchase of the seating and equipment from the sports book. The result was a customer-friendly venue with 23 TVs, electronic toteboards and plush seating.

“We don’t have 2,000 machines or hotel rooms,” said Buffy McKinney, who was recruited from Barley’s to run the race and sports book. “The idea was to fill a niche in the area. We want to be a big-time place in a small-market venue.”

Thompson, who has a 30-year gaming background, sees Wildfire becoming and old-style Palace Station.

“We don’t want to be a conglomerate,” he said. “They lack the personal touch. Our property will be unique. We will be like the banking business used to operate. Stay small, meet customers. That’s our goal.”

McKinney was also attracted to Wildfire when knowing she would be setting the casino’s sports odds.

“Sports has always been my true love,” she said. “It’s where I’ve always enjoyed myself the most. Here, I have the opportunity to set my own lines, create and market our product. This is a wonderful challenge and a great way to give our customers the personal touch.”