High-stakes salons set to deal in Nevada

Jan 29, 2002 9:34 AM

Taking the “under,” the Nevada Gaming Commission chopped the entrance requirement for players in the state’s new international gaming salons. And that’s just fine with casinos up and down the Las Vegas Strip.

As predicted in GamingToday last month, the panel endorsed a $500,000 minimum threshold in cash or credit. That cutoff was half the amount proposed by the Gaming Control Board. Earlier, the board slashed the minimum bet from $20,000 to $500.

Top casino executives from Park Place, MGM Mirage, Mandalay Resorts and the Nevada Resort Association lobbied hard for more flexibility, noting the quirky betting habits of high-rollers and a squishy soft economy.

“Growing revenue is a partnership of the state and the industry,’’ said Park Place CEO Tom Gallagher. “As our revenues grow, so do the state’s.’’ He joined other execs in stressing a need for sensible exclusivity.

Tony Alamo, senior vice president at Mandalay, added that only 24 players at his Strip resort carry a credit line exceeding $500,000. Reinforcing that point, Pam Shinkle of Central Credit, reported that a mere 0.002 percent of its clientele had lines over $500,000.

Those numbers fueled concerns by commissioners that high limits would prove too restrictive to make the posh betting parlors financially viable. So instead of catering just to the world’s 200 largest whales, the salons are positioned to scoop up thousands of slightly smaller fry.

Industry lobbyists also loosened regulations for “secondary players” who accompany high-rollers. Modifying another control board recommendation, the commission ruled that secondary players could continue betting even if the primary player leaves the salon. Individual properties ”” not the state ”” will determine how large these entourages will be.

But commissioners were adamant about surveillance and accommodations. Round-the-clock video coverage is required when the rooms are in use, and casinos will not be allowed to simply convert hotel meeting space into gaming salons.

Park Place got a jump on the game by setting up four high-roller enclaves at Caesars Palace this month. Alterations are under way at other resorts, with play beginning as soon as the surveillance logistics are worked out. However, sources say players shouldn’t expect to see these salons pop up everywhere.

“There might be one at Bellagio, but not at the Mirage or Treasure Island,’’ one speculated.

“It’s an expensive end of the business,’’ added another. “These players require a lot of personal attention and there’s a lot of (staff) training involved. From food and bar to interpreters, it’s a costly proposition.’’

In other commission action:

”¡ Harrah’s President Gary Loveman toned down his earlier complaints about “intrusive” background checks conducted by state regulators. He said he would have couched his comments differently had he known that reporters were present when he spoke. Nonetheless, he maintained that a streamlined investigation process that coordinates the work of multiple jurisdictions would facilitate the recruitment of corporate directors.

”¡ In a precedent-setting move, the commission approved transferring a 10 percent cut of the Exber family trust to the UNLV Foundation. It is the first time a non-profit entity has received shares in a Nevada gaming company. As a tradeoff, the family’s Las Vegas Club will not take any bets on UNLV athletics.

”¡ Tony George received a limited license as general manager of the Oasis hotel-casino in Mesquite. His license was limited to two years because commissioners felt he wasn’t forthcoming in discussing his father’s gambling connections in Pennsylvania. “It’s an issue of candor,’’ Chairman Peter Bernhard said. George was also ordered to complete a business and ethics course.

”¡ Ultimate Blackjack, on a test trial at the Sahara, was approved, despite concerns over its high 33 percent hold.