Casino success still in Palm of Maloof’s hands

March 12, 2002 7:15 AM
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            EDITOR’S NOTE: George Maloof and his family own 87 percent of the $265 million Palms Hotel & Casino along with 53 percent of the NBA Sacramento Kings. At 37, Maloof is a major  developer  in the local market. A former defensive back at UNLV with a degree in hotel management, Maloof developed the Fiesta six years ago as the “royal flush capital of the world.” Maloof spoke last week with GamingToday sports writer Mark Mayer about his crowning jewel and what’s ahead.

            GT: The Palms is nearly four months old. Would you do anything different?

            GM: Not at all. We are very pleased with the Palms. Things are going very well. There have been no major surprises. Things are getting better as we continue to grow.

            GT: The opening night was lavish to say the least. Celebs, red carpets the works. Were you surprised with how Las Vegas responded to it?

            GM: I think opening night went well. It was a party to remember. Lots of celebrities and local VIPs. Mostly, it was a lot of people having fun. What we wanted to do was bring more people into the area, and you can see from the latest push at the Rio that we have done this.

            GT: The Kings have hit a bit of a slump, but for the most part have been playing outstanding basketball. Can you beat the Lakers and win the NBA title?

            GM: We need to get the home court advantage. Yeah, we have struggled the past few games but still own the best record in the league. We play so much better at home. It’s very important to finish out on top. We have the team and the talent. We are real excited with how the team is doing.

            GT: At 7-1 to win the NBA Title, what is the difference between this Kings team and the ones of the past two seasons that came up short?

            GM: The key is depth and playing good defense. We have a good bench and know we can score. The home crowd is our weapon. Nobody has the fans we have.

            GT: Why did you choose to stand pat, while the Mavs  Sonics and Suns strengthened themselves with trades?

            GM: Nothing made sense for us tradewise. You could screw up team chemistry. We are fully confident we can win it all. The Lakers are definitely the team to beat. They have two of the best players of all-time (Shaq and Kobe) playing for them. I really believe we have a better chance than the last two years. I think Bobby Jackson and Mike Bibby have made a big difference. Peja (Stoyokovich) and Chris (Webber) are great and Vlade (Divac) is having a huge year.

            GT: Does the fact that your family owns the Kings and therefore can’t handle NBA bets hurt the race and sports wagering at Palms?

            GM: Our race and sports has done phenomenal. We had no history to compare it to, so our success is especially exciting to us. We have been able to overcome the no NBA betting.

            GT: You aggressively sought the top restaurants and nightclubs and opened earlier than schedule. Has the gamble paid off?

            GM: Definitely. The restaurants and nightclubs are doing great and have been extremely popular. Things are continuing to go fine. We will keep working on booking special events for the property.

            GT: Does the fact you have so much access to current and former NBA players give your hotel an advantage?

            GM: I would think so. We have NBA beds (a foot and a half longer),  Egyptian, cotton linen. Our place is a definite attraction for NBA players and I’m sure they will be visiting us during the off-season. We built the property for offering entertainment and fun things for people to do.

            GT: The Palms, like all Las Vegas properties, took a hit from the events of Sept. 11. What is the outlook six months later?

            GM: The community has worked together since those horrible events of September 11. All of us went through a pretty rough time. What Palms can do is keep marketing and promoting the city. We want people to know that we have the most to offer. That is of primary importance.

            GT: What do you think of being compared to Steve Wynn?

            GM: It’s very flattering to be considered the next Steve Wynn. I want to contribute. I’m proud of the number of jobs Palms have created. We have about 2,000 employees, including a number that we hired that were laid off by other casino properties after September 11. We were able to open a month early. My goal is to work with the community and be involved.

            GT: Is it possible for Las Vegas to ever gain an NBA franchise and if so, could one survive?

            GM: An NBA team in Las Vegas could happen. You would need somebody pretty passionate to run the franchise. Whoever wants to head up a Las Vegas group would have to sit down with the NBA and work something out that would be fair with both the league and the Nevada Resort Association. That’s where the conflict is. The NBA is uncomfortable about casinos that take bets on pro basketball and is not likely to change its position anytime soon.

            GT: Would Las Vegas ever profit from having an NBA team, considering it probably would have to give up pro basketball wagering?

            GM: I think an NBA team would be a benefit for the city, but everyone has to be comfortable with it. The NBA abandonment from a betting standpoint would be a start. We haven’t had a good record supporting minor league teams. The NBA is a major sport. I think as this city continues to grow and widens its demographic base, it would be inevitable that there would be a market for a franchise. I don’t think there would be a problem. I feel like it could work.

            GT: Now with franchise switches in style, could you see yourself ever owning an  NBA team in Las Vegas?

            GM: I would have to be retarded to leave Sacramento. I could not see a circumstance where the Kings would ever move to Las Vegas. The Sacramento fans love the Kings and I love Sacramento. I think the Mayor (Oscar Goodman) has done a decent job in bringing attention to a need for an NBA franchise. I think it would take someone with financial interest.  My real passion is casino business. Then comes the NBA. But, I wouldn’t mind getting a ring from the league commissioner David Stern.

            GT: Four months later, what are the immediate plans at Palms?

            GM: Expanding our total  database. We are getting busier at the casino as we build our clientele. We had no database at all, basically. The whole key is loyalty. It’s our whole focus. We want people to experience the Palms Hotel and Casino and come back.