Bingo! Icahn breathes new life into Charlies

Mar 26, 2002 9:30 AM

Carl Icahn is pumping fresh air and millions of dollars into his Arizona Charlie’s casinos.

Arizona Charlies’s East is adding an expanded race and sports book as well as the Boulder Strip’s first 24-hour bingo hall. Arizona Charlie’s West, which celebrates its 14th anniversary next month, is getting a San Francisco-style facelift, along with a state-of-the-art filtration system that blows out smoke and harmful particulates.

Icahn bought the two properties out of bankruptcy and is determined to make them competitive, company spokesman Mike Gilmartin says. “He made these decisions (to upgrade) after September 11. He has no debt, which allows him to keep prices low.’’

The $5 million expansion at Charlie’s East includes a new three-story building, with a bigger race and sports book occupying the second floor and bingo on the third floor.

Offering race action for the first time, the book will have extended hours, seating for 60 and a bank of large-screen TVs.

That work is being matched by a $1.5 million makeover on ­­Decatur Boulevard, where Charlie’s West trades its Wild West ambience for a more elegant ­­Victorian San Francisco motif. The new look includes fresh carpet, wall coverings and ceiling tiles. The project is slated to begin in late April and take four to six months to complete.

Ron Lurie, general manager for Charlie’s West, says the filtration system produces air that is “as clean and safe as you can get. It’s a breath of fresh air for our customers and associates.’’

Meantime, Icahn is hunting for more casinos.

The billionaire financier who also rescued the Stratosphere from bankruptcy, says he’s focusing on “boutique” properties that attract customers seeking solid values and amenities. But he’s not ruling out larger projects, such as the Aladdin . . . if the price is right.

To Icahn, it all comes down to three things: loose slots, great food and personalized service.

Such strategy is a sharp turnaround for the corporate raider who built a ruthless reputation for snapping up big corporations and selling the assets. Now Icahn, having played at the big casino known as Wall Street, appears in for the long haul here.

“He loves gaming and he loves Las Vegas,’’ says Gilmartin, noting that his boss also purchased former Hughes exec John Goolsby’s golf course estate at Summerlin’s TPC.