Sun to set on Western hotel

Jul 2, 2002 7:54 AM

SAWDUST JOINT TO DRY UP, BLOW AWAY: One of downtown’s long-time “sawdust joints,” the Western Hotel, will close its doors in 60 days. That’s the word from Coast Casinos boss Michael Gaughan, speaking on behalf of his dad, Jackie Gaughan, the Western’s owner. The junior Gaughan said the closure has nothing to do with the ongoing union negotiations. The closing will leave 245 workers without jobs, including 95 union maids, food service workers and bartenders. The 116-room Western opened in 1961, but in recent years has been plagued by a deteriorating neighborhood and locals’ flight away from downtown and into the “neighborhood” casinos.

    Nevertheless, there’s a loyal following of players who will miss the penny slots, video poker, cheap food and first-name-basis service. Many of its customers have been loyal for decades and will continue to use their “coupon” books for inexpensive lodging, free meals and cheap gambling. It’s likely Jackie’s other properties downtown, the El Cortez and Plaza hotels will pick up some of the former employees. But for anyone looking for the “flavor” of the old Western, stop by Jackie’s Gold Spike on Ogden and Fourth. It may not have the same sawdust, but there’s penny slots, nickel keno, video poker, cheap food and probably many of the colorful characters who used to frequent the Western!


   CLOCK IS TICKING FOR BUDDY VIC: Time is running out for our good friend, Vic Salerno, who owns Leroy’s sports books and Mega Sports. If you’ve forgotten, Vic has until the 25th of this month to dispose of his Australian sports book. Vic was the first Nevada licensee to gain a license to conduct gaming on the Internet, in this case, via one of Australia’s highly-regulated jurisdictions.

   At the time Vic applied for the license, so the story goes, he was warned by a Nevada regulator that he was “walking through a mine field with clown shoes.” The admonition turned out to be self-fulfilling when technicians from Nevada set up a “sting” operation in which they broke through the blocking technology that was supposed to turn back U.S. punters.

   Because of the “transgression,” Vic was given until July 25, 2002 to dispose of his Australian license/sports book. Anyone interested in becoming an off-shore bookie? Cheap?


   SOMETIMES THE LITTLE GUY WINS: That’s how Bruce Wentworth felt last week when the Iowa Supreme Court agreed with him and his colleagues that their racetrack casinos were being illegally taxed.

   Wentworth, general manager of Dubuque Greyhound Park & Casino, felt that the escalating tax rate that increased 2% each year, was out of line. So, he appealed. At that time, the track’s tax had reached 32% while the riverboat casinos were only paying 20%.

   Fortunately for Wentworth, the court said the tax arrangement was unconstitutional and the tax adjustment should be made retroactively. This provided a windfall of some $40 million to the three tracks.

   The Iowa attorney general was devastated and immediately requested a review of the decision but the court’s track record is not on his side. The court has only changed its mind twice after reviewing 80 cases.


   A RESURGENCE OF INTEREST? That’s what some horse racing officials have been saying about the sport that has been on the decline since the country’s recent fascination over casinos and their slot machines.

   Touting such things as recent Triple Crown television ratings and the 103,000 record attendance at Belmont Park for the Belmont Stakes last month, plus the fact that more money was wagered on thoroughbred races last year than at any other time, the racing commentators are suggesting that there is a growing interest among young people in the horsey sport.

   The euphoria has extended to the people who run the N.Y. Racing Association who recently announced that early interest in the upcoming Saratoga summer race meeting has exceeded all previous years.

   Top guy Barry Schwartz agrees but points out a major problem. “We’re close to capacity right now.”


   HOW QUICKLY THEY FORGET: Especially in politics, as noted in a recent battle involving a couple of politicians from New Hampshire.

   Last week, Sen. Bob Smith stopped action on a bill that would have renamed a federal courthouse in Central Islip, N.Y., for former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato. That was odd, said observers, because it was Smith who had filed the bill in the first place.

   Problem is that Smith is involved in a dog fight to retain his New Hampshire seat. He is being opposed by Congressman John Sununu whose father was once chief of staff for George Bush the First.

   Recently, D’Amato attended a fund raiser for the Sununu cause at the 21 Club in New York City.

   But, don’t think that was the motivation behind Smith’s decision to block the courthouse name change. No, said Smith, it was because the D’Amato name nomination would have violated some obscure rule established by a Senate committee.

   So, D’Amato has until the Sept. 10 primary to make amends to Sen. Smith. Then again, Sen. Smith may be private citizen Smith come the next session of Congress.


   RACE TRACK DOUBLES AS CASINO: Penn National Gaming, Inc. just added 587 reel spinning slot machines, bringing its total to 2,587. That’s more than most Strip hotel casinos! Earlier this year, Penn National was granted regulatory approval to increase the number of slot machines authorized for placement at Charles Town Races to 3,500. The Company anticipates installing the remaining slot machines at various intervals throughout 2003. Later this summer Penn National will open other new areas at Charles Town including a food court featuring five fast food restaurant concepts and Slot City. Slot City is a city-themed gaming area that initially will house approximately 500 gaming devices. Concurrent with the opening of Slot City, a temporary facility currently housing approximately 500 gaming devices will be closed and dismantled, making way for further planned expansion.


   MARK YOUR CALENDAR FOR G2E: For the second year in a row, Bear Stearns and Goldman Sachs will host G2E’s Global Gaming Investment Forum, Tuesday, September 17 through Thursday, September 19 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Anyone in gaming is urged to attend the investor portion of the largest gaming conference and tradeshow of the year, G2E: Global Gaming Expo. The Forum will open with a private tour of the trade show floor and cocktail reception on Tuesday, September 17 beginning at 5:30 p.m. Concurrent company presentations by major casino operators and manufacturers will be scheduled.