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Mecca bettin’ Aladdin is going Hollywood!

Apr 22, 2003 7:09 AM

Mike Mecca is taking a gamble.

Betting that Planet Hollywood can consummate its deal at the Aladdin, the veteran casino exec is leaving Green Valley Ranch Station. As the newly named president of Planet Hollywood, he’s excited about returning to the Strip.

"It took a special project to leave Station. Aladdin is that special," Mecca says.

But there’s an element of risk involved. Namely: Planet Hollywood’s purchase of the bankrupt megaresort is still up in the air. Acquisition talk has been circulating for more than five years, and Planet Hollywood has gone through two bankruptcies of its own during that time.

One skeptical industry insider put it bluntly: "Planet Hollywood has no money."

To bulk up its offer, Planet is partnering with Starwood Resorts, which would lend its Sheraton brand to the property. A consortium of bankers and other creditors is ponying up $400 million to $500 million for a property once valued at $1.3 billion.

The Orlando-based Planet and its partners are counting on Mecca to turn things around at the struggling resort. The gamer’s resume includes executive positions at Caesars in Las Vegas, Greektown in Detroit and Crown Casinos in Australia. He opened Green Valley Ranch Station, widely regarded as one of the best-run neighborhood casinos in the Las Vegas Valley.

Now he’s ready to jump back into the Strip action.

"It’s going to be dynamic," Mecca said of plans for the Aladdin.

Mecca knows a little about launching successful ventures on Las Vegas Boulevard. As vice president and general manager, he opened Mandalay Bay — flagship of the gaming conglomerate then known as Circus Circus.

A New Jersey native and a 1970 graduate of the University of Oklahoma, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in foreign affairs, Mecca figures to put his 25 years of resort experience on the line at the Aladdin.

Competitors for the Aladdin — and there are several lurking in the wings of U.S. Bankruptcy Court — say Mecca will need to work his magic.

"Starwood screwed up both Caesars and the Desert Inn," said one, who noted that the company’s $270 million expansion of the DI didn’t include a single additional slot machine. The property, limping along with a modest 700 slots, was eventually bought out by Steve Wynn to be the site of his Le Reve project.

Planet Hollywood, which has a restaurant in Caesars’ Forum Shops, is keeping a low profile while the Aladdin case works its way through court. CEO Robert Earl did not return phone calls and PH executives would not comment on Mecca’s new role with the company.

For now, Mecca says Green Valley Ranch is his "top priority."

"It’s a great property with the best team in the industry. I will be here for another 30 days to assist in the transition," he said.