From Mel to Nevill: Las Vegas carries big Club

May 6, 2003 6:27 AM

The Las Vegas Club prides itself as "the only sports-themed casino in the state." It was the legacy left by the late Mel Exber and one that Tony Nevill is only too happy to run with.

"Mel loved sports betting and his dream was to create a sports theme casino," Nevill said last week at the famed downtown resort. "Our employees wear sports-type softball and rugby jerseys. It’s a stadium setting and you get the feel of being in a sports venue when making a bet."

It has been tough for downtown Las Vegas, having to complete with the glamorous Strip venues and the growing suburban gaming Stations and Coast properties, not to mention trendy push from Rio, Palms and Hard Rock.

"Everybody wants to see people do well in the business," said Nevill, who has been at the Las Vegas Club the past 18 months. "Things have slowed down since Benny Binion passed away. There was wide open gambling when Benny was in town and when Mel ran things here. I have noticed that downtown gambling is coming back."

Las Vegas Club is doing its part to revitalize gaming interest through specials, ranging from reduced room rates and restaurant discounts to five-cent basketball (11 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday through Friday) and a simple, friendly approach to customers.

"Mel was one of the first guys to get the parlay cards going in the downtown area," Nevill said. "That was done during the height of downtown activity in the 1970s and 80s. The development of the Strip took the focus of gaming spots away from downtown and forced the area to reinvent itself. But it’s happening and I am glad to be a part of it."

The first building block was Neonopolis, which Nevill describes as "a great place to watch a movie."

"Neonopolis is a great accessory to downtown and a start to putting other places together," said Nevill, whose casino background extends from Reno to the Vegas Strip to offshore books. "Downtown’s greatest asset is attitude. Everyone here knows people on a first name basis."

Gambling at Las Vegas is like betting in a sports museum. Memorabilia is flashed everywhere the eye can see.

"Jackie Gaughan (current owner of the Las Vegas Club, Plaza and El Cortez) is a big fan of Nebraska football and the school’s memorabilia is prevalent here," Nevill said. We have plans to upgrade our race and sports book without losing the sports feel that sets our place apart from everywhere else."

Nevill was brought in from the Aladdin to follow the new management’s credo of being "more user friendly."

"General manager Tom Kaminski deserves a lot the credit for the upswing here at Las Vegas Club," Nevill said. "We are hosting football parties for the University of Hawaii games, having karaoke on Friday nights in our entertainment center and taking a progressive approach to our slot and blackjack tournaments."

All that said, the major reason why Las Vegas Club is a great experience is simply the way customers are treated.

"Respect, that’s what our players deserve," Nevill said. "We want people to have fun every time they come see us. Whether it’s through comps, our fine affordable restaurants or our ticket writers. Downtown is friendlier than the Strip, which has become so concerned with the business operation. It’s our attitude that has seen revenues rise since I’ve been here and why we are optimistic about downtown coming back."

That’s a parlay Mel would have played constantly.