Golden (Nugget) boys!

Jul 15, 2003 5:52 AM

The new owners of the Golden Nugget properties in Las Vegas and Laughlin plan to take a hands-on approach in upgrading the quality of amenities and service, especially at the downtown Las Vegas hotel-casino.

"Tom and I agree that both properties are better served with independent owners rather than a corporate operation," said Tim Poster, who along with Tom Breitling entered an agreement to purchase both Golden Nuggets from MGM Mirage. "This is a tremendous opportunity for us.

"MGM Mirage was too diversified," Poster continued. "We will be on the property every day, interacting, meeting and greeting employees. We’re going to do the hosting ourselves and return the Nugget to the glory days when (Frank) Sinatra was here."

Poster and Breitling, who became multi-millionaires with Travelscape.com, a company they founded and sold to Expedia.com., are currently in a holding pattern, waiting for necessary regulatory approvals before beginning work on renovating the Nugget properties.

"Our goal is to recapture the way Vegas used to be," Poster said. "We want to be the most friendly casino in town, the place customers will gain the most value. "There will be liberal rules for all games. We’ll do many things over time, but people will immediately see a very big difference in how our sports book operates as opposed to the way MGM handled things."

For example, Poster said, baseball bettors may find a 2-run line, instead of the traditional 1½-run line found in most sports books. (Bettors who "lay" two runs must win the game by two runs or greater, but for their risk they have a higher reward.)

Poster said he is also considering raising betting limits for blackjack, requiring dealers to stand on soft 17, and liberalizing rules and payoffs at the craps tables.

"What was common years ago has now become a lost art," Poster said. "We want the whole casino to be an environment providing the best opportunity for our players."

Already the jewel of downtown hotels, the 1,900-room Golden Nugget probably won’t require many changes, except for a return to headliner-style entertainment, Poster said.

"This has been a four-star hotel for 27 years," he said. "The Nugget has maintained the high standards ever since Steve Wynn had it. Big name entertainment, though, has been lured away. Sinatra, Paul Anka, Tony Bennett and Lou Rawls used to perform here all the time. Wynn built our theater for Sinatra and we promise to bring the top entertainers back."

Poster acknowledged that he and Breitling may have more work to do at the 300-room Laughlin property.

"We do have our work cut out," he said. "Laughlin is in a very opportune market that is being threatened by the Indian casinos. We need to be more creative with marketing. It’s just like Vegas. Personalized service, junkets, advance tournaments and improved restaurants are the way to get the customers back."

Overall, however, Poster said buying the two properties for a reported $215 million was the right move.

"We considered building our own place, but the Golden Nugget is so strong," he said. "Having been associated with the travel services will be a major part of how we will market our plan. Once we get approval, which hopefully will come by the end of the year, this will be our chance of a lifetime."