Fervor on Fremont St.

Apr 8, 2008 7:00 PM

By David Stratton | While the major casino operators languish over the anemic economy’s effect on their multi-billion dollar developments, a group of modest though enthusiastic entrepreneurs have vowed to pump new blood into downtown Las Vegas.

Operators who recently purchased the Gold Spike and Binion’s Gambling Hall, and pumped money into the Golden Gate, have disclosed plans to renovate and upgrade their respective properties.

"We expect to make a variety of upgrades over the next few months," said Michel Crandall, director of business affairs for The Siegel Group, which purchased the Gold Spike for about $16 million.

Crandall said the company plans to spend about $5 million upgrading the hotel’s 100 guest rooms, renovating the casino, adding a new restaurant and restoring table games to the casino.

Also on the drawing board are a new pool and one-story spa, a possible race and sports book, and seven luxury bungalows to be built on what is now a parking lot that flanks Las Vegas Boulevard.

Once owned by downtown casino mogul Jackie Gaughan, the Gold Spike was sold to the Tamares group, which sold it to The Siegel Group.

Known as one of downtown’s original "low roller" hangouts, the Gold Spike was famous for its cheap food and penny slots. In fact, it was one of the only hotels that offered penny progressive jackpots that often mushroomed into the tens of thousands of dollars.

A block south on Fremont Street, the owner of the Four Queens, Terry Caudill, has pledged to bring his latest acquisition, Binion’s Gambling Hall, back to its former glory.

Last month, Caudill closed the $32 million deal with MTR Gaming, which is based in Chester, West Virginia.

Caudill, who purchased the Four Queens in 2003, said he plans to begin the renovation with an upgrade of the hotel’s 366 guest rooms, along with conversion of the outdated coin-operated slots to ticket-in, ticket out.

The public areas of the casino, which had fallen into disrepair under MTR Gaming’s long-distance ownership, will also be upgraded with new carpet, fixtures and furnishings.

Caudill said he hopes to restore some of Binion’s legacy, which included the Horseshoe brand and World Series of Poker, which were both sold away to Harrah’s in 2004. The casino was also famous for taking any sized wager, and its $2 steak dinner, breakfast and chili were legendary.

While it may take awhile to restore Binion’s famous downtown tradition, Caudill’s track record at the Four Queen suggests he can complete the task. With hotel remodeling and other upgrades, cash flow at the Four Queens has more than doubled, Caudill said.

Finally, a new part-owner of the historic Golden Gate has infused an undisclosed amount of cash into the property, earmarked for improvement and upgrades.

Desert Rock Enterprises, which owns 19 percent of Riviera Holdings, the parent company of the Riviera, also recently purchased the Las Vegas 51s, the Triple A baseball affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Desert Rock is co-owned by brothers Derek and Greg Stevens.

Mark Brandenburg, whose family has owned the Golden Gate for decades, retains 50 percent ownership and will continue to operate the property.

Brandenburg said the influx of new cash will be used to transform the Golden Gate into a "true boutique hotel" through renovation of the guest rooms, the installation of new restrooms, adding a casino sound system and modernizing the signs on Fremont Street.

Built in 1906 as the Hotel Nevada, the property is the city’s oldest hotel and has become a reminder of the town’s frontier heritage.

The hotel was renamed Sal Sagev ("Las Vegas" spelled backwards) in the 1930s and became the Golden Gate in 1955, when a group of San Francisco investors took over.

The owners from San Francisco opened the casino and introduced the shrimp cocktail to Las Vegas – a tasty treat that has become the Golden Gate’s signature attraction at 99¢.

Brandenburg said modernization did not include tampering with the shrimp cocktail, which has become a favorite of tourists over the years.

Over the next few months, the shuttered Lady Luck on Third Street is expected to open as new owners complete their plans for renovation. Those plans include a "mob museum," which is currently under development.