Casuarina finds a cozy niche

Aug 3, 2004 6:53 AM

Anyone who used to frequent the old Maxim hotel-casino on East Flamingo won’t find any resemblance to the new Westin Hotel and Casuarina Casino that took its place.

"What we’ve got going here is comparable to places like the Rampart," says one casino employee, referring to the upscale resort-casino in Summerlin. "I think we’re right up there. This is a gorgeous property."

Can’t argue with that. Casuarina and the accompanying Westin opened last November on the site of the old Maxim, across from Bally’s race and sports book. The casino is bright and airy, in stark — no pun intended — contrast to the Maxim, which was so dark, you could develop film in the dice pit.

The 20,000 square-foot casino features 700 slot machines and a dozen table games, including blackjack, craps and Three Card Poker.

Casuarina’s lone restaurant, the Silver Peak Grill, offers a wide variety of food. But don’t call it a coffee shop. Diners look at the menu and think they’re in a gourmet restaurant. The bill of fare offers French, Italian and seafood specialties, accompanied by impeccable service.

Even though the hotel-casino can be lovingly called a "boutique" hotel because of its size, it has offered top-notch entertainment since it christened its showroom last year. Comedian David Brenner does the honors most of the time, but special headliners often fill the bill. One of the more popular pinch-hitters was a psychic, Dale Schear, who actually commanded a repeat performance.

And what about the hotel? It’s a Westin, respected among international travelers. Enough said.

The hotel has 825 rooms, including 10 suites. It also has a fitness center and spa, which offers facials and massages. The hotel caters to tourists and conventioneers; it has five rooms for business conferences.

One hotel employee, who asked that her name not be used, said service to the customer is a constant theme throughout the property.

"It’s all about the customer," she says. "From upper management on down, they go out of their way to take care of the guests. We do everything we can to make our customers happy. It seems obvious, but a lot of properties don’t do it any more."

Despite its aesthetics and amenities, Casuarina faces an uphill battle for market share. Owners of the Maxim gave up in 2001 after a 24-year run. They often cited location — or lack thereof — as a competitive disadvantage.

But the casino’s location could actually be perceived as strategic — walking distance to the Strip properties like Bally’s, Paris and the Flamingo, and within a mile of key convention sites like the Hilton, Sands and Mandalay Bay convention centers.

Moreover, the Casuarina has something near and dear to the heart of locals: free and easily-accessible parking. In addition to a parking lot adjacent to the casino, there’s a parking structure that connects to the hotel. That’s a combination that’s hard to beat.