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Poker still hot, more TV on tap

Sep 28, 2004 11:11 AM

The momentum toward a shaper focus on poker will not subside any time soon at Las Vegas casinos.

The president of a major Strip resort tells me, "We’ve got the World Poker Tour and Harrah’s behind different televised tournaments and I believe there are at least two more groups intent on getting in on the action."

That’s how big poker has become.

"We can have 75 people on the list waiting to play during weekends," says another executive, a casino boss at the Monte Carlo. "We’ve only got nine tables in our poker room. They put an expansion plan on hold after MGM bought us, but business is probably 75 percent ahead of where it was a year ago. Eighty percent of it is hold’em. On weekends, the place is full of these young kids from California. They start out playing $2-$4 hold’em. Before you know it, they say, ”˜let’s change it to no limit’ and away they go."

Aztar seeks buyers

Aztar Corp. is quietly offering its casinos to a select list of potential buyers.

So far, the company’s Tropicana resorts in Las Vegas and Atlantic City are the only two properties that have piqued interest among potential buyers. Secondary properties in Indiana, Missouri and Laughlin might be sold or retained for future sale or packaging.

Company officials are obviously unwilling to comment on these developments, which were disclosed in confidential whispers by sources outside the company.

The biggest hurdle to any deal so far is — surprise, surprise! — pricing.

Aztar’s sprawling development to be known as "The Quarter" at the Tropicana Atlantic City will not open until the end of October. It may be a huge success or it could fall flat on its face. But it should, in one way or another, have an effect on Aztar’s efforts to sell its properties.

The Tropicana Las Vegas definitely has to be considered something of a "fixer-upper" in need of redevelopment if it is ever to do more than collect the overflow generated by newer, more affluent neighbors. In fairness, the Tropicana has posted a couple of excellent quarters. But everyone on the Strip has been doing well.

I’m told that if there is no interest in an "as-is deal" for the Trop, then Aztar officials will probably go ahead and pull the trigger on a Las Vegas redevelopment that would cost anywhere between $750 million and $1 billion.

It’s hard to believe MGM Mirage wouldn’t like to own this property that would give it control of all four corners at one of the busiest intersections in the world. But the timing for such a deal might be bad what with regulators still reviewing its proposed purchase of Mandalay Resorts.

Hard Rock smelling like a rose

I wonder if Hard Rock officials will bill their marketing department for some of the legal fees earned by lawyers beating back charges that the casino’s ads crossed the decency line?

HR’s marketing gurus would not dare celebrate publicly, but it’s always a good day in a competitive market like Las Vegas when a hotel and casino’s "edgy" image becomes part of the 6 p.m. news.

Did the HR go too far with its ads, ads that were variously characterized as "raunchy . . . overly erotic . . . risqué" or merely "satirical?"

I’m not going to wrestle with that question here, but I wonder how many prospective HR customers viewed or read accounts of the casino’s problems with state regulators and said something like: "Edgy, huh. We’d better get over there and check that place out."

Yet another Cirque

Look for an Oct. 10 announcement of yet another Cirque du Soleil production, this one at The Mirage in space once occupied by the Siegfried & Roy Theatre.

There have been numerous delays as the myriad lawyers involved in this complicated deal have struggled to get all their "I’s" or "T’s" dotted and crossed.

Mirage officials are also likely to soon make announcements concerning an extensive new line-up of restaurants and assorted non-gaming attractions at this property.

Parent company MGM Mirage may eventually accept an offer for this 15-year-old property that redefined the "entertainment super store" concept when Steve Wynn opened it in Nov. 1989, but in the meantime the company intends to keep Mirage offerings on the cutting edge. Kind of edgy, maybe.