Sunday, Nov. 27, 2005 | 8:22 a.m.
Jeff Simpson is business editor of the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (702) 259-4083.
For the past couple of years the only news that was made in the handful of Strip private gaming areas was about how they were almost never used.
Approved by the Legislature in 2001, with enabling rules passed by state gaming regulators shortly thereafter, the so-called "international gaming salons" require minimum bets of $500 and half-million-dollar credit lines.
The state's traditional "wide-open" gaming rules were changed to allow the betting to take place in private (with strict regulatory oversight) in order to allow the Strip's top resorts to compete with tribal and foreign casinos that already allowed publicity-shy gamblers a way to gamble outside the view of the general public.
One year ago, state regulators and casino executives said less than a dozen big-betting gamblers had taken advantage of the new rules and gambled in one of the private betting areas at Caesars Palace, MGM Grand or Mandalay Bay.
But the tide may have turned.
Salon usage is up "five times" the rate of use before this year, a top regulatory official said.
Although the official couldn't say why, industry insiders believe the improvement stems from three primary changes.
One, the Venetian opened its own private room.
Two, Wynn Las Vegas opened its room in April.
And three, casinos are finally learning how to market the existing salons against California and Connecticut tribal casinos and against Australian and other international venues that don't have the same scrutiny required in Nevada.
State Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander declined to say whether the board is investigating a Nevada connection to a nationwide Harrah's Entertainment promotion that culminated in a $1 million giveaway at Paris Las Vegas in October.
According to a Kansas City Star story, Missouri Gaming Commission officials believe that Harrah's North Kansas City marketing employees colluded to give winning promotional pieces to friends or family members, but the state officials couldn't prove their suspicions.
Gaming reporter Rick Alm's story noted that Missouri regulators said winning game pieces could be identified by gently squeezing them and that one customer complained that an employee handing out game pieces "would dig through the box they were in and look at several different ones before picking one to give me."
The contest also took place at Harrah's casinos in Nevada. Harrah's spokesman David Strow said the company was unaware of any irregularity in the game outside Missouri.
"If we become aware of a problem, we'll find out exactly what happened," Strow said. "Our integrity is absolutely vital."
Although it's doubtful the Control Board will take any action regarding the risque Hardwood Suite invitations sent out last month by the Palms, the state's gaming police have decided to take a closer look at the invitations to the Oct. 27 party introducing the $50,000 per night digs to the Las Vegas media, a get-together that featured members of the Sacramento Kings.
The National Basketball Association and the Kings distanced themselves from the invitation that included tongue-in-cheek advice on how to be a "baller." One piece of wisdom: If you don't like a referee's call (optional refs and cheerleaders can be arranged for those renting the suite that includes a partial basketball court), knock him the (expletive) out.
After I reported the over-the-top invitations last month and Sports Illustrated followed with a critical note, Control Board officials requested a copy of the invitation, and are now looking it over, an informed source said.
Buttoned-down Las Vegas law firm Lionel Sawyer & Collins is apparently loosening up. One of the state's top gaming law outfits, Lionel Sawyer recently placed an advertisement in Sun sister publication In Business Las Vegas touting the firm's new associates.
One new lawyer, Jennifer DiMarzio, a gaming regulatory specialist, was the only one with this amusing title: Firm's Retreat Poker Champion."
Way to go, Jennifer.