Friday, May 17, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
NO more smokestacks.
And that's only one of the changes announced by Harrah's Las Vegas Thursday as company executives unveiled a model of a $150 million expansion and renovation.
The new look is dramatically different from the icon riverboat that's been docked on Las Vegas Boulevard for 23 years.
Scheduled to be completed in 1997, the new Harrah's is sleeker and more sophisticated than the current riverboat-themed building.
It includes "European-inspired architecture with touches of elegance and whimsical accents," according to Thom Hall, Harrah's Las Vegas senior vice president and general manager.
"When completed, it will be the flagship for Harrah's 17 properties," he said.
The casino's theme will highlight Mardi Gras and "Carnaval" as celebrated around the world. The design incorporates music, icons and entertainment from those celebrations.
The casino's exterior will feature a dramatic facade with dark glass and brilliant colors.
"We'll also have the Strip's first indoor-outdoor lounge. It will have a Brazilian theme and customers will enter the casino through it. Harrah's will also capitalize on its prime position on the Strip by creating Carnaval Court -- a plaza area offering entertainment-oriented retail," Hall said.
And the list of changes goes on.
Harrah's will add 22,000 square feet of casino space, including 500 more slot machines and 10 table games. With the expansion, Harrah's casino will grow to 95,300 square feet with a total of 2,200 slot machines and 1,200 table games.
The casino floor expansion is scheduled to be completed by the end of 1996.
There's also going to be a new ground-level race and sports book with a sports bar atmosphere and six new specialty restaurants -- including Chinese, Asian, Italian cuisine and a buffet featuring "interactive cooking," with a menu of international foods.
"The Sunset Steakhouse will be the only dining spot in Las Vegas offering customers a picturesque view directly overlooking the Strip," Hall said.
A new 35-story hotel tower will add 671 rooms and 28 suites, expanding the hotel inventory to 2,334 rooms and 62 suites in four towers.
Hall said that although it was a tough decision to remove the riverboat, the renovation and expansion will take the already successful property to the next level.
"Harrah's is currently fifth in slot win per unit in the area, while competing against casinos that have much higher levels of investment. We expect to generate more walk-in customers to supplement our core business," he said.
The changes are also designed to appeal to higher level customers.
"This project is about Harrah's customers who want to come to Las Vegas. We'll keep our loyal customers while attracting those who find Harrah's Las Vegas amenities a little lacking. We'll cater to the higher-level player," Hall said.
Hall also said that Harrah's well-publicized difficulties in New Orleans don't paint a picture of the entire company.
"Harrah's is not one location. We're not dependant on the success or failure of one property, and one setback certainly isn't going to spell the end of Harrah's. We are a large stable company. The philosophy about this project is 'let's expand and move on,' " he said, adding that in the Las Vegas marketplace, upgrades are a must in order to compete.
Twenty-two years ago, Claudine and Shelby Williams opened the Holiday Inn Holiday Casino where Harrah's now stands. Harrah's purchased the property in 1983 and changed the name to Harrah's in 1992.
Claudine Williams is chairman of the board of Harrah's Las Vegas and was on hand for Thursday's announcement.
She said the changes, including the removal of the trademark smokestacks, are all part of growth.
"In the beginning, there was a moat around the casino and we even had Huckleberry Finn out there for awhile. But they eventually had to go -- like the paddlewheel and the smokestacks. It simply was time to bring it up to standards. And this is a very exciting project," she said.
Casino designer Henry Conversano of Henry Conversano & Associates, Oakland, Calif., is overseeing the project. Construction began in March.
Harrah's also is exploring a second phase of expansion that would include 300 more rooms, bringing the total number of rooms to 2,634.