Wednesday, June 24, 1998 | 11:20 a.m.
CARSON CITY -- After a closed-door backroom session between regulators and Mirage Resorts executives, the state Gaming Commission on Tuesday approved Steve Wynn's bid to expand his empire by taking over the Holiday Inn Boardwalk on the Las Vegas Strip.
Wynn's Mirage Resorts Inc. is buying the 653-room resort for $105 million. He has also purchased surrounding property including a restaurant and a shopping center. The newly purchased property is south of his Bellagio hotel-casino, scheduled to open Oct. 15.
The approval was stalled temporarily after gaming regulators questioned whether the horse-racing book was operating within the law at the Holiday Inn Boardwalk. Chairman Bill Bible of the state Gaming Control Board suggested that quinella betting be suspended until there is further investigation. In quinella betting, the player picks two horses in a race to finish first and second.
Bible said undercover agents found irregularities in the betting at the Boardwalk. He said agents were not allowed to place quinella wagers and were limited in their bets.
The casino said anyone is free to bet quinellas, which pay higher odds, and that bettors don't have to make a regular parimutuel wager first.
Bible said he wanted more time to examine records and talk to employees to see whether only certain players get these good wagers.
Dan Lee, chief financial officer and senior vice president for Mirage, said he was hesitant to suspend the exotic betting, which produces 30 percent to 40 percent of the race book's win. Lee said the customers might head for other casinos.
When there appeared to be an impasse on whether the Gaming Commission would approve or delay the purchase because of the quinella controversy, Commission Chairman Bill Curran summoned Mirage executives and Bible into a back room to meet privately for more than 45 minutes.
Upon emerging from that meeting, Mirage executives agreed to take steps to ensure state regulations are followed at the Boardwalk when they take over.
Attorney Bruce Lesley told the commission the Mirage race book would supervise the Boardwalk's. He said quinella bets would be open to all players. And when the book closed the quinella betting, it would be closed to all players rather than letting a favored few make bets.
Attorney Jack Godfrey of Las Vegas, representing the Mirage, had written a legal opinion that the betting procedures at the Boardwalk followed state regulations. But Bible said the facts as outlined by Godfrey were different from what his undercover investigators had discovered.
Godfrey said the Boardwalk has been "very diligent" in complying with state regulations. "Based on the facts, our view is the program is lawful," he said.
In other action, the commission approved Station Casinos lease of the King 8 hotel-casino on Tropicana Ave. from Tiberti Construction Co. The business will be renamed the Wild Wild West Gambling Hall and Hotel.
Also approved for gaming was the 210-room Mesquite Star Hotel & Casino in Mesquite. Shareholder Jeff Gilbert said this may be the last major casino in Mesquite because the city's master plan does not allow for any more.
At an earlier meeting of the Gaming Control Board, there was a question about the adequacy of the financing and the source of money for the Mesquite venture. But the business satisfied the board at a special meeting this month that it had the money to operate.
Gilbert said the resort has agreed to exchange a portion of 26 acres with the city of Mesquite, which will build a roadway in the back of the property. The city needs the property to gain access to a proposed $5 million sports complex.
Dean Harrold was found suitable to be president and chief operating officer for the Las Vegas Hilton and executive vice president at Bally's Las Vegas.
Other applications approved included those of former Commission Chairman John O'Reilly and his wife, Rene, as shareholders in the CasaBlanca hotel-casino in Mesquite; Clarence Haycock, a former member of the gaming commission, for a 16 2/3 percent share in SSG Gaming; and Las Vegas auto dealer James Marsh to run gambling at the Banc Club in Tonopah.