Friday, Nov. 16, 2001 | 6 a.m.
Celebrities, sports stars and a crowd in the tens of thousands welcomed the opening of the $265 million Palms hotel-casino Thursday night -- the first major casino resort to open in Las Vegas in 2001.
The Palms was designed to draw a local crowd, the audience that made North Las Vegas' Fiesta Casino a success for the Palms' majority owners, the Maloof family. But it was also designed to attract an entirely new kind of patron -- the hip, young tourist. Forget Muzak -- the tunes filling the Palms are decidedly modern rock.
But would the Palms live up to its hype? It appears well on its way, given the endorsements it received Thursday night.
"This place goes where the Hard Rock didn't go," Motley Crue lead singer Vince Neil exclaimed. "It's like the next step. It's rock and roll with an edge. This is the edge, man."
"I'll be a real good customer of this SOB," former NBA star Dennis Rodman said.
Of course, some were biased.
"Of course I think it's the best!" said Chris Webber of the NBA's Sacramento Kings -- a team owned by the Maloofs. "It has the best owners."
The Maloofs are the majority owners of the Palms. Station Casinos Inc. and the Greenspun family of Las Vegas (owner of the Las Vegas Sun) each own just under 7 percent of the privately held resort.
Before the Palms opened to the public at 11 p.m., celebrities and invited guests made their way down a red carpet into the Palms' main entrance, in a scene that appeared more like Academy Awards night than the opening of a Las Vegas casino. Flanking both sides of the carpet were two nearly nude actors, painted up to resemble palm trees.
Celebrities making appearances included actors Samuel L. Jackson and Cuba Gooding Jr., boxer Sugar Ray Leonard and former UNLV and NBA star Reggie Theus. Paris Hilton, heiress to the Hilton Hotels family fortune, showed up in a dress decorated with $1 million in Palms casino chips.
Six thousand were invited to the Palms' pre-opening party, and it appeared virtually all accepted. Three hours before the casino was scheduled to open to the public, the Palms was jammed, and it was difficult to move in many places. Guests clogged the Palms' restaurants and bars, and access to one of the resort's hottest spots -- the Ghostbar, atop the 55th floor -- was all but impossible. The Palms' 455-room hotel tower was booked Thursday night, and will remain full through the weekend.
Even the Maloofs appeared stunned by the turnout.
"This is beyond my wildest dreams," said Palms President George Maloof, who had been up since 3 a.m. doing interviews with TV stations across the country. "I knew it would be busy, but I never expected it to be this busy."
Those touring the tropical-themed casino on opening night found a place filled with design features unlike anywhere else in Las Vegas. Huge ceiling fans rotated slowly over banks of slot machines. Palm trees were positioned by table games. Television sets, which will be used to display rock videos and sporting events, were positioned above slot machine banks and table game pits.
"I think George (Maloof) did an incredible job," said Becky Behnen, owner of Binion's Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas. "It's got a design that's totally unique."
What would Benny Binion, Behnen's late father, say about the place?
"It would've blown his mind," Behnen said.
Up in the Ghostbar is what could be the Palms' most unique element -- a 3 foot-by-4 foot clear pane on the Ghostbar's balcony. Stand on it and look down, and there's nothing between you and the pool deck 450 feet below but two inches of acrylic material.
Originally George Maloof had planned to have the clear floor cover half of the balcony.
"But then I thought that would be a little bit too radical," Maloof said.
It might give patrons the willies to stand on it, but Pat Hubbs, project manager for Palms general contractor Perini Building Co., insists it's quite safe. Perini tested the panel before opening by stacking 7,200 pounds of weight on it -- the equivalent of more than 40 people.
It's good the panel received that kind of testing, because one of the popular activities among patrons of the Ghostbar Thursday night was jumping up and down and stomping on the window.
"It would be quite a fall if it did go, but you're not going to (fall)," Hubbs said.
Yet despite the throngs of celebrities and VIPs at Thursday's opening, the Maloofs insisted their new property is for everyone -- especially for the locals.
"I've been a local for a long time," George Maloof said. "I appreciate the people of Las Vegas, and I appreciate that they need a place that isn't pretentious, that's affordable, where they can enjoy themselves."
Despite its location a mile west of the Strip, thousands turned out for the 11 p.m. opening. It was an opening night crowd larger than any Las Vegas had seen since the opening of Paris Las Vegas in 1999 -- a line of people stretched for blocks along Flamingo Road, and a traffic jam formed out in front of the property.
Shortly before 11 p.m., George Maloof took a stage in the front of the casino. A camera projected his image onto the jumbotron screen on the Palms' marquee for the assembled crowd.
"Tonight, we celebrate a place that reflects the true spirit of Las Vegas, where you can gamble, win, party, and have fun," Maloof said. "Welcome to the new paradise for locals."
Then, to the sound of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA," the thousands began pouring in. Within 15 minutes, it was nearly impossible to move, as bystanders clogged every aisle, filled up virtually every slot machine, and took every seat at the Palms' tables. Hundreds more waited outside well after the casino's opening, unable to get in because the property was at capacity.
The opening of the casino was apparently what Samuel L. Jackson had been waiting for. Minutes after the casino opened its doors, the actor weaved his way through the crowd and took a seat at one of the blackjack tables -- and thus became one of the first people to gamble at Las Vegas' latest casino resort.
"Right now, the atmosphere's very festive," Jackson said. "Let's hope it stays that way."
But celebrities aren't going to make the Palms a success; locals will. And though the Palms might be radically different than the Fiesta, the Maloofs hope a repeat of the Fiesta formula of loose slots and affordable restaurants will be enough to keep the locals coming back.
"If the slots are loose and I can win some money, I'll be in here 24/7," Las Vegas resident Mike Jenkins said.