Thursday, March 7, 2002 | 11:08 a.m.
The managers of Detroit's Greektown Casino received a license recommendation from the Nevada Gaming Control Board Wednesday to take over the casino operations of the JW Marriott Las Vegas, formerly known as the Regent Las Vegas.
Under the supervision of Millennium Management Group, the casino will gain yet another name -- "Rampart Casino at the Resort at Summerlin."
It will be the fourth name associated with the property in the three years it's been open. Since its 1999 opening, the $276 million hotel-casino has been alternately known as the Resort at Summerlin, the Regent Las Vegas and JW Marriott Las Vegas. JW Marriott will remain the brand of the property's 461-room hotel.
Along with the newest name comes new ideas -- and predictions of success after three long years of financial struggles.
"This is the rebirth of a property," Jack Godfrey, attorney for Millennium, said.
But the remake of the casino isn't the only Las Vegas plan for Millennium. Millennium partner William Paulos said after Wednesday's meeting that the company has already started work on "The Cannery," a $100 million hotel-casino in North Las Vegas, and plans to open it in December. The property, located at Craig and Losee roads, will be cross-marketed with the Rampart Casino, Paulos said.
Paulos described the new property as "a 1950s factory-style casino," and said he soon plans to begin financing efforts for its construction.
"That's an absolutely terrific demographic area," Paulos said. "It will also appeal to folks coming off I-15."
Millennium is owned by Las Vegas businessmen Paulos, William Wortman and Guy Hillyer. The three are bringing a fourth partner into their Las Vegas ventures -- Robert Mendenhall, owner of Las Vegas Paving Corp.
Millennium does have its work cut out for it. The original plans for the Resort at Summerlin called for the property to be marketed both to locals and upscale tourists. The property attracted neither in sufficient numbers, and struggled badly from its opening in the summer of 1999. In late 2000, it fell into bankruptcy, even while its new neighbor, Coast Resorts Inc.'s Suncoast, got off to a strong start.
Last September, Hotspur Resorts -- an affiliate of a Canadian real estate concern -- acquired the Regent for $80 million in bankruptcy court. That was less than one-third of the resort's construction cost.
But Paulos believes he can turn it around by aiming hard at the local customer.
"One major problem was that the resort did not go after the local market," Paulos said. "Therefore, they didn't get anybody. We believe locals are our primary market."
Guests of the upscale hotel will still be targeted, Paulos said. And traffic at the hotel should pick up, as Hotspur plans to double the hotel's convention space, he said.
But there's no reason the two groups can't co-exist, Paulos said.
"We feel the combination (of locals and tourists) will work very well ... it works today," Paulos said. "The concept that the local people of Summerlin are different from the people who stay at this hotel is somewhat puzzling to me. They both want entertainment and value. There is no difference."
Millennium now has a 10-year lease on the casino, and Paulos said the company plans to invest $6 million in renovating the property. A "grand re-opening" is set for June -- and by that time, Paulos said he may hire up to 150 people to join the casino's 310-person workforce.
Gone is the sunken pit, which once separated slots from the table games on the casino floor. Paulos also plans to add three restaurants -- a coffee shop, a buffet and a "specialty restaurant" -- near the casino floor by June.
"One problem we believe the resort had was that casino players just about had to call a cab to go to a restaurant," Paulos said.
Paulos said he isn't fazed by the prospect of competing against the successful Suncoast, located less than a quarter-mile up Rampart Boulevard from his casino. He noted that 174,000 people live within three miles of the resort, with an average household income of $83,000.
"I believe the market is there to have two very successful casinos in the Summerlin market," Paulos said. "We believe people want a choice."
That was the hope of gaming regulators.
"I think that's a beautiful piece of property," board member Bobby Siller said. "I think what you're suggesting is right on target."
In separate action, the board recommended an executive at Bally's/Paris Las Vegas for licensure, despite deep concerns over a 1998 incident that led to his trial on federal money laundering charges. He was acquitted, though he signed a stipulation with New Jersey gaming regulators last May that bars him from the Atlantic City casino market for at least a year.
Joseph Rahi, vice president of Middle Eastern and European operations for the Park Place Entertainment Corp. properties, was working as an independent agent for the Showboat in Atlantic City in 1998. He was called by an Internal Revenue Service agent who, posing as a high roller, tried to talk Rahi into helping him get a large amount of money into the casino without tripping the $10,000 threshold that requires casinos to report cash transactions to federal officials.
Rahi told the agent that this couldn't be done in Atlantic City -- but then suggested he might want to try it in Las Vegas.
"Vegas is the way," a transcript quoted Rahi as saying. "Vegas is a desert. Nobody gives a (expletive) there."
This comment bothered Siller deeply, and he voted against Rahi's licensure.
"That's a real test of character. When nobody was watching, this is what you said," Siller said. "It's obvious the intent was to commit an illegal act, and you sent him to us."
Breaking a large amount of cash into smaller, non-reportable amounts is called "structuring," and it is illegal under Nevada gaming regulations.
But Chairman Dennis Neilander and board member Scott Scherer saw the remarks differently. They saw them as the comments of someone who was afraid, and wanted to reject the request without losing a high-end customer. Both voted in favor of a three-year license, though each expressed concerns that Rahi didn't inform his employer or New Jersey officials about the incident.
They also noted that Rahi was not convicted of the charges.
"I see someone who's trying to hide in this transcript," Scherer said. "You now know the rules. I expect you to live up to these obligations in the future."