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Gaming Guru

Arnold M. Knightly
 

Bill's comes due for new ownership

3 March 2007

By Arnold M. Knightly

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The world's largest casino company officially got a little larger Thursday.

Harrah's Entertainment reopened the former Barbary Coast at 2 p.m. under the name Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon.

"This is very valuable for us," said Ed Crispell, general manager of the Imperial Palace and, now, Bill's. "It is on one of the most famous four corners there is."

In a low-key event, Crispell cut a ribbon before reopening the property at Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard South under new ownership.

Harrah's took ownership of the property Monday and promptly closed the casino around 2 a.m. although the hotel remained open. Bill's is named for company founder William Harrah, who died in 1978.

Pat Getter, spokeswoman for Bill's and the Imperial Palace, said personnel "worked around the clock" for the next 36 hours getting the property ready for the reopening.

Besides auditing the gaming floor, all chips had to be replaced and all table game layouts had to be changed.

Slot machines also had to be reprogrammed to accept the company's Total Rewards customer marketing program. Work to rebrand the outside of the building is scheduled to start Monday.

Bill's operations will be managed by the team that now oversees the Imperial Palace's day-to-day operations.

Two former Barbary Coast executives were retained by Boyd while five others were terminated, with a severance package paid by Harrah's, because their positions overlapped with management at Imperial Palace.

The remaining 708 employees were rehired by Harrah's.

The property includes a 32,800-square-foot casino and 198 hotel rooms with a daily occupancy rate of 98 percent in 2006.

Harrah's Entertainment acquired the 4.2-acre property on the northeast corner of Flamingo Road and the Strip in a land deal with Boyd Gaming Corp.

Harrah's Chief Executive Officer Gary Loveman said during Tuesday's conference call on the company's quarterly earnings that the swap "largely completes our acquisition of land here in Las Vegas."

Harrah's now owns properties on three of the four corners -- Bally's, Caesars Palace and now Bill's with MGM Mirage's Bellagio on the fourth -- and six contiguous properties from Paris Las Vegas to Harrah's next to The Venetian.

John Knott, executive vice president at CB Richard Ellis and the Las Vegas-based Global Gaming Group, called the Flamingo-Strip corner "one of the greatest corners in the world."

"Anytime you are doing assemblage, it is hard to leave out key pieces; otherwise the assembly doesn't work," Knott said. "It was a great acquisition by Harrah's and a good acquisition for Boyd as well."

In return for the land, Boyd received 24 acres north of Circus Circus that will be added to the $4.4 billion Echelon Place project that will now cover 87 acres.

The transaction, which was first announced Oct. 2 and approved by Nevada gaming regulators in February, could set the stage for Harrah's to join Boyd and MGM Mirage with a large scale, mixed-use development.

The $7 billion Project CityCenter by MGM Mirage is scheduled to open in 2009.

Crispell, who has worked at the Imperial Palace for 27 years, said he expects Bill's to become part of a larger master plan for Harrah's but has no idea how long the property will remain open. He added that the Imperial Palace is accepting reservations through the end of December 2008.

Harrah's is being bought out for $17.1 billion by a private equity partnership between Texas Pacific Group and Apollo Management.

This has led to speculation that any master planning may be on hold, an idea Loveman rebutted during Tuesday's conference call.

"Let me assure all doubters that our master planning work continues at a pace equal to, or greater than, that of the last five years," Loveman said.

Bill's comes due for new ownership is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.