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Gaming Guru

Jeff Simpson

Golden Nugget owners say TV show cameras draw gamblers

9 March 2004

It's been a great six weeks for the new co-owners of downtown's Golden Nugget, Tim Poster and Tom Breitling said Sunday evening.

Since buying the property for $215 million and taking over control from MGM Mirage on Jan. 23, Golden Nugget operations have been "far busier than we thought," Breitling said.

The Golden Nugget's slots are believed to generate the state's highest daily win per machine, and Poster said there's been no falloff in performance since they bought the Fremont Street property.

"We're doing better than we projected," Poster said.

One of the big factors driving the Golden Nugget's strong casino play has been the ongoing filming for "The Casino," a reality TV show on Poster, Breitling and their gambling joint planned for the Fox network.

The property has cordoned off a separate area of the casino near the cashier's cage to allow the show's producers to film high-stakes gambling.

Four blackjack tables along with one dice and one roulette table are in the pit, all requiring at least $25 bets, beneath an array of cameras and microphones to capture the action.

"This is the biggest surprise of my experience so far," Poster said. "How many people want to get on TV and what they'll do to get on. I was worried that TV cameras might scare people off, that worry about the IRS, wives, girlfriends, etc., would scare people off. Boy, was I wrong. It's been amazing. Every single night that pit is jammed."

Poster said that the downtown market has also been a plus for the hotel-casino, despite the Jan. 9 closure of Binion's Horseshoe.

"Downtown gets between 35,000 and 50,000 people walking through per day," Poster said. "The Golden Nugget is the crown jewel, so we get the lion's share of that business. We're king of our market."

If the Golden Nugget were on the Strip, it would still be a great property, but one among many, he said.

"Downtown, we're going to get those crowds every single night," he said.

And those crowds have produced some big winners and losers, Poster said.

A couple of seven-figure losers have more than offset one guy who won about $900,000 at blackjack over a two-day session and another who parlayed a small stake into a $500,000 craps win.

Seated in Poster's 18th floor office, former Golden Nugget owner Steve Wynn's old office, Breitling and Poster said they've divided up the property's executive functions in a way that works for them.

"Tom and I complement one another," Poster said of his partner. "We're a great team. We compromise."

Poster, with his background as a friend of the Fertitta family, founders of Station Casinos Inc., as well as a former member of the Station board, focuses on casino issues, while Breitling focuses on entertainment and other non-gambling matters.

Breitling said the Golden Nugget expects to sign high-profile headliners to entertain in the hotel's 400-seat showroom, using the theater's intimate size to pitch the venue to artists accustomed to performing in bigger halls.

"We need to continue to search for the right kind of performers," said Breitling, who said crowd reaction to last weekend's concerts by Tony Bennett and Jewel justifies the strategy. "We want people to expect the unexpected, and we want to overdeliver on our promise. We want to provide an unplugged, intimate experience in our Old Vegas-style, cabaret-type showroom."

The duo has already succeeded at one high-profile Las Vegas business, having together built their hotel reservation company into online booking powerhouse, which they sold to Expedia in 2000 in a deal that netted them about $100 million.