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Arnold M. Knightly

Aliante opens its doors with a bang

12 November 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Rock singer Sheryl Crow, fireworks and a few thousand locals helped open Aliante Station late Tuesday night.

The $662 million hotel-casino opened at 10:40 p.m., ahead of the scheduled 11:11 p.m. opening.

Customers started gathering outside the property around 9 p.m., and many of them said they were hoping to get a little opening night luck at the machines.

North Las Vegas resident Teresa Tobison said she came for the novelty of a casino opening and was not intending to leave much at the tables.

"Times are hard, but this will be a nice place to escape to," she said.

Sun City Aliante residents Bob and Jeannette Miller turned out to watch the fireworks show.

Bob Miller said they are excited about the opening because now they do not have to travel south of Ann Road for nice restaurants.

The couple over the weekend had attended a sneak peek of the property for area residents.

"I am happy to finally see it open," Jeannette Miller said. "As a resident of Sun City, this is really our casino, but we will share with everybody else."

Nearly 3,000 invited guests attended a pre-opening party, which included an hourlong performance by Crow.

Party attendees included executives from other gaming companies: Palms owner George Maloof, MGM Mirage Chairman and CEO Terry Lanni and officials from Boyd Gaming Corp., Cannery Casino Resorts and Golden Gaming.

North Las Vegas City Councilwoman Shari Buck said the new property will provide a much-needed distraction for an area heavily hit by the economic slowdown.

"I came for a tour the other day, and they had the seniors from the area lined up at the Original Pancake House," said Buck, whose ward the hotel-casino is in. "The kids are excited about the movie theaters. It's coming at a really good time."

The opening came the day after Station Casinos reported a 10.5 percent drop in third-quarter revenues.

Company Chief Operating Officer Kevin Kelly said the company is struggling with the same financial challenges as the rest of the gaming industry.

"Everybody's revenues are down," Kelly said during the party. "We have to roll with the times and slug through it."

The hotel-casino opened with 202 rooms, 2,554 slots, 40 table games, a high-limit area and a poker room.

Station Casinos now has 4,250 hotel rooms at 11 properties around Clark County.

The financial effect of the property, which is a 50-50 joint venture with the Greenspun Corp., on Station Casinos' bottom line might not be as immediate as once hoped for by company executives.

The casino company will collect a management fee of 2 percent of the property's revenues and 5 percent of the cash flow, the same contract the partnership has for Green Valley Ranch Resort.

That casino generated $19.7 million in third-quarter cash flow, and $7.7 million went to Station Casinos for fees and ownership stake, a 27.4 percent decline from last year.

Company Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Frank Fertitta III said that though joint-venture properties are financed separately as stand- alone entities outside the company, they are an important part of the company portfolio.

"We look at them the same and treat them the same as our wholly-owned properties," Fertitta said. "We pour all our heart and soul in making them the best they can possibly be."

The nearly $400 million in debt that Aliante Station opens with will be leveraged against the property and not be added to Station Casinos' current $5.3 billion debt load.

In a note to investors, Christopher Snow, an independent credit analyst with Credit Sights, wrote Tuesday that the opening should contribute some cash flow to Station Casinos, but "do not expect the (property) to distribute much cash upstream, given operating conditions and the (joint-venture) leverage," referring to the $400 million debt.

Aliante Station will be opening in a slumping economy and competing with several other nearby gaming properties, including three in its own family.

Station Casinos properties the 200-room Texas Station, the 100-room Fiesta Rancho and the 200-room Santa Fe Station are within eight miles of the company's newest property, and company officials admitted the new resort could draw customers from them.

Also, the 100-room Lucky Club Casino, formerly the Speedway, is 10 miles southeast of Aliante Station, along Interstate 15.

And competition in the North Las Vegas market could get tougher.

BGO Gaming, a partnership between Boyd Gaming Corp. and developer Olympia Group, has a proposal before city officials to zone 68.4 acres along the Las Vegas Beltway for gaming.

The parcel, roughly five miles east of Aliante Station, would anchor Olympia's 2,675-acre Park Highlands development.

The change was approved by city planners in June, but a hearing before the City Council was tabled until February for an economic impact study.

Station Casinos has filed applications to have 54 acres across from the BGO site zoned for gaming.

North Las Vegas Mayor Michael Montandon has been a critic of expanding gaming.

His concern, voiced repeatedly in City Council meetings, is that he does not want the Beltway to become a second Strip in the city.

But his stance has softened lately.

He said that Clark County officials have become less generous with sharing tax revenues from Strip casinos and that he is more willing to consider allowing more casinos.

"If the county starts saying all the money has to stay where it's generated, then it behooves us to get in the economic development business," Montandon said.

In the slumping economy, Station Casinos reported a net loss of $23.4 million for the third quarter ended Sept. 30. The company said the loss was because of lower revenues and increased interest expenses on its debt load.

The 89084 ZIP code area in North Las Vegas where Aliante Station is based has been hit hard by the mortgage crisis, with 1,394 foreclosures, 48.9 percent of all housing transactions occurring in the 12 months ended Oct. 20.

The property, the first major hotel-casino to open in North Las Vegas in 51/2 years, will employ 1,400. The last resort to open in North Las Vegas was the $105 million, 201-room Cannery in January 2003.