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Arnold M. Knightly

Binion's to close hotel tower, lay off 100 workers

30 November 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The owner of the long-troubled Binion's Gambling Hall & Hotel is closing the property's 365 hotel rooms indefinitely and will cut nearly 100 of the property's 800 jobs.

Spokeswoman Lisa Robinson blamed the decision to shut down the rooms Dec. 14 on the economic downturn.

"This is a result of this brutal economy that has affected Las Vegas," Robinson said. "We looked at every aspect of our operations, and the hotel rooms are no longer competitive in this market."

In addition to the rooms, Binion's Original Coffee Shop is being closed and the casino will discontinue keno.

The casino, sports book, poker room, casino-floor cafes and other amenities will remain open.

The Binion's Ranch Steakhouse on the tower's 24th floor will close Dec. 13 for an annual cleaning, but will reopen on Dec. 28, Robinson said.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, long a champion of downtown redevelopment, called the hotel's closing disappointing.

"The bad news is there are going to be a lot of people out of work," Goodman said during a press conference held in his office to discuss Binion's. "That's a shame."

News of the Binion's hotel closing comes a week after the Golden Nugget opened a new 500-room tower.

Robinson said Binion's owners -- TLC Casino Enterprises -- determined that occupancy and average daily room rates at the hotel were too low to make sense to continue operating the rooms, Robinson said.

"With the plummeting room rates in Las Vegas, we just weren't able to keep it competitive," she said.

Binion's rooms rates range from $23 per night on weeknights to $54 per night on the weekend until the hotel closes.

Average daily room rates declined 24.7 percent in Las Vegas the first nine months of the year, with hotel occupancy slipping 5.6 percent, according to the latest numbers from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The hotel is offering to move people with reservations at Binion's to the 694-room Four Queens across Fremont Street, Robinson said.

Both hotel-casinos are privately owned by Terry Caudill's TLC Casino Enterprises, which acquired Binion's in January 2008 for $32 million.

A state gaming law requiring casinos with nonrestricted gaming licenses to have hotels will not affect Binion's license because the property was open before the regulation was approved, Gaming Control Board member Randall Sayre said Monday.

The announcement, however, was just the latest in a long string of problems for the historic downtown casino, which was founded in 1951 by maverick gambler Benny Binion as the Horseshoe Club.

In 2004, regulators swooped in and closed the casino -- then known as Binion's Horseshoe -- to ensure former owner Becky Binion Behnen could pay the property's mounting debts.

The casino has changed hands three times since Behnen sold the property to Harrah's Entertainment.

Harrah's owned the property just long enough to strip it of the Horseshoe name and the popular World Series of Poker, which Binion's had hosted since 1970. It then sold the property to MTR Gaming Group, which reported millions of dollars in losses during its tenure.

Caudill's purchase of the property hasn't stopped the problems.

TLC is fighting numerous lawsuits from owners of the land underlying Binion's who are seeking payment for their leases or to increase the rent.

At least four of nine parcels under the main casino and hotel are owned by outsiders who charge the hotel rent.

The latest lawsuit filed in August by the owners of about a quarter of an acre underneath Binion's is seeking $19,594 per month in rent under an agreement dating back to 1960.

The property's previous owner, Chester, W.Va.-based MTR Gaming, also sued Binion's in August, saying TLC had failed to pay rents due to landowners.

Although the lawsuit was settled for undisclosed terms, MTR Gaming said at the time TLC was in default on at least two lease agreements.

Robinson said the land leases, which are locked in at fixed rates, have contributed to the property's economic woes.

Goodman said that despite the Binion's developments, there's still good news downtown for those willing to see it.

He mentioned the construction of the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute and the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, and the performance of the Las Vegas Premium Outlets and the World Market Center as positives.

He stuck by the city's ambitious redevelopment plans, which include a new city hall, two proposed casinos, a sports arena and a reopened Lady Luck casino.

"We have to have a greater resolve than we did before the (Binion's) closure," Goodman said. "We need that kind of optimism here."