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Gaming Guru

Arnold M. Knightly
 

Lights, Flora, Auction

27 July 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Auction novices Jordan Wattenbarger and Bryan Kirwin arrived at the New Frontier Thursday morning hoping to finally grab some memorabilia.

"We came down closing night wanting to get something," said Wattenbarger. "We didn't get anything."

The friends hoped to get a set of unused playing cards with the New Frontier logo. But they grew visibly disheartened when the first few cases went for $150 each.

When the price on a case that went on sale later finally dropped to $75, Wattenbarger finally raised his bid plaque after exchanging an unsure glance with Kirwin.

The College of Southern Nevada students are now the proud owners of 144 decks of red New Frontier playing cards.

Wattenbarger and Kirwin were part of a standing-room-only crowd of 300 registered bidders who filled a small convention room next to the almost vacant casino.

Another 300 bidders joined the auction online, event organizers said.

The New Frontier closed July 16 after being sold in May to New York-based Elad Group for $1.2 billion.

The developer plans to build a $5 billion mixed-use project modeled after New York's Plaza Hotel.

The eight-hour auction was conducted by California-based Great American Group.

The company oversaw the Nevada Landing auction in Jean on July 17 and the six-day Stardust auction in November.

The New Frontier auction had 750 lots, a mix of individual items or grouped items, ranging from a neon bingo sign to artificial palm trees to everything found in a hotel room.

Anything not sold or picked up by Aug. 5 will be left for Elad to dispose of when the building is demolished this fall.

Roy Gamityan, senior vice president of Great American Group, said casino auctions draw a mix of memorabilia hunters, operators of resale businesses, casino companies, scrap dealers and individuals looking for an interesting piece for their private use.

"A lot of these gaming tables are going to go to homes," he said. "They will invite their friends over and have their parties and play blackjack."

One such buyer was Las Vegan Brett Patin, who purchased a blackjack table with the New Frontier logo for $475.

"I collect a lot of the old Vegas stuff," said Patin, who was attending his first casino auction. "I was happy I got one."

Patin later was the high bidder at $50 of a Caribbean stud poker felt top.

He said he also had his eye on some small neon signs and pictures.

A lot of the memorabilia hunters said there were slim pickings for people interested in New Frontier-branded items.

Gamityan said New Frontier owner Phil Ruffin let the employees take most of the small hotel-branded items on closing night.

While amateurs and history seekers had few items to pick through, serious bidders were buying nonmemorabilia items in big quantities.

Joann Vrbancic, owner of Slotstuff.com, bought 100 black slot machine chairs and 50 red poker chairs.

She said she goes to all the casino auctions to find inventory to resell to casinos around the world. She most recently bought seven slot machine signs and many flower pots from the Nevada Landing.

"It's very exciting," Vrbancic said of the atmosphere at the auction.

Meanwhile, Wattenbarger and Kirwin said they were happy with their 144 decks of cards, even if they weren't sure what they were going to do with them all.

"We're buying packs all the time," Kirwin said. "We play a lot of Texas hold'em with our friends."

Wattenbarger, whose purchase averaged out to 52 cents per pack, added: "We might put some packs on eBay."

Auction officials declined to speculate how much money would be raised through the auction.