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Benjamin Spillman

Court gets trademark fight over Plaza name

11 September 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- After months of billionaire bickering, it looks as if a jury will decide whether Las Vegas gamblers can tell the difference between the Plaza hotel-casino and a hole in the ground.

Jury selection begins today for a trial in which owners of the Plaza in downtown Las Vegas are seeking to block owners of the Plaza Hotel in New York from using the name on a resort proposed for the vacant former site of the New Frontier.

The downtown Plaza owners say plans to call a $6 billion resort on the Strip by the same name would cause confusion and violate their Plaza trademark, even though the credit crisis halted progress on the Strip version after developers imploded the New Frontier into a pile of rubble.

The dispute prompted Tamares Group, owners of the downtown Plaza, to haul the persistent owners of the New York Plaza, Elad Group, into Clark County District Court.

"We are convinced that when our case is heard, the jury will also recognize the fact that the exclusive right to the Plaza brand in Las Vegas belongs to Tamares Group," Tamares Group attorney Harry Braunstein said in a statement.

Neither side would agree to an interview. Tamares filed the lawsuit in August 2007.

The result will pique interest in Las Vegas, Europe and Israel.

In Las Vegas, it will determine whether there is room for two Plaza names and force locals familiar with downtown properties to be more specific, most likely by developing snarky shorthand for each property.

But in Europe and Israel the dispute is news for personal reasons.

Tamares was founded by the late Shlomo Zabludowicz and is now controlled by his son, Poju Zabludowicz. The elder Zabludowicz was an Auschwitz survivor who moved to Finland and built an arms company called Soltam, The Times of London newspaper reports.

The son, 55, now controls Tamares and is a prominent contributor to conservative causes in England and Israel, the Times reports. Although a Zabludowicz spokesman told the paper it was his company, not he, who was making donations.

Elad, the company behind plans for a new Plaza on the Strip is controlled by another billionaire, investor Yitzhak Tshuva of Israel.

Tschuva bought the New Frontier in May 2007 from Phil Ruffin for $1.2 billion, a deal that set a record for real estate prices on the Strip.

At the time, officials from Elad, which owns the Plaza in New York, brushed off concerns about a potential conflict with the downtown Plaza.

The downtown Plaza is 37 years old and was formerly owned by downtown gambling kingpin Jackie Gaughan, who sold it to a group that included Tamares in 2004.

The trademark lawsuit trial is set to take place in the courtroom of Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez. The witness list includes locals such as gambling and Las Vegas history experts David Schwartz at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Michael Green of the College of Southern Nevada.

Elad President and Chief Executive Officer Miki Naftali is also scheduled to testify, according to court documents.