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Caitlin McGarry

Michael Gaughan III plans to unify resort operations

13 April 2012

For the past decade, the Rampart Casino and JW Marriott Resort and Spa in Summerlin have operated as two distinct entities.

Though physically connected and occasionally marketed under the same brand, the Resort at Summerlin, the hotel and casino were managed by separate companies and had little to do with one another.

That independence is no more.

Longtime gaming executive Michael Gaughan III (who also goes by "Junior"), son of casino operator Michael Gaughan and grandson of former El Cortez owner Jackie Gaughan, took over operations at the Rampart effective April 1 after Cannery Casino Resorts' 10-year management contract of the casino ended. United under the same ownership and management team, the hotel and casino will now function as one.

Gaughan, who has been managing the hotel for owner Hotspur Resorts Ltd. since August, said he also plans to market the property under one brand, but that his team is "not looking to relaunch as an entirely different concept."

So far, little has changed for JW Marriott and Rampart guests. The players club remains the same, with the same points redeemable for the same offers.

The resort's 900 full-time employees have new bosses, and there will be some adjustments as duplicated efforts such as the hotel and casino's separate food and beverage departments are merged.

Some physical changes are also on the horizon. Gaughan said he plans to expand the casino coffee shop, remodel the cashier's cage, install new carpet and wall coverings, and repaint the walls . The slight cosmetic changes will lead to a second phase of renovations, including an expanded race and sports book, the addition of poker and bingo and more food and beverage outlets.

The hotel, gaming floor and all amenities will stay open throughout any construction at the property.

Gaughan will have to wait a few more months before making any big changes to the casino. Hotspur Resorts last November defaulted on its $160 million mortgage on the JW Marriott, and lenders are now embroiled in a legal battle in New York Supreme Court over who owns the loan on the property.

"It's a challenge to do anything until that gets resolved," Gaughan said.

This is not the first time the Resort at Summerlin has gone through financial turmoil. Less than two years after opening in 1999, the property was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Hotspur Resorts in late 2001 acquired the hotel-casino and promptly leased the casino to Cannery.

"This property has always been sort of unique in this area in what it wants to be and what it is," said Gaughan, who once worked at the neighboring Suncoast. "Initially when it first opened, it was not a locals place. They were going to bring high rollers in from Europe."

That plan didn't quite pan out. Instead, the hotel depends on convention business and the Marriott booking system to fill its rooms, and the casino targets a five-mile radius of local gamblers.

Brian Gordon, a principal at consulting firm Applied Analysis, said a cohesive management structure would help.

"That property, when it first opened, was designed to be (owned by) a single owner and operator," he said.

Convention travelers, which Gaughan said comprise a "large amount" of the hotel's business, may be key for the property going forward.

David G. Schwartz, director for the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas said the casino's new management should use the hotel's business travel appeal to boost gaming revenue.

"The average convention visitor still budgets $316 for gambling," Schwartz said. "Even though that's not as high as casino guests, it's still significant. If you can capture that, you're doing well."

Affinity Gaming, formerly Herbst Gaming, is going to provide direction on the Rampart's next steps. The company last year signed on as a consultant to Hotspur Resorts to help the ownership team manage its casino.

There is no remodeling budget or timeline in place, but Gaughan said he hopes to wrap up many of the changes by the end of the year.