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Gaming Guru

Chris Jones
 

Westin Casuarina Hotel and Spa Expects to Welcome Guests by Month's End

14 October 2003

Though the oft-delayed debut of the former Maxim is still two to three weeks away, the property's new owners said Friday they're convinced their first Las Vegas hotel-casino will open at an ideal time.

"We're opening into an increasing economy," said Joseph Yung, director of development for Columbia Sussex Corp. "Things are rebounding in Las Vegas."

After several construction-related delays pushed back the resort's opening from a previously announced July 1 date, driving up renovation costs in the process, Yung said Friday the newly christened Westin Casuarina Hotel and Spa will welcome its first guests by the end of October.

Members of the resort's management team are already in place, Yung said, with approximately 800 new jobs to be filled before the 825-room hotel reopens to the public.

"We're confident we'll have everything in place soon," said Yung, who declined to offer a more-specific opening date.

The property's Web site on Friday was accepting reservations for arrival on or after Nov. 1.

Yung's privately held company bought the former Maxim in September 2002 for approximately $38 million. It initially hoped to spend about $15 million to improve the site, but renovations ultimately pushed the project's total cost to about $80 million. Still, Columbia Sussex President William Yung, who is Joseph Yung's father, said the renovations were both faster and less-expensive than tearing down the building and starting from scratch.

Once open, William Yung said, the Westin plans to target upscale leisure visitors and small groups of business travelers who may be overlooked by larger hotel-casino operators. The Westin will include an approximately 10,000-square-foot meeting area to suit such visitors, he said.

Joseph Yung said the property should also benefit from its connections to Westin's parent company, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, which offers a rewards program to frequent customers. The hotel, at 160 E. Flamingo Road just east of the Strip, won't have a specific theme, he added.

After more than 30 years of focusing primarily on hotels, Columbia Sussex has recently expanded its interest in gaming.

"We're getting more into the casino business," said William Yung, the company's founder. "Hotels are still important to us, but casinos are becoming more and more" important.

Yung's Fort Mitchell, Ky.-based company has owned the Horizon Casino Resort in South Lake Tahoe since 1990 and last month completed a deal to buy the River Palms in Laughlin. In addition, the company owns two more casinos in Greenville, Miss., and within the next two weeks expects to complete its purchase of the Harrah's Vicksburg property, also in Mississippi.

The Westin Casuarina will also include a less-than-15,000-square-foot casino.

Despite owning just six casinos at year's end vs. approximately 60 hotels, the company's casino revenue could match its hotel revenue by the end of 2003.

"There is a better return on our money in gaming than there is in hotels," said William Yung, whose company is privately held and does not disclose financial information.

Yung also declined to discuss claims that his company is interested in three more Nevada properties, as well as a hotel-casino in Louisiana, now owned by Park Place Entertainment Corp.

"Obviously we looked at it, but that's about as far as I can say right now," Yung said of his company's reported interest in buying the Las Vegas Hilton, Reno Hilton, Flamingo Hilton Laughlin and the Bally's Belle in New Orleans.

Despite his response, however, Yung would not rule out further expansions within Nevada.

"We like Nevada as a gaming jurisdiction and there's certainly a good business climate there," William Yung said. "We're satisfied with where we are in Nevada, but we'll always look for other opportunities."