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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Bye Bye, Boardwalk

10 January 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- As security guards and gaming agents cleaned out and locked down the Boardwalk's slot machines and gaming tables in advance of the Strip casino's Monday closing, longtime customers and employees hugged, posed for pictures and said their sad goodbyes.

Meanwhile, Boston resident Adam Auriemma wondered what all the commotion was about.

On a trip to Las Vegas last year, Auriemma had a run of good luck on one of the Boardwalk's roulette tables. He returned to that table Monday, hoping to continue his gambling success. Little did Auriemma know that he had just a few more minutes to bet on black.

"It's closing? I didn't know," Auriemma said as the roulette wheel made its final spins. "That's too bad. It seems like a lot of the smaller places have come and gone."

The closing of the Boardwalk by MGM Mirage follows last year's closings of the Westward Ho and Bourbon Street casinos.

The Boardwalk will be demolished over the next few months and the site will become part of MGM Mirage's planned 66-acre Project CityCenter, a $5 billion development between Bellagio and Monte Carlo that will include a 4,000-room hotel-casino, small boutique hotels, a shopping mall and high-rise condominiums.

MGM Mirage spokesman Gordon Absher said the Boardwalk had 694 employees; more than 300 have been hired at the company's 11 other Strip casinos. Many have found jobs at other Las Vegas gaming properties or in other professions.

Boardwalk General Manager Forrest Woodward said the closing wasn't a shock to the casino's longtime employees. That ultimate fate was understood when MGM Mirage bought the casino in 1998.

Woodward said there were several Boardwalk employees who had been at the casino for 10 to 20 years.

"I have a chance to go to the South Coast, and that's close to where I live," said Stefi Feurwerker, who spent seven years as a cashier in the Boardwalk's Surf Buffet. The restaurant had become the casino's most recognizable location through it's offbeat television commercials featuring rotund boxer Eric "Butterbean" Esch.

John Strother of Caves City, Ky., was having his last breakfast at the Surf Buffet, one of countless meals he's had at the restaurant in the years he's been coming to Las Vegas. A few times, he spotted the semifamous fighter dining in the restaurant.

"I started every morning with breakfast in the Surf Buffet," Strother said. "That was always a must when we came to Las Vegas."

One of the other popular Boardwalk attractions was the Prince tribute band "Purple Reign," which developed a loyal following through a five-year run in the casino's lounge.

Jason Tenner, who plays Prince in the show, said Saturday's final show was a bittersweet ending.

"I'm going to miss the place because it was such a great location," said Tenner, whose show will now move into several different Las Vegas lounges, including a monthlong Sunday-night run at the House of Blues in Mandalay Bay.

Many longtime customers wanted to be at the Boardwalk Monday when the casino closed shortly before noon. The last guests had checked out of the property's 654 hotel rooms by 11 a.m. and construction crews were already tearing out bedding, room fixtures and furnishings.

"I'm very, very sad. We would stay here at least twice a year," said Shirley Plant of England, sitting in front of shut-down slot machine and watching the action at the casino's last active blackjack table. "It was a place where you got to know a lot of the employees. There aren't many places like that anymore."

Plant's husband, William, said Boardwalk employees gave him and his wife matching jackets with the casino's logo.

Canadian resident Mike Canty and his wife, Diane, had stayed at the Boardwalk six times in the past two years. They didn't want to miss the casino's closing.

"I think the slot machines in the older places pay better than the newer places," Canty said. "We're sad to see it go."

Others, notably casino collectors, saw the Boardwalk's demise as an opportunity.

David Schwartz, coordinator of the Gaming Studies Research Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, was on hand to collect some of the casino's historical documents for the school's archives.

Meanwhile, casino chip collectors were buying up some of the soon-to-be defunct gaming tokens.

"I had one person buy $400 in $1 chips today," said Marilee Hummer, a casino cage cashier. "I heard they are already up on eBay."

Laurie Flink of Miami and two traveling companions bought a few of the $1 chips after dropping a few dollars in one last game of blackjack at the Boardwalk.

"We heard it was closing and we wanted to be part of history," Flink said.

Bob Vollenweider of Switzerland also wanted to be part of the casino's last day. He planned his Las Vegas vacation around the Boardwalk's closing, wanting to spend one last morning in the casino he visited annually over the past seven years.

His efforts were rewarded when he was the final shooter at the Boardwalk's last open craps table. When Woodward announced the casino was closing over the loudspeaker, Vollenweider began seven straight rolls, ending when he rolled a seven.

"I learned it was closing two months ago so I knew I had to be here," Vollenweider said. "I'm not sure where I'll go next."