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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Casino Closing: Lady Luck Running Out

13 December 2005

The Lady Luck, downtown's third-largest casino, will close Feb. 12 for a year-long remodeling and permanently lay off 684 workers.

The Henry Brent Co., which has been operating the Lady Luck since 2003 and purchased the property in April, will shut down the 743-room hotel-casino.

Lady Luck executives informed some employees of the plans late Sunday night to close the casino. More meetings were held throughout the day Monday.

In a statement, Lady Luck Chief Executive Officer Andrew Donner said closing the casino for remodeling was a business decision.

"We looked at every scenario possible to keep the property fully open during the renovation," Donner said. "But in reality it would be difficult to provide guests with a good experience or attract the number of visitors we'd need to maintain our staff during the renovation."

Employees leaving a 2 p.m. meeting about the closing Monday didn't wish to comment. Several subdued workers said they wanted to get more information from management.

Henry Brent did not disclose any details of the Lady Luck's remodeling plans, saying an announcement would be made in the next few months.

The closure affects the hotel and casino portions of the Lady Luck. Five restaurants and clubs along Third Street that are owned by Henry Brent and leased to operators -- Triple George Grill, Hogs & Heifers Saloon, Sidebar and Celebrity -- will remain open, as will the hotel's parking garage and valet parking that serves the Third Street locations. Fifteen time-shares operated by the Lady Luck will not be closed.

Henry Brent will maintain its gaming license for the Lady Luck location because it operates about 15 slot machines at the Third Street restaurants. However, the company will have to be approved by state gaming regulators before the remodeled Lady Luck is reopened, said a spokesman for the Gaming Control Board.

While 684 employees will lose their jobs in the closure, 125 positions were eliminated Monday morning. All employees will be paid for 60 days as dictated by The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1989.

In a letter distributed to employees, Lady Luck officials said it will offer sessions with Nevada Job Connect and provide resume writing classes.

The Lady Luck's Human Resources department is planning job fairs for the displaced workers and providing information packets on employment resources in Las Vegas, and information on how to apply for unemployment.

It has yet to be determined if the former Lady Luck employees will be given first preference for jobs when the new Lady Luck opens.

Henry Brent, which owns seven Timbers taverns in the Las Vegas Valley and is building several others, will consider displaced Lady Luck employees for open positions, as will the restaurants and clubs on Third Street.

Donner said the company, "Appreciates the service and dedication team members have shown over the years. Our team members have been tremendous assets to our property. Their hard work and loyalty is greatly appreciated. We thank them for their service and wish them all the best in their future endeavors."

The announcement by Lady Luck continued a year of upheaval in the downtown gaming market.

Houston-based Landry's Restaurants took over the Golden Nugget in September in a $345 million purchase.

Meanwhile, gaming regulators this month are expected to approve Navegante, a company managed by veteran gaming executive Larry Woolf, as the operator of the Plaza, Gold Spike, Las Vegas Club and Western Hotel. The hotels are owned by Barrick Gaming Investments and the Tamares Group, companies that are in litigation.

On Friday, gaming regulators said downtown casinos had their first gaming win total in seven months. Downtown casinos won $60.7 million in October, a jump of 4.8 percent from $57.9 million a year ago.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman called the closure of the Lady Luck "a bittersweet event." The remodeling of the hotel and casino will breath additional life into downtown, but he hopes the displaced employees will find other jobs.

"Obviously, this is not the time of year to find out this type of news," Goodman said. "But with two new hotels opening (South Coast next week and Red Rock Resort in March), hopefully there will be opportunity in the market."

Goodman said Landry's has plans to expand the Golden Nugget and he's seen preliminary plans by Fitzgeralds to add hotel rooms. The Lady Luck's future, he said, is also an encouraging sign.

"We've had some very good news recently downtown, and I think people are starting to buy into our vision," Goodman said.

With a 38,000-square-foot casino in addition to its two hotel towers, the Lady Luck is downtown's third-largest casino behind the Golden Nugget and Plaza.

The Lady Luck opened in 1964 as Honest John's casino, a small slot machine arcade owned by businessman Andrew Tompkins. By 1983, the property had grown to 122 rooms and was renamed Lady Luck.

In 1986, a 17-story hotel tower and casino expansion opened, followed in 1989 by a 25-story tower that was the property's last major renovation.

State gaming regulators approved Henry Brent's ownership takeover in September. Donner, whose Donner Investment Trust owns 70 percent of Henry Brent, told the control board plans were being made to redevelop the Lady Luck.

Henry Brent provided few details last spring when it purchased the Lady Luck. According to Clark County land records, the company in April purchased two parcels totaling approximately 2.7 acres near Ogden Avenue and Third Street for $10.26 million.

Tompkins eventually sold the Lady Luck to Isle of Capri casinos of Biloxi, Miss., but the company sold the casino in 2002 to a company identified only as AMX. Last spring's announcement said Henry Brent had purchased the Lady Luck from Steadfast Cos. of Newport Beach, Calif.