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Howard Stutz

Casino MonteLago to close in March

17 February 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Casino MonteLago, the only gaming location inside the upscale but bankrupt Lake Las Vegas, will close next month, burdened by a lack of visitation and the impending shutdown of the Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas in May.

The closure, which will take place March 14, will eliminate 177 jobs.

Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said the agency was officially notified Tuesday of the impending shutdown.

John Tipton, an attorney for the owners of Casino MonteLago, CIRI Lakeside Gaming, said the closure of the Ritz-Carlton "was the final straw" for the property.

The owners were seeking additional investors, but discussions with potential financial backers ended when the ownership of the Ritz-Carlton announced its planned shutdown on Feb. 8.

Tipton said the potential lenders saw little chance for Casino MonteLago's survival without the Ritz-Carlton.

"We had to immediately start exploring other alternatives, and this was the only alternative left to us," he said.

Employees were notified of the closure Tuesday morning and, under federal law, will be paid for 60 days even though the casino will close in a little more than four weeks.

Neilander said state gaming agents will work with Casino MonteLago on closure procedures.

Casino MonteLago, which opened in 2003, was small by Las Vegas standards, with just 40,000 square feet of gaming space. The casino had 635 slot machines, a dozen table games, and a race and sports book. It also had two restaurants.

Casino MonteLago, originally owned by an Alaskan Indian tribe, faced closure in 2007. An emergency meeting by Nevada gaming regulators saved the casino as management was allowed to keep the casino alive on a temporary basis until the ownership was officially licensed three months later.

"The ownership actually turned the corner, but then there were problems with the economy," Tipton said.

Casino MonteLago booked guests into the Ritz-Carlton, but with the luxury hotel closing, the casino lost a viable marketing tool.

The Ritz-Carlton closure will cause the job loss of 350 employees. The hotel chain is an independently operated division of Marriott International.

A second hotel, the 493-room nongaming Loews Lake Las Vegas, has no plans to close, a property spokeswoman said Tuesday. Jennifer Duffy said the booking pace for the hotel is ahead of last year's numbers.

"We're still promoting the destination as a place for outdoor adventure and corporate meetings," Duffy said.

Loews is on the opposite side of the 340-acre man-made lake that is the centerpiece of the 3,600-acre Lake Las Vegas resort community, located in Henderson about 20 miles from the Strip.

The MonteLago Village also continues to operate, according to a spokeswoman. Mandy McCary said the retail center, which does not have an ownership connection to the casino, is more than 90 percent occupied with tenants.

Two of the three golf courses have been shut down during the community's Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. Lake Las Vegas has more than $700 million in liabilities.

The community has 1,700 residences, but Lake Las Vegas does not have a grocery store, and the nearest schools are in a working-class neighborhood of Henderson.