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Howard Stutz

Maloof hopes to keep NHL stars coming to Vegas

24 May 2011

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Three years ago, The Palms Casino Resort owner George Maloof didn't know a slap shot from a faceoff.

The National Hockey League then signed a deal with Las Vegas to make the off-Strip hotel-casino the center of the sport's universe for a few days in June.

With the three-year agreement for the Palms to host the NHL Awards ceremony coming to an end, Maloof is hopeful the arrangement can be extended.

"It's been a great event for the Palms and a great event for the city," Maloof said of the program, which brings many of hockey's best players to Las Vegas for the awards program that is televised live throughout the United States and Canada.

This year's event is scheduled for June 22 at the Palms' Pearl Concert Theater.

Maloof counted on the awards program exposing the Palms to different markets. What he didn't expect was the number of hockey fans making the trip to Las Vegas for the show. Over the past two years, he's seen hockey fans inside the Palms wear the jerseys representing almost every NHL team.

Maloof is expecting much of the same excitement again in June.

"Hockey has a tremendous and excited fan base and the players like Las Vegas," Maloof said. "Everybody enjoys coming to Las Vegas and I'm hopeful we have a shot at keeping the show here next year."

Last year, the hotel-casino placed the NHL's famous trophies, including the Stanley Cup, on display near the casino's main entrance for hockey fans to view for several days.

The program before the awards show includes a red carpet arrival for the players and coaches who are under consideration for the various awards.

Expected to appear at the Palms in June are Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks and Martin St. Louis and Seven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Both teams are still battling for a chance to the win NHL championship and the Stanley Cup.

The Palms announced that actor and comedian Jay Mohr would return to the NHL Awards show as host for the second straight year. Tickets are now on sale for the program, which is broadcast on Versus in the United States and on the CBC in Canada.

The NHL Awards show and special events, such as the MTV Music Video Awards, are a component of the Palms' dueling personalities.

One aspect of the Palms covers the crowd attracted by celebrities from the worlds of Hollywood and sports who frequent the hotel's fancy suites, high-end restaurants and trendy nightclubs.

The other facet is the locals market, drawn by movie theaters, entertainment and Palms' 1,650 slot machines.

The Palms has spent the past few months advertising its slot machines and payouts in print and on local television, including commercial spots starring Maloof.

The casino recently created space on its 95,000-square-foot floor for the Slot Emporium. The location, inside the casino's former high-end poker room, offers roughly 50 of the Palms' most popular slot machines. Slot players can earn bonus prizes and special jackpots on the machines.

Maloof said the games will change out based on activity. The multidenomination games are the only games in the area now, but that could change.

Slot machines are key to the Palms' business model.

"Everyone knows my mood at the beginning of the day is always based on the previous day's slot revenues report," Maloof said. "Everyone in the locals market has been hit by the economy. We've done things to keep our slot machine customers coming in."

The slot emporium fits into the Palms business model. The property has specialty casinos, such as a gambling pit in the Playboy Club and The Mint on the casino floor. Both areas cater to high-end play.

Ironically, the casino will remove some slot machines for a few days in June to make room for the Hart Memorial Trophy, the Calder Trophy, the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy and other NHL hardware.

The Palms is pressing forward after reports surfaced in January that private equity groups are seeking to acquire much of the debt covering the hotel-casino and take a controlling stake. Analysts believe a deal would still leave Maloof in charge of the resort he opened in 2001.