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Best of Howard Stutz
Howard Stutz

This Lady is Ready for a Makeover

13 February 2006

On Friday morning, some 36 hours before it officially closes for a yearlong remodeling, the Lady Luck already appeared shuttered.

The vast majority of the downtown casino's 700 slot machines sat vacant; one player was tossing dice at the floor's only open craps table. Meanwhile, blackjack dealers stood with their arms folded watching over a customerless pit.

The Lady Luck's sports book, buffet and Burgundy Room restaurant had all been closed in recent weeks.

Only a handful of the hotel's 743 hotel rooms will be occupied by check-out time Saturday. When the casino officially closes at midnight, there won't be much celebration.

The real party is expected to begin in a year.

In December, the Henry Brent Co., which purchased the property last April after operating the casino since 2003, said the 42-year-old Lady Luck would be the beneficiary of a massive remodeling.

No details have been divulged as to what the Lady Luck will become or if it will even retain the Lady Luck name. But the renovation is expected to be extensive and include the entire casino and public areas and the rooms and suites in the two hotel towers.

Only 18 timeshare units in the Lady Luck's western tower will remain open.

"The plans are still unfolding, but we knew it was going to be such a major endeavor that it didn't make sense to keep it open and inconvenience our guests and our employees," said Virginia Perkins, general manager of the Lady Luck.

The Lady Luck hasn't seen a considerable refurbishment in almost two decades, which led to the determination that the casino would have to be closed, permanently laying off 689 employees. Henry Brent officials said Friday more than 90 percent of its displaced workers have already found new jobs.

"That was our main priority," Perkins said. "We had two very successful and well-attended job fairs that we were able to provide for our employees."

More than 25 local businesses participated in the job fairs and the Lady Luck used Nevada Job Connect to help place workers. The company also provided one-on-one counseling. In addition, the December opening of South Coast and the planned April 18 opening of Red Rock Resort offered potential casino jobs.

Perkins said some of the Lady Luck workers were able to transfer to the seven Timbers taverns that Henry Brent operates in Las Vegas. A few workers moved over to the businesses on the southwest corner of the casino property along Third Street that will remain open during the construction Hogs & Heifers, Triple George Grill, sidebar and the Celebrity Nightclub and Theater, which employ 80.

The Lady Luck's valet parking area along Third Street and the 15 valet parking attendants, and the property's parking garage will also remain open.

Henry Brent will retain its gaming license by operating the slot machines inside Hogs & Heifers and sidebar.

The challenge will be to bring back the Lady Luck's long-time customers once the property reopens.

Houston-based Landry's Restaurants is pumping changes into the Golden Nugget, which it purchased last year. The Navegante casino management group recently took over the operations of four downtown casinos managed by Barrick Gaming.

In addition, the three downtown casinos operated by Boyd Gaming Corp. reported record revenue of $261 million in 2005, an increase of 9.2 percent from $239 million in 2004, benefiting from a strong economy in their Hawaiian feeder market.

"We've had a lot of longtime customers who have been coming here for decades," Perkins said. "We anticipate the product is going to be such a step up, it will set a new standard in the downtown area. We think our customers, who have been loyal to us, understand that what we'll be providing is so much better than what we have now. They'll want to come back and test it out."

In December, downtown casinos won $49.5 million from gamblers, only the second time in eight months the area showed a month-over-month increase. In 2005, downtown casinos reported a gaming win of $654.1 million, a decrease of 1.3 percent from $663 million in 2004.

"We're very excited about downtown Las Vegas," Perkins said.

The Lady Luck opened in 1964 as Honest John's, a newsstand and smoke shop with five employees, five pinball machines, 20 slot machines and approximately 2,000 square feet of floor space.

In 1968, owner Andy Tompkins changed the name of the property, located on the corner of Third Street and Ogden Avenue, to Lady Luck.

In March 1972, the Lady Luck took over an entire block and added live gaming to the property.

Ten years later, two buildings were purchased to the east of the property, providing space for what became 108 garden rooms and a pool area in 1983.

In 1985, a $20 million expansion and remodeling project broke ground, adding a 16-story tower with 297 rooms, two new restaurants, valet parking and a revamped casino floor.

Construction on the second tower began in 1988, adding 387 hotel rooms by 1989.

In 2000, the Lady Luck was sold to Biloxi, Miss.-based Isle of Capri Casinos, then sold again in 2003 to Steadfast Cos. of Orange County.