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Joan Whitely

Harrah's Entertainment on the mend

23 December 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Substandard construction inside Harrah's Las Vegas, including areas frequented by guests, has been repaired at several sites but still awaits the final inspection that will close the saga of covert remodeling by Harrah's Entertainment, uncovered two years ago when a terminated hotel electrician took his suspicions to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The parent company, Harrah's Entertainment, cleared a legal hurdle in early December when a judge dropped six misdemeanor counts against the hotel giant for building code violations -- including failing to get permits or schedule inspections -- at Harrah's on the Strip, as well at its off-Strip hotel, the Rio. But building permits were still open Monday for repairs to the Strip hotel's remodeled check-in area for Diamond Club guests and to the ground-floor Piano Bar, which opens onto a street-side courtyard.

Other permits are also open for remediation of some remodeled employee offices on the hotel's second floor and in the basement, as well as a storage area for spare slot machines.

Some of these areas with active permits have been operating under provisional status -- called a temporary certificate of occupancy -- for more than two years. After the areas pass their final inspections, they will receive permanent certificates of occupancy, which will close the permits.

Projects to fix safety problems related to remodeling in guest rooms at Harrah's Las Vegas and at the Rio all passed final inspection months ago.

District Attorney David Roger and Harrah's lawyer Richard Bryan, the former senator and governor, had jointly asked Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Eric Goodman for dismissal of the misdemeanors on Dec. 4, the day that the county released an almost 700-page report on Harrah's recent hotel remodelings here. Leo A Daly, an engineering and design firm, prepared the report. Goodman, who is the Las Vegas mayor's son, dismissed the charges that day.

The Daly audit sampled remodeling work at Harrah's eight local properties, for compliance with building and other safety codes. Harrah's Entertainment paid for the audit, but the county selected Daly and held the Daly contract. The district attorney insisted on safety verification by an independent third party when his office agreed more than a year ago to work with the gaming company as it verified the extent of problematic hotel remodeling and brought deficiencies up to code.

The Daly report consists of 170 inspections by Daly personnel, who analyzed more than 80 projects at the eight hotels, and reviewed more than 8,000 pages of county documents about the projects.

The Daly report rejects the theory of an "apparent, or underlying, large scale conspiracy effort to neglect" the processes that govern adequate design, safe construction and safe maintenance of buildings in Clark County, according to Daly's executive summary.

About 22 percent of inspections revealed "possible" issues that could threaten occupants' safety, the report summarized. But the "majority of the ... possible life safety issues appear to be a result of post-construction activity," which can occur through faulty or deferred maintenance.

Examples of both good and unsatisfactory construction work are detailed in the report, as well as examples of good policing by county building authorities, and failed follow-through.

On the plus side, Harrah's flawlessly executed a 2006 renovation of the Caesars Palace employee dining room. The same year it also remodeled guest rooms on six floors at Paris Las Vegas, with no snags.