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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Looking In On: Gaming

26 June 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A Playboy hotel and casino in Atlantic City was an experiment gone bad in the 1980s. But Palms owner George Maloof is bullish that the brand will make a splash in Las Vegas when he opens the Playboy Club atop his new hotel tower at the end of September.

It will be the first Las Vegas casino in a nightclub and lounge setting to charge an admission fee.

The boutique, three-level casino, part owned by Playboy Enterprises, didn't go over well with Atlantic City gamblers and was later bought by Donald Trump.

Maloof says his Las Vegas venture, where admission is expected to top $30, will offer more reward with less risk because he isn't relying on the Playboy brand to lure gamblers, but instead is using it as a single attraction.

"This is like our version of a show," he said.

More important, Maloof will control the Playboy venue. He is paying Playboy Enterprises a licensing fee for a limited time for rights to the brand plus a percentage of revenue.

Maloof and Playboy have a history.

Maloof has hosted several Playboy events at the Palms over the years, which have done very well by the casino operator's estimate.

"I kind of understand what I'm getting into," he said. "We've had five or six big Playboy events, and we were able to get an idea who they attracted and the effect it had on our casino revenues."

• • •

The Imperial Palace will go the way of the Desert Inn, Hacienda and Landmark - as soon as owner Harrah's Entertainment can get around to it.

But you'd never know it by looking around the Asian-themed property, which is continuing a long-running room remodeling project, opening a new restaurant, launching a Strip-front entertainment venue and relocating a karaoke bar.

Then there's the 30th anniversary commemorative casino chip that the property is minting for distribution.

Given the property's uncertain future, the chip is already getting some interest from collectors, said Jackie Brett, director of advertising and public relations at the Imperial Palace.

The hotel, formerly the Flamingo Capri motel, became the Imperial Palace in 1976.

Meanwhile, the summer luau by the pool is in its 15th year, the vintage car collection in the hotel turns 25 this year and the impersonator show, "Legends in Concert," is celebrating 24 years.

Brett said Imperial Palace management is as much in the dark about Harrah's plans as the public, though they expect to hear more after a Harrah's board meeting next month.

Beacher's Rockhouse Bar, a spinoff of the Hard Rock Hotel variety show by comedian Jeff Beacher, is expected to open in August at the site of Tequila Joe's. The karaoke bar in that spot closed, but officials decided to reopen it upstairs near the race and sports book.

The property also put some thought into its newest restaurant, a New England-style eatery called the Cockeyed Clam that replaces a previous seafood restaurant.

• • •

Just how big is the buzz surrounding this year's World Series of Poker?

Consider that last year, tournament organizer Harrah's Entertainment turned down at least 300 requests for media credentials, mainly because there just wasn't room. Tournament officials likely will turn down as many this year, especially a growing contingent of documentary film producers from various countries that want to follow around local players and schlep around a lot of recording equipment.

The crush of attention on the world's largest poker tournament, which began Sunday, is expected to draw more than 600 journalists from around the globe, from hometown papers to major newspapers and magazines.

Where celebrities go, media follow. One of the largest contingents of VIPs will arrive this year to play in the annual ladies' tournament event. A group of at least six actresses, including Anne Heche, Ricki Lake and Mena Suvari, will be sponsored by poker site, which is part owned by actor James Woods, another tournament regular.