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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Looking in on: Gaming

7 May 2007

Terry Yungjen Wang's day went from bad to worse when he was arrested in Hong Kong a few years ago for attempting to exchange counterfeit dollars manufactured in North Korea and then made an agitated call for help to a colleague - whose husband happens to be a high-ranking member of the Chinese mafia.

The missteps of MGM Mirage's top marketing executive for the Asia region were the lead item on the Gaming Control Board's monthly meeting agenda.

Though marketing hosts are not subject to license investigations, Wang's arrest prompted the board's inquiry into whether the man was suitable for employment in gaming.

Two board members gave Wang the green light , believing he wasn't part of a counterfeiting scheme and didn't know that the $2,000 was fake, even th ough pocketing the gambler's tip was against company policy.

Wang, who has been disciplined but not fired by MGM Mirage, said he didn't know his business colleague's husband was a triad member and apologized profusely for embarrassing Nevada's casino industry.

Apologies weren't enough for board member Randall Sayre, who voted against the application and questioned why the Las Vegas man - who at one time owed a $9,000 casino debt that went to collections - wasn't more careful.

• • •

Michael Gaughan says running one casino instead of five has been a boon for the South Point. After selling his stake in the Coast Casinos to Boyd Gaming Corp. last year and focusing on the lackluster property he opened in 2004, Gaughan has improved results enough that competitors are doing double takes.

The South Point's booming convention business and hotel occupancy hovering around 90 percent have accelerated building a third tower, which will add 800 rooms by June 2008.

"I've got no overflow rooms here for conventions," Gaughan said. "Sometimes I have to turn them down because I don't have the rooms."

It also will give the South Point a leg up on two $1 billion resorts planned nearby at St. Rose Parkway and Interstate 15.

The property recently opened Michael's, its most expensive restaurant, and in the coming months will add two casino bars, a nightclub, a Mexican restaurant and a version of the Orleans' Prime Rib Loft .

More time to iron out operational kinks, as well as the partial opening of a ramp from Interstate 15 to the property, has helped the casino improve on its disappointing earnings of about $35 million last year, well short of what Boyd hoped for.

• • •

Legalized gambling has grown increasingly distant from its seedier, mob-grown roots. While today's top brass have squeaky-clean resumes, the older among them have past links to mob figures that die hard. Such is the case with Clifford Perlman, the Florida restaurateur who parlayed success across several businesses into the purchase of Caesars Palace and the expansion of Caesars into Atlantic City.

The Caesars World founder, who made significant contributions to how casinos are marketed , will be among those inducted into the American Gaming Association's Gaming Hall of Fame during a charity dinner Sept. 20 at Caesars Palace.

Some industry tongues are wagging over honoring one of the few casino executives ever refused a gaming license.

Perlman's license application was approved in Nevada , but New Jersey turned him down, citing business deals with former associates of mobster Meyer Lansky.

Some believe Perlman's influence and celebrity would have been like Steve Wynn's but for the New Jersey decision and Perlman's subsequent exit from Caesars. The American Gaming Association's board - the industry's corporate giants - took positives and negatives into consideration.

The Perlman saga is often held up as an example of the differences between the regulatory systems in Nevada, which keeps a watchful eye on executives who once rubbed shoulders with mobsters but is more accepting of past ties, and New Jersey, which has taken a tougher stand on past associations.

Looking in on: Gaming is republished from