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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Looking in on: Gaming

12 August 2007

Want a pricey condo for half price?

Wealthy buyers from Asia and Europe are taking advantage of a weak dollar to snap up luxury condos at Las Vegas casinos at a time when many American buyers, jittery about the slumping housing market, are holding back. While that trend is helping to boost a slowing market for condos, a few buyers are turning up their noses at Las Vegas - at least for now.

The wealthiest real estate investors have some specific demands: They want to be on the Strip and they want the largest, most expensive units on the market. And they want them now.

The great irony for Las Vegas, where luxury resorts are being built at great speed, is that the strongest demand for condominiums lies in a market segment that hasn't fully arrived.

Most of the luxury condo units, in developments such as CityCenter and Fontainebleau, won't open for at least two years - not soon enough for some buyers, reports luxury condo broker Bruce Hiatt.

Just as exclusive retail brands justify big markups, buyers want more expensive units because they are perceived as more desirable.

More buyers these days think $1 million or $2 million for a penthouse is an "absolute bargain" and are seeking to buy blocks of units or entire floors, Hiatt said. And a few buyers are unwilling to buy now because they don't think Las Vegas has enough multi million-dollar units to justify the exclusive image they seek from a world-class destination.

"We have quite a ways to go to catch up to places like New York," he said.

• • •

Some casinos turn down the hassle of television crews while others welcome the national exposure film crews can bring to their properties. Two properties have reaped big rewards in different ways.

Red Rock Resort didn't need to host a show to benefit from a marketing deal with the Fox reality series "Hell's Kitchen," where chefs compete, "Survivor"-style, for a culinary dream job. Last season that job was head chef at Red Rock's Terra Rossa restaurant, where winner Heather West works in an open kitchen and is often corralled for autographs.

The day after West was named last year's winner, Red Rock received more than 1,000 phone calls and e-mails from people across the country wanting to book trips.

On this year's "Hell's Kitchen," the winner will become the head chef at Terra Verde, the new restaurant at Green Valley Ranch. The season finale airs Monday night.

Luxor, which previously hosted the "Fear Factor" reality show, opened a tiny retail boutique devoted to illusionist Criss Angel last year and with no advertising or media effort, drew a crowd of more than 5,000 people clamoring to see the star.

Angel, who runs with the beautiful celebrity crowd, will lead his own Cirque du Soleil show at Luxor starting in summer 2008, and filmed episodes of the third season of his A&E program at the casino.

• • •

To put China's appetite for gambling in perspective, probably the most lucrative sporting event for live gambling in the world occurs a couple of days a week from September through July at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, where gamblers typically bet more on the horses in one day than is wagered on the Super Bowl in Nevada.

Nevada regulators this week approved a historic arrangement allowing gamblers in Nevada casinos to bet on Hong Kong Jockey Club races, as well as providing the rights to broadcast those events in Nevada.

Nevada casinos appear reluctant to offer the races, believing the relatively expensive broadcast rights outweigh the potential benefit of luring Asians and even non-Asians to their sports books. (A high volume of wagers equal s big prize pools, such as a $9 million "Triple Trio" prize in June.)

And yet, the Foxwoods tribal casino in Connecticut is ponying up for the rights to the broadcasts, offered through Nevada's primary sports information supplier, Las Vegas Dissemination Co. Foxwoods is among many casinos nationwide that simulcast races. Horse racing is a mere side show in Nevada, the only state in the country that allows betting on sports such as football and basketball that most American fans watch.