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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Looking in on: Gaming

17 December 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Bargain-hunters take heart - the home of celebrity impersonators, nightly karaoke and some of the cheapest rooms on the Strip doesn't look like it will be facing a wrecking ball anytime soon.

Parent company Harrah's Entertainment isn't disclosing its intentions with respect to the Imperial Palace - a key part of the company's much-delayed plans to redevelop its entire block of west-facing Strip casinos, including the Flamingo and Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon.

Even after the company consummates its going-private deal in the coming weeks, it's uncertain whether Harrah's - which has spent years devising untold numbers of development plans for the properties - will have decided when or how to move forward with redevelopment that is likely years away.

Whatever the outcome, it will be even more difficult for Harrah's to implode the property now that it has been added to the company's Total Rewards slot club. That milestone occurred a few days ago and included adding the aging property to Harrah's Web site - which allows customers to book rooms online and check out each property's features.

In short, the folks at Imperial Palace - ever uncertain for their future - are starting to feel more a part of the family.

Total Rewards, an industry success story responsible for keeping the company's properties at capacity year-round by feeding customers who rack up points gambling at Harrah's properties elsewhere in the country to Las Vegas, comes when, insiders say, the IP is making more than $100 million a year - more than ever and quite a chunk of change for a low-rent casino.

• • •

Sometimes it's not enough to spend $7.8 billion on the most ambitious construction project on the Strip.

"Boring" is how MGM Mirage President and Chief Operating Officer Jim Murren characterizes Wall Street's perception of his company relative to competitors Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands, which generate the majority of their earnings from their wildly profitable Chinese casinos in Macau.

MGM Mirage is hoping for at least the same level of modest growth it achieved this year, but that's doesn't appear to be good enough for the Wall Street crowd.

"All the interest and attention is on Macau," Murren said.

Investors are betting on what those companies will be earning in Macau three to five years from now, which is a great unknown, he said.

Although MGM will be joining the party with this month's opening of its MGM Grand casino in Macau, the upside to managing a more conservative company, it seems, is more restful sleep.

"I'm not saying these companies are overvalued or undervalued," he said. "They are simply trading on people's wildly bullish outlooks or, to the other extreme, grave concerns about Macau. It's a volatile situation. Now, I don't have to worry about who's getting on this ferry or that ferry, what the government is going to do or not do or the vast amount of rumor and speculation about what may or may not happen. I'm sleeping pretty well at night."

• • •

Slot maker International Game Technology is always looking for the next big thing. One of those things generating some buzz at last month's Global Gaming Expo was, in fact, very big - a giant, eBay-themed slot machine with oversize reels and a bonus round that is triggered for all players at the same time.

But the game isn't very true to the concept of eBay, where buyers compete fiercely for desired doodads. IGT opted for some friendly competition instead by allowing all players to win something during the bonus round, though reels above each slot game reveal who wins more - and less.

"There's some element of competition in that," IGT Vice President of Marketing Ed Rogich said.

Looking in on: Gaming is republished from