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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

San Remo Converting to Hooters Brand

17 August 2004

Skimpy shorts and tight tank tops already are ubiquitous on the Strip but will be making another debut of sorts at the Hotel San Remo, which has signed a management deal with the Hooters restaurant chain to rebrand the Las Vegas hotel-casino into a Hooters Casino Hotel.

The 711-room property, which is east of the Tropicana resort on Tropicana Avenue and overshadowed by its larger and showier neighbors, expects to offer a Hooters restaurant adjacent to the casino floor as well as service from the famed "Hooters Girls."

"It's going to be an entirely new property," San Remo General Manager Mike Hessling said today. "You will not recognize a portion of the San Remo when it's done."

The property also will have new restaurants, including a Dan Marino's Fine Food and Spirits, a Florida-based chain owned by the former Miami Dolphins football star. The pool area will be about three times its current size, with a Hooters Beach Club and tropical theme. The hotel rooms will be remodeled with a "Florida casual" look and the casino also will be updated. The outside of the property will feature the Hooters owl logo and at night will be lit with the chain's trademark orange tint.

Hooters founders will have a management stake in the hotel-casino and are beginning the process of obtaining a state casino license. The property will be run by a joint venture of about nine people including the hotel's current Japanese investors, officials with Clearwater, Fla.-based Hooters Management Corp. and the owners of the two existing Hooters franchises in the Las Vegas area. The franchise owners will keep open those locations, one on West Sahara Avenue in Las Vegas and the other inside the Sunset Station hotel-casino.

The hotel plans a late 2005 "grand opening" as a Hooters and will remain open during the transformation.

The San Remo intends to keep its 600 or so employees but will hire an additional 400 workers, including Hooters Girls, Hessling said. None of the property's existing employees will be replaced by Hooters Girls, he said.

Hooters has been looking to get into the casino business and was scouting the Las Vegas market for about the last three and a half years, said Hessling, who has worked at the property for the past 15 years.

Hessling said he began serious discussions about redeveloping the San Remo about a year ago and talked with several entertainment companies about a possible partnership. Hooters approached the San Remo in December.

The Hooters casino experiment may spread elsewhere if the property is successful, though the company doesn't yet have expansion plans, Hooters Management Corp. President Neil Kiefer said.

The Hooters brand is well-known and will attract more visitors to the property, which is somewhat off the beaten path and is small enough so that a defined niche makes sense, said Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor consumer newsletter.

The name also fits in with the continued trend toward sexier entertainment in Las Vegas, he said.

"It's a bold and good move for them," Curtis said. "I think it's about the best brand you can have."

Many people are curious about the Hooters restaurants but are perhaps too shy to check them out, he said. A major property will attract a bigger cross-section of people, from Hooters fans to onlookers, he said.

The Hooters brand might hurt efforts to market to Japanese tourists who patronize the property because of its Japanese ownership, though bargain-minded tour groups likely will continue to go there, said Bill Thompson, a professor of public administration at UNLV.

Thompson recently visited Japan to discuss the Las Vegas casino industry with business and government officials, who are considering legalizing casinos in that country. Thompson also met with San Remo co-owner Toyo Izumi, who is involved in the manufacturing business in Japan.

"This man showed no enthusiasm for casinos here or casinos in Japan," Thompson said. "This might be an interim step to a sale or part of an ownership transition" to Hooters, he said.

Hessling said the Hooters hotel-casino and the new ownership structure are expected to be "the future of the property." If the property is successful it could expand onto several acres of unused land at the site, he said.

San Remo has never specifically catered to the Japanese market and instead hosts a cross-section of largely American tourists familiar with the Hooters brand, Hessling added.

"We have more of the typical Midwestern, value-minded domestic traveler," he said. "Hooters (attracts) a very broad demographic, from the 20s to the 70s."