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Mike Trask

Abuzz with casino anticipation

26 August 2008

NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The Sun City Aliante clubhouse is like a never-ending summer camp for the retired.

It's where the guys with 168 hours of free time each week — like 81-year-old Norman DeSellem, and Fred Schagel, a youthful 61 — pass the time by playing eight-ball pool while sharing the wisdom of old men and offering a dash of trash talk.

The picture windows overlook a golf course framed by mountains.

On the other side of the building, Aliante Station has risen, standing tall over the single-story homes that fill one of the newest planned communities in the valley. And this, as much as the weather or the grandkids or Schagel's 39th wedding anniversary this weekend, is the talk of Sun City Aliante, a community for people 55 and older.

The casino's towering modern architecture and glass exterior at Interstate 215 and Aliante Parkway can be seen for miles, making it the best — and maybe only — landmark in the area.

The casino will open in November, bringing 202 hotel rooms, a 650-seat concert venue, six restaurants and 16 movie screens to an area that three years ago was undeveloped desert. In the past year, Sun City Aliante — one of more than a dozen communities that make up Aliante — has neared completion with roughly 2,000 homes, a grocery store, a pharmacy, a gas station and a host of fast-food options.

The casino, in the eyes of men like DeSellem and Schagel, is more meaningful than a burger joint or another coffee shop.

"I absolutely cannot wait," says Schagel, a retired New York City Fire Department mechanic. "My wife likes the slots. Nothing big. Penny slots."

It will mark the end of the 15-minute drive across town for buffet dinners and a little light gambling at the 8-year-old Santa Fe Station.

More so, it will become a point of pride in the community, just as Green Valley Ranch Station Casino, Red Rock Resort in Summerlin and South Point near Southern Highlands became focal points in their communities.

(Aliante Station and Green Valley Ranch Station Casino are owned in a partnership with the Greenspun family, which owns the Las Vegas Sun.)

"We all moved in to retire and be active," says Mark Klein, a member of the Sun City homeowners association board. "The more activity close to here the better, especially with gas prices."

He says the homeowners board is planning tours of the casino.

But until the casino opens, all attention is on the pool table at the clubhouse. The old-timers are getting ready for another game.

DeSellem, the shorter of the two, smiles when he can't hear what you're saying. Schagel has the quick-talking mannerisms of a New Yorker. The two aren't sure how long they've been buddies, but it's been long enough to know DeSellem needs to work on his pool game, they say.

DeSellem, a retired Boeing engineer from Hawaii, has his Station Casinos rewards card and he's eager to try the new buffet. He figures with his points the prices will be similar to over at Santa Fe: about $12 for two dinners.

"You can't go to the grocery store and eat for that," he says.

They figure they'll take their wives over there a few times a week when it opens.

Maybe catch a movie or go bowling. Definitely have dinner.

There are no complaints from these clubhouse hustlers.

The pool table beckons.

"Want me to mess 'em up?" DeSellem says, preparing to start another game.