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Binion's Reopens to Fanfare

2 April 2004

Las Vegas Sun

by Jeff Simpson

LAS VEGAS -- Two-and-a-half months after its forced Jan. 9 closing, Binion's Horseshoe reopened Thursday afternoon to a celebration on Fremont Street and renewed action in one of downtown's most storied casinos.

"This is a wonderful, wonderful day for Las Vegas and Southern Nevada," Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman exclaimed from a makeshift stage on the corner of Fremont and Casino Center.

Harrah's Entertainment Inc. Western Division President Tom Jenkin paid tribute to the founder of the 52-year-old property.

"We wanted to do the legend of Benny Binion proud," Jenkin said.

Harrah's executives presented Goodman with his own, personalized Horseshoe name badge.

"Oscar Goodman, Mayor," the badge read.

Beaming, the mayor placed it on his jacket.

Surrounding the mayor and the Harrah's bosses were a few Harrah's Las Vegas showgirls and a Pennsylvania boys choir.

The mayor, City Councilman Lawrence Weekly and Harrah's executives then marched through the open doors to raucous cheers and joined a bevy of Horseshoe workers just inside the Fremont Street doors on the old Mint side of the property.

There, they handed out glasses of champagne and slices of cake to celebrate the reopening.

Loveman was proud of his company's part in the Horseshoe reopening.

"We're honored to see a great building come back to life," Loveman said. "There is a lot of satisfaction in being able to help downtown and bring the employees back to work. That's a tremendous accomplishment."

Loveman said the company's relatively small financial outlay -- pegged at about $30 million for the Horseshoe name and rights to the World Series of Poker, along with property owner MTR Gaming Group's estimated $20 million expenditure -- had accomplished something very significant.

The Horseshoe brand-name rights in the state of Nevada, which Loveman freely admits are the chief reason for the three-way deal with former Horseshoe owner Becky Binion Behnen and MTR Gaming, came at a small cost compared with the $1.45 billion cost to the company for acquiring the unrelated Horseshoe Gaming Holding Corp.

Company executives and public officials seemed giddy as they were surrounded by customers eager for their slices of cake and glasses of champagne.

The casino quickly filled with card and dice players, and almost every slot machine was being played as well.

A few thousand people walked the newly carpeted joint, many of them longtime Horseshoe customers checking out changes Harrah's had made.

The craps pit, a longtime staple near the southeast corner of the property, was moved away from the Fremont Street doors and replaced by a blackjack and carnival game pit.

About one third of the property's slots were removed, resulting in wider aisles and walkways.

The property's Chinese restaurant remains closed, and the west-side deli was removed. The lunch-counter stools were removed from the snack bar.

The carpeting was new, but sported the old Horseshoe design.

A few customers and employees mentioned former Horseshoe owner Behnen, who was forced to sell the property after the casino was closed in January.

The property's unpaid union health care and pension contributions were the culprit when the U.S. Marshals Service entered the casino and seized its cash. But Behnen had substantial other debts as well, including about $20 million to brother Jack Binion, more than $3 million to the Fremont Street Experience and unpaid payroll tax payments to the Internal Revenue Service.

Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor said the company's employees weren't to blame for the January closure.

"The problem wasn't the workforce," Taylor said. "It was the management."

Harrah's executives said 930 workers are now employed at the Horseshoe, a few more than were on staff when the property was closed.

"I feel wonderful," Taylor said, happy that Culinary members were guaranteed to be getting their jobs back because of their union contract. "The workers are excited, we're excited. It's a great day for them, their families and downtown Las Vegas."

Former Binion's employee Susan Albrecht, who left the property's employ in 1998, returned to work in the Horseshoe poker room on Thursday.

"I came back because of the World Series of Poker and my love for it," Albrecht said. "It will be a huge success."

Harrah's executives are predicting record turnouts for this year's World Series, which kicks off April 22.

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