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Station Signs Agreement to Acquire Wildfire Casino

15 January 2003

by Liz Benston

LAS VEGAS --Locals' casino operator Station Casinos Inc. has signed an agreement to purchase a small casino just south of the company's Texas Station and Fiesta Rancho properties.

Station expects to acquire the Wildfire Casino on Rancho Drive pending approvals from the city of Las Vegas and Nevada gaming regulators. The purchase price wasn't disclosed, but the neighborhood bar and casino carried an $11 million price tag when it emerged in December 2001 as the Wildfire.

A neighboring building on the same parcel, which opened in 1962 as Ernie's casino, was demolished last January to make way for the new property.

Station Casinos doesn't expect to make any significant physical changes to the property, which will likely retain the Wildfire brand, Station Chief Legal Officer Scott Nielson said.

Under the agreement, the Wildfire's roughly 130 employees will become Station Casinos employees. Station expects to install its own top managers.

The company has maintained contact with the Wildfire's owners since the property opened to the public at the end of 2001.

It wasn't ever marketed for sale, but John Bauchman, who owns the Wildfire with brother James, concluded that a deal with his neighbors would benefit both parties.

"I think it's a good deal for Station and a good deal for us," Bauchman said.

The property -- which was too small to compete in the same market as nearby Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station -- will add a unique offering to Station's North Las Vegas properties, Nielson said. Station also owns Santa Fe Station on Rancho.

"There are some people who feel like they need to go to the grocery store and some people who want to go to a convenience store," Nielson said.

Station also doesn't expect to add a hotel at the property, he said.

Nevada gambling laws require that new casinos with more than 15 slot machines offer hotel rooms. Since the Wildfire assumed Ernie's gaming license, it is exempt from the rules.

The 20,000-square-foot casino includes 218 slot machines, six table games, a sports book, lounge, outdoor patio and a restaurant called Dante's Grill. Station's eight major locals' casinos range from about 40,000 square feet to more than 100,000 square feet. Fiesta Rancho's casino floor has more than 70,000 square feet and Texas Station has about 125,000 square feet.

The Wildfire doesn't have a theme like some of the region's larger casinos but offers a "warm atmosphere," Bauchman said. It is also unusual because it is much bigger than a bar but smaller than a large casino, he added.

Bauchman is involved in other business ventures but doesn't own any bars or casinos in town. But he said he may seek another opportunity in the casino business.

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