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Rod Smith

Downtown Casino: Binion's Deal Still Unsigned

19 January 2004

and Jeff Simpson

LAS VEGAS -- Becky Binion Behnen and Harrah's Entertainment Friday were "making substantial progress" in negotiating a final agreement to sell the landmark downtown hotel-casino, a lawyer for Behnen said Friday.

Harrah's spokesman Gary Thompson confirmed that at least one company executive who has been involved in the discussions spent part of Friday at the Horseshoe.

However, other sources close to the deal said Friday's meetings merely consisted of Behnen walking a Harrah's executive around the property while she pointed out which items she hoped to keep and which she was willing to include in the property's sale.

Sources said Thursday that Harrah's, which has tentatively agreed to buy the hotel-casino for an estimated $50 million, mostly in the form of assumed liabilities, said it gave Behnen a definitive agreement Tuesday, but she had not signed or responded to it.

Behnen's lawyer for the sale negotiations, however, said Friday that talks have been continuing and progress is being made.

"We've been working on this with Harrah's over the past week," said Jerome DePalma, who has a one-man law firm on Maryland Parkway.

He said the negotiations started last Friday night, which was when U.S. marshals shut down the casino while executing a court order to seize up to $2 million in unpaid union pension and health care funds from the casino's cashier.

"We're making substantial progress on it," DePalma said during a five-minute break in Friday's talks.

Thompson said Harrah's just wants to conclude a definitive sales agreement "so we can get the deal done, get the casino reopened and start marketing the World Series of Poker."

The Harrah's spokesman said it was understandable that the talks are taking time because of Behnen's involvement in the property and her family's history in Las Vegas.

"This casino has been part of her family since she was a baby. She may be feeling some seller's remorse," he said.

Other sources said the hotel-casino had not been run the way casinos usually are, complicating any discussions that are under way.

But some executives who know Behnen said letting go of the casino-hotel her father founded and her family has operated would understandably be very emotional and very difficult for her.

Meanwhile, some Binion's workers who received their final paychecks Thursday had trouble cashing them Friday morning. A Culinary union official attributed the problem to Behnen's failure to ensure check authentication materials were sent to the casino's bank, Wells Fargo.

After about a one-hour wait, Binion's accountants forwarded the necessary materials, including a line-by-line list of checks written, to Wells Fargo and workers were then able to cash their paychecks, Culinary Local 226 Director of Legal Affairs Jim Bonaventure said.

"The problem was not related to the availability of funds," Bonaventure said. "The problem was authorization-related."

About 300 union workers from Behnen's 900-person work force received their final Horseshoe checks Thursday afternoon after standing in line outside Binion's time office, around the statue of hotel founder Benny Binion.

Fewer than 150 union workers remain to be paid their final checks; the Horseshoe will forward a list of those employees to the union so they can be contacted.

Those still-unpaid union workers can get their final paychecks at 10 a.m. Monday, at the time office, Bonaventure said.

The Culinary's top official, Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor, said union members understand the Harrah's-Binion's deal is tentative.

"We're in the same place we were two days ago, waiting to see if the agreement will be finalized."

Some Binion's union workers have been dispatched to temporary jobs at other Las Vegas properties, Taylor said, mentioning hotels operated by the three Strip heavyweights, MGM Mirage, Mandalay Resort Group and Caesars Entertainment.

Taylor said many Horseshoe workers are in surprisingly good spirits despite the at-least-temporary loss of their jobs.

"There's a sense of relief, a feeling that 'Thank God, they're out of there,' " Taylor said. "They've had to deal with this situation for too long."

Downtown Casino: Binion's Deal Still Unsigned is republished from