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Rod Smith

Downtown: Offer Imperils Horseshoe Sale

8 March 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Lawyers were scrambling late Friday night to salvage the proposed sale of Binion's Horseshoe to MTR Gaming Group and the World Series of Poker to Harrah's Entertainment.

The biggest obstacle to the three-way sale arose Friday morning when former state Sen. Bill O'Donnell dealt a body blow to the sale of the Horseshoe with a $1.184 million offer for the so-called Parry parcel under the landmark property.

Meanwhile, two other issues that hung over the complicated deal were settled when the parties resolved lingering disputes over past fees owed to the Fremont Street Experience and business and liquor licenses for the downtown property.

Probate Commissioner Don Ashworth said probate had been opened years ago on the Owen Parry estate, which included a one-sixty-fifth interest in the parcel under the Horseshoe, but had never been closed.

Judge Michael Douglas accepted O'Donnell's offer during what was expected to be a pro forma probate hearing to accept MTR's offer to buy the Parry interest as part of its purchase of the Horseshoe.

Douglas, who held a conference in chambers on the issue Friday afternoon, said he has scheduled a hearing Tuesday morning on a motion by the Parry heirs to dispute the approved sale to O'Donnell.

Harrah's Entertainment spokesman Gary Thompson said O'Donnell's involvement will kill the deal since MTR will not buy the land from O'Donnell. That, in turn, would mean Harrah's, which is buying the poker tournament and the Horseshoe brand name in Nevada as part of its deal with Horseshoe owner Becky Binion Behnen, will not close on its end of the sale, he said.

"If MTR walks away from the deal, we walk away from the deal. And the 900 employees we were going to start talking to next week (about going back to work) can talk with Bill O'Donnell about where they can get jobs," Thompson said.

The three-way deal calls for Harrah's to buy the Horseshoe brand name and the World Series of Poker tournament from Behnen, while MTR purchases the hotel-casino and the Binion name. As part of the deal, Harrah's has agreed to operate the downtown property for one year with a one-year option and two six-month options to extend that agreement.

Harrah's originally agreed to pay $50 million, mostly to assume liabilities, and MTR has said it is paying Behnen about $20 million.

Mayor Oscar Goodman, who attended the afternoon conference with Douglas, said the city is very interested in seeing the sale to MTR Gaming and Harrah's closed successfully.

"We're rooting (that) the deal goes through because we have 900 workers and a city that's very dependent on that property," Goodman said.

Quincy, Mass.-native O'Donnell served in the Nevada Assembly from 1985 to 1986 and the Nevada Senate from 1987 to 1999. As a senator he was branded as a maverick, criticized for grand-standing and supported the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage project as jobs creation program. O'Donnell could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, Harrah's promised Friday to keep the World Series of Poker downtown until after Las Vegas celebrates its 2005 centennial.

With that assurance from Harrah's, the Las Vegas City Council voted unanimously in a recessed session Friday morning to approve transfer of the liquor and business licenses for the downtown landmark, home to the tournament for the past 34 years.

The 5-0 vote ended two days of discussion and posturing by Goodman and Harrah's officials over the fate of the world's top poker tournament.

Harrah's western division President Tom Jenkin stated for the record that the downtown casino will host the 2004 tournament and final two rounds of the 2005 tournament.

"To say (Jenkin is) a gentleman would be an understatement," Goodman said.

The mayor's remarks on Friday were in sharp contrast to his statements Wednesday and Thursday. Goodman had vowed to bar the company from moving the celebrated poker tournament, calling it a "a hill to die for."

Also on Friday, a $3.8 million lawsuit against the Horseshoe Club Operating Co. by the Fremont Street Experience for membership dues that had not been paid since 2001 was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

"We're pleased the uncertainty is gone and we've turned a corner in our history. Having operators of the quality of Harrah's and MTR gives us confidence about moving forward," Fremont Street President Joe Schillaci said.

Review-Journal reporter Michael Squires contributed to this story.

Downtown: Offer Imperils Horseshoe Sale is republished from