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Rod Smith

Harrah's Pushing Renovation for Binion's Reopening

23 March 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Harrah's Entertainment crews were scrambling Monday at Binion's Horseshoe to wrap up $1 million in improvements and ready the downtown landmark for its planned April 1 reopening.

However, every effort is being made to preserve the property's Horseshoe identity, said executives at Harrah's, which will operate the 52-year-old hotel-casino, and Chester, W.Va.-based MTR Gaming Group, which has bought the property.

"We're not turning it into a Harrah's. We want to make sure it retains the distinct character that made it so popular," said Harrah's spokesman David Strow.

Roger Szepelak, chief operating officer of MTR subsidiary Speakeasy Gaming of Fremont, which will do business as Binion's Horseshoe, added that preserving the Horseshoe spirit is essential to his company's long-term intentions for the property.

Speakeasy will take over operation of the Horseshoe following Harrah's, which has a one-year operating agreement and options for two more years with MTR.

"We plan to re-create the glory of yesteryear for employees and for guests and make the Horseshoe a good deal for gambling and for food and beverage," Szepelak said.

He said the Horseshoe operation will be similar to the Golden Nugget where new owners Tom Poster and Tim Breitling have preserved the spirit of the past in both design and by raising gambling limits. He said, however, his company still has not developed long-term plans for the property.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas, professor Hal Rothman said such preservation programs make sense for downtown operators if they can get enough customers to distinguish between the glitz of the Fremont Street canopy and the individual hotel-casino operations.

"It's absolutely right. We're finally going to have Las Vegas-Las Vegas, a cutdown version of downtown in downtown," he said.

"If you look at downtown, the decline has been accelerated by the sense it has been out of time. The idea of creating a deliberate retro-Las Vegas look makes sense even though it'll be hard to do it with Fremont Street (Experience out front)," Rothman said.

Harrah's is also more than 90 percent staffed for the reopening of the Horseshoe and will conduct a voluntary orientation for all workers on Thursday.

Most of the work force of roughly 900 employees will be former Binion's Horseshoe workers when the property reopens April 1, Strow said.

The changes customers will notice most to public areas of the Horseshoe stem from the removal of several hundred slot machines from the casino floor, Strow said.

"It's (been) very cramped and hard to move around in some areas. Our goal is to make it easier for customers to move through the casino," he said.

In addition, new signs are being put up, all the carpeting has been replaced in the casino and hotel, all the mattresses and box springs in the hotel have been replaced, and the deli and Chinese restaurants at the corner of Fremont and First streets have been closed and walled off.

"We took a look at the entire property and decided the amount of work that would be required to get them up to standards would not be worth it," Strow said.

However, no decision has yet been made on what to do with that space.

Strow said all medical billing issues have been resolved and checks covering all former employees' out-of-pocket medical expenses were mailed last week.

Before being forced to close on Jan. 9, the downtown hotel-casino was self-insured and retained Mediversal to manage its health-care program for workers, but Binion's never turned over any funds to cover worker medical costs.

No asbestos containment programs have been necessary for the improvements that have been made since the Horseshoe changed hands March 11, and the Clark County Health Department has had inspectors on site to make sure none were required.

Strow said the race and sports book will not open with the rest of the property April 1. Before the sports book can reopen, Harrah's must submit a notice to the Nevada Gaming Control Board on whether or not it will accept noncash wagers.

It also said Harrah's will have to operate the race and sports book under its own license rather than MTR's, which Strow said awaits regulatory approval in April.