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Rod Smith

TV Makes Stars of Casino Operators

26 May 2004

Go ahead and touch that dial. The odds are increasing that you'll still land on a station with a television show about Las Vegas.

With the June 4 debut of "American Casino," a televised series about Station Casinos and the Fertitta brothers who run it, Las Vegas will serve as the setting for five prime time series this summer and fall.

This comes on the heels of cable television's increasing coverage of Las Vegas-based poker tournaments, such as ESPN's plans to air 16 hours of this year's World Series of Poker.

Few other U.S. cities have ever had as much television exposure at one time, said Billy Vassiliadis, chief executive officer for Las Vegas-based R&R Partners, the largest advertising and public relations agency in Nevada.

"American Casino," which is being produced by Craig Piligian, will air for at least 13 weeks on the Discovery Channel with an estimated audience of 5 million as part of the American Series he created.

He said no decision has been made on how the series will end, or even when it will come to a close.

"Las Vegas is phenomenal. Vegas is just crazy. Vegas is great. And everyone wants to (get into the action) because it has everything in a very small sandbox," Piligian said.

In addition to "American Casino," CBS will be running "CSI: Las Vegas" and NBC will be airing "Las Vegas." NBC also will premiere a new series, "Dr. Vegas," in September.

This summer, Fox will start running "The Casino," featuring the Golden Nugget and its new owners, Tim Poster and Tom Breitling.

"I've never seen a vacation destination of any city have the kind of exposure at any one time that we'll be getting soon," said Vassiliadis, whose company represents the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority.

"In terms of exposure and impact, it's phenomenal. USA Weekend lists us as the best place to come and have fun in the country," he said.

"All the exposure is great for us. I've been involved with the LVCVA for 20 years, and I've never seen exposure like this. It keeps us hot, and we should keep it up."

Jim Medick, CEO of the MRC Group Research Institute, Nevada's largest market research and public polling firm, said the exposure reinforces and enhances advertising messages the visitors authority and individual properties send out.

"What's slowly happening is we're becoming Hollywood East. There's an 'I want to be there' attitude. It's getting to be seen as cool and hip," Medick said.

The television shows "add to the sizzle," and the free public relations "is the best promotion and advertising we could have," Medick said.

In a recent interview, Station Casinos Chairman Frank Fertitta III and company President Lorenzo Fertitta, his brother, dismissed thoughts that they were particularly cool or hip, or that they are stars in any way, despite being featured in the upcoming series.

Lorenzo Fertitta said he believed the national exposure would prove to be a big boost for his company, however, and expand the potential customer base for Station's new Green Valley Ranch hotel and casino, which will be featured in the series.

He predicted the "American Casino" series will be successful because Las Vegas is mesmerizing American audiences, and that it will be good for Las Vegas because it will mesmerize even more viewers.

Both brothers said the Discovery Channel series will be more about their new casino in Henderson, the team that runs it and the services it offers than about them.

But Piligian said his American Series programs, which have included "American Chopper" and "American Hot Rod," focus on American success stories and the entrepreneurs who have lived them, such as the Fertitta brothers.

"It's not about a building, a bike or a hot rod. It's about their lives and working in a very different business" than most Americans know, he said.

"We came in, lifted up their skirts a little bit. The program has good characters, good drama and it's good TV," Piligian said.

But he conceded it also includes about a half dozen other characters who run Green Valley Ranch with the Fertitta brothers.

Filming started Jan. 5 at Green Valley Ranch, and shooting for the first 13 episodes will wrap up in mid-July.

Scenes for "Dr. Vegas" also were filmed at Green Valley Ranch during the spring, disrupting play in the casino but adding an element of excitement for players.