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Gaming Guru

Tim O'Reiley

Most of casino owner's lawsuit against Fremont Street Experience dismissed

4 April 2012

LAS VEGAS -- Much of a casino owner's lawsuit that included a broad challenge to the way the Fremont Street Experience is governed has been dismissed.

Clark County District Court Judge Nancy Allf filed a written ruling late Monday that turned down the damages claims by Granite Gaming Group, which operates the Mermaids and La Bayou casinos in downtown Las Vegas, both because the statute of limitations had passed and for substantive reasons. In the past, Fremont Street Experience LLC management had allowed competitors to set up portable bars on the pedestrian mall in front of the two casinos, moves that Granite Gaming CEO Steve Burnstine contended cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars in business.

However, Allf, siding with Granite Gaming, opened the way for a full trial to decide whether Fremont Street could treat its members differently from nonmembers when deciding who gets to set up portable bars. That issue plays a pivotal role in determining whether Fremont Street management violated Nevada's unfair trade practices law in dealing with Burnstine.

Burnstine's lawyers had laid out a sweeping argument that Fremont Street closely resembled a public agency that should accept bids from anyone interested and award concessions through a public process. Burnstine has never joined nor paid dues to the Fremont Street Experience, which owns the canopy, stages promotions and leases spots for the kiosks on the mall to draw visitors downtown.

By contrast, Fremont Street cast itself as a private mall manager owned by its 10 member casinos that was not required to operate like a government agency.

Patrick Reilly, the attorney representing Fremont Street, said the trial would cover "a single decision by the Fremont Street Experience board" and not venture into fundamental changes.

Granite Gaming attorney Mario Lovato said he would ask for a reconsideration of Allf's ruling, often a prelude to an appeal. Lovato disagreed with the judge's interpretation of when the statute of limitations clock started running, and the lack of mention of a 2009 decision by Fremont Street to allow permanent as well as temporary bars.

The permanent models have gained popularity among the hotel owners. Already, the Golden Gate and Binion's have bars that are open to people walking by, while the Golden Nugget has started construction on one. The new owners of The D Las Vegas, formerly Fitzgeralds, have announced plans for an outdoor bar.