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Palms ready to open, will cater to everyone
Friday, Nov. 9, 2001 | 11:04 a.m.
To a city spoiled by a three-year wave of megaresort openings, next Thursday's debut of the Palms hotel-casino might not seem that big of a deal.
Its capital outlay, at $265 million, is quite modest by Strip standards -- the least expensive Strip-area casino to open in the last three years, Paris Las Vegas, cost three times as much. And the Palms isn't even located on the Strip, but about one mile west.
Yet many are awaiting the 11 p.m. opening of the Palms with the same kind of anticipation that preceded the opening of many of the megaresorts of the last three years.
"If only the Palms Casino Resort had been open when 'Ocean's 11' was being shot in Las Vegas," sighed Movieline magazine. "George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts and the rest of the crew could have done the Rat Pack proud raising holy hell in Sin City's latest prodigal playground."
How big is the hype? So big some are comparing the Palms' young president, 37-year-old George Maloof, to the biggest name in the Las Vegas casino business.
"(Maloof) is Steve Wynn, take away 25 years," said UNLV professor Bill Thompson. "He's a personality that can influence the way a property develops."
Big shoes to fill. But Maloof is promising not to disappoint with the hotel he's been planning since 1996.
"I want to bring back the spirit of Las Vegas, which is that Las Vegas is the party town of the world," Maloof said. "I wanted to create the ultimate party hotel in the world. If you can't have fun here, you can't have fun."
The Maloof family, best known outside of Las Vegas as the owner of the NBA's Sacramento Kings, owns 88 percent of the hotel-casino. A six-percent stake is also held by each of the minority partners, the Greenspun family of Las Vegas (owner of the Las Vegas Sun) and Station Casinos Inc.
Station is the company that acquired the Fiesta from the Maloofs in January for $185 million.
The Palms' 455-room hotel tower rises 42 stories above Flamingo Road, a height almost equal to the neighboring Rio hotel-casino. Atop the tower is Ghostbar, a lounge overlooking the Las Vegas Strip. Those on Ghostbar's balcony who dare can step outside, stand on a pane of glass, and stare down at the pool deck 450 feet below.
On ground level is Rain in the Desert, a 25,000-square-foot, three-level nightclub. Patrons entering the club come through a gold-mirrored tunnel of fog and lights; within the club they'll be met by a three-story waterfall that can double as a projection screen; a center stage surrounded by a moat filled with Bellagio-like dancing fountains, with flamethrowers in a rig suspended above; and VIP lounges with huge "water booths," a waterbed version of a banquette.
Outside, at night, the pool deck converts into "Skin," an outdoor neighbor nightclub of Rain.
There are other touches meant to draw the tourists down from the Strip: Little Buddha Cafe, a Chinese restaurant imported from Paris, with a foyer filled with hundreds of Buddha statues; Nine, a steakhouse from Chicago; Alize, a French restaurant sitting atop the Palms tower; an 18,000-square-foot spa; and a palm-reader Maloof refers to as "the psychic department." There's even a baccarat pit here.
The Maloofs are also making a play to bring basketball stars to the Palms -- 24 of the rooms have been designated "NBA rooms," with longer-than-normal beds and higher-than-normal showers.
Forget the locals' video poker-oriented Fiesta -- most observers believe Palms is the kind of place that will draw the young, status-eager, free-spending patrons that clog the Hard Rock.
"It's every bit as cool as the Hard Rock, and in some ways cooler," said Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor newsletter. "There's all these things put in there to make this ultra-chic. About the only thing they won't have is the (Hard Rock) name."
But Maloof is making an aggressive play for locals as well. He has no choice -- his property is located a mile west of the Strip's walkways, and his property has only 455 rooms. Neither is enough to carry the Palms.
There's more than a few touches of the Fiesta here.
The 95,000-square-foot casino has 2,400 slot machines. And the mix will look familiar to Fiesta patrons -- lots of video poker, lots of loose slots, Maloof said.
"People will be quite surprised when they look at our floor," Maloof said. "I guess they'll be expecting it because of my reputation."
There's also a 14-screen movie theater, a buffet priced to compete with that offered at the nearby Gold Coast and Orleans, easy parking, a bingo room, and two restaurants making an encore from the Fiesta: Garduno's Mexican Restaurant and Blue Agave Oyster and Chile Bar.
"If they can't park, if they can't get in the building easily, if there's not value in the restaurants, if they don't have a good chance of hitting on the slot machines, they (the locals) aren't going to come," Maloof said.
Trying to make one property cater to both the local and the tourist has been a risky proposition in the past. Witness the Regent Las Vegas, which aimed for both but struggled to capture either, and fell into bankruptcy less than two years after opening.
"That's been deadly in the past," Curtis said.
Yet Curtis believes the bargain-hunting, deal-seeking local won't be able to resist. And he noted that the mix has worked before -- Rio creator Tony Marnell successfully mixed the two in the Rio's early days.
"The discerning local wants the value and the saving," Curtis said. "Even if they aren't crazy about mixing with the punky, younger crowd, if the value's there, they'll still do it."
The Palms appears to have a good start in gathering a locals base -- even before the Palms opens. Maloof says he has 50,000 residents signed up for his slot cards. He had projected 15,000 by this time.
The Palms appears on target to avoid the kind of delays that hung up the openings of the Venetian and Aladdin -- county officials say the property had already passed half of its safety tests by Nov. 1, and was expected to receive complete approval from the county by Saturday.
"They're right on track for their opening," said Clark County Building Department spokeswoman Rita Mincavage.
There may, however, be one headache looming for the Palms.
When the Palms opens Thursday, not one of its 2,500 employees will belong to a union. That was also true for the Fiesta, but that property was in territory far from the Culinary's home turf on the Strip. The Palms is not; and the Culinary finally won a battle to organize the Rio less than a year ago.
Will the Palms be the next target on the Culinary's list? Neither side's saying much about that possibility, though the union isn't trying to dissuade anyone from drawing that conclusion.
"All properties in and around the Strip have been likely targets for our union," said Culinary staff director D. Taylor.
"It's up to the employees, is my position on it," Maloof said. "It's up to them."
Huge crowd flocks to new resort
Friday, Nov. 16, 2001 | 6 a.m.
Celebrities, sports stars and a crowd in the tens of thousands welcomed the opening of the $265 million Palms hotel-casino Thursday night -- the first major casino resort to open in Las Vegas in 2001.
The Palms was designed to draw a local crowd, the audience that made North Las Vegas' Fiesta Casino a success for the Palms' majority owners, the Maloof family. But it was also designed to attract an entirely new kind of patron -- the hip, young tourist. Forget Muzak -- the tunes filling the Palms are decidedly modern rock.
But would the Palms live up to its hype? It appears well on its way, given the endorsements it received Thursday night.
"This place goes where the Hard Rock didn't go," Motley Crue lead singer Vince Neil exclaimed. "It's like the next step. It's rock and roll with an edge. This is the edge, man."
"I'll be a real good customer of this SOB," former NBA star Dennis Rodman said.
Of course, some were biased.
"Of course I think it's the best!" said Chris Webber of the NBA's Sacramento Kings -- a team owned by the Maloofs. "It has the best owners."
The Maloofs are the majority owners of the Palms. Station Casinos Inc. and the Greenspun family of Las Vegas (owner of the Las Vegas Sun) each own just under 7 percent of the privately held resort.
Before the Palms opened to the public at 11 p.m., celebrities and invited guests made their way down a red carpet into the Palms' main entrance, in a scene that appeared more like Academy Awards night than the opening of a Las Vegas casino. Flanking both sides of the carpet were two nearly nude actors, painted up to resemble palm trees.
Celebrities making appearances included actors Samuel L. Jackson and Cuba Gooding Jr., boxer Sugar Ray Leonard and former UNLV and NBA star Reggie Theus. Paris Hilton, heiress to the Hilton Hotels family fortune, showed up in a dress decorated with $1 million in Palms casino chips.
Six thousand were invited to the Palms' pre-opening party, and it appeared virtually all accepted. Three hours before the casino was scheduled to open to the public, the Palms was jammed, and it was difficult to move in many places. Guests clogged the Palms' restaurants and bars, and access to one of the resort's hottest spots -- the Ghostbar, atop the 55th floor -- was all but impossible. The Palms' 455-room hotel tower was booked Thursday night, and will remain full through the weekend.
Even the Maloofs appeared stunned by the turnout.
"This is beyond my wildest dreams," said Palms President George Maloof, who had been up since 3 a.m. doing interviews with TV stations across the country. "I knew it would be busy, but I never expected it to be this busy."
Those touring the tropical-themed casino on opening night found a place filled with design features unlike anywhere else in Las Vegas. Huge ceiling fans rotated slowly over banks of slot machines. Palm trees were positioned by table games. Television sets, which will be used to display rock videos and sporting events, were positioned above slot machine banks and table game pits.
"I think George (Maloof) did an incredible job," said Becky Behnen, owner of Binion's Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas. "It's got a design that's totally unique."
What would Benny Binion, Behnen's late father, say about the place?
"It would've blown his mind," Behnen said.
Up in the Ghostbar is what could be the Palms' most unique element -- a 3 foot-by-4 foot clear pane on the Ghostbar's balcony. Stand on it and look down, and there's nothing between you and the pool deck 450 feet below but two inches of acrylic material.
Originally George Maloof had planned to have the clear floor cover half of the balcony.
"But then I thought that would be a little bit too radical," Maloof said.
It might give patrons the willies to stand on it, but Pat Hubbs, project manager for Palms general contractor Perini Building Co., insists it's quite safe. Perini tested the panel before opening by stacking 7,200 pounds of weight on it -- the equivalent of more than 40 people.
It's good the panel received that kind of testing, because one of the popular activities among patrons of the Ghostbar Thursday night was jumping up and down and stomping on the window.
"It would be quite a fall if it did go, but you're not going to (fall)," Hubbs said.
Yet despite the throngs of celebrities and VIPs at Thursday's opening, the Maloofs insisted their new property is for everyone -- especially for the locals.
"I've been a local for a long time," George Maloof said. "I appreciate the people of Las Vegas, and I appreciate that they need a place that isn't pretentious, that's affordable, where they can enjoy themselves."
Despite its location a mile west of the Strip, thousands turned out for the 11 p.m. opening. It was an opening night crowd larger than any Las Vegas had seen since the opening of Paris Las Vegas in 1999 -- a line of people stretched for blocks along Flamingo Road, and a traffic jam formed out in front of the property.
Shortly before 11 p.m., George Maloof took a stage in the front of the casino. A camera projected his image onto the jumbotron screen on the Palms' marquee for the assembled crowd.
"Tonight, we celebrate a place that reflects the true spirit of Las Vegas, where you can gamble, win, party, and have fun," Maloof said. "Welcome to the new paradise for locals."
Then, to the sound of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA," the thousands began pouring in. Within 15 minutes, it was nearly impossible to move, as bystanders clogged every aisle, filled up virtually every slot machine, and took every seat at the Palms' tables. Hundreds more waited outside well after the casino's opening, unable to get in because the property was at capacity.
The opening of the casino was apparently what Samuel L. Jackson had been waiting for. Minutes after the casino opened its doors, the actor weaved his way through the crowd and took a seat at one of the blackjack tables -- and thus became one of the first people to gamble at Las Vegas' latest casino resort.
"Right now, the atmosphere's very festive," Jackson said. "Let's hope it stays that way."
But celebrities aren't going to make the Palms a success; locals will. And though the Palms might be radically different than the Fiesta, the Maloofs hope a repeat of the Fiesta formula of loose slots and affordable restaurants will be enough to keep the locals coming back.
"If the slots are loose and I can win some money, I'll be in here 24/7," Las Vegas resident Mike Jenkins said.