I can only hope and pray that they do not change any of the wonderful Western Hotel and Casino's unique ambiance and decor.
Four downtown casinos to be sold
Start-up company to buy four properties from Gaughan
By JAN MOLLER
The Plaza is among the four downtown gaming properties that will change hands in a deal scheduled to be announced today.
Longtime Las Vegas casino owner Jackie Gaughan has agreed to sell four of his downtown gaming properties for $82 million to a start-up company, sources familiar with the deal said Sunday.
In an agreement scheduled to be announced this morning, Barrick Gaming plans to buy the Gold Spike, Western Hotel, Las Vegas Club and the Plaza pending approval by Nevada gaming regulators.
Gaughan, 82, who has operated casinos downtown for more than half a century, will retain ownership of the El Cortez, the sources said.
The sale will put Barrick Gaming in control of 1,830 hotel rooms and about 1,900 employees in the four casinos and bring fresh blood into a downtown market where growth has been stagnant for several years.
Gaughan did not return calls for comment Sunday. Efforts to reach his son, Coast Casinos Chairman Michael Gaughan, and Barrick Gaming principals were also unsuccessful.
Employees at the four properties were notified of the pending sale in a memo distributed Sunday.
With the acquisition, Barrick Gaming instantly becomes a major player in a downtown market of 22 casinos dominated by Boyd Gaming and MGM Mirage.
Little information is available about Barrick Gaming. Incorporation records on file with the secretary of state's office showed the company was incorporated in Nevada on Feb. 25, 2002. Its president is Stephen A. Crystal, and its secretary is David W. Barrick.
A published report describes the company as a start-up firm but provides no additional details.
The Gaming Control Board's investigation into the buyers' backgrounds and their sources of funding is expected to take several months.
Control board member Scott Scherer could not provide details of the transaction but said new ownership would help downtown.
"Downtown obviously needs an infusion of capital, and if this is a buyer that's prepared to bring in some new capital and do some refurbishment, I think that would be a positive for downtown," Scherer said.
It's not clear what changes, if any, the new owners plan for the properties.
Revenues at downtown casinos have been stagnant in recent years as Strip resorts have taken an increasing share of the tourist market. At the same time, companies such as Coast Casinos and Station Casinos have usurped the local gaming dollars that once flowed downtown.
Downtown's share of statewide casino revenue dropped to 7.2 percent in 2001 from 13.9 percent in 1988. Gamblers lost a combined $683.3 million there last year compared with $4.7 billion on the Strip.
"Downtown is not dying, but it's been pretty much holding steady in terms of revenue," Scherer said. "Someone who could take it forward would be a positive."
Gaughan has been trying for years to sell some of his downtown holdings. In 1999, the asking price for the Plaza was $55 million, and the Las Vegas Club was on the block for $45 million.
D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of Culinary Local 226, said a successor clause guarantees that the union's contract with the hotels will remain in force under new ownership. Taylor said he hopes the new owners will boost investment in downtown.
"Jackie Gaughan is a legend, and I think you can't replace Jackie Gaughan for what he's done for this community," Taylor said. "But a new company is coming in and looking at investing and putting the kind of money we think needs to be done. We think that's good."
In the memo to employees, Gaughan wrote that Barrick wishes to retain the current work force.
"Barrick Gaming appears to be a very progressive company with a very optimistic view of downtown Las Vegas," Gaughan wrote.
A Nebraska native, Gaughan moved his family to Las Vegas in 1951 and quickly acquired a minority interest in the Boulder Club on Fremont Street, where the Horseshoe now stands, and later bought an interest in the Flamingo.
In 1961, he bought the Las Vegas Club with Mel Exber and Larry Hazelwood, according to a biography on the Jackiegaughan.com Web site. Two years later, he bought the El Cortez. He bought the Western Hotel in 1965, then built the Union Plaza in 1971 and bought the Gold Spike in 1983.