Nevada Control Board Approves $370 Million Deal - Monday 6th of February 2006

CARSON CITY -- After less than 10 minutes of discussion, the Gaming Control Board gave its unanimous consent Wednesday to the $370 million purchase of the Imperial Palace by Harrah's Entertainment.

"We seem to have Harrah's on every agenda," quipped Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander.

He noted that the purchase of the 2,640-room hotel will be important for Harrah's from "a real estate perspective."

With the purchase, Harrah's controls significant acreage in Las Vegas, mainly along the east of Las Vegas Boulevard between The Venetian and Aladdin.

Ted Jenkin, Harrah's Western Division president, said the company has not yet decided what it ultimately will do with the Imperial Palace. The hotel-casino for now will remain open with the same management team, he said.

"Hopefully we can make it more profitable, while we make a determination on what is best for the site," Jenkin said.

The purchase will not be complete until after the state Gaming Commission reviews and approves the acquisition at its Dec. 22 meeting.

Harrah's has been acquiring new properties in Las Vegas throughout the year. Its $9 billion buyout of Caesars Entertainment was completed in June.

Harrah's now operates the Flamingo, Caesars Palace, Bally's and Paris Las Vegas on the Strip.

The Imperial Palace was built by the late Ralph Engelstad, a North Dakota-born contractor, who initially operated it as the Flamingo Capri motel. He later enlarged the property into the Imperial Palace, which featured low-priced rooms and a classic automobile collection.

Separately, the control board also gave unanimous approval to allow Navegante, a company managed by veteran gaming executive Larry Woolf, to operate four downtown Las Vegas casinos.

The company will begin operating the Plaza, Gold Spike, Las Vegas Club and Western Hotel on Dec. 23 if it receives Gaming Commission approval.

"We need to fill holes on the staff," Woolf said. "There has been confusion on who is in charge, and the more sophisticated help have left. We need to get in and operate them as best as we can."

Neilander said his checks of the casino's earning records shows that even if there is not any growth in revenue all debts can be paid."

The hotels now are owned by Barrick Gaming Investments and the Tamares Group, companies that are in litigation.

Barrick attorney Anthony Cabot said Tamares "has not paid us what we think is the amount due" to complete a transfer of interest. He said Tamares owes Barrick $12 million, but wants to pay only $6.5 million.

But Neilander said their dispute has nothing to do with management of the four downtown Las Vegas casinos and instead dealt with a disagreement over the Nevada Club.

"The regulatory system is being injected in a commercial dispute," he added.

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