Inside Gaming: Bargain Seekers Squeeze High End - Monday 6th of February 2006

With all the hoopla over average room rates edging down before the holidays, one trend was overlooked that could be even more significant in the long run. While room rates started the year 25 percent higher than a year earlier and finished a little lower than a year earlier, rates at high end properties (Caesars Palace, The Venetian, The Hotel and Bellagio) fell substantially. Still, rates at midrange hotels (Harrah's Las Vegas, Monte Carlo, the Aladdin, Excalibur and Treasure Island) were up. Operators were heeding bargain-shoppers in the short run and developers may do the same in the long run, analysts say.

Scuttlebutt is that New York developer Bruce Eichner and Las Vegas gaming executive David Friedman, partners in the Cosmopolitan, have parted company. Friedman, previously a top Las Vegas Sands executive, started the project with the 8.5 acres south of Bellagio and brought in Eichner and Hyatt Hotels. It seems Friedman is out, but neither partner was talking on the record.

Reports that Wynn Resorts will start work on Encore, the second phase of Wynn Las Vegas, on time next spring pending financing are likely just the tip of the iceberg. When developer Steve Wynn first announced Wynn Las Vegas, he told interviewers it was just the first step in what would ultimately include six 3,000-room towers around the new designer golf course. Also under discussion now is an urban village, much like MGM Mirage's Project CityCenter. Wynn has never been one to forget or scale back on development plans.

With the year drawing to a close, we remembered that no one remembered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Dunes. With no Dunes left in Las Vegas, it was as if there was no anniversary to celebrate for the Strip icon that opened a half century ago where the Bellagio now stands. It was a struggle for the landmark hotel-casino from opening day, partly because the owners themselves were hooked on gambling and partly because it never caught up with the market for amenities, which was, and is, fast developing.

The funniest lead on a story that never panned out this year involved Wynn Las Vegas. One Wynn Resorts Ltd. executive said just as local developer Steve Wynn had changed the name Le Reve to Wynn Las Vegas, he'd change the name of Encore, the second phase of the development. This executive said he'd change it to "Steve" so he could see his whole name in lights in the Las Vegas sky. No truth to the rumor, but it was pretty amusing. The source is no longer with the company.

Gaming Wire Editor Rod Smith can be reached by e-mail at rsmith@reviewjournal. com or by phone at 477-3893.

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