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October 21, 2014

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In his Palms: Turning 2, Maloof’s pride and joy is a major Vegas player

Information: 942-7777.

It was the pre-corporate age, when most casinos were family owned or operated by individuals who were known personally by many of their customers.

Maloof is that kind of owner.

"That's been a big part of the reason for our success," Maloof said. "That and the way we treat our guests and our employees. If our guests and employees are happy, we're going to be happy."

Longtime Las Vegas publicist Frank Lieberman, former spokesman for Siegfried & Roy, sees a lot of old Las Vegas in Maloof.

"This town is not as friendly as it used to be," Lieberman noted. "What Maloof has brought back to Las Vegas is that feeling of friendship and warmth that was lost when the big corporations took over."

Maloof's open-door, pat-on-the-back, "I'll take care of your problem" approach to running the relatively small (by Vegas standards), $265 million, 430-room hotel and 95,000-square-foot casino has been a success since the Palms opened two years ago. "We have far exceeded our expectations," said Maloof, whose father, George Sr., died in 1980.

That success is being celebrated this weekend with a series of second-anniversary events, both public and private. The Maloofs including George Jr., mother Colleen, sister Adrienne and brothers Joe, Gavin and Phil -- own 88 percent of the Palms. Station Casinos owns 6 percent and the Greenspun family, owners of the Las Vegas Sun, owns 6 percent.

George Maloof is the most highly visible member of his family in Las Vegas, and seems to relish the attention.

But he says it isn't strictly an ego issue.

"Putting a face on the place has been a help," Maloof said. "When you think of the Palms, you think of me, of the family. Our customers know if they have a problem, they can come to us. We are not a cold corporation -- we have a face."

Overcoming the odds

Maloof noted that the Palms succeeded in spite of opening during one of the worst periods in recent history, just after the terrorist attacks of 9-11.

"We opened at the worst possible time," Maloof said. "More than 20,000 people were laid off at casinos in Las Vegas after 9-11. One of the things that I am most proud about is that we were able to put 2,500 of those people back to work."

Maloof, a native of Albuquerque, N.M., has always had a fondness for Las Vegas. He graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Hotel Management School in 1987.

"I've been in town a long time," he said. "When I was attending UNLV I spent a lot of time in casinos. I was fascinated with the city and how it operated."

Maloof convinced the family -- whose business interests also includes a Coors distributorship in Las Vegas and the NBA's Sacramento Kings -- to build the Fiesta in North Las Vegas, which opened in 1994.

They chose to settle off the Strip because it made economic sense.

"To build on the Strip, you had to have a billion dollars," Maloof said.

Building off the Strip allowed him to start smaller, for about $25 million.

During the six years that he ran the Fiesta, which the family sold to Station Casinos about three years ago, Maloof developed the management style that has proven to be so successful.

"Fiesta was a locals' place, something they felt comfortable with," he said. "We were very successful, and after six years I wanted to take the brand and expand it."

Taking advantage

He liked the location where the Palms now stands -- west of the Strip on Flamingo Road.

"Initially, I wanted to build another Fiesta, which had a market that was 99 percent local," Maloof said. "But when I looked at the location, I thought we might be missing an opportunity for a hybrid -- a place for locals, but with the unique ability to suck people off the Strip.

"I knew from being here for so long and being a consumer myself, a frequent visitor of casinos, there was a market for someone who didn't want to be on the Strip."

So he took a two-pronged approach, creating a resort that would appeal to locals and tourists.

"During the day we have slots for locals, and at night and on weekends we turn into another place, almost, marketing to Las Vegas visitors that didn't want to be on the Strip," Maloof said. He guessed correctly that people would enjoy escaping the congestion of the Strip, opting instead for a place where they could enjoy such amenities as an 18,000-square-foot spa, top-rated restaurants (Nine, Blue Agave Oyster and Chile Bar, Alize, Little Buddha, Gardunos), a 14-theater movie complex and two of the most popular bars in town -- Rain in the Desert and ghostbar, which is at the top of the 42-story hotel.

"The vision was to create a place with a balance between locals and tourists," Maloof said. "The building was designed in a way that they weren't bothering each other -- each has their own area, their own time of day when they are there."

Celebrity central

The Palms has become one of the hottest spots in town, if not the hottest for the young, beautiful and rich, for celebrities, and for anyone who likes to party.

The success has added a youthful energy to the town that might have been missing.

"It certainly draws a younger crowd than anywhere else, and that's good for the city," Lieberman said. "As many people as they can bring here, that's great."

The Palms' chief competitor is the Hard Rock Hotel, but there will be more competition in the months ahead.

Planet Hollywood, a youth-and-celebrity-oriented organization, is taking over Aladdin after the first of the year.

And there is downtown's Golden Nugget, bought recently by thirtysomething business partners Timothy Poster and Thomas Breitling.

Poster and Breitling have joined forces with Station Casinos president Lorenzo Fertitta and motion picture industry executive Trent Othick to create Insomnia Entertainment, which will pursue film and television projects.

Longtime Las Vegas public relations executive Ira David Sternberg says he believes Poster and Breitling might use their influence with the Hollywood crowd to bring celebrities and younger guests to the Nugget.

Sternberg said it will take time -- a couple of years -- for the Golden Nugget and Planet Hollywood to even approach the Palms' status. Even then, it will be a tough game of catch-up.

"The Palms never rests," Sternberg said. "They just keep coming up with marketing ideas."

Over the summer there was the celebration for the 50th anniversary of Playboy.

VEGAS Magazine was launched there.

The CineVegas International Film Festival was a huge draw.

There's often a two-hour wait for non-invited guests to ghostbar.

"Celebrity Poker Showdown," filmed there, debuts on Bravo (Cox cable channel 53) on Dec. 2.

Celebrities flock to the Palms, routinely focusing national attention on the resort: comedians Tom Green, Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier, Hilton hotel heiresses Nicky and Paris Hilton, Lance Bass from 'N Sync and dozens more have frequented the hotel.

Maloof is often seen escorting such beautiful stars as Tara Reid, but he doesn't see marriage in the future.

But he does see a lot of parties for him and his brothers, none of whom are married.

"I'm so focused on this property, particularly its uniqueness," Maloof said. "You have an ownership that is able to represent what the property is all about."

Healthy competition

With so much going for the Palms, Maloof doesn't mind the competition from other casinos.

"The way we've looked at Las Vegas is that we have never thought about competing with another property here," he said. "We are competing with other destination resorts -- destinations compete with destinations."

However, Maloof acknowledges other properties might not have the same attitude.

"If you look at at what's happening around town, it's kind of funny," he said. "A lot of people hang out at the Palms to find out what we're doing. They want to to try to change things at their property to make them more like what we're doing."

Maloof says he's looking forward to the opening of Steve Wynn's new resort, Wynn Las Vegas, in 2005.

"It will bring people to Vegas to see it, and they can't all stay there," he said. "The more (resorts) the better. I truly believe that. Growth is important. Planet Hollywood? I wish them the best."

Meanwhile, Maloof is planning on increasing the size of his hotel. Some reports say he will add 300 more rooms, but he says he isn't sure yet how many there will be.

"We have master-planned a real nice addition," he said.

He declined to give a timetable on the project.

One thing the Palms doesn't have is a showroom. Maloof says he doesn't know yet if the expansion of the property will include one.

"We're looking at all kinds of options," he said.

One option is to build or buy more casinos.

"We have created a brand," Maloof said. "There may be other opportunities for us -- we're talking about the leverage we have here and using it. We're in the business -- a franchise is possible."

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