Sunday, July 16, 2006 | 7:50 a.m.
The public persona of George Maloof has been good for the Palms.
Hanging with movie actors, TV stars and NBA players. Hosting MTV and Playboy shows and events. Attracting the hip and the beautiful to his nightclubs. Creating the first themed hotel suites with windowed showers in the living room.
Sizzle sells the steak.
But it's the other, quiet side of Maloof that most impresses me.
I first encountered that side almost half a dozen years ago when he was selling his family's Fiesta casino on Rancho Drive to Station Casinos. He was only 36 at the time, but the pain he felt was palpable when his workers were required to reapply with Station if they wanted to keep their jobs.
"I was really torn between the emotions of my employees and the need to have the licensing approved so the sale could go through," Maloof told me after a 2001 North Las Vegas licensing hearing. Maloof's employees had praised him while expressing fear about their future prospects.
Maloof was then finishing building the Palms, which opened later that year.
"The things that worked for me at the Fiesta will work for me at the Palms," he told me. "Taking care of my employees, listening to the customers, and fixing problems quickly. It all comes down to taking care of people and respecting them."
And he's done just that.
His employees, from the frontline valet parkers and buffet waitresses to his pit bosses and hotel managers, love him.
He's always at the property. He knows most folks by name, knows what they do and what they're about.
Maloof's proud of what he has created but he cares about what others think. He's not too proud to accept feedback.
A couple of examples: Maloof took me on a tour of the original Palms tower before it opened and could barely contain his enthusiasm about some of its features. When he showed me the buffet area, I told him that I thought the Aladdin had made a mistake when it opened a year earlier. The Aladdin's buffet line had extended upstairs and curled around what was then a high-limit gaming area in the casino.
Maloof later thanked me and credited my comment for his decision to change the direction of his own buffet line, away from his high-limit gambling room.
One night about two years later I was parking my car on the second deck of the Palms' eastern parking garage. I thought I recognized Maloof walking by himself through the garage, and sure enough, it was him.
He was picking up trash.
When I approached him and asked about his performing such a mundane task, he sheepishly said he wanted to keep things looking good.
And his workers say that's just the way Maloof is - "George," they call him, not "Mr. Maloof."
I was at the Palms again Friday evening to talk to Maloof and check out his newly opened Sky Villas at the top of his almost finished Fantasy Tower, just south of the main Palms tower.
And George, as usual, minimized his own role but was quietly proud of the luxurious suites, their incredible views and their pools that seem to suspend in mid-air, held by clear Plexiglas.
Unlike most top-end suites at the best casinos on the Strip, Maloof doesn't save them for the use of big casino bettors.
Someone recently rented one of the villas for 10 nights, Maloof said - at $15,000 per night that's a cool $150,000.
When asked about building a casino in Atlantic City, he said, "The Palms brand would work really well there."
He's created an iconic brand that stands for fun, sexy and hip nightlife - the kind of vibe that would work well near New York.
Maloof's looking to take the Palms brand to more than one new jurisdiction, maximizing the value of his creation.
Wherever he goes, one thing is for certain.
The brand isn't what makes the Palms special. Maloof is.