Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010 | 11:56 a.m.
The Nevada Gaming Commission today approved the licensing of Isle of Capri Casinos Inc., a St. Louis-based company that once owned the Lady Luck property in downtown Las Vegas.
Commissioners unanimously approved the licensing of Isle, which is gaining a toehold in Nevada with a 0.1 percent interest in Fernley Pioneers LLC, which operates a small casino in Fernley, east of Reno.
But Virginia McDowell, president and chief operating officer of the company, said Isle plans to enter the Las Vegas locals market when an opportunity arises.
In an interview today, McDowell echoed what she told the state Gaming Control Board on Sept. 1 – that the company would review potential opportunities in Las Vegas.
McDowell told regulators that Isle, which operates 15 casinos in six states, would be best suited to operate a locals property in Las Vegas. The company recently was under consideration to manage four Station Casinos properties that were proposed to be spun off as part of the Station Casinos’ bankruptcy settlement. It turned out that Station management maintained control of its properties and the Isle management proposal never occurred.
Isle also was licensed and owned the downtown Las Vegas Lady Luck property in 2000, selling its interest in 2002. After two ownership changes, the most recent holders of the Lady Luck, Los Angeles-based CIM Group, closed the property in 2006.
McDowell said the company decided to sell the Lady Luck “because it was not a part of our core competency.” She said the company has since broadened its expertise. When investigating the market when under consideration to run the four Station properties, the company decided it wanted to be in Las Vegas.
She said a survey of her customers indicated that 80 percent of them visit Las Vegas at least once a year and it made sense for the company to have a Las Vegas presence.
Isle was founded in 1992 by Bernard Goldstein, considered the father of modern riverboat gambling in the United States and who died in 2009. The company now operates properties in Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Iowa and Colorado. McDowell said the company, which once had interests in foreign countries, is working to become strictly a domestic operation.
Isle operates its properties under the Isle of Capri and Lady Luck brands in most markets, but it does not own the rights to the Lady Luck brand in Nevada. She said any acquisition would likely take on the Isle of Capri name, but she also noted that if an opportunity to manage a property occurred, it would likely keep that property’s existing name.
Formerly based in Biloxi, Miss., Isle relocated to St. Louis after Hurricane Katrina. While the company doesn’t have a riverboat property in the St. Louis area, the headquarters is now more centrally located among its corporate holdings. Isle is under consideration for one of the licenses to be awarded in Pennsylvania by the end of the year.
McDowell, who worked in production for CBS News at the White House and whose father worked in the newspaper industry, said her career “took a very interesting left turn” when she wrote a thesis titled “Should the Casinos Finance the Dawning of the Dice Age?” in which she explored the expansion of the Atlantic City market.
In other business, the commission unanimously approved the licensing of MGM International treasurer Dan D’Arrigo as a key executive.