LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3.com) -- As discussed in a Video Vault segment, the Las Vegas Convention Center has been an important part of the local economy and has clearly contributed to the growth and prosperity of southern Nevada. So you would think that developing a property right across the street is a no-brainer, right? Guaranteed success!
Well, it hasn't quite worked out that way for the location that today is a vacant lot on Paradise Road -- prime real estate facing one of the busiest convention facilities in the world.
How did this happen? Back in the late 1970s, when Las Vegans were excited about the completion of construction on this property, the new casino was called DeVille.
"It boasts a New Orleans theme," described News 3 reporter Liz Wilson. "With bars, a restaurant, and two levels of shops off the casino."
But when News 3's Joel Grover went for an update in 1982, the doors were still closed.
"The DeVille Casino was meant to reflect the lively atmosphere of old New Orleans," reported Grover. "But to this day, it remains anything but lively. The doors are boarded up. The gaming tables are covered with cloth, and the rest of the place is covered with dust. The casino has something of a jinxed history since it was first built by Las Vegan Frank Caroll. Caroll could never get a gaming license to run the place, and his many attempts to sell it collapsed one after the other."
Caroll made a deal to sell the property to Irving Brand, owner of Ormand Drug & Chemical out of Florida. In an interview with Wilson, Brand's blueprint for success in the competitive Las Vegas gaming market sounded dubious at best.
"What made you decide to get into the gaming business?" asked Wilson.
"Losses in the pharmaceutical business," Brand replied. "And hoping that we'll do better in this type of business."
Brand's potential entry into the market came in the nick of time.
"Sale of the DeVille Casino for $4.5 million was confirmed today by Federal Bankruptcy Court Judge Lloyd George," reported Wilson. "The agreement came just 24 hours before the resort was scheduled for auction." Things briefly looked rosy.
"He hopes to open in 60 days," reported Wilson. “That pleases Frank Caroll, who built both the DeVille and Landmark resorts years ago."
"I've spent 21 years on that corner, and I've always believed in it being one of the better ones," noted Caroll.
"We have a good lender. We know that the loan will be funded. And I'm sure that the deal is flying," said Brand.
But the would-be Las Vegas operator decided he needed an additional $100,000 to open the casino, which set off alarm bells for the judge.
"I'm terribly troubled by that," said George. "This moves the unsecured creditors back an additional $100,000. And the unsecured creditors should have a voice in that if they want to be backed up. And an arrangement was made and I feel it should be abided by."
"We have discovered now that Ormond Drug & Chemical Company is really not financially able to operate the DeVille Casino," added a skeptical Caroll.
The deal fell apart. The property languished for almost a decade until finally a company called Three Sixty Five LLC came in and completely redesigned the building.
Finally in 1992, the sound of a race track bugle heralded the grand opening of Sport of Kings. It was a race and sports book. But unlike other sports joints in Las Vegas, this one was plush, catering to horse bettors and sports enthusiasts who liked to be comfortable, watching the events on big screens without the clutter and noise of casino slots and table games.
Racetrack regular Andy Jerry, 84, was one of the first through the door, and was suitably impressed.
"All I know, this is the greatest thing that ever happened to the horse player in the world, in the country," beamed Jerry. "This is fine. This is what we're looking for."
"Which one would you like?" asked the smiling young woman at the Sport of Kings hospitality window.
"Gimme a Santa Anita California form. I got a race going in the second race," replied Jerry, with a grin. "Thank you very much."
"As we toured Sport of Kings with Andy, he stopped by here, the sports book," noted News 3 reporter Scott Andrus. "Turns out that horse players like to take their winnings and play a game or two."
"I got two winning tickets," one gambler said to News 3, holding up his bets for the camera. "This is the luckiest place in town."
But it wasn't bad luck that doomed the Sport of Kings; it was bad planning. Specifically, they decided against pari-mutual wagering. That's where the operator's collect the vig -- a percentage of the bet -- and the winners all split the remaining pot. Instead, Sport of Kings paid straight odds, so that the payout did not necessarily correlate to the amount of money taken in. For example, if many people bet on a long shot that won, the payout meant financial trouble.
News 3's Paige Novodor was on hand just seven months later when it all came to a head.
"A sports book not making money. $365,000 of taxes owed, and not enough funds to keep the place going," said Novodor.
"At 6:30 this evening, when the last West Coast race is over, there'll be no more wagering allowed," said a downcast Marketing Director Mike Lavine that evening.
"Everybody's pretty sad about it. We just didn't expect it to happen this way," said employee Hank Leone. "And we're hoping that the next two or three months tells us that it's going to re-open again."
But it didn't. Instead, Three Sixty Five came up with a new concept and decided to gut the interior and build a beach-themed nightclub.
When it opened in 1995, the new attraction was called -- appropriately enough -- "The Beach."
In addition to a general surf motif, they brought in gimmicks like a mechanical surfboard, similar to the mechanical bull at country-themed clubs. They had specialty drinks. Lots of publicity. It seemed like they had as much business as they could handle.
"Lotta traffic. Lotta traffic," boasted Beach manager Scott Darst as the 1997 ComDex trade show got under way at the Convention Center across the street. "We got hot dog vendors out here today and we've had numerous requests from tie manufacturers and everything to sell things in their parking lot. So...we've kind of turned them away just because of our own needs here."
But the Beach abruptly closed its doors in 2006. Three Sixty Five sold the land to Marriott --who operated a hotel next door -- with an agreement to build a 39-story condo tower and casino. They received approval from Clark County Planning -- including special permission for the tower near the arrival path for McCarran Airport.
The Beach was razed in preparation. But then, the housing market collapsed.
Plans for development were tabled indefinitely.
Once more, this prime property in the heart of the resort corridor sits empty. No plans have yet been announced for a new development of a condo tower, a nightclub, a sports book, or anything else on this troubled piece of real estate.