Although the signage changes with increasing regularity, names are important things in the casino business.
So it came as a relief to learn that Caesars Entertainment Corp., as the Review-Journal reported Monday, had decided to dump the Gansevoort Hotel Group from its planned redevelopment of the casino once known as the Barbary Coast.
A name that communicates a hip and classy image on Park Avenue can come off as hopelessly pretentious on the Boulevard. So it was with Gansevoort, at least from my admittedly pedestrian perspective.
Old-schooler that I am, I thought the Barbary Coast was a perfectly good brand for a casino. But then it was reinvented as the downright corny Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall after being purchased by Harrah’s Entertainment (which later changed its name to Caesars Entertainment.)
Bill’s didn’t last. The brightest minds at Caesars Entertainment determined that what the company and the corner of Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard really needed was a hip and high-end niche casino resort called Gansevoort. It would have an exclusive rooftop nightclub and a gourmet restaurant created by Food Network star Giada DeLaurentiis.
Now the name change has been scrapped, the association with the upscale New York hotel outfit severed. But Caesars officials didn’t bag the Gansevoort because they suddenly came around to my way of thinking.
They did so in no small part because Massachusetts Gaming Commission investigators reported the undeniable controversy associated with one of the owners of Hotel Gansevoort, real estate developer Arik Kislin. Until late last week, Caesars had been seeking to develop a $1 billion casino resort project at Massachusetts’ venerable Suffolk Downs.
Kislin’s website describes him as a dynamic self-made man and philanthropist who immigrated to New York with his family from the Ukraine in the early 1970s. He’s the successful leader of a diversified investment company with stakes in a variety of industries ranging from aviation to financial services. His biography enthuses that his investment business “reaches from one side of the globe to the other and encompasses land, air and sea.”
And there’s the partnership with the Achenbaum family in the Gansevoort Hotel. In a statement, Ganesvoort President Michael Achenbaum jabbed, “We would have expected a serious government agency to act on the basis of substantiated fact, not rumor or innuendo previously printed in gossip columns. No new facts have arisen since we passed the internal gaming compliance process of Caesars prior to the execution of our agreements.”
Gossip columns aside, it’s the same old facts that appear to have jammed up Gansevoort and by extension Caesars Entertainment. And those facts point toward a historical connection between Kislin and organized crime associates, including reputed hit man Anton Malevsky. A company Kislin once led, co-sponsored Malevsky for a U.S. visa, according to a 1994 FBI report cited by investigative reporter Knut Royce in a 1999 report for the Center for Public Integrity.
Malevsky was closely connected with high-flying money launderers with Eastern Bloc organized crime ties, but in an interview Kislin said, “Any involvement with any people that I know is not something I’m willing to discuss.”
Officials representing Caesars Entertainment and Gansevoort each criticized the Massachusetts gaming regulators as attempting to hold the casino company to an unreasonable standard. A call to the New York company Monday seeking clarification of the issue was referred to a public relations firm.
Caesars Entertainment, meanwhile, has far more than the Massachusetts disappointment and a public relations mess to deal with, not the least of which is a staggering $23.5 billion corporate debt.
In the wake of the Gansevoort gaffe, it makes me wonder whether some of the names on the company’s corporate compliance committee will be changing. The Kislin controversy has been on law enforcement radar for well more than a decade outside those gossip pages.
The name on the marquee is important.
But in a highly regulated industry, maintaining the solid reputation of the company behind the name is even more essential.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.