Ah yes, I remember it well. This 30-something kid said he was going to open a hybrid casino and market to two distinct groups -- locals and Hollywood hipsters.
In the wisdom of my many years, I knew it wouldn't work. Celebrities don't want to mix with locals, and locals don't care to mix with celebrities. Not content with keeping my impressions to myself, I told others that the marketing idea was doomed. The target should be one or the other, not both.
More than five years later, George Maloof was right, and I am proven wrong ... again. The Palms opened in November 2001, right after the economic downturn from 9/11, and Maloof's idea worked. Guess there's a reason he runs the family-owned casino and I'm hunched over a computer.
Yet, before hearing his speech Wednesday at a Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce luncheon, all Maloof was to me was a frequent mention in Norm Clarke's column and a periodic business page story. I hadn't met him, hadn't interviewed him and didn't move in his intertwined circles of basketball and babes.
Before a sell-out crowd of more than 500 at the Four Seasons, Maloof, 42, came across as a low-key but humorous fellow who had a confession to make: "I always wanted to be Dan Tanna."
Maloof was in his hormone-driven teens when Robert Urich portrayed Dan Tanna in "Vega$," a popular television show from 1978 to 1981.
The young Maloof was smitten by the portrayal of a gun-toting private eye surrounded by an ever-changing stable of beautiful women and Las Vegas celebrities. Hmmmmmm. Don't need Freud to figure that one out.
The show was also a teaching tool. Based on his own reaction to it, Maloof realized the value of TV as a PR tool. So two decades later, he welcomed MTV's "Real World" to film in the Palms and created such a buzz that the beautiful 20-somethings and wanna-bes flocked to his new joint.
"I really felt if I could connect the pop culture with the celebrities, with television, and build a great and unique resort, that would help build a brand that beat anything in town," Maloof said. "People want to stay where celebrities stay. It's that simple."
In a quick interview after his speech on his marketing success, Maloof explained that the two distinct crowds don't mix because of the hotel's design. The locals come in from the entrances, which put them close to the slots, the movies, the sports book, the buffet and coffee shop.
About 9 p.m., the local slot players tend to go home, and the crowd looking for clubs and high-end restaurants filters in. From the front entrance, the cool kids turn left; locals turn right.
"The locals don't care about the nightclubs. If Paris Hilton eats in our buffet, nobody cares. She will eat in our buffet, and it's just another day. She will go to N9NE Steakhouse, which is 50 feet away, and they will go crazy," he said, calling it bizarre and funny.
"I always used to watch how everybody connected in the center," he said, referring to the glams and unglams mingling in the front entrance area. "It's very interesting and very delicate. Sometimes the two markets don't care about each other, don't want to be around each other."
But to succeed, Maloof said, "You gotta have both. It used to be 80 percent local. Now locals are closer to 65 percent in revenues."
The local base remains level while more celebrity-seeking tourists are filling the additional hotel rooms.
Two events at the Palms this week demonstrate the hybrid nature of the Maloof family's casino. For the locals, he opened a new buffet, the Bistro Buffet. And for the groovy, tonight he's opening The Pearl concert theater with Gwen Stefani.
The celebrities will be there in full force, naturally, some with their knickers, some without.
But if the glamour kids happen to wander into the new buffet, they'll find a crowd that cares not a whit about their celebrity antics. In that room, they are anonymous babes in buffetland.
Paris Hilton can prance there unsought and unrecognized, if that's really what she wants.
Jane Ann Morrison's column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0275.