The county has launched a probe into whether Harrah's Entertainment broke safety laws when it did an award-winning redesign of guest rooms at the Flamingo Las Vegas.
The investigation comes just before the Harrah's parent corporation and two hotel employees head to court in late August on misdemeanor charges of breaking safety laws at several other properties in the same group.
"Remodeling of (all Flamingo guest) towers ... exceeded the scope of permits issued," according to a copy of a complaint filed with the county July 16, which triggered the present investigation.
"All the walls in the guestrooms were demolished and rebuilt," reads the complaint, filed by Steve Rich, an electrician who worked on the project, which took place in 2006 and 2007.
The Review-Journal could not locate in county archives any permits or plans that described removing all fire-resistant walls between guest rooms. It could only locate documents authorizing lesser changes to the rooms, which raises the question of whether county building inspectors approved work that did not match the documents on file.
"Only one inspector performed nearly all the inspections on the project," the complaint also says.
The hotel won acclaim in 2007 for the hip redesign of 560 guest rooms into "Go" rooms, which feature hot-pink bathrooms with walls of frosted glass, a TV screen mounted in the sink mirror and other high-tech amenities.
"We're investigating the complaint so it's premature to release any further info at this time," Clark County spokeswoman Stacey Welling recently wrote by e-mail.
"The work was inspected by the county. A Certificate of Occupancy was received. Our review of the project shows it to be compliant," Marybel Batjer, a Harrah's Entertainment spokeswoman, said in a written statement when asked for comment on the complaint. The Flamingo is one of seven local hotels owned by Harrah's Entertainment.
Rich said he told county officials that new walls separating the rooms went up exactly where the old walls stood. But the new walls are thicker, to accommodate the extensive cable and wiring needed to expand amenities in the way of music, television and computer use.
The gutting of walls made it a major remodel, Rich said he told the county.
Yet, "minor mechanical, plumbing and electrical work" is the description that appears in an 84-page set of plans connected with a Flamingo permit issued in May 2006.
"Replacement of all finishes, furnishings" is also listed on the permit. But that would not suggest wholesale demolition of fire-resistant walls between units. Such walls play a fire-protection role in high-rise buildings, and therefore require permits and inspection when reconstructed.
The Flamingo plans on file indicate some walls were to come down, but so-called "headboard" walls -- against which the headboards of beds are placed -- were to stay intact, according to the plans.
"If they did what you described with the permit you described, they really screwed up. That certainly should be permitted differently," said Las Vegas construction consultant Brian Grill of Benchmark Consulting Services, who serves as an expert witness in construction defect cases and also holds architect credentials in California and Arizona.
Roman Empire Development, a now-defunct subsidiary of Harrah's Entertainment that specialized in remodeling at local Harrah's properties, terminated Rich, who believes his termination was retaliation.
Harrah's Entertainment shut down Roman Empire in December 2007, after a Review-Journal investigation uncovered evidence that other Harrah's properties -- the Rio and Harrah's Las Vegas -- had done undocumented or substandard remodeling work in guest rooms.
Harrah's Entertainment itself and several employees face arraignment in Las Vegas Justice Court on Aug. 26 on misdemeanor charges in connection with improper work done at a number of its local hotels. In preparation for those appearances, the gaming company prepared for the district attorney an audit of all remodeling projects it had done since about 2000 that had bypassed county monitoring for safety compliance.
The audit does not mention the "Go" room project at the Flamingo.
Contact reporter Joan Whitely at email@example.com or 702-383-0268.