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Judge hangs tough in Station bankruptcy

RENO — Lawyers from highfalutin firms headquartered in Los Angeles and New York City learned their legal pedigrees don’t matter to federal bankruptcy Judge Gregg Zive.

The longtime Nevadan is overseeing the Chapter 11 case of bankrupt Station Casinos. The company has $6 billion in debt, a pack of angry creditors and a proposed reorganization plan that splits the casino operator into two entities, but may ultimately leave it whole.

Zive hasn’t signed off on the plan entirely. That decision won’t come until July.

His ruling last month, however, set in motion a court-administered auction of 11 casinos, land holdings and Indian gaming contracts. Fertitta Gaming, a new business formed by Station Casinos’ founding brothers, has the initial $772 million "stalking horse bid" for the chunk of the company.

Clearly, Zive is in control.

Some weren’t happy with the decision. But attorneys, whose wardrobe alone cost more than the federal courthouse’s remodeling, didn’t question Zive’s process.

He allowed parties some 15 hours of direct testimony and legal arguments over a series of motions, but he kept things on point. He told lawyers not to present him with multiple filings repeating the same argument.

"I read everything," Zive said, as his piles of voluminous notes proved.

Zive took 90 minutes to explain his rulings last month. Interwoven in that decision was his goal to keep the casinos open and employees working.

Attorneys realized they aren’t dealing with just some small-town judge.

Zive is a Reno native who worked as a sportswriter, graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1967, served as an Army officer, and earned a law degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1973.

He had 22 years in as a lawyer when he joined the federal bankruptcy bench in January 1995. He was reappointed in 2009. Zive is the immediate past president of the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges and has served on other professional boards.

Since 1976, Zive has been official scorer at all UNR basketball games.

Zive holds another distinction; he was licensed by Nevada gaming regulators in 2006 when he took over as trustee of his family’s part interest in the Tahoe Biltmore in Lake Tahoe. Another family member is now the trustee.

Station Casinos’ isn’t his first rodeo.

Zive oversaw the recent Herbst Gaming bankruptcy. In that case, he approved a reorganization plan giving the senior lenders control of the entire company.

Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Sundays. He can be reached at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. He blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/stutz.

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