Control Board backs Warner Gaming takeover of Horizon Lake Tahoe

Management company Warner Gaming received initial approval Wednesday from state gaming regulators to take over the Horizon in Lake Tahoe and transform the shuttered hotel-casino into a Hard Rock-branded property.

Warner, which is headed by gaming executive Bill Warner, manages the Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas and a Hard Rock-branded hotel-casino in Sioux City, Iowa.

The renovation of the Horizon will cost $60 million. Warner expects the property to reopen in January.

Warner told the Gaming Control Board the company is renovating the entire property, including the 539 hotel rooms, the 25,000-square-foot casino, while adding new restaurants, bars and entertainment attractions. The property will also house a Hard Rock-branded retail store.

“Everyone loves the Hard Rock T-shirts,” Warner said at the hearing in Carson City.

The property, which is owned by the Park family of Northern Nevada, was originally built as the Sahara Lake Tahoe by Del Webb. The property was known as the Horizon when it was managed by Columbia Sussex Corp., but it fell into disarray.

“I would call this an extreme makeover,” Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett told Warner after hearing a description of the renovations.

Warner said the goal is to bring younger customers to the hotel-casino while capitalizing on the nearby Lake Tahoe ski areas. He said the resort would focus heavily on nongaming amenities, such as dining and entertainment.

“We want everyone to forget the name Horizon,” Warner said.

Warner Gaming, which has managed the Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas since 2011, has deals in place to manage potential Indian casinos in California near the Stockton-Lodi area and Spokane Wash. Warner told the Control Board the California casino wouldn’t compete with the Lake Tahoe project.

The Control Board also granted tentative approval to a transfer of nearly 11 percent ownership stake in Caesars Interactive Entertainment to Rock Gaming, a company controlled by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.

The deal would complete a planned financing that took place last year when the company moved several hotel-casinos and entities into a new holding company.

Caesars Interactive operates the World Series of Poker and Caesars Entertainment Corp.’s online social gaming businesses.

Rock Gaming is a joint venture partner with Caesars Entertainment in the Horseshoe Casinos in Cleveland and Cincinnati and the recently opened Horseshoe Casino Baltimore.

Separately, a Rock Gaming affiliate owns the Greektown Casino in Detroit.

Rock Gaming and Gilbert have been found suitable by both Nevada and New Jersey gaming regulators.

The Nevada Gaming Commission will rule on the Gaming Control Board’s recommendations on Oct. 23.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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