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Developer buying Railroad Pass from MGM

The state’s oldest continuously operated casino is changing hands.

Railroad Pass is being acquired by Henderson-based commercial real estate developer Joe DeSimone through his company, First Federal Realty, from MGM Resorts International.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but DeSimone said it fits his portfolio of area businesses and the sale should close by year’s end.

“I’m a businessman in Henderson and the Railroad Pass is a good business,” the 47-year-old DeSimone said. “The iconic nature of the property makes it all the more fun and exciting for someone like me and gives me some more diversification in my business career.”

DeSimone, who will be new to the casino industry, has entered a purchase agreement with MGM Resorts, which has owned the Henderson property since 2005, acquiring it as part of the $7.9 billion Mandalay Resort Group purchase. MGM Resorts Chief Financial Officer Dan D’Arrigo said the gaming giant’s pending sale reflects the company’s continuing “review and careful consideration” of all its properties, customers and employees.

“MGM Resorts is continually reviewing its portfolio of resorts, land and other assets to ensure they align with our strategic framework as a leading entertainment and hospitality company,” D’Arrigo said in a statement.

DeSimone has lived in Henderson since 1991 and founded First Federal Realty in 1996. He has developed many commercial projects around the Las Vegas Valley, most recently the 266-unit College Villas senior apartments on College Drive, and the 16-unit Horizon Ridge Professional Park, both in Henderson.

DeSimone said he will retain the nearly 200 employees, including Curt Thompson, the property executive director since 2006.

“Curt has a lot of pride in that property, and I found him to be very candid and we’re happy to keep him,” said DeSimone, who is also partnering with longtime casino gaming licensee Marcus Suan. Suan, who was most recently at the now-closed Casino MonteLago at Lake Las Vegas, has more than 20 years of casino experience focused on slot operations and slot marketing with Coast Casinos and Boyd Gaming Corp.

DeSimone will immerse himself in the casino business and learn from industry veterans while he obtains a gaming license. He also wants to get settled before addressing long-term plans.

“My opinion is the property is run well now,” DeSimone said. “I plan on having a steep learning curve making sure the customers and employees and management are all comfortable in their places. Then go where opportunity takes us with the property.”

DeSimone inquired about buying the Railroad Pass through MGM Resorts earlier this year after thinking about other casinos in Henderson that may be available. Although DeSimone is close to acquiring the property, D’Arrigo said MGM Resorts received inquiries about the property in the past few years before DeSimone.

Railroad Pass has an 11,000-square-foot casino with 324 slot machines and six table games. It also has 120 hotel rooms, a steakhouse, buffet, coffee shop, a sports book and sits on 24 acres near U.S. Highway 95/93 near the Boulder City border.

Railroad Pass has license No. 4. Nos. 1 and 2 were never issued. No. 3 didn’t last.

With the sale, the hotel-casino will move from the portfolio of an international gaming company with nearly $10 billion in 2013 revenue to a locally based owner. While MGM Resorts has focused on bigger holdings such as CityCenter and nine other large properties on the Strip, it did heavily promote Railroad Pass during the casino’s 80th birthday celebration Aug. 1, 2011.

The casino’s history goes back to 1931, around the time of the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad and the building of Hoover Dam. At that time, Boulder City was a federal reservation with no liquor or gambling and Railroad Pass was the closest spot where construction workers and families could gamble. Boulder City, now a city of 15,000, still does not allow casinos, but Railroad Pass draws about 60 percent of its employees and about 60 percent of its play, tracked by the players card system, from the city.

Contact Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3882. Find him on Twitter: @KnightlyGrind.

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