Sixty years after the late Benny Binion bought the Horseshoe casino that still bears his name, the property remains in twilight.
For about two years, owner Terry Caudill has displayed prototypes of renovated hotel rooms, hoping to entice investors into financing a vision of what the shuttered 285-room tower could become. But so far no one has written any checks.
"His No. 1 priority is to find a way to reopen the tower completely remodeled," general manager Tim Lager said. "He thinks things are starting to come around."
While Las Vegas visitation numbers have grown for more than a year, allowing resort owners to raise nightly rates, business still trails the glory days of four years ago. Lager said he hopes the $35 million renovation of the nearby Plaza will help stimulate more interest in downtown.
The slumping economy, coupled with the tower’s shabby condition, caused Caudill to close it in December 2009. His company, TLC Casino Enterprises, which also owns the Four Queens across the street, had owned the iconic Binion’s just a year then.
"The quality was so bad, the rates had to go so low — $19 a night — that it did nothing for the casino," said Lager.
The tower, built in the early 1960s, needs a more than new furniture and carpet, he said. For example, the climate control system is based on an outmoded two-pipe design, one carrying chilled water and the other hot. This forced management to choose between the two during spring and autumn months, invariably alienating some customers who thought the building was uncomfortable.
A state-of-the-art four-pipe system would allow better temperature control.
Putting the tower back into commission would cost an estimated $15 million to $20 million. Lager isn’t counting on anything happening for at least a year. Until then, the casino will stay open, as will a restaurant lineup that winnowed with reduced customer traffic after the hotel closed.
The Apache Hotel first opened on the site in 1932 and went through several ownerships before Texas-born Benny Binion bought it in 1951. He instituted a $500 limit on craps, 10 times the norm of the time, and added touches such as carpeting instead of sawdust-covered floors.
But his brushes with the law before coming to Las Vegas, including alleged organized crime ties, caught up with him and helped cause the state to strip him of his gaming license in 1951. After subsequent ownership turmoil, including a spell where the Horseshoe casino went to other owners, the Binion family regained full control of it in 1964.
Binion, a poker aficionado, started a small poker tournament in 1970 that eventually grew into the World Series of Poker, now owned by Caesars Entertainment Corp.
Binion died in 1989. Family problems afterwards eventually resulted in the sale of Binion’s to Caesars predecessor Harrah’s Entertainment in 2004.
Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at email@example.com or 702-387-5290.