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Moulin Rouge taps Epic Gaming

Organizers of an effort to rebuild the historic Moulin Rouge resort hired a company to manage their proposed casino, but they still haven’t identified anyone willing to finance construction.

On Wednesday, Moulin Rouge Development Corp. and Republic Urban Properties of Washington, D.C., said they tapped Epic Gaming of Las Vegas to consult on gambling-related elements of their project and, in the event they succeed, run the casino.

With Epic, the Moulin Rouge backers get a company with an executive team that boasts more than 100 years of combined experience at properties such as Caesars Palace, Hard Rock Hotel, MGM Grand and the El Cortez.

That experience could come in handy considering the Moulin Rouge, a property in a blighted neighborhood that hasn’t had a viable casino since 1955, is among the most daunting development projects in Las Vegas.

“We are well aware of some of the stigmas attached to the Moulin Rouge,” Epic Gaming Chief Executive Officer John Groom said. “A lot of the naysayers have claimed people will not venture into that part of the city.”

The 17-acre site is located on Bonanza Road, east of Martin Luther King Boulevard, an area marked by vacant and burned buildings, repair shops, a United Parcel Service distribution center and a homeless shelter.

What remains of the original Moulin Rouge is a sign and the dilapidated shell of the first racially integrated casino in Las Vegas.

Bringing it back to life would reverse a 50-year trend of decline in the area that was the center of black culture of Las Vegas before activists pressured casinos on the Strip and downtown to integrate.

“It is really the beginning of the rebuilding of what used to be called the west side of Las Vegas,” Groom said.

Michael Van Every of Republic Urban said Moulin Rouge backers are negotiating with several sources for construction financing. He said he expects funding will materialize after April 2, when the Las Vegas City Council is scheduled to consider a zoning change to accommodate the project. The city’s planning commission has already approved the change.

Project developers don’t expect the Moulin Rouge to reopen until at least the fourth quarter of 2010. In the meantime, Epic will work with the project architect to develop the casino floor and to make sure the hotel, restaurants and parking garage complement the gambling area.

If the developers secure financing and build the project, Epic would operate the casino, said Groom, who began his gambling industry career at Caesars Atlantic City in 1979 and from 2001 to 2003 was president and chief operating officer of Park Place Entertainment, then-owners of Caesars Palace on the Strip.

More recently, Epic made headlines when it lost a competition to build and manage a commercial casino in southwestern Kansas.

Epic was among three companies bidding for the right. The bid fizzled when the company failed to deliver the necessary paperwork before a Dec. 26 deadline from the Kansas Lottery Commission.

An Epic consultant claimed a photocopier broke while printing the final paperwork. The lottery commission refused to extend the deadline.

Groom said the consultant, an attorney, didn’t notify Epic about the breakdown. If he had, Groom said he would have told him to submit the documents available at the time and to submit the rest later to avoid missing the deadline.

“We gave him all the material,” Groom said. “Most of my partners were working on Christmas Eve getting the parts together, but we did get it all together.”

Groom also led Caesars efforts in 1993 to secure the license to operate a casino in New Orleans. The effort included building a 12-person executive team Groom said reflected the diversity of New Orleans. The team was 50 percent black, 50 percent white and included five women, he said.

The New Orleans license went to Harrah’s, but Groom said the team-building experience would be useful at the Moulin Rouge where he plans to tap the local community for entry-level and executive employees.

“All they have to do is have the right attitude. We will teach them the skills,” Groom said.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or (702) 477-3861.

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