Workers wistful knowing casino’s end is near

Pauline Caruso, who has managed the New Frontier’s bingo room for the past 15 years, knew the casino’s closing was just a matter of time. But it didn’t make Wednesday’s news any easier.

As word of the New Frontier’s $1.2 billion sale to a New York-based real estate investment group filtered out among the casino’s 1,000-person work force, employees were philosophical. The New Frontier will be shuttered in 60 days and demolished to make way for a $5 billion hotel-casino development.

"We knew it was going to eventually happen, but it’s still a sad moment," Caruso said, adding that the New Frontier operated the Strip’s last remaining bingo room.

"We have a lot of regular customers, and this was a draw to get people into the casino," Caruso said. "It still hasn’t hit me yet that we’re closing."

Anthony Liso, a New Frontier bartender for the past five years, heard rumblings the casino would close since the day he was hired. Still, he was hopeful he would get another year or two at the Strip resort.

"I’m happy I got the time in that I did," Liso said.

He added that he hoped the casino or a community group would conduct a job fair to help the New Frontier employees find new positions.

"There’s a lot happening in town," Liso said. "Good people will find work."

New Frontier owner Phil Ruffin, who has owned the Old West-themed property since 1998, said some employees were relieved the casino’s closing date was finally sealed. Ruffin had publicly said for years that the New Frontier would close if he found an equity partner to help remodel the property.

Ruffin hoped new casinos, such as Las Vegas Sands Corp.’s Palazzo, which is expected to open later this year, will hire the New Frontier workers. He said the nongaming Trump International Hotel & Tower, in which he is a partner with billionaire developer Donald Trump, has committed to bring aboard some of the displaced New Frontier employees.

The New Frontier has suffered since its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was one of the top earning casinos among the resorts controlled by reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes and his Summa Corp.

Longtime employees said the New Frontier never seemed to recover after a nearly seven-year Culinary Workers Union walkout that ended in 1998.

Ruffin spent some money to clean up the casino initially and added some new amenities, but the casino still had predominately coin-operated slot machines, a throwback considering the major neighboring competitors are flush with coinless ticket in-ticket out machines.

On Wednesday, coins could still be heard clinking into trays at the New Frontier.

"I always liked to tell folks. ‘Welcome to the New Frontier hotel, casino and slot machine museum,’" said Kenny Hopkins, a slot floor worker for the last five years. "When we fill the hoppers one last time before it closes, that will probably be the last coin fill ever on the Strip."

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