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Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas Continues to Set
 Eccentric Standards for Suites, Amenities

The Philadelphia Inquirer gambling column (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
By Bill Ordine, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Oct. 24, 2005 - Here's an idea for a "reality" TV show -- challenge a bunch of Las Vegas casino operators to come up with the most outrageous idea for their hotels. Let's call it Top This!

And our first contestant could be the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.

The trendy, boutique gambling hall is opening a new hotel tower that will include a 10,000-square-foot suite with a basketball court as the centerpiece. Aptly named the Fantasy Tower, the building is opening in phases. The hoops suite is on the third floor and almost ready for occupancy -- for whoever wants to cough up the $15,000 to $25,000 a night it'll cost to indulge in what truly could be called March Madness.

Casino executive George Maloof is a member of the family that also owns the NBA's Sacramento Kings, so the Palms has a built-in affinity for all things roundball. Basketball stars are among the celebrities who frequent the hotel's hip rooftop nightclub, the ghostbar.

But back to the suite, along with the basketball court -- it's actually a half-court -- there are three NBA-sized, meaning 8- or 9-foot-long, Murphy beds. After all, who do you expect would rent this place for a weekend? The suite also has a locker room and a scoreboard, and the hotel will put the customer's own logo on the court. Of course, guests can be outfitted in personalized jerseys.

And, just to push the envelope a little more, referees and cheerleaders are on call to fill out the cast. Hotel designers did remember to put a couple of bedrooms, 42-inch plasma TVs, and a media room in the suite.

Also planned for the Fantasy Tower is a suite with its own bowling alleys, and another, named for Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, that will feature a cantilevered swimming pool with transparent sides. That means someone can paddle to the end of the pool and get a panoramic view of the Las Vegas Valley -- from a vantage point 17 stories high. Those with vertigo are advised to pass on this one.

While the Palms has previously broken new ground in eccentric fashion -- last year, it introduced a tattoo parlor as an amenity -- the casino also successfully pioneered the concept of attracting two seemingly incompatible customer types: older, slot-machine-playing patrons and twentysomethings who like to party late and play at table games.

So far, the Palms has managed to achieve that goal, with a combination of good-paying slots and video poker for the daytime local customers and some of the hottest nightclubs in Vegas for the young weekend crowd.

In Atlantic City, the Showboat is trying to work the same magic. With a longtime customer base that is largely day-trippers, skews older in age, and plays the slots, the Showboat introduced a sprawling House of Blues entertainment and dining complex in early July to lure a younger clientele.

From the Boardwalk, the Showboat identity has been almost entirely subordinated to the House of Blues -- a national entertainment company that blends Southern-style food and wide-ranging music offerings.

The first occasion of the House of Blues commingling with a gambling enterprise was about five years ago at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. However, the House of Blues experience at the Showboat is much more ambitious. Taking up 120,000 square feet, the House of Blues components at the Atlantic City casino include a restaurant, music hall, nightclub, private membership club, beach bar and retail shop. In addition, a substantial portion of the Showboat casino is themed in the House of Blues motif, as is a second-floor, 25-table poker room.

"It's a nice complementary business model in that the House of Blues targets a demographic and a time of day that is totally different (from) what we traditionally have at the Showboat," said Jay Snowden, the casino's senior vice president and general manager. "We have to be able to market to both (markets) without alienating (either)."

The House of Blues restaurant, open for lunch and dinner, offers a stylized version of Southern cuisine. The expected dishes, such as baby back ribs, jambalaya, and country fried steak, share the menu with more eclectic selections such as Mediterranean-style calamari. A favorite in Las Vegas, the Sunday Gospel Brunch ($33), is also served in Atlantic City in the music hall at two seatings, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., with a down-home, cholesterol-packed buffet -- corn-bread muffins with maple butter, Southern fried chicken, and more jambalaya -- along with gospel group performances.

The concert hall itself has brought a stream of extraordinarily diverse performers, from Dolly Parton to Hootie & the Blowfish, from Al Green to Eminem. The two-tiered hall has standing room below and seating for 566 in a balcony, plus 10 VIP boxes. Among the fascinating touches to be found in the music hall and elsewhere are dozens of pieces of art, much of it American folk expression with vibrant colors frequently illustrating musical themes.

The nightspot, called Club Worship, opens at 10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. It's arranged into three levels, with the degree of exclusivity increasing the farther one travels upward. Music there is provided by a DJ.

A bold step that the Showboat's House of Blues has taken is offering a private membership club, the Foundation Room. Another of the same name is at Vegas' Mandalay Bay. The Atlantic City version has an extravagant East Indian decor with lush Gujarat tapestries, intricately carved woodwork and ceilings, plush seating, and an extensive collection of Asian and African art. It has its own restaurant, media room, and a handful of cozy themed spaces, including one decorated with Kama Sutra carvings, where members can imbibe, chat, and just feel special.

It remains to be seen how many club memberships will be sold in the Atlantic City market. They start at $2,250 a year, which includes admission for the member and three guests plus access to all the Foundation Rooms, including the one in Vegas and another planned for Philadelphia.

Bill Ordine: ordineb@aol.com

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Copyright (c) 2005, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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