Under new management: Aliante Casino looks to connect to community
Sun, Nov 4, 2012 (7:59 p.m.)
Photo: Brock Radke
I lived about three miles away when Aliante Station opened in late 2008. In all honestly, I was just as close to the perfectly friendly Santa Fe Station and all its bustling neighborhood casino amenities—a big, comfortable sports book, movie theaters, restaurants and more. But a new casino always brings excitement, and so I was off to Aliante. It didn’t disappoint. It was and still is a beautiful, sleek property, a modern desert resort perfect for a weekend escape or just a fun night out.
But it was—still is—really, really quiet. Not a lot of people around.
It cost $662 million to build the 200-room hotel and 2,500-slot casino. It was supposed to be an upscale-yet-affordable resort and entertainment venue that would accommodate the burgeoning Aliante community, the young master-planned development in the shadows of the Sheep Mountains in North Las Vegas. Obviously, things haven’t quite gone as planned.
It’s been a rough four years out here. This neighborhood was one of the hardest hit by the foreclosure epidemic, which took its toll on the biggest business in the neighborhood. Station Casinos, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy last summer, continued to manage the property until just days ago, when Aliante Gaming (owners since late last year) assumed control. Now leading the way is general manager Terry Downey, a veteran casino executive who retired two years ago after spending years with Station. He came back because he missed being around the people. “It’s a very social job, to work in these places, and I missed that energy,” he said.
Also luring him back were the many advantages of operating a single property without corporate structure, and he’s not the only one. Other Aliante executives include: vice president of marketing and hotel operations Stanford Le, from Caesars Entertainment; vice president of human resources Richard Danzak, also from Caesars; vice president of information technology Tim Williams, from Cosmopolitan; executive chef George Jacquez, from Tao Group; vice president of food and beverage Robert Bethune, from Station; and chief financial officer Brent Zatezalo, from the Hard Rock Hotel.
“Being a one-off really generated interest, and we’ve got a superior team,” Downey said. “What attracted me is having the autonomy to go out and build something, build our own programs and do things we believe in, and not having a canned corporate program handed to us.”
But Aliante doesn’t really need to build. This is not a fresh canvas or a blank slate. It’s a great-looking place, and being underused has slowed the aging process. Only mild changes are required, and that’s what’s happening. A few of the restaurants are being refreshed, updating the Mexican joint into the “much more authentic” Salted Lime and transforming the Italian restaurant into an approachable three-mealer dubbed Bistro 57. The new gaming players’ club is a convenient kiosk-based system. Entertainment will still include DJs in the ETA Lounge but also skew toward jazz and country in the showroom, and other “things the neighborhood has been asking for.”
And that’s the building that needs to be done—bridging this neighborhood casino to its neighbors. “We want to expose the property to a whole new audience while embracing the local community,” Downey said. “We are developing relationships that might not have been developed before, with Nellis Air Force Base, the golf course, the VA hospital and just cast a net wide around Aliante. We really want to fit in and be part of the community.”