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With No Champagne or Celine, Vegas Casino Opens and Closes in 1 Day

Apr 28, 2011 – 8:52 AM
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Steve Friess

Steve Friess Contributor

LAS VEGAS -- The last time a casino opened around here, the champagne flowed freely, the women wore jewels, "Nightline" taped a segment and Brandon Flowers jammed in the lobby bar.

This time, a guy named Walter Jones unlocked the door, then headed back to his car because the 6 a.m. desert air can be nippy and the fellow responsible for turning on the lights and heat hadn't shown up yet.

A few hours into Jones' shift on Wednesday, nobody had shown up to play any of the 16 video poker slot machines inside the 20-by-20 tent erected on a plain of asphalt at the corner directly across from the entrance to the Las Vegas Convention Center.

A strange
Steve Friess for AOL News
If you think this gambling hall doesn't look like other casinos near the Las Vegas Strip, you'd be right. Because of a peculiarity in local law, landowners can lose valuable zoning designation that allows casinos if there's no active gambling held on their land in an 18-month period. That leads to "pop-up casinos."
Also, neither Jones nor his bosses cared. In fact, for simplicity's sake, it would be easier if there was no money exchanged, the better for keeping the paperwork to a minimum.

The purpose of this "casino," which shut down for good when the clock struck 2 p.m., was not to make money.

Rather, it is to preserve the ultra-valuable zoning designation for unrestricted gaming that exists on the parcel. County law requires active gambling to take place on property zoned for gaming for at least one shift every 18 months or else the zoning expires.

Thus, the landowner, Marriott International, hired Vegas-based United Coin Machine Co. to create this pop-up casino.

It doesn't even have a name, but in 2008 Review-Journal reporter Howard Stutz dubbed it "Trailer Station" as a play on the ubiquitous middle-of-the-road locals casinos from Station Casinos that includes Boulder, Texas, Sunset and Palace Station.

Many of them take place in small trailers, although today's took the form of a tent.

United Coin representative Rob Woodson said Marriott has told him that it plans to put up a 3,500-room flagship casino-resort where the tent stands.

The hotel chain spent $225 million in 2006 and 2007, at the height of the Vegas real estate boom, to buy 14.4 acres in that vicinity, so it now owns the entire block except for about an acre in the middle where the classic Italian eatery Piero's still serves up ziti and steaming garlic bread. Piero's is a 30-year-old joint that was a magnet for mobsters, moguls and movie stars back in the day.

"We just had initial talks," Piero's owner Evan Glusman said of Marriott's attempts to buy his land back then. "It never went anywhere."

A strange
Steve Friess for AOL News
The operators of this bizarre casino say they weren't even hoping to make money from these video gambling machines -- they just want to keep the specialized zoning that would allow them to build a real casino.
Good thing.

Back in 2006 and 2007, there was a lot of extravagant land-buying going on by owners with big plans that were never realized.

That $15 million an acre paid by Marriott wasn't even a record; the Israeli company that owns New York's Plaza Hotel spent $35 million an acre for a plot of land on the Strip where it said it would build a $5 billion Vegas version of the Marriott. The company imploded the venerable Frontier Hotel but, four years on, hasn't broken ground.

Vegas has been especially brutalized by the recession, with the nation's worst unemployment and home foreclosure rates.

Marriott didn't return calls for comment, but both Woodson and Glusman agreed that odds are good United Coin will be back on the lot in 18 months for another eight-hour casino to protect the land value.

"I don't think anything will change for 10 years or so," Glusman predicted. "Vegas is going to stop building, so we are going to keep doing what we do and cross that road when it comes."

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Walter Jones was nonchalant about his lack of business. A United Coin employee stopped by and lost $1, and this reporter blew $2 on a Deuces Wild poker game.

Otherwise, all was quiet.

Sometimes, Jones said, Vegas trivia enthusiasts show up because they read about it on blogs or see it on the local news, but usually it's a quiet, easy day's work.

"I just wish the electrician would come to bring the light," he said with a shrug.

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