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Stratosphere ‘a great fit’ for Golden Entertainment in Las Vegas

By Richard N. Velotta, Las Vegas Review-Journal

“You want to see something really cool?” a gaming investment friend of mine asked me one day back in around 1994.

My friend offered to take me up to the top of the Stratosphere Tower, still under construction at the time.

As the slow industrial elevator climbed to the observation deck level, I got a whole new appreciation for the widely misunderstood Bob Stupak, who had a whole bunch of crazy schemes before and after making the idea stick of building a 1,149-foot observation tower and a 2,427-room hotel.

Stupak, who died in 2009, once told me he was proudest of developing a place that could be seen from anywhere in the Las Vegas Valley.

While it was Stupak who came up with the plan, it was corporate suits from out of state who eventually took possession of the Stratosphere when the project fell into bankruptcy less than a year after it opened in 1996.

That’s why it was welcome news last month that Blake Sartini and Golden Entertainment bought the assets of American Casino and Entertainment Properties, including the Stratosphere, for $850 million.

Sartini, a 30-year veteran of the casino industry, has quietly become a force in the local gaming industry. He already has more gaming outlets than Station Casinos, the company he spent much of his career with.

Industry insiders told me that several companies kicked the tires at ACEP and some even offered to individually buy the Strat, the two Arizona Charlie’s properties and the Laughlin Aquarius.

ACEP stood firm on keeping the group together and Sartini’s analysis indicated that Golden could save $18 million a year through synergies with the company’s existing portfolio, based on ACEP’s estimate of $413 million in net revenue and $103 million in cash flow in 2017.

The Golden board of directors includes Lyle Berman, a longtime believer in the Strat who did business with Stupak, and Mark Lipparelli, a former Gaming Control Board member and state senator who has a financial background.

Sartini views the transaction as “a great fit” for Golden.

The company already dominates in Pahrump, where it owns the Pahrump Nugget, Lakeside and Gold Town. It has a secure foothold among locals with its 54 taverns under six brands within the PT’s Entertainment Group.

Now it will have an entry in the Laughlin market and two locals joints in Arizona Charlie’s Decatur and Boulder.

And, the Strat.

Analysts seem to like the idea that there could be some crossover between the tavern crowd and the thrill rides atop the tower. It isn’t everywhere that you can bungee jump off a 1,000-foot tower or get blasted into the desert air along a mast that extends to the highest point of a 1,000-foot building.

Like many in Las Vegas, I can’t wait to see what Sartini has in store for the Strat, which has developed into a place every Vegas visitor must see at least once.

Will there be cross-promotion from the pubs to the Strat? Will the company’s Golden Rewards program be extended? What changes are in store?

We’ll probably learn the answers by the end of the year when regulators consider the deal and the transaction closes.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.