Paragon’s Diana Bennett gives new life, and new amenities, to Hard Rock Lake Tahoe By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports October 8, 2019 at 9:31 pm STATELINE, Nevada – Purchasing the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe three years ago was both a professional and personal decision for Paragon Gaming Chairwoman Diana Bennett. Professional, because it gave the Las Vegas-based casino management company a foothold in the South Lake Tahoe casino market. After a prolonged gaming revenue decline for more than a decade, due to competition from Northern California tribal casinos and the recession, South Lake Tahoe is steadily coming back; gaming numbers there have increased over the last three years. Hard Rock Lake Tahoe/Photo by Howard Stutz Personal, because Bennett’s late father, casino industry pioneer William Bennett, started his gaming career at the property in the 1960s, when it was known as Sahara Tahoe. “My dad taught Scott (Paragon CEO and cousin Scott Menke) and I some good common business sense: learn your clientele and understand your market,” Diana Bennett said. “Tahoe is a good example of those practices.” William and Diana Bennett are the only father-daughter duo who are members of the American Gaming Association’s Gaming Hall of Fame – William was inducted in 1990 and Diana in 2017. Last month, Bennett was the keynote speaker at the Business Council of Douglas County’s Critical Issues Conference at the Carson Valley Inn in Minden, Nevada. I interviewed her onstage about her gaming career and any advice she could offer business executives during an hour-long discussion. Relatively new to the Northern Nevada market as a casino owner – Paragon acquired the Hard Rock Lake Tahoe in November 2016 – Bennett’s words echoed with the rural community’s business leaders. Her message was one of perseverance. She joined the casino industry not as a protégé of her famous father, working instead to make her own mark. She endeavored to learn slot machine management. Her success in driving slot revenue at a small casino in Jean, Nevada – a roughly 20-minute drive from Las Vegas along Interstate 15 toward California – caught the attention of Strip casino bosses, including her father, all of whom sent spies to the property to try and steal the magic. Eventually, her father called and said, “You need to come work for me. I need you to take over slots at the Excalibur.” She told the audience that the then-recently opened Excalibur’s slots “were a mess.” Diana said that she told her father when she agreed to take on the job, “Don’t start yelling right away. Give me four months.” She wound up significantly improving the Excalibur’s slot product in less than three months. Paragon currently operates the casinos at Westgate Resort Las Vegas and Oyo Hotel Las Vegas (formerly Hooters Hotel Las Vegas). The company previously managed the now-closed Riviera on the Las Vegas Strip, as well as several small Canadian casinos and Parq Vancouver, which is considered Western Canada’s largest gaming property. Paragon designed and built Parq Vancouver in partnership with two Canadian companies. The Hard Rock Lake Tahoe provided a different challenge. Instead of just signing a management deal, Paragon acquired a 65 percent ownership stake, with other smaller investors owning the remaining shares. The property was originally built and operated by Del E. Webb Corp., which also built The Mint in downtown Las Vegas and owned the Sahara Las Vegas during that era. Del Webb sold Sahara Tahoe in 1990, which began the property’s checkered history. It was known over the years as Sahara Tahoe, High Sierra Resort and Lake Tahoe Horizon. One of its last owners, Columbia Sussex, ran into financial trouble, and the property fell into disarray. Guitar Plaza at Hard Rock Lake Tahoe/Photo by Howard Stutz Park Heritage, the owner after Columbia Sussex, began a remodeling that Paragon ultimately completed. Bennett and Menke finished a repair and renovation of the pool deck and refurbished the property’s convention and meeting space. The makeover also included upgrades to Hard Rock’s 25,000-square-foot casino and the 539 hotel rooms that span two towers and feature balconies and Jacuzzi tubs. Several of the rooms offer views of either the blue waters of picturesque Lake Tahoe or the ski runs across Highway 50 at Heavenly Valley. The Hard Rock name and theme – which is franchised from Florida’s Seminole Indian Tribe – now dominates the resort, along with hundreds of music industry memorabilia items. New amenities have been added, including a pool bar. Guitar Plaza, located at the front entrance along Highway 50 adjacent to the Alpine Union Bar and Restaurant, is marked by a giant guitar and offers outdoor seating and dining, as well as live and prerecorded music. The patio is the only outside event space in the South Tahoe corridor. #commentary – Paragon’s Diana Bennett gives new life, and new amenities, to Hard Rock Lake Tahoe. –@howardstutz, CDC Gaming Reports. https://t.co/qySe3NXfJi @HRHCLakeTahoe #CDCgaming — CDC Gaming Reports (@CDCNewswire) October 9, 2019 The California side of South Lake Tahoe has been revamped by a pedestrian walkway with shopping, dining and hotels, all adjacent to the Heavenly Valley ski lifts. On the Nevada side, next to MontBleu Resort and across from the Hard Rock, an events center is being planned that will include an arena with 6,000 to 8,000 seats for concerts and sporting events. Bennett, Menke and the Paragon team all believe the Hard Rock Lake Tahoe has good days ahead of it. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.