08/11/2005 11:00PM

Call him a hillbilly if you must, but Baer is a man with a legitimate plan


Jed Clampett would finally be proud of Jethro Bodine. In the 1960's television series "Beverly Hillbillies," about a backwoods family that hit it big with "black gold," Jed's nephew Jethro was always trying harebrained schemes to hit it big on his own.

Max Baer Jr. played Jethro in the show and his plans to cash in on the hit show is no harebrained scheme.

On Wednesday, before a Gaming Control Board meeting, Baer, 67 and son of former world heavyweight boxing champion Max Baer, was recommended for a gaming license to operate a North Las Vegas casino. This is the first step in a bigger plan for the retired actor, who parlayed his role as the dimwitted Jethro into a career as a casino entrepreneur. Final approval on Baer's licensing will now go to the Nevada Gaming Commission at its Aug. 25 meeting.

After a successful run in the series, which aired from 1962 to 1971, Baer was typecast. Frustrated with the limited parts he was offered post-Hillbillies, Baer decided to produce movies. Among them were "Macon County Line" and "Ode to Billy Joe." Frustrated again by the big studio monopoly of the movie business, Baer bowed out of that game as well, although by that time he was a multimillionaire. Now, the 1979 Santa Clara University graduate can utilize his business degree for his casino pursuits.

Baer, who owns the "Beverly Hillbillies" trademark, has already licensed "Beverly Hillbillies" slot machines, and his entry into the southern Nevada gaming arena is a prelude to a bigger-themed hotel-casino project planned for Carson City in northern Nevada. Through Max Baer Productions Ltd., he and partner Roger S. Camras will own 10 percent of the North Las Vegas Beverly Hillbillies Gambler Casino.

Baer said in news reports that the licensing process was a necessary step to build a "Beverly Hillbillies" casino in Carson City. He will now move forward on that project.

Baer purchased a shopping center in Carson City with the hopes of opening his themed casino at the site of a vacated Walmart building. But the area is not zoned for a casino project and the remaining anchor tenant, J.C. Penney, doesn't want the zoning change. Baer, who owns homes in Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, and, of course, Beverly Hills, isn't giving up the fight. He has spent over a decade on the project, and Baer has tried to buy out, lease back, and move out the objecting interests. He said that with his new gaming license in tow, he can finally get the project going. According to news reports, Baer said to gaming regulators at the hearing that he plans to start the 240-room hotel for the Carson City casino project next year.

And, although Baer's portion of the hearing lasted no more than 15 minutes, his dream of the "Beverly Hillbillies" hotel-casino - complete with a "cee-ment pond" - has existed for much longer.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.