11/03/2006 1:00AM

The days of old Vegas just about up


On the same day that the legendary Stardust shut its doors for business, the Tropicana was granted a new lease on life.

The Stardust, which opened July 2, 1958, was shut down last Wednesday and will be imploded in the near future by its owner, Boyd Gaming. The $4-billion Echelon Place will be built on the old Stardust grounds. For anyone interested in purchasing Stardust memorabilia, there will be a five-day public webcast auction Nov. 17-21 at www.greatamerican.com.

On the south Strip, the eventual new owners of the Tropicana, Columbia Sussex Corp., announced a $2 billion renovation plan of the mature property at a Nevada Gaming Control Board meeting. Final approval of Columbia Sussex is expected at the board's next meeting Nov. 16.

The Tropicana, which some felt was an implosion waiting to occur, instead will be upgraded with three new towers. The future new owners also told Nevada regulators that the two existing towers would see considerable remodeling.

The closing of the Stardust figures to have a domino effect on other casinos in Las Vegas.

The Stardust clientele mainly comprised value-conscious, middle-class consumers. It will be different at Echelon Place, which will have more expensive high-end rooms. Boyd Gaming, though, has been marketing its former Stardust regulars to other similar-priced casinos that it owns in Las Vegas.

The Tropicana has the same price-sensitive market as the now-defunct Stardust. Columbia Sussex said it intends to remain loyal to mid-level gamers. The hotel-casino plans to stay open while extensive building and renovations are ongoing.

Most of the changes to major properties on the Strip involve trading in mid-to-low priced rooms for high-end inventory. I suspect what is disposable for some companies will now become an opportunity for others.

Both the Riviera and Sahara are older casinos that haven't found an attractive new suitor - at least not yet. To paraphrase humorist Will Rogers, buy land, because they aren't making any more of it. Well that definitely pertains to the Strip. Both the Riviera and Sahara sit on land that is becoming less available and increasingly more valuable. The longer they remain in play, the more some company may be willing to pay.

Neither the Riviera nor Sahara has the wherewithal to spend big bucks for upgrades, like some of their more deep-pocketed neighbors do. Still, the Stardust closure could create short-term gains for them while they await more lucrative offers that are sure to come.

As for tourists that want to stay on the Strip and don't want to pay a couple of hundred dollars a night for a room, the options are becoming more and more limited.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and author of "Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies."