05/24/2006 11:00PM

Hard to keep up with the shuffling


One of my guilty pleasures is to watch old movies and TV shows that take place in Las Vegas and marvel at all the changes in the city.

It's no surprise that Vegas looks much different than it did in the 50's, 60's, and 70's, but even shows of much more recent vintage accentuate the changing landscape, whether it's the airplane in 1997's "Con Air" crashing into the Sands or 2001's "Rush Hour 2" with its fictitious Red Dragon casino on the former Desert Inn site.

On Monday night, I was watching a new episode of "Two and a Half Men" on CBS when Charlie, played by Charlie Sheen, and his girlfriend came to Vegas for a quickie wedding. A stock video was used to introduce their trip to the Strip, and it clearly showed the exterior of Harrah's with its riverboat design, which was changed in 1997 to a carnival party theme.

So, that was out of step with reality, as are many people I talk to who are coming to visit and say they want to see their old haunts; it's tough telling them they don't exist anymore, or have changed ownership and look completely different.

Of more recent vintage on and around the Strip, the Boardwalk, Westward Ho, and Bourbon Street hotel-casinos have been torn down, the San Remo is now Hooters, and the Aladdin is being re-themed as the Planet Hollywood Casino.

But even if a place still exists and looks the same, it could be much different. Sports bettors going to the Stardust, long regarded as the "home of the Las Vegas line," will find that out next week. The Stardust is being demolished early next year to make way for the building of the $4 billion Echelon Place. The casino will remain open for most of the rest of the year, but the venerable sports book on Tuesday will become a satellite of the Coast Casino books, which are overseen by director of race and sports Bert Osborne in his new office at the South Coast.

The rest of the Boyd Gaming group, the parent company of the Stardust, includes Sam's Town, California, Fremont, Edgewater, and Joker's Wild. Those books have already been networked with Coast Casinos, with the Stardust being the last to be connected.

But Las Vegas doesn't have a monopoly on changes in the casino landscape. There are changes going on all over Nevada.

Have you ever been to Lake Tahoe? If so, you probably went to Caesars Tahoe. If you go there now, you would think you were in the wrong place. Last June, Harrah's Entertainment, which had bought all of the Caesars Entertainment properties, sold Caesars Tahoe to Columbia Sussex. As part of the sale agreement, all of the Roman-themed property had to be changed, and this past Wednesday night the newly named MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa had its grand re-opening.

Club Nero is now the Blu Nightclub, and there is a 40,000-square-foot remodeled casino. The sports book, formerly a satellite of Caesars Palace in Vegas, has been remodeled with 40 large-screen TV's, projection screens, and 12 individual 12-inch monitors, and is part of an area called "The Zone" that include a new poker area and a delicatessen. Since the sale, Club Cal Neva has been operating the race & sports book as part of its ever-expanding 24-book network, which includes the Tuscany in Las Vegas.

If the fall of the Roman Empire has happened in Tahoe, then the age of Aquarius is about to dawn in Laughlin, the casino city on the Colorado River in the southernmost part of the state where Nevada, Arizona, and California meet.

Last week, Carl Icahn's AREP Gaming, which owns the Stratosphere and Arizona Charlie's properties here in Vegas, bought the Flamingo Laughlin from Harrah's Entertainment in another sell-off move. Also as part of that deal, the Flamingo theme will need to be disbanded, and plans call for the new name to be the Aquarius Casino Resort.

Immediately, the race and sports book, which is run by longtime manager Bill Fogg, was linked to the network hub at the Stratosphere, and is now the only book in Laughlin with 8-cent baseball lines.

But these changes are just the start. Back to Vegas, in addition to the Echelon Place, Project CityCenter is being built by MGM Mirage between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo. The Imperial Palace in the center of the Strip is expected to be demolished or changed completely to combine with Harrah's next door on a master-planned project. There are always rumors about the New Frontier and Riviera being torn down to compete with Wynn Las Vegas and Echelon Place on the north end of the Strip.

New sports books are at the South Coast on the south end of the Strip, five miles south of McCarran Airport, and at the Red Rock Resort on the far west end of the valley, and the Santa Fe Station on the northwest side of town is building a new book as part of its expansion.

All of these changes will be old news before we know it, and ancient relics to be reminisced about when watching movies and TV shows.