07/17/2003 11:00PM

Playing the casino name game

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What's in a name? For people, last names are handed down through the family tree. First names, however, are a matter of choice.

Sometimes that choice is not so great. Take horse names, for example. The great ones had great names: Secretariat, Affirmed, Seattle Slew, Citation, Seabiscuit. Atswhatimtalknbout? Come on.

A name is meant to last a lifetime. Except here in Las Vegas, where names change as often as the Strip skyline.

Take the parent company of Bally's. Bally's, located at the Strip and Flamingo Road, used to be the flagship property of a company of the same name. Then the company was sold to Hilton Hotels, and Bally's joined that company's portfolio. Then, Hilton bought Caesars Palace from Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and a new gaming company was created: Park Place Entertainment.

Just last week, Park Place Entertainment announced a name change. Now, all Park Place hotel-casinos, including Bally's, are under the umbrella of Caesars Entertainment Inc.

Are you following me?

The parent of the MGM Grand was once just called MGM Grand. But then MGM merged with Steve Wynn's Mirage Corp. So Wynn's stable of megaresorts - which includes The Mirage, Bellagio, and Treasure Island - are now owned by a company called MGM Mirage.

Back in 1988, Wynn was so intent on maintaining the integrity of The Mirage that he actually bought the rights to the name from a small Las Vegas motel and an apartment complex. After all, you wouldn't want a cab driver taking you to some seedy motel in the name of The Mirage, would you?

The most recent name change at MGM Mirage came at Treasure Island last week. In an effort to make the pirate ship-themed property more hip, the company changed its name to just "TI."

Still following?

In 2000, Wynn bought the Desert Inn property and promptly closed it to make way for another megaresort. The DI, which is across the street from the TI, was to become La Reve, French for "The Dream." But even before the $2 billion property got its sign, Wynn had a change of mind - and name. It seems market research revealed that Wynn's name was seen much more favorably than the name La Reve. Freedom fries, anyone?

Now, the new resort will be named Wynn Las Vegas. Wynn reluctantly made the change after being pushed by his advisers, which reportedly included close friends Steven Spielberg and Barry Diller. It was even reported that Wynn called The Donald for advice on changing the project's name.

Another example of the name-change game is the former Circus Circus Corp. Once, as the name implied, a family-oriented, slots-driven operation, Circus Circus has grown to become a group of properties - three of them adjacent to each other, Excalibur, Luxor, and Mandalay Bay - aimed mostly at adults with plenty of disposable income.

And its name reflects its new position in the marketplace: Mandalay Resort Group.

When a new property rises on the place of an old, it is usually renamed. Wynn avoided any association with former property names as he reshaped a good portion of the Strip. He built The Mirage on the old Castaways land. He raised the Bellagio from the old Dunes corner. And, he is leaving the Desert Inn buried beneath Wynn Las Vegas.

Those who rebuilt the Aladdin should have heeded his lead.

While the old Aladdin was razed in the late 1990's for a new complex, the name was never changed. The new $1.2 billion resort that opened in August 2000 had to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection by September 2001.

Less than a month ago, a partnership headed by Planet Hollywood co-founder Robert Earl won the bid to buy the Aladdin out of bankruptcy for $635 million. The Aladdin will now undergo almost $100 million of renovations.

It will be named Planet Hollywood Hotel Casino.

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