08/26/2005 12:00AM

With purchase of IP, one more independent bites dust


Without even a corporate hiccup, Harrah's Entertainment gobbled up one of the last independent casino companies on the Strip. It was announced last week that Harrah's signed an agreement to purchase the Imperial Palace hotel casino for a cool $370 million. That acquisition will give the largest gaming conglomerate in the world a bigger footprint along the Strip.

The purchase also signals an end to another independent race and sports book on the Strip. It used to be Las Vegas was dotted with independent sports books, but now they are controlled by just a few major gaming companies. That means similar betting lines and, for the most part, vanilla propositions with limited options.

The Imperial Palace has been, for many years, the cornerstone of the proposition wager. From the NBA to the NFL, the huge number of prop bets that adorned the betting boards in the race and sports book at the Imperial Palace drew worldwide recognition. And that is just what they were intended to do. Since the IP was located right in the center of the Strip, it needed to compete with the more luxurious mega-resorts that surrounded the property.

When Kirk Brooks was hired in 1988 to open the Imperial Palace book, one of the first things he did was institute the multitudes of proposition bets. Brooks knew that the run-of-the-mill prop offerings would not be enough to attract visitors from other casinos, and that he needed a variety of propositions to separate his book from the rest. For the Super Bowl of 1990, Brooks and his team worked up some 40 to 50 different proposition bets. The variety of wagers became an instant hit.

Soon after, Jay Kornegay took on the job of creating the IP propositions that accompanied every Super Bowl, and he came up with more than 200 different propositions, which took up both sides of seven legal-sized pages.

Brooks has since moved on to head his own wagering company, while Kornegay shifted his operation to the Las Vegas Hilton in 2004. Kornegay says he will have over 300 propositions for this year's Super Bowl. The Imperial Palace, which had over 200 Super Bowl props last year, expects to have at least that many for this season.

But one wonders how long the practice will last when Harrah's takes over the property at the end of the year. Are there bigger plans for that strategic locale in the Harrah's portfolio?

Just months ago, there was speculation about the status of the extensive Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup future books at Bally's Las Vegas. John Avello, who nurtured the futures propositions for those racing events while at Bally's, moved on to Wynn Las Vegas shortly after Harrah's Entertainment acquired the parent company of Bally's, Caesars Entertainment.

The Imperial Palace is another piece in Harrah's accumulation of properties that include the Bourbon Street casino, a strip mall, and some small motel and apartment complexes surrounding its Flamingo and Harrah's Strip casino hotels.

It is conceivable that, in the foreseeable future, the renowned Super Bowl propositions at the Imperial Palace may very well implode with the building itself.

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