06/26/2003 12:00AM

Recognition is the name of the game


LAS VEGAS - When casino mogul Steve Wynn bought the Desert Inn in 2000, the joke around town was that he would rename it the Desert Wynn.

His name was that big. After all, he had parlayed a purchase of the Golden Nugget in 1971 into one of the biggest casino companies in the world. Along the way, he built The Mirage in 1989, Treasure Island in 1993, the Monte Carlo (a joint venture with Circus Circus) in 1996, the Bellagio in 1998, and the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Miss., in 1999. He had the golden touch, and was nicknamed the Magic Man.

So when he sold Mirage Resorts in 2000 to the MGM Grand for $6.4 billion and turned around and bought the Desert Inn for $275 million, he would have been excused for letting his ego get the better of him. Instead, he announced plans to tear down the property, build a mega-resort, and rename it La Reve ("The Dream"), after a Pablo Picasso painting of the same name. However, after skeptics questioned Wynn's decision and a market research study said the project lacked name recognition, Wynn this past week announced he was changing the name to Wynn Las Vegas.

Playing the name game

Of course, the name Wynn also represents something that all gamblers want to do: win. The goal of every casino is to get people in and then separate them from their money - and if it takes a good-luck symbol or name to do that, so be it. Otherwise, why do you think you see names such as Lady Luck and Horseshoe? They might not be wishing you luck, but they certainly want you to believe you possess it.

Sometimes owners look to the past to try to make a connection with their customers. Recently, the Sahara turned back the clock by putting the House of Lords name back on its restaurant. That was the name it had in its heyday, and the owners wanted to recapture that.

The Venetian, which stands where the legendary Sands used to be, has recently considered building a 3,000-room tower that would be called the Sands at the Venetian.

Name dropping

One historic name that hasn't worked out well is the Aladdin. The original hotel, where Elvis married Priscilla Presley in 1967, was imploded in April 1998, rebuilt under the same name, and reopened in August 2000. The resort had many problems, not the least of which was that after 9/11 people might have been reluctant to visit a hotel with a Middle Eastern name and theme.

Well, that name won't remain too much longer, as this past week the bankrupt property was sold to Planet Hollywood founder Robert Earl and Starwood Hotels. Earl is planning to remodel the resort with a motion-picture theme and rename it Planet Hollywood Hotel & Casino. The hotel will be run by Sheraton, a Starwood subsidiary.

Earl will use his partners, Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone (talk about name recognition), and his other Tinseltown contacts to try to battle the Palms, Mandalay Bay, and the Hard Rock for the young demographic. Despite its own financial problems, Planet Hollywood is a recognizable name. It means "global commercialism of movie stardom."

Another brand-name hotel coming to Las Vegas is the Westin chain, though they have come up with a name that might cause as much confusion as La Reve. Named after a tropical tree, at seven syllables, Westin Casuarina is the most tongue-twisting name in town. Located at the former site of the Maxim, the hotel, which was originally scheduled to open on Tuesday, will instead open Sept. 15.

Borgata to be Las Vegas East?

The opening of the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, the first new hotel in Atlantic City in 13 years, hasn't been delayed. In fact, it's opening ahead of schedule this Thursday, right in time for the Fourth of July weekend.

The Borgata, which means "village" in Italian, is more like its own metropolitan city. There are 2,002 guest rooms and suites, 125,000 square feet of gaming, 11 themed restaurants, 11 retail boutiques, a 50,000-square-foot spa, 70,000 square feet of convention space, and 7,100 parking spaces.

The casino is being run by Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming Corp. in a joint venture with MGM Mirage (and, bringing this full circle, the Borgata was originally a Wynn project).

Joe Lupo is a name you probably recognize. He was the director of race and sports at the Stardust for nine years and was in charge of all the Boyd Gaming sports books in Nevada until this past Super Bowl Sunday. He aspired to move up in casino management and was rewarded for his 17 years of loyal service with the company by being named the vice president of operations at The Borgata.

"This is an exciting change for me professionally, and also for the company as we're launching this great property," Lupo said. "I'm overseeing a lot of departments now and trying to bring a little bit of Las Vegas here."

With his past experience, Lupo has also helped with the staffing of the race book (there is no sports betting in AC). Nancygail Jones, formerly of the Sands Atlantic City, is the manager. Frank Minervini, who was the horse racing oddsmaker for Coast Casinos in Las Vegas and handled all the future books, will be one of the supervisors.

The race book will have 35 seats. All will have individual TV's, and 21 are equipped with betting machines for players who want to put money on account. There are six betting windows and four self-betting machines. The video wall can be split into a dozen 35-inch TV's or three large screens.

"We have the best race book in the city without a doubt," Lupo said. "We're hoping to make a name for ourselves."

It seems that's everyone's goal.