03/01/2002 12:00AM

'For sale' sign is up on the Aladdin


Although the economy has been wallowing in a brief recession and Las Vegas is still recovering from the post-Sept. 11 tourism decline, the city and its suburbs just posted a record year in home sales.

But, while the Joneses, Smiths, and Browns peruse the "for sale" signs on the lawns of Las Vegas, there is one sign posted this week that will have the big names in the gaming industry - the Carl Icahns and Ed Roski Jrs. - asking for a walk through.

Aladdin Gaming LLC, operators of the Aladdin hotel-casino on the Strip, filed for permission to liquidate the company's assets and asked a federal bankruptcy judge to conduct a court-supervised auction of the property.

In other words, the Aladdin is for sale, or, more specifically, it's up for bid.

Just 13 months after the $1.05 billion megaresort opened on the same site as the gaming property of the same name, which was replaced after 31 years, the new Aladdin filed for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 28, 2001. Hurt by a failure to attract gamblers and a flawed design for traffic flow, the property will go to auction, and some industry analysts estimate it will bring a sale price of $400 million to $450 million.

The old Aladdin was imploded on its 35-acre site to make way for the new, 2,567-room megaresort. Critics soon identified a convoluted path through the Desert Passage shopping mall leading to the main casino as a problem. Problems were exacerbated by opening the facility before it was finished.

Although the property has had encouraging cash flow at times, external setbacks, such as the terrorist attacks and a weak economy, finally took their toll.

Having lost more than $32.9 million since the bankruptcy, the closely held Aladdin is actively seeking buyers, and through its Feb. 22 court filing hopes to accelerate a sale by auction. The Aladdin proposal mirrors a plan used to complete last year's sale of the once-bankrupt Fitzgeralds in downtown Las Vegas.

Unlike other properties that have gone the way of liquidation, the Aladdin is an attractive property in an attractive locale, industry observers say. As many as 20 possible suitors may be ready to ante up.

A short list of possible candidates eyeing the Aladdin auction include Carl Icahn, who already owns the two Arizona Charlie's casinos and the Stratosphere - each of which he bought from bankruptcies - and Staples Center owner Ed Roski Jr., who owns the Silverton just outside the Las Vegas Strip. He unsuccessfully sought to buy the Las Vegas Hilton last year.

Former Caesars Palace owner Starwood Hotels and Resorts has also been mentioned as possible buyer. One individual who is not thought to be a likely buyer is Donald Trump, who is plagued with heavy debt from his Atlantic City gaming properties.

Experts expect that whoever buys the Aladdin, it's going to be somebody with plenty of cash. A court hearing to consider the auction procedure and the Aladdin proposal is scheduled for April 2. I suggest they take no bids on April 1.

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