05/01/2003 11:00PM

Two companies battle to resurrect Aladdin

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When the old Aladdin Hotel and Casino was imploded back on April 27, 1998, it was supposed to signal a bright new era for the famous Las Vegas brand name.

Over the next 29 months, the new Aladdin was rebuilt on the same site for $1.4 billion. Practically from Day 1 - Aug. 18, 2000 - the Aladdin was plagued with problems too numerous to list. Within 13 months, in September 2001, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

It has been a long slow climb back from the abyss.

Last week, Planet Hollywood proposed a bid of $635 million to buy the Aladdin property. Before the ink had dried on the bid in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Las Vegas, a second company has stepped forward.

Financial Capital Investment Co. plans to propose a higher bid in June. This could force the bankruptcy court to auction the property to the highest bidder.

Before the news of Financial Capital's interest, Robert Earl, chairman of Planet Hollywood, told the media: "It has been an exhausting seven months. We feel very good about being selected as the stalking horse.

"Clearly, there will be some elements one would expect from a Planet Hollywood. We will be reappointing the entry ways. Our biggest focus will be traffic building."

Any doubt that Earl meant business was erased weeks ago, when he hired away Michael Mecca, the highly respected general manger of Station Casino's Green Valley Ranch. Mecca's role would be to run the new Planet Hollywood property.

Meanwhile, Richard Alter, the managing director of Financial Capital, has other ideas.

"We believe the Aladdin is attractive because of what we can do with the property," he said. "We intend to focus on the casino."

Alter said that a new theme and name, "Asia," would transform the property into "a generic, mysterious, exotic place that most people have never been but would love to go."

The flowery prose notwithstanding, the keys to either company's future success are to fix the inherent physical problems of the Aladdin property and devise a new marketing plan that works.

There are many hurdles, including a stagnant national economy and competition from Native American gaming in nearby states. But that hasn't stopped investment in proposed new Las Vegas casinos such as Le Reve and a new Coast Resorts property.

So often things in life go full circle. In 1964, Milton Prell bought the bankrupt King's Crown Tallyho Inn for $16 million. Prell completely refurbished the casino-hotel under an Arabian theme and reopened it on April 1, 1966 as the Aladdin.

The Aladdin operated for 30 years in Las Vegas. Maybe one of the new suitors can provide another happy ending in the modern era.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up show.