11/02/2001 1:00AM

In uncertain times, bring on The Palms


One sure thing about the casino business in Las Vegas, there is never a dull moment.

Despite Sept. 11, Las Vegas keeps moving forward. Steve Wynn is imploding the Desert Inn to rebuild on the property, and The Palms is ready to unveil on Nov. 15.

This does not seem the best of times to be opening a new property. But optimism abounds with The Palms management led by the Maloof family.

"We know we'll do well," said Marc Nelson, director of ancillary gambling for The Palms. "It's a beautiful property. It's got everything you could ask for, regardless of what it is that guests are used to or what it is that you're looking for."

The Maloofs have invested $265 million into The Palms. It's all cash and no debt service.

"Operationally, that makes it great," added Nelson. "You don't have that giant nut hanging over your head every month."

Station Casinos and the Greenspun Corp. each own 6.5 percent. The Maloofs broke ground in October 2000 with a planned December 2001 opening. Things went so smoothly that The Palms will open one month early.

Nelson projected that 70 percent of The Palms business will be locals.

"We've got a strong local following from the previous casino that we've owned," he said, referring to the Fiesta. "Locals know that when they come here, they'll get a lot of value. Locals are our main business. As far as out of town visitors, we'll focus on the Los Angeles area. Bottom line, people are value conscious and based on our room product and what we charge for that room, what they get when they come here, it'll be a no-brainer."

The Maloofs sold the Fiesta to Station for $185 million. That cash was reinvested into Las Vegas at The Palms. The main building is 42 stories tall, just enough so it will look down onto the Rio across Flamingo Road. There are 95,000 square feet of gambling space and 447 guest rooms and suites.

The 32-acre property includes six restaurants; cutting-edge bars; a food court; a 14-theater Cineplex; an arcade; a 1,200-seat entertainment venue; a spa, fitness center, and swimming pool; a cigar bar; and on the top floor, the Ghost Bar for late-night fun.

As for us race and sports book players, have no fear. We have not been forsaken. There will be 50 desktop interactive player terminals from Las Vegas Dissemination Company installed. There are an additional 100 seats in the book, most with individual television sets.

As for house quinellas, "we'll book them" declared Nelson. He wants to attract players so expect square prices in sports and reasonable bet limits.

Another positive is there are two entrances with adjacent parking lots to service the race and sports book players. That's important when you're rushing to bet right before kick-off or post time.

Nelson said a customer service program of The Palms would be called Service on the Spot. If a customer has a gripe, he can talk with any Palms employee who will call the person who can give an immediate response or remedy the request.

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