Friday, January 16, 2009 • Source: In Business Las Vegas
By Mark Hansel
The change that has taken place at the Gold Spike Hotel in downtown Las Vegas is so dramatic it is hard to describe. Anyone who has been to the Gold Spike in the last several years would have a hard time believing that the transformation about to be described here is accurate. Fortunately, there was a photographer along to provide the insight that a thousand words cannot.
When Siegel Group Nevada took over the property last year, it promised dramatic changes, beginning with the casino. Siegel is developing a reputation in Las Vegas for upgrading rundown properties, but those were residential suites, not casinos.
There was rampant speculation in the gaming community that the Siegel Group, which paid $21 million for the Gold Spike and another $5 million for the adjacent and vacant Travel Inn, had bitten off more than it could chew.
It’s one thing to transform extended-stay hotels with deferred maintenance issues into suitable residences, quite another to restore the reputation of a property that was best known for its stench and a permanent fog of cigarette smoke.
Undaunted by the naysayers, Stephen Siegel, chief executive of Siegel Group, announced an ambitious plan to renovate both. Super Bowl Sunday marked a victory not only for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but also for Siegel, who beat some long odds and unveiled a casino floor with no resemblance to its predecessor.
Gone is the cloud of smoke, the dingy decor and most importantly, the uneasy feeling that swept over most visitors as soon as they walked through the door.
They have been replaced by upgrades and amenities almost too numerous to mention (but I’ll try). First the stench, which most closely resembled a combination of 40 years of smoke, cheap whiskey and other things I don’t care to think about.
Michael Crandall, Siegel’s business affairs director, said this was accomplished through a two-phase renovation. It involved gutting the entire first floor, replacing just about everything and thoroughly cleaning what was left, then installing a new ventilation system.
“We had our electrical and mechanical engineers check out what we needed to do to get the smoke out of here, and we put all of these smoke extractors on the roof,” Crandall said. “We overdid it to make sure that there’s no smoke lingering in here and it’s all been implemented properly. There will be no more smoke clouds in here.”
The casino floor has been renovated from top to bottom. The slot machines are clean and new-looking and roulette and blackjack tables have been added.
The casino features all-female dealers.
“As long as the tables are open, those are the type of dealers we will have and that should make it fun and exciting and a little bit different from what others are doing downtown,” Crandall said.
A craps table may be added later, Crandall says, if there is enough interest to justify the number of employees needed to run a game.
There is also a visible security presence and a surveillance system installed by a well-known local company.
One side of the casino houses a large, oval-shaped bar that contains slot machines and is ringed overhead with flat-screen, plasma televisions. On the east side of the casino floor is the sports book that will be run by Leroy’s and should be operating in about a month.
The Golden Grille restaurant is also new and has several tables, as well as counter seats. The extensive menu includes breakfast, lunch and dinner items and all are less than $15 with most under $10.
Selections run the gamut from steak and shrimp or liver and onions to peanut butter and jelly and Philly cheesesteak. There will also soon be a New York-style pizza kitchen, which is under construction in a spot that served as a temporary restaurant during renovation.
The Siegel Group has focused almost exclusively on interior renovations for several reasons. There was a commitment to the United Coin Machine Co., the group’s gaming partner, to renovate the casino floor first. Crandall said the company also recognized where the money is generated in a hotel and casino.
“The casino floor is, at the end of the day, where you are going to get your business from,” Crandall said. “The hotel rooms are important, the restaurants are important, but those are basically amenities to offer the customers when they are gambling.”
There was also the risk that if exterior renovations were completed first, people may come in and see the same old Gold Spike inside and not come back.
Despite the negative impression some have of the Gold Spike, Siegel said there are no plans to change the name.
“The Gold Spike will always be the Gold Spike as long as we own it,” Siegel said. “When we’re done people will want to stay and play here.”
With the first phase of the renovation nearly complete, Siegel Group is forging ahead with other improvements at the site.
The Travel Inn and Gold Spike are now one property with 170 rooms and the plan is to create two distinct prices for visitors.
The Travel Inn will have more of a boutique hotel feel, while the rooms above the casino will be more traditional, albeit with significant upgrades.
An alley between the two properties will be vacated and a walkway, landscaping, bench seating and picnic tables will be added.
Other things going on for the Siegel Group are that it recently bought the Barcelona hotel and casino in North Las Vegas and it plans to start a Siegel Slots and Suites club for casino players and residents at Siegel Suites properties.