‘We like to have a lot of fun’: Vegas casino owner Stevens planning new resort

October 15, 2018 4:12 AM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
October 15, 2018 4:12 AM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports

It’s symbolic that Derek Stevens is developing downtown Las Vegas’ first from-the-ground-up hotel-casino in nearly four decades.

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The D Las Vegas, which Stevens owns with his brother Gregory, was Fremont Street’s last all-new resort when it opened as the Sundance in 1980 on land owned by legendary organized crime figure Moe Dalitz – who couldn’t get a gaming license.

That’s where the similarities end.

Stevens, who also owns the Golden Gate, has spent the last few years acquiring a downtown city block bordered by Fremont Street, Main Street, east Ogden Avenue and 1st Street, and clearing the sites of the aging Las Vegas Club, the smallish Mermaids and the Glitter Gulch strip club.

Stevens said last week in an interview with CDC Gaming Reports at the Global Gaming Expo that he’s getting close to announcing a name, a theme, and “a handful of things,” for the planned property, which doesn’t yet have an opening date. All that’s been leaked so far is that the building will have 777 hotel rooms and a 117,000-square foot casino.

Derek Stevens is interviewed by Becky Liggero of Calvin Ayre.com at G2E.

“We’ve finished up the schematic design and we’re working through the construction drawings,” Stevens said. He hasn’t given a price for the new resort and said it will be “privately held,” although “we’re certainly going to have some outside lenders involved.”

Stevens, 50, had a keen interest in this year’s G2E. He and his team were scouring the tradeshow floor in search of the newest gaming technology to utilize when the new property opens. He was also interested in the discussions surrounding sports betting, since he plans to operate his own sportsbooks, replacing William Hill US.

His company filed an application with the Nevada Gaming Control Board last month to operate sports betting. Stevens is looking to open sports betting facilities at the D and Golden Gate early next year.

“Adding the third property gives us enough volume to operate the business ourselves,” said Stevens. He’s hired longtime Las Vegas sportsbook operator Matt Metcalf as director of sports.

A Las Vegas Property

Stevens is best associated with the D, which sits centered in the action along the Fremont Street Experience. He acquired the property, then known as Fitzgerald’s, in October 2011 and rebranded the resort to pay homage to his hometown of Detroit, bringing in Detroit eatery staples American Coney Island and Andiamo Steakhouse and creating a second-floor “vintage Vegas” casino stocked with historic mechanical gambling games.

A few years ago, he bought the site of the shuttered Clark County Courthouse, demolished the building, and created the outdoor Downtown Events Center, which has since been used for concerts, boxing, and watch parties for Vegas Golden Knights hockey games.

Because of his extra-large personality and hands-on approach to operating a privately-held casino, Stevens has frequently been compared with historic downtown casino owners. He has shown a deep commitment to the downtown market, which has long been considered an area that draws the value-oriented customer.

However, Stevens doesn’t differentiate between a downtown customer, a Strip customer and the “impactful” Airbnb customer. Downtown Las Vegas, Stevens said, has 6,000 hotel rooms, which, multiplied by 365 days, is 2 million room nights.

“That only goes so far when we have 24 million visitors to downtown,” Stevens said.

He views the new resort as a Las Vegas property.

“We’re going to bring some new ideas and innovation into casino design, resort design, (and) attraction design,” Stevens said. “I’m bullish about what this means to our existing properties. I’m bullish on what it means to Las Vegas. It’s about bringing a new attraction to Las Vegas.”

With the Bellagio celebrating its 20-year anniversary this week, Stevens recalls the excitement Las Vegas saw during the development and expansion of new resorts and attractions throughout the late-90s growth era. He said people would come to Las Vegas to see new properties.

“I think there is a pent-up demand for new attractions, not just for people living in Las Vegas, but for the Las Vegas customer,” Stevens said. “I’m excited about Resorts World Las Vegas, the new convention center, the Raiders stadium, and our project. These will all be additional reasons to come to Las Vegas.”

Sports Betting

Stevens believes the expansion of sports betting nationwide is good for Las Vegas, because the sports networks are now talking about the point spreads and over-under game totals.

“It’s come out of the shadows,” he said.

Stevens has done his own part to advance the cause over the last two years. He’s placed wagers on 32 opening round games of the NCAA tournament, including $363,000 in bets this year. He made national news by placing a $25,000 futures bet on Michigan – at 40-1 odds – to win the NCAA National Championship. He placed the bet across the street at the Golden Nugget and put the betting slip on display at the D Las Vegas.

Even though Michigan lost the championship to Villanova, Stevens made money by hedging with a $330,000 money-line wager on the Wildcats.

Stevens said he sees no reason to stop now.

“When we get into the new place, there is a great William Hill book 100 feet away at the Plaza, and I can always visit my friend (Golden Nugget owner) Tilman (Fertitta) 100 feet across the street,” Stevens said. “We like to have a lot of fun. We come up with some wild ideas and roll with them.”

Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at hstutz@cdcgamingreports.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.