|By Rupert Steiner, The Business,
LondonMcClatchy-Tribune Business News
Oct. 12, 2006 - MGM Mirage, the world's second largest casino group which owns the Belagio in Las Vegas, has recently held talks with Mohamed Al Fayed, the owner of Harrods, about partnering in a London-themed casino on the Strip.
Al Fayed has a model of the project on the sixth floor of his Knightsbridge store which includes replicas of Big Ben, Tower Bridge and St Paul's Cathedral.
Sources close to Al Fayed said the talks went beyond a retail tie up to include a shared interest in both a gaming business and hotel. It would involve a significant investment and be a major extension of the Harrods brand.
MGM is already building a new $7bn (£3.77bn, E5.58bn) City Centre mixed use development in Las Vegas which is situated between the Monte Carlo and Belagio casinos.
While the talks were detailed it is understood they have currently stalled; but advisors are still hopeful a deal will be possible.
Peter Willasey, a Harrods spokesman, confirmed talks with MGM have taken place: "Yes, we have been speaking to an operator in Las Vegas in recent weeks which have come to nothing.
"This sort of approach is by no means a unique occurrence at Harrods which at any one time holds talks with retailers and hotel groups worldwide."
Sources in Las Vegas say that land speculators have for some time been seeking partners to set up a London-themed casino on the strip and that Harrods has been long rumoured as a potential partner.
MGM has a previous relationship with Al Fayed: in 1996 when MGM built the Belagio the two groups held talks about a partnership and Al Fayed flew to Las Vegas; but once again no terms could be agreed.
A spokesman for MGM said on Wednesday: "I can confirm we had conversations with Harrods when we first developed Belagio. Harrods would be an incredible addition to the brands on display in Las Vegas; however we have had no conversations since."
Al Fayed has enjoyed a recent revival at Harrods, bucking a general retail malaise. In accounts filed at Companies House last December, it showed a £33.4m jump in operating profit to £41.4m on sales of £343m, up from £329m.
The store was hit badly by the drop in tourists after the terrorist attacks in 2001 but is now recovering. It currently focusing on a big push into a Harrods-branded online offering and Al Fayed is busy grooming his 21-year-old son Omar to take over running the business.
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