|By Howard Stutz, Las Vegas
Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Business News
Jan. 26, 2007 - In time, Northern Nevada residents could see the face of auto industry icon Lee Iacocca on billboards telling them if they can find a better casino than Stockman's in Fallon, they should buy it.
Full House Resorts, a small casino company in which Iacocca is one of the primary investors, was approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission to purchase Stockman's Casino and Holiday Inn Express for $25.5 million. Company officials said they expect the deal to close next week.
Fallon is 61 miles east of Reno.
The transaction will mark the company's entry into Nevada. Stockman's has an 8,400-square-foot casino with 280 slot machines and four table games. The adjacent Holiday Inn Express has 98 rooms.
Full House manages a racetrack casino in Delaware and is developing three Indian gaming projects in Michigan, Montana and New Mexico. The company is headquartered in Las Vegas.
Iacocca, 82, was the star attraction at Thursday's hearing. Nevada gaming commissioners praised the auto industry executive, who is credited with turning around the fortunes of the Chrysler Corp. when he was the carmaker's chairman and chief executive officer in the 1980s.
The auto manufacturer was on the verge of bankruptcy when he took over. Iacocca appeared for the company in a national advertising campaign, making famous the phrase, "If you can find a better car, buy it."
In 2005, he reappeared in a Chrysler advertising campaign.
In September, Full House announced that it had entered a consulting agreement with Iacocca in which he would help market and advertise the company and its projects over the next three years in exchange for stock incentives.
Iacocca said he has helped the company with its Indian casino deals.
"I told the tribe members these are good guys and you should vote with us," Iacocca said. As for appearing in advertising on behalf of the Stockman's, Iacocca said, "Maybe someday, but we're not big enough for that yet."
The licensing of Full House and Iacocca as a director and shareholder marked his return to the gaming industry. He was a member of the board of directors of MGM Grand from 1993 to 1997, before when the company, now called MGM Mirage, purchased Mirage Resorts in 2000.
"We're glad you've decided to be part of our industry," Gaming Commissioner Radha Chanderraj told Iacocca during the hearing. Iacocca sat in the front row of the hearing room with other Full House executives but did not address the commission.
Iacocca said after the hearing that overseeing a casino was similar to running an automobile manufacturer.
"Set your priorities, get good people around you and take care of the customers," Iacocca said. "That's good business no matter what industry you're in, gaming or otherwise."
Full House Chief Executive Officer Andre Hilliou said the company's Indian casino projects could all be open by late 2008. Because the management contracts for the Indian casinos have a seven-year time frame, he said the company wants to find other casino opportunities, especially in Nevada.
"We're looking for properties about the size of Stockman's," Hilliou said. "We want to find properties that have a good presence in the market.
In December, Full House raised $21.3 million in a public stock offering. Hilliou said part of the proceeds will be used for the Stockman's purchase.
GOLDEN GAMING GETS PANEL'S OK: The Nevada Gaming Commission on Thursday approved Las Vegas-based Golden Gaming to operate the Hard Rock Hotel's casino once the property is sold to Morgan's Hotel Group.
Golden Gaming, best recognized as the operator of the PT's taverns and restaurants in Las Vegas, will manage the casino for Morgans while the company seeks its own gaming license, which could take more than a year to obtain.
Morgans, which is purchasing the Hard Rock Hotel for $770 million, will operate the property's 647 hotel rooms, restaurants, The Joint nightclub and other public areas once the transaction closes. Golden Gaming will be responsible solely for the Hard Rock's 30,000-square-foot casino.
Golden Gaming President Blake Sartini said Morgan's could close its purchase by Feb. 1.
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