- Boyd Gaming has announced the sale of the Eldorado Casino in Henderson, Nevada to DeSimone Gaming.
- DeSimone Gaming currently owns the Railroad Pass Hotel & Casino just over the Nevada State Line near the Hoover Dam.
- The Eldorado is one of three Boyd Gaming properties that has not reopened since the shutdown of the gaming industry in March.
Boyd Gaming announced yesterday that they were selling the long running Eldorado Casino on Henderson’s historic Water Street to DeSimone Gaming. DeSimone Gaming currently owns the Railroad Pass Hotel, Casino and Travel Center and are something of an outlier in the increasingly corporate milieu.
DeSimone Gaming is owned by Joe DeSimone who has primarily worked in real estate and property development. He has owned First Federal Reality DeSimone in Henderson, Nevada and done very well in the profession. In 2015, he entered the gaming business when he purchased Railroad Pass Casino from MGM resorts. The Railroad Pass is well known to anyone that has made the drive from Kingman, Arizona to Las Vegas along US-93 North. This would include many travelers from points East of Las Vegas as Interstate 40 is one of the main East/West routes to Southern Nevada.
THE RAILROAD PASS CASINO
The Railroad Pass is one of the first casinos you encounter after crossing a desolate stretch of Arizona and navigating the circuitous route around Hoover Dam during which you cross into Nevada and the Pacific Time Zone. After that, you’re quickly deposited in Henderson ready to drive into the Las Vegas Metro Area. Technically, the first casino in Nevada on this route is the Hoover Dam Lodge–known as the Hacienda until 2015 and before that the Gold Strike–but for some reason the Railroad Pass is the first casino I would stop at on countless drives into the area.
The Railroad Pass has always operated under some permutation of that name (it started life as the ‘Railroad Pass Club’) and has a lineage dating back to 1931 when it served as a much needed diversion for workers building the Hoover Dam (here’s some pictures of the property in the 1940’s). It passed through several owners over the years but got a new lease on life in the mid 1980s when it was incorporated in the city of Henderson. To give you some idea how much Las Vegas has grown in the past few decades–the incorporation made it the first multi-storied commercial building in the city, the first hotel with more than 100 rooms and the first ‘full service’ casino with lodging, food and gambling.
During this timeframe it was owned by Gold Strike Resorts which also owned the eponynmously named property we alluded to previously. In 1995, Gold Strike Resorts was purchased by Circus Circus Enterprises which would rebrand to Mandalay Resort Group in 1999. Although Mandalay Resorts would open properties in Illinois, Mississippi and Michigan they remained focused on Nevada. They were best known for large properties such as the Luxor, Excalibur and Mandalay Bay they continued to operate smaller casinos such as the Nevada Landing in Jean, Nevada (just inside the California/Nevada border), Slots-A-Fun on The Strip and the Railroad Pass.
In 2005, MGM Mirage (later MGM Resorts) would purchase Mandalay Resorts which at the time was the biggest casino deal in history. Combined, the company owned 29 properties and were forced to unload only one (the Motor City Casino Hotel in Detroit). It was at this point that the Railroad Pass started a slow decline due primarily to being a low priority among megaresorts such as the Mirage, Bellagio and MGM Grand. This would continue for roughly a decade during which the physical condition of the property became increasingly dilapidated–especially the roof:
An MGM Resorts spokesperson deferred comment about the property to its current management. Railroad Pass executive director Curt Thompson (no relation to Janine), who also worked there while MGM was the owner, put it this way: If MGM Resorts had $1 million to spend, and the Bellagio needed new slots while Railroad Pass needed a new casino roof, where would that money be better spent? At the Bellagio, naturally, where the slots would offer a high return on investment thanks to the large volume of gamblers streaming through the Strip resort. Now, with an owner who holds just one casino, there’s no equation to determine where the investments should go.
“This has been a very successful property, but unfortunately we were not able to put the money into it that we felt was needed to be ready for the next step,” he said. “Mr. DeSimone is doing that.”
JOE DESIMONE GETS INTO THE GAMING BUSINESS
This changed when DeSimone Gaming bought the property from MGM Resorts in 2015. At the time, Joe DeSimone wasn’t licensed by Nevada gaming regulators for a good reason–he had never been in the industry prior to buying the Railroad Pass:
DeSimone is kind of an anomaly in the gaming business. Rarely does an investor with no gaming experience buy a casino — and run it personally. DeSimone says it was the 46 acres of real estate that first attracted him — he also owns Henderson’s First Federal Realty — but the gaming option intrigued him.
“The gaming industry is complex and something I wasn’t used to and the learning curve was steep and long,” he admits. “Gaming is a very sensitive business. It’s very employee-dependent. And I had never been in food and beverage before. We’ve got two restaurants. So I had a lot to learn.”
DeSimone is obviously a sharp guy and he’s improved things dramatically at the Railroad Pass since he purchased it. During his ownership, the Railroad Pass has added a travel center, a truck stop, a heliport and even a Tesla charging center. Pro tip: there’s a Capriotti’s Sandwich shop at the Railroad Pass that is open until midnight.
The investment in the property has paid off financially as well as DeSimone observed in late 2019:
“Right now, the numbers we’re seeing are five times as much as when MGM owned it. We think we can get it to 10 times.”
DeSimone’s ownership bodes well for the Eldorado. When I first started going to Las Vegas it was something of a ‘jewel in the rough’ among area casinos. I learned to play blackjack and Deuces Wild video poker there–I didn’t know that Boyd Gaming used the place to train managers due to the small size. At some point, however, Boyd’s priorities changed to properties outside of Nevada. Along the way, table games were removed and the Eldorado became a ‘slots only’ property. Boyd never let the Eldorado get ‘run down’ but for the past decade or two I always got the vibe that they were missing considerable untapped potential. Hopefully, DeSimone sees the same thing.