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Sahara Casino Transformed Into The SLS Las Vegas

The Sahara hotel and casino, which once hosted Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, had seen better days when SBE Group CEO Sam Nazarian purchased the resort in 2007 with plans to restore the property. But, the recession stalled his plans and eventually the property was shut down in 2011.

After $415 million and a year of construction, the reincarnated Sahara opened at the stroke of midnight Friday as the 1,600-room SLS Las Vegas.

“There were four components to this project that got us to this point,” Sam Bakhshandehpour, president of SBE Group told KNPR in an interview Saturday inside the hotel’s boutique bar and music venue, The Sawyer Club. “The number one is obvious, you need to get financing in place. We were fortunate, we raised the money and we were one of the first to break ground.”

Bakhshandehpour said since the groundbreaking in February 2013, there has been $10 billion in investments announced along the north end of the Strip. The grand opening was pushed up a week because construction was finished early.

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Since construction began on the SLS Las Vegas, Genting Corp. announced plans to fold the half-finished Echelon into a multi-billion dollar Asian-themed Resorts World Las Vegas and Crown Resorts purchased the vacant lot across from Wynn Las Vegas where the New Frontier casino once stood.

Bakhshandehpour said the other components to a successful launch of SLS Las Vegas were programing the right food and beverage, construction of the resort, and gaming.

The SLS Las Vegas is the first new resort on the Strip since the $3.9 billion Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas opened in December 2010. SLS Las Vegas is at Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue.

“We are grateful to get our gaming license,” he said. “And gaming is new to the SBE team. This is our first casino. We feel very good without early results and are optimistic about how we programmed the casino.”

The SBE Group expects the 66,000-square-foot casino to generate 30 percent of the property’s annual revenues. The gaming floor, while small, has been integrated into the property as guests have to pass through the casino to get to the restaurants and nightclubs.

“So to give you an example,” Bakhshandehpour said, “Bazaar Meat is next to the Bazaar casinos. So you have an option of stopping at the bar for a drink or playing blackjack before dinner. That option doesn’t exist in most food and beverage.”

Other restaurants include gourmet burger joint Umani and Los Angeles import The Griddle Grill. On Saturday, the wait for either restaurant was more than an hour at times and the line for the rewards program The Code was 45 minutes.

Umani Burger, a beer garden and a William Hill race and sports book have been integrated, creating a sports bar and restaurant with gambling.

“This is a totally unique concept that was created to combine Umami Burger with a beer garden and sports book,” said Joe Asher, CEO of Las Vegas-based William Hill US. “This is the first time you’ve seen this concept of integrating the sports book into the restaurant.”

Asher told KNPR on Saturday afternoon that business volume had been very strong. Asher said shortly after opening a “high-profile actor” placed a bet on the Jacksonville Jaguars to win the Super Bowl. He declined to identify the actor.

“Knock on wood, we probably have that money safe in the vault,” Asher said. As of Tuesday, the odds of the Jacksonville Jaguars winning the Super Bowl were 250-1, according to William Hill.

The SLS Las Vegas also carries on the tradition and legacy of the Sahara. Pictures of the Rat Pack and the former casinos are strategically placed throughout the property and the old Sahara card carpeting and been cleaned up and placed in the Bazaar casino.

“We really value and appreciate the history that was here, and we are trying to bring this property back to life,” Bakhshandehpour said. “There are a lot of locals that have a soft spot for the Sahara. So there are little tidbits of the Sahara throughout the property.”

SLS Las Vegas has three hotel towers. The LUX Tower features 300 suites; the World Tower has 1,110 rooms, and the Story Tower has 200-rooms.

All of this, he believes, will lead to SBE Group looking to acquire other gaming properties.

“We are optimistic about other gaming markets,” Bakhshandehpour said. “But this is our first casino, so we are looking to stabilize this property. This is a very complicated business … we do look for other opportunities as they come up.”

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