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Pearl of the Palms

by Paul Heretakis

Global Gaming Business July 2022:

Where have you gone George Maloof? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

In the bygone era of skin tight band aide dresses and shiny shirts lived the last King of Las Vegas. Following in the footsteps of past Revolutionaries Bugsy Siegel, Jay Sarno and Steve Wynn; George Maloof and his Palm’s Casino turned Vegas upside down and inside out – a few of his ideas are still being copied today—the rest are way too edgy for the current woke times. I hope I live long enough to see all the world go back to the times when it was all about good looking people doing good looking things…..

It was all created and choreographed by George. Every night you’d see the Scarlet of the month gracing George’s arm—the coolest cat in all the land.

If you went to Vegas and didn’t party at The Palms, well then you were never really in Vegas. Other casinos had nightclubs but the entire Palms was a nightclub. Day or night you had the just as easy a chance to find your bedmate on the line getting coffee or a VIP table at Rain. It became a playground for locals, tourists and celebrities alike—they partied together and slept together. I’m still not sure how I ended up with Asian children when my wife’s not Asian and neither am I­—plausible deniability she says. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil—if it happened at the Palms and you spoke about it, well than you wouldn’t have been let in the next time.

The Palm’s established one of the most famous spas in the West. My wife would get her hair cut by Carmen Electra’s hair stylist. She looked like she walked off the set of Baywatch! Next thing you know casino executives from around town were going to Hollywood to find the next famous colorist to the stars. After he brought the first tattoo parlor to his casino, 60-year-old casino owners were dining with famous tattoo artists talking ink, getting inked and hoping they would open up in their casino next. While others made chefs famous, he made rock stars out of underground artists. He created the pop culture icons we still follow 20 years later.

He built the Pearl specifically for rock n’ roll acts. It brought young up-and-coming music stars to Vegas, acts that would never play on the Strip. The Pearl was the only place that was cool enough for them. Twenty years later those stars are now playing on the Strip bribed by enormous money. Even the Pope asked for a residency at the Palms, he knew where the real people were.

The Maloof family owned the basketball Kings, they would mix sports and casinos on a nightly basis. He brought basketball stars to the town, made it look normal, he knew when we didn’t. It was an unheard-of sin; the gaming commission was all over them. Twenty years later we have the Knights and the Raiders and they both saved Las Vegas after Covid. The Maloofs planted the seed for that mighty dream to take hold a generation later.

He got B-list stars to visit his restaurants and clubs, while others paid for them to appear, George just picked up the phone. If you don’t like Paris Hilton or the Kardashians—well, thank George for that too. Without George there are no Kardashians. Not a person in the crowd could tell you who the president was but they sure could tell you where Tara Reid was in hopes of another wardrobe malfunction. Even Nostradamus went to George for tips on the ponies… and women.

Every gossip columnist in America was camped out at the Palms. They didn’t even go to the other casinos. Those casinos were for slot playing grannies, the Palms was for the cool kids. The walk of shame in the morning read like a who’s who of Hollywood. If you weren’t at the Palms than a few months later the only place you’d be seen was the back of a milk carton. Twig-thin women purging dinner so the dress didn’t split while men gave a little alcohol back the old fashioned way in hopes of making a little more room for another round of shots with the boys. Oh good time folks, good times. As they say—if you remembered what happened you were never really there.

I would go to meetings with other casino executives and they all wanted to own a place as cool as Georges. It was a great time to dream and design. Everyone wanted the next big thing, they were willing to put their job at risk just to grab that magic in a bottle. Las Vegas redefined dining, nightclubs, invented ultra-lounges. Every month Vegas was on the cover of a different magazine. It became the restaurant capital of America. Maloof inspired Vegas and all of the other companies to make Vegas truly the only place party in the U.S.

Every time they thought they caught up to him he add another pool club, a “Kingpin Suite” suite, Music venue and they would all have to start over in attempts of outdoing the Palms. We were all so young and willing to put our jobs and reputation on the line so we could develop the next great restaurant or lounge. I would spend months designing ultra-luxurious suites. It didn’t faze George. He opened the “Hardwood Suite” built around a basketball court—who does that? And yet years later we still talk of the parties in that suite.

MTV stopped showing videos and replaced it with the Real World reality show. Its biggest season ever was at the Palms in one of their suites. All of a sudden MTV was cool again and the Palms became even cooler. Renamed the “Real World Suite” and next thing you know I had my Christmas party there… and I was cool too!!! There was no reason to go to the strip clubs, the Palms stole all their employees. Strippers became waitresses or hosts; Chippendales lost men to security, front doors working the ropes. Hospitality is all about escapism and George never lost sight of that. I’m not sure many remember that lesson around here.

Every craps table was full, each would have a different NBA team’s back court rolling the dice. Boy-band members were at the blackjack tables while the Baywatch cast ruled the roulette wheels. The high-limit room looked more like the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Black and white, boy and girl or girl and girl, threesomes foursomes and more-somes—it didn’t matter everyone was free to be. You were at the scene of a lifetime and that’s all that mattered. I never felt so alive, so free; the Rat Pack had nothing on us. I still “kinda” remember through a haze of alcohol; Kid Rock sniffing lines off of a young Pelosi’s right breast…. George had set them up on a blind date. He always knew a power couple when he saw one.

After the Palms opened every casino had to have a celebrities, fortune tellers, dance pits, reality TV shows. Other ideas such as basketball court suites, music recording studios, cantilevered pools in the sky still haven’t been copied. He revived the Playboy brand and made it cool again, gave Hefner one last at bat. Bleached blonds sashayed across the casino floor looking for their next sugar daddy. His restaurants were part dining, part lounge and a whole lot of nightclub…..Swanky, posh with soft lighting—everyone looked like they walked off the set of movie. Every night the Hollywood in-crowd, master musicians, sports elites were scattered throughout the hotel.

Thank you George for all you did for us. You made our lives special, unforgettable and cool!! You’ll always be the king!

And then…one day….the music died….

They say World War II took away the youth of our grandfathers, Vietnam the innocence from our fathers. Our generation lost its innocence, youth and dreams to a cell phone. Everyone became a paparazzi photographer and plausible deniability no longer worked when you came home in the middle of the night. Reality shows which the Palms helped to invent lead way to the social media. Rumors of misbehavior were pictures quickly uploaded to the internet. The shooting star faded as the likes of Jobs and Gates changed the world—supposedly for the better, but maybe not.

We all were forced to grow up, buy bras, houses, have kids—become our parents. Losing your job trying to reinvent the next great casino was no longer possible, we have Palm-Kid’s support to pay, we couldn’t afford to dream anymore—just working for the man! Of course other casinos like Cosmo opened but it was never the same, our privacy lost to the cell phone camera.

Unfortunately George doubled down a few too many times with a condo-hotel. Wall Street came knocking and took the magic away, you can’t have real individuals in a branded and homogeneous world. The folk songs about George are rarely played in these parts and the murals on the buildings have faded away.

Joltin’ George has left and gone away Hey, hey, hey, We know you have one more casino in you, Please come back and show us the way..

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