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Casino thief on track to build one

Las Vegas, Aug. 29: In the film Ocean’s Eleven, George Clooney robbed a casino. Now he’s going to build one.

Clooney, nightclub owner Rande Gerber and two Las Vegas real estate companies will announce plans to construct a casino, boutique hotel and sprawling condominium project on Harmon Avenue, just blocks from the Strip, in an area that has become one of the town’s hottest development corners.

This won’t be a resort for the tank top, shorts and fanny-pack crowd that plies the sidewalks of Las Vegas Boulevard to gape at the volcano, pirate ships and lions that are used to lure visitors to the Strip casinos, the actor said.

“We have this romantic notion of a place where you put on a jacket or a dress to go to dinner,” said Clooney, 44. “We will have some sort of dress code so that it will feel like you are walking into a more formal Las Vegas of a different age or a classic Monte Carlo casino.”

Although Clooney will be working with joint-venture partners Related Las Vegas and Centra Properties, both experienced developers, he acknowledged that he had no true expertise in developing sophisticated hotels. But the actor noted that over the years he had stayed in some posh properties and that he owned a villa on Lake Como in Italy.

“I may be the novice of this group,” Clooney said, “but I have a good idea of what I like in Las Vegas, and it is all about class.”

The 300-room hotel will be the centrepiece of a $3-billion, 25-acre project on Harmon Avenue just west of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. The Spanish-themed Las Ramblas development will take shape on a section of Harmon that is about to be transformed by massive investment in high-profile projects.

Although several developers in town have cut sweetheart deals with Hollywood celebrities for units in their high-rise condo projects, Clooney and Gerber say they are “significant investors” in the Las Ramblas development.

The idea of actually owning a casino came out of conversations between Clooney and Gerber when the actor was staying at the Bellagio filming Ocean’s Eleven, which came out in 2001. Clooney said the friends thought it would be “cool” to own something like the Bellagio, although much smaller and tailored to their own tastes.

The friends prepared a presentation and talked with Las Vegas Sands Corp. and a second, unnamed casino company. “Everyone was interested, but it seemed like our hotel would end up as just an amenity in a 4,000-room resort. It wouldn’t really be ours,” said Gerber.

Gerber, however, knew some of the Related executives because they worked in the Time Warner Center in New York, where he owned the Stone Rose bar. “They would come into the bar, so I just called them up,” said Gerber, husband of model Cindy Crawford.

It turned out that Related was trolling for Las Vegas projects, and after months of negotiations signed Clooney and Gerber to the deal. The two believed that the Related-Centra venture would give them more freedom to shape their vision of what a five-star Las Vegas hotel and casino should look like.

“I don’t know that I will make a dime on any of this. I could lose my shirt,” Clooney said. “But it will be a big adventure.”

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