He may have lost control of Planet Hollywood, but a wiser Robert Earl is no Vegas flop
By STEVE FRIESS
Vegas is a tough town to break into. Because the gaming business is seen from afar as an easy-money racket, all manner of showboaters, dilettantes and charlatans believe all they need to make it on the Strip is money and an oversized ego. The story of those hubrists’ flops are both repetitive and legend.
That’s why I must stand up for a man I fully expected to fail, who arrived from—almost literally—another planet, with the kind of unearned bravado that so typified all the previous wannabes who became never-had-beens. He was loud and proud and believed that just because he knew other hospitality-related businesses he could conquer Sin City, too.
He fell short, ’tis true, and his Planet Hollywood resort is now being absorbed into the Harrah’s universe. But I’m here to say that, while it may seem otherwise, Robert Earl was no Vegas failure.
The fact is, Earl did everything he promised back in 2003, when he acquired the moribund, desperate, horrifically designed Aladdin for $800 million. He took a place with a theme rendered radioactive by 9/11 and spent $1 billion making it bright and accessible on the outside, sultry and hip on the inside. He vowed to deploy his star-laden Rolodex in the service of rebooting the Planet Hollywood brand and he did so beyond anyone’s expectations, with constant film premieres and those big beauty pageants and one ubiquitous mascot known as Holly Madison.
Earl formally lost control of the property last month as Harrah’s, which had bought up Planet Hollywood debt, commandeered the company. The enterprise was heavily financed and then beaten to a pulp by the Great Recession, the same situation faced by almost every operator in Vegas.
Unlike the others, though, the 58-year-old Brit ran out of time. He did nothing wrong, per se; that $1 billion he plunged into the transformation of the Aladdin to the Planet Hollywood was completely necessary to make the place viable. Earl just hit a bad beat and didn’t have the depth to weather it.
“In a nutshell, the days of individual entrepreneurs on the Las Vegas Strip, with the exception of Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson, are over,” Earl said by phone last week from the CanyonRanch SpaClub in Tucson, lest anyone worry about his ability to make ends meet.
Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com.