The beleaguered SLS Las Vegas is getting another shot at success at long last. On Wednesday, the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) unanimously recommended the transfer of a gaming license for the North Las Vegas Strip-located casino to gaming operator Alex Meruelo, principal of the California-based Meruelo Group.

Alex Meruelo, owner SLS Las Vegas

Alex Meruelo is taking a big gamble on SLS, which was once the iconic Sahara. Situated on the unfashionable north end of the Strip, it has struggled for profitability since it opened in 2014. (Image: Trading Signals)

Meruelo agreed to buy the struggling SLS, formerly the legendary Sahara Casino, in May of last year for an undisclosed fee from then-owners Stockbridge Capital Partners.

It’s a brave move. Situated amid vacant plots of land earmarked for stalled or abandoned projects, the area gets none of the footfall of the bustling south end of the Las Vegas Strip.

Conglomerate Convenience

Opened in 2014 after a $415 million upgrade, SLS lost $122.7 million in the first nine months and has struggled for profitability since.

But Meruelo believes he can bring the Midas Touch back to the property, as he did to the Grand Sierra Resort, Reno’s largest hotel-casino.

“I was told there was no way in hell that I would be able to turn the Grand Sierra around,” Meruelo told the NGCB. “If I can turn around the Grand Sierra Resort, I could do that at SLS [also].”

Meurelo says he plans to market the casino in Southern California, where he owns three radio stations and two television channels. He also plans to cross-market it with the Grand Sierra Resort. He told the Board he has access to millions of dollars and credit through the 30 companies he owns, which include a bank.

“What the property needs is ownership and leadership and I will be able to provide that,” he said.

Nazarian’s Licensing Drama

Meurelo’s licensing hearing was more successful than that of his predecessor, former part-owner Sam Nazarian, the LA nightclub mogul who was largely responsible for the SLS vision. In 2015, Nazarian was grilled by the Board about pervious cocaine use and the fact that he had allowed himself to be blackmailed by Derrick Armstrong, a nefarious character with a criminal history.

Armstrong himself attempted to gain access to the hearing to address the Board, but was arrested outside on suspicion of grand theft and passing bad checks.

Unexpectedly, the Board granted Nazarian a license — albeit a limited one — but he sold his stake to majority owner Stockbridge soon afterwards.

Packing It Up 

Nazarian tried to turn the Sahara into a modern, sleeker, hipper version of itself, perhaps losing sight of the fact that no one was ever hipper than the Rat Pack.

He called it SLS to denote “style, luxury and service,” although Nazarian fell at the first hurdle by installing a big, silver one-eyed blob statue in the entrance circle which appeared to be the antithesis of style.

And he did all this at the wrong time, and at the wrong end of the Strip, to boot.

Meruelo has a lot of work to do, but seems convinced he’s the man for the job. Apparently, the NGCB is on board with his vision.