Fremont Street Experience:

Las Vegas Club’s plan for drugstore selling packaged liquor upsets other casinos

The Las Vegas Club is shown Thursday, July 23, 2015, in downtown Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Club’s effort to convert some of its property into a drugstore has encountered stiff opposition from other casinos nearby and refueled debate about the sale of packaged liquor in the main downtown tourist area.

Public documents show that the Las Vegas Club asked the city of Las Vegas for permission to turn 13,810 square feet of its space into a drugstore that would sell packaged liquor, which has long been a contentious issue on the tourist-focused part of Fremont Street.

An exhibit in the casino’s application indicates that the drugstore wouldn’t devote more than 1,048 square feet to alcohol sales.

Although the city’s Planning Commission already recommended approval of the application, the board of the Fremont Street Experience asked the City Council to reject it. The council was supposed to consider the application July 15, but it delayed the issue until next month.

A drugstore would be the biggest development for the Las Vegas Club since it stopped taking reservations for its hotel rooms two years ago. The property’s website redirects customers who try to book rooms there to the neighboring Plaza hotel, which is owned by the same company.

Despite the hotel closure, the Las Vegas Club still runs a gambling business. Records from the Gaming Control Board show that, as of January, the property contained a 19,616-square-foot casino. As of June, the casino offered 327 slot machines and two craps tables.

The drugstore plans aren’t new. Last summer, when the City Council cracked down on liquor consumption on the Fremont Street Experience, it prohibited new liquor stores there but exempted grocery stores or pharmacies with more than 12,000 square feet. At the time, representatives of the Las Vegas Club had said they wanted to attract a CVS.

Still, other casinos remain adamantly against the idea of more packaged liquor in the area.

In a letter dated July 13, the board of the Fremont Street Experience told the council that the city’s new liquor ordinances have resulted in a “dramatic decline” in emergency service calls and curtailed the amount of “chronic inebriates calling our sidewalk home.” The letter suggests that this progress would be threatened if a drugstore at the Las Vegas Club were allowed to sell packaged liquor.

Click to enlarge photo

Exterior of the Las Vegas Club on Thursday, July 23, 2015, in downtown Las Vegas.

According to the letter, the Walgreens on 4th Street and Fremont — four blocks away from the Las Vegas Club — has requested “numerous times” to get out of a lease restriction that prevents it from selling packaged liquor. The Fremont Street Experience, which leases the space to Walgreens, has denied the requests even though Walgreens has offered to pay “a significant increase in rent.”

The board’s letter is unrestrained in its opposition to the drugstore plan.

“A second large pharmacy adds nothing to the tourist experience, and the packaged liquor portion only creates additional opportunity for crime and medical emergencies on our street, at great cost to the dues-paying members and to the taxpayers of this city,” the letter states. “There is no doubt that such an action would have a severely detrimental effect on this tourist destination.”

The letter is signed by representatives of the Four Queens, Binion’s, the D, the Golden Gate and Boyd Gaming, which runs the California, Fremont and Main Street casinos downtown.

Derek Stevens, who owns the D and the Golden Gate, said he and other Fremont Street Experience operators met this week with Tamares, the company that owns the Las Vegas Club. Stevens said he and the others listened to the casino’s justification for the drugstore, but it “wasn’t nearly persuasive enough” to change their minds.

“It wasn’t close to doing anything that would change our position,” Stevens said of the meeting.

The Las Vegas Club is not a dues-paying member of the Fremont Street Experience, according to Stevens. A representative of the casino declined to comment on the application.

Aside from opposing the drugstore in general, the other casinos are specifically concerned with the amount of space it could devote to liquor sales. The letter said packaged liquor is sold only by six Fremont Street Experience storefronts that offer a total of 417 square feet for alcohol sales, with an additional 74 square feet coming from seven hotel gift shops.

Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin, whose ward is close to the Las Vegas Club but does not include it, said the proposed drugstore is not a liquor store “in disguise.” He said he doesn’t think the Las Vegas Club will be allowed to use all of the 1,048 square feet it’s currently asking for.

“From what I can see, there will be no reason for that,” he said. “That’s huge.”

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