Last week, the Nevada Gaming Control Board granted Derek and Greg Stevens preliminary approval to become full owners of the historic Golden Gate casino. They’re buying out Mark Brandenburg, whose stepfather was part of the San Francisco-based group that took over and renamed the property in 1955. (Open since 1906, it’s the oldest hotel-casino in the state, and since it’s older than the Golden Gate Bridge, surely it’s the only Vegas casino that’s been around longer than what it’s themed after.)
Now the Stevens brothers are almost on par with Boyd Gaming in Downtown Las Vegas—Boyd operates the California, Fremont and Main Street Station casinos. The Stevens will have the Golden Gate, the D and the Las Vegas Club, the shuttered property they purchased in August and plan to renovate and reopen, along with the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, the outdoor space they built after buying and demolishing the former county courthouse.
Downtown development talk is still predominantly centered around Tony Hsieh, certainly due to the interesting things the Zappos boss has brought to the more locals-oriented portions of the neighborhood. Derek Stevens, the face of his company, has become the Fremont Street Experience equivalent, shaking things up on the tourist-oriented side, typically in a flashy but approachable way. He hyped a new “resident entertainer” at the D only to reveal a replica of Belgium’s famous Manneken Pis, the bronze statue of a boy urinating into a fountain, positioned at the valet entrance. He has almost 23,000 followers on Twitter and is known to respond to casino observers and patrons alike, and he often Periscopes a night out on the town, which almost always includes some time at the D’s Long Bar. That’s not something you see from the average casino boss. After buying the dilapidated Fitzgeralds in 2011, Stevens transformed it into the D, an unlikely but profitable tribute to his hometown of Detroit, and he would have made $1 million if his $20,000 bet on Michigan State to win this year’s NCAA tourney had hit. He always seems like he’s having fun, which is, after all, the point of the Fremont Street Experience.
Unlike the enigmatic Hsieh—whose contributions Stevens constantly praises—Stevens is Downtown’s relatable everyman, the guy you want to have a drink with (and it’d be a beer, not a shot of Fernet). Downtown Las Vegas could use more guys like this.