George Maloof on an arena in Las Vegas, his father’s influence and why his resort is called Palms

George Maloof, shown at the KUNV 91.5-FM studios.
Photo: Steve Marcus

First, we’ll get the personal stuff addressed and dismissed: George Maloof has no plans to marry and is, at the moment, single.

Ardently so.

“I don’t have a girlfriend. I don’t want one,” Maloof says.

Why is this so?

“My schedule,” he says. “It wouldn’t be fair to her. I’d flake too much. Dinner was at 7? What is it, 8 now? Nine? Sorry!”

A man who says he has no hobbies as defined as such, Maloof allows that, “The Palms is my place.”

There’s no doubt of that. The hotel opened in November 2001, and during a taping of the radio show Our Metropolis, which I host each Tuesday at 6 p.m. on KUNV 91.5-FM, Maloof talked of his long path from working as a kid in his family’s Coors distributorship in Albuquerque, N.M., to resort ownership in Vegas. He also related his last talk with his father, George J. Maloof Sr., who died in November 1980; and spoke of Las Vegas’ chances of landing an NBA team without a new arena (the short answer from the co-owner of the Sacramento Kings: Not a chance).

There’s more, a lot more, from the 1988 graduate of UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration. Here’s a sampling:

John Katsilometes: You were a reserve defensive back on the UNLV football team when you were in school. Is it true you were a locker mate of Death Row Records founder Suge Knight?

George Maloof: Yeah, Suge was right next to me. He was a good guy, he worked hard – he always worked hard. He was always first in the drills, first in sprints. He was always in the weight room and working out when everyone else was not. He was a very hard worker. He was great.

JK: Ickey Woods was a teammate, right?

GM: I played with Ickey, too. We had a lot of great players. Our teams were not as great as our players.

JK: When did you actually start working in the family business?

GM: At a very young age in New Mexico, about 10 years old. You couldn’t keep me out of the warehouse. I’d get up at 6 o’clock and bug my mom to get me in there as soon as possible. I learned the challenge of accomplishing something and enjoying and understanding business. ... I’ve always been a workaholic.

JK:Are you like your father?

GM: I’m somewhat like my father. He could get along with anybody. He was very approachable. He was a great guy, smart, talented, a great businessman. He probably focused on bigger things before he passed away. He was always looking at doing something, purchasing something, always.

JK: He died in 1980, when you were 16. What was your last conversation with him?

GM: It was at my house, I saw him just before I was going out. I’d just started driving – I got into a wreck that night, actually, believe it or not. It happened just before I heard he’d died. I did a silly, teenager thing. I was racing my car against someone else and ran into a curb, and had to try and find my mother, who was at the hospital at the time. My last conversation with my father was, he gave me a $20 bill and said, “If you go out, have fun and be careful.” And that was it, really. I got some of that right. I miss him all the time.

JK: At the time of his death, you owned the Houston Rockets. This was a young family suddenly running an NBA franchise. Who actually ran the team at that point?

GM: Gavin, my older brother, took responsibility of the team, and the year my father died was actually the year we went to the NBA Finals and played the Boston Celtics. It was quite an experience.

JK: This was when Moses Malone was the star. Robert Reid was on that team.

GM:Robert Reid, yeah. Very good.

JK: But you soon sold the Rockets. Why did you do that?

GM: The following year needed to focus on our beer and liquor business. The NBA was not doing well at that time. When we made the Finals we actually had T-shirts printed up that said, “The Not Ready For Prime Time Players,” because the Finals were not on prime time. They were on tape-delay. So we got back into focus, which was our core business.

JK: Do you think your dad would have sold the team?

GM: I don’t think so, no. But we were very young and trying to figure things out. This was before (Michael) Jordan came into the league, and before (NBA Commissioner) David Stern took over. We couldn’t see the future.

JK: What led you back into pro sports?

GM: At the time we sold the Rockets, we started thinking, “Ugh, why did we do that?” But we pretty much needed to. So our first opportunity to get back into it was with the NFL, in the World League (of American Football). We owned the Birmingham Fire, which was a disaster. We tried that and obviously the league didn’t work. After that, we wanted to get into one of the top four sports, so we spent about five years looking for a team, and we were really close to buying the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL. I mean, really close. … But there was a little dissention in the family because we weren’t all 100 percent behind the deal. We didn’t feel comfortable with it. We didn’t understand hockey, as a sport, very well at the time. We understand it today a lot better and it’s a great sport. But we didn’t pursue it.

Just about a year later this opportunity with the Kings came along, where we could buy controlling interest of the team, and we took it. We tried buying eight different NBA teams, and they are hard to buy because there are only 30 of them and the owners never want to sell. It’s an emotional thing.

JK: And fans in Sacramento are concerned you might be moving the team to Las Vegas.

GM: From the damn day we bought that team until today, the story never ends. It never ends. I’ve been asked the question from the day we bought it 16 years ago: “Are you moving the team?” The fans in Sacramento have been great. We need a new arena, that is clear. It’s not fair to them that we don’t (have a new arena). Fans are great, but we want an arena and you can’t build it yourself. Nobody does. You need some public help. … It’s happening here, too.

JK: Will there be an NBA team in Las Vegas?

GM: There won’t be a team in Las Vegas unless there’s an arena. It’s not going happen. I think that we need an arena. I think it would be good for the city.

JK: Would public money be required for any arena in Las Vegas?

GM: Some, some. I have so much knowledge about how these things happen, and you can’t build it without public money. At the end of the day, it’s an amenity for public use. If it’s state-of-the art, people are going to enjoy it, and there should be some public money spent. It would bring in a lot of events. Obviously, now is not a good time to be asking for money to build an arena. But ultimately ... we would need it.

JK: Are you curtailed in your ability to speak freely about an arena in Las Vegas because of your position as owner of the Kings?

GM: I’m not holding back on my opinions. I wouldn’t do that. But when I start talking about an arena, the first thing people think about is the Sacramento Kings moving to Las Vegas. That’s the reason I’ve always shied away from that discussion.

It’s kind of a two-pronged story for me. If I talk about an arena being built in Las Vegas, it doesn’t really give the fans in Sacramento a lot security, you know, when we’re telling them (Sacramento) is our city and this is where we want to be — which is true — and then George Maloof is telling everybody how much Las Vegas needs a new arena.

JK: Couldn’t you say, “We need a new arena in Las Vegas even if we have to use public funding, but I am keeping the Kings in Sacramento,” which would leave open the possibility that some other NBA team would move to Las Vegas – where you do business?

GM: “(Laughs) I haven’t thought it through that much, but taking that into account, I’ve just stayed away from it. This is the most I’ve ever spoken about it. … People have opinions about the public money part of it, and my opinion is, sure – at the right time. It’s been such a brutal time. I don’t know if it’s a good time to ask everybody to foot part of the bill for an arena. It doesn’t make sense right now. It would be very difficult.

JK: Your first toehold on resort ownership in Las Vegas was when you opened the Fiesta in 1994, in North Las Vegas. How did that come about?

GM: Being in school here, and knowing that I wanted to open a casino some day, I spent a lot of time in Sam’s Town, Palace Station, the Gold Coast. I had a sense of the local market and knew that people who live here do gamble, and I carried that message back to my family. I spent a good year looking for the right piece of land, and the people of North Las Vegas were very welcoming. Rancho separates Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, and on the east side of Rancho was a gaming district. All you needed to build was 100 rooms.

But I looked all over the city, every location, for a full year. The idea was to create other Fiestas around town, but then there was another opportunity near Strip I’d heard about. We sold the Fiesta to Stations, and we worked on our plan for four years, going through some very challenging zoning to get the land that became the site for the Palms.

JK: Why did you name it the Palms?

GM: The first name that I came up with (laughs) – uh, it was called the Breeze. That was the working title for about a month, until I told my sister (Adrienne). And she said, “George, you can’t name it the Breeze.” There is a female product that, at that time — I don’t know if it still exists — was also called Breeze (which is the name of a line of indoor tanning products for women). Thank God for sisters. So we changed it, we nixed that. ...

Then I happened to be at lunch at the Gold Coast one afternoon with the architect, John Jerde, and we were just said, “What’s a simple name that isn’t related to an area around the world, that just has its own name?” And we liked Palms.

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