His House Wins

George Maloof Jr.’s cell phone never stops ringing. Sometimes it’s the family: his mother, perhaps, or one of four siblings. But as often as not, the ringing signals a member of another first-name-only gang who wants to talk to the owner of the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. Britney or Paris, say, Lindsay or Leonardo or, out of the blue on a recent evening, Eminem. “I get this call that Em wants to bartend at [the Palm’s] Ghost Bar,” recalls Maloof. A few hours later, he says, the rap star was “buying drinks for everybody. It was crazy. There’s always something fun going on at the Palms,” he adds with a grin. “I can’t complain too much.”

Make that at all. Boyishly charming, forging friendships with many of Hollywood’s young and hip—not to mention once dating Tara Reid—Maloof is the biggest thing to shake Vegas since Frank Sinatra cavorted with Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin on the Strip in the 1960s. Following Steve Wynn, who began sprucing up Sin City in the ’90s with such billion-dollar hot spots as Bellagio, and Peter Morton, whose Hard Rock Hotel & Casino introduced hipper music to a scene that had often been hokey, Maloof has upped the ante by offering young Hollywood a happening home away from home. “There are good bars, a good pool area, a tattoo parlor. It’s a party vibe inside,” says Nicole Richie, 23. But its real draw, she adds, is Maloof. “A lot of Vegas people are like pushy used-car salesman,” she says; Maloof, on the other hand, is “very chill, like, ‘Yeah, come hang out whenever.’ ” And so they do. They hit the bar (Paris Hilton and Reid). They get into fistfights (Reid and Lindsay Lohan). Or they ask Maloof to organize a VIP poker game. Says actress Kimberly Stewart: “He knows how to throw a great party.”

Settling on a piece of land a quarter-mile off the Strip, Maloof built his 430-room boutique in 2001 with S265 million in family money (part of a near-billion-dollar fortune that all started with his Lebanese immigrant grandfather’s general store in New Mexico) and a simple vision: to re-create the good times he had as a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he studied hotel management, played cornerback for the football team (rap mogul Suge Knight was his lockermate) and gambled whenever he could. But the carefully crafted ambience of abandon—stripper poles in private suites, 8-ft. beds for very tall regulars (another Maloof family-owned enterprise is the NBA’s Sacramento Kings)—is more than fun; it is also serious business. Under Maloof’s guidance, Palms will make $60 million in profit this year. “My dad used to call him the professor, and it’s right on,” says his brother Phil, 37. “He’s very analytical. And he’s just a workaholic.”

That focus may explain why, upon turning 40 on Sept. 2, the fact that he is still a bachelor “snuck up on me,” says Maloof. “I want to have kids.” But his desire for a family will have to wait. Right now the cell phone is ringing. “It’s 24-7,” he says of his gig as life of the party. And he wouldn’t have it any other way. As Maloof puts it, “I like to take advantage of the opportunities.”

Karen S. Schneider. Michael Fieeman in Las Vegas, Carrie Bell and Kwala Mandel in Los Angeles

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