LAS VEGAS -- After Imperial Palace owner Ralph Engelstad died last
November at the age of 72, it didn't take long for rumors to start
flying about the imminent sale of the 2,700-room, Oriental-themed
But Engelstad's widow, Betty, so far has opted not to sell what
has become one of the city's few remaining privately owned gaming
properties. Instead, she's allowing the Imperial Palace's
management team to liven things up a bit at the 27-year-old
"[Betty Engelstad] does not get involved in the day-to-day
operation of the property," said Ed Crispell, who has been the
Imperial Palace's general manager for 24 years. "She's left us here
at the helm."
That said, Crispell and company are sailing into the uncharted
waters of head-to-head competition with their Las Vegas Boulevard
"We never had to compete before," Crispell said. "We always had
That was before Sept. 11 brought the travel industry -- and Las
Vegas -- to a virtual standstill.
"Now, we really have to do something," said Crispell. "We don't
have a volcano [like the Mirage], and we don't have fountains out
on Las Vegas Boulevard [like the Bellagio], and we don't have any
ships to sink [like Treasure Island]. We just take what we have and
build on it."
seems to be the operative word here, especially when Crispell
explained that the property "is getting ready to [undergo] a major,
"We're going to knock off the front of the building, move the
porte cochere over the sidewalk and [fashion it] in the form of an
Oriental pagoda," he said. "Then we're going to knock out a front
wall and put in a sidewalk cafe." Also planned is an "affordable"
glass-walled restaurant with its own entrance off the Strip.
"We're in the process of talking to restaurateurs right now,"
said Crispell. "We already have a huge daiquiri and tequila bar
inside, which we're going to move up [and locate near the
At the back of the property -- where a monorail station is being
built -- the Imperial Palace also is busy designing a pedestrian
corridor for passengers disembarking from the monorail. Crispell
said it should be finished by spring.
Crispell also said he is working with designers on redoing all
of the resort's guest rooms by spring.
"By the end of the summer we're going to be on our way [with
this project]. We redid the penthouses last year; now we want to
redo the suites and rooms."
Besides construction projects, Crispell and his team have been
busy revamping some of the casino's gaming areas to make them more
entertaining for the property's older clientele as well as members
of the younger crowd.
"We have been cranking the gears and burning the midnight oil,
and we're not done yet," he said.
The resort recently opened two themed gaming areas, the Legends'
Pit and the Champagne Pit. In the former, which is open from 6 p.m.
to 4 a.m., Sundays through Thursdays, celebrity impersonator
dealers, or "dealertainers," as they are known, entertain even as
they keep things moving at the table games.
The property's first group of celebrities being impersonated
includes Elvis Presley, Liberace, Buddy Holly, the Blues Brothers,
Madonna, Patsy Cline, Marilyn Monroe, Barbra Streisand, Rod
Stewart, Flip Wilson and El Zorro.
" 'Viva Las Vegas' starts playing and Elvis starts dancing,"
said Crispell. "Then Marilyn and Madonna come down dancing;
security even comes in with jewelry for Madonna and Barbra. They
just have a really good time with it."
The Champagne Pit, which operates from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.,
Mondays through Wednesdays, and from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m., Thursdays
through Sundays, celebrates the Rat Pack era with 1950s music and
dealers dressed in black fedoras.
In addition, free champagne is available to visitors of the
Champagne Pit, which also features a champagne fountain in the
"You can never get a seat in that area," Crispell said.
In fact, when the Legends Pit opened, it created such a demand
for table games that the resort extended the pit by 12 games -- an
unusual move at a time when most properties are cutting back on
table games, according to Crispell.
The Imperial Palace also is adding 100 coinless slots to its mix
come September. If visitors like the machines, the resort is
planning to install up to 500 more units, Crispell said.
Depending on the season and the time of the week, some of Las
Vegas' best bargains can be found at the Imperial Palace, where
room rates can dip under the $50-per-night range.
The property is agent-friendly, with commissionable rooms and
packages and special rates for travel retailers -- "our best
customers," Crispell said.
For reservations, phone (800) 634-6441 or visit www.imperialpalace.com.
For more details on this article, see Trademark attractions: luau, car
To contact reporter Amy Baratta, send e-mail to [email protected] .