LAS VEGAS When Planet Hollywood co-founder Robert Earl put together a group in 2004 to buy the bankrupt Aladdin hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip, it was already a fully operational 40-floor, 2,600-room property.
But the 56-year-old British entrepreneur says he's starting from "definitely ground floor" when it comes to rebuilding his wealth, following a personal loss of $1 billion as the restaurant company he built went bankrupt in 2001.
"On a personal level, I still have a lot to prove after what happened with the Planet restaurant company," Earl said. "And I plan to silence the critics, if you like, with the success that I'm hoping we're going to have in Vegas."
With this month's grand opening, the rebranded Planet Hollywood casino-hotel has gotten rid of most vestiges of the Middle Eastern-themed property where business collapsed after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Plastic jewel-encrusted pillars have been replaced by textured glass. A large staircase in the lobby has been replaced by an escalator flanked by Swarovski crystal-covered floor-to-ceiling lights. There's no more 20-foot-long Aladdin's lamp in the casino. Access for pedestrians on the Strip is much improved.
And each room now features a unique piece of Planet Hollywood memorabilia, like the leather jacket John Travolta wore in "Pulp Fiction," generating licensing revenue for Planet Hollywood International Inc., of which Earl is still the CEO.
As of June, the casino property was still losing money following its soft launch in April, about $15 million in the quarter, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Earl says despite the construction-impaired earnings, he and his partners have likely already doubled an $800 million investment thanks to rising land values helped largely by MGM Mirage Inc.'s $7.8 billion CityCenter going up across the street.
"We're sitting on a very large profit even before we perform," he said. "We bought it inexpensively just at the right time. Everyone else in the industry says we stole it."
Earl's dream of opening a Planet Hollywood casino on the Strip dates back to at least 1996, when he tried to team up with ITT Corp., then owner of Caesars Palace, to rebuild the Desert Inn.
By the time ITT was bought out by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. two years later, plans for a Planet Hollywood casino had been dropped. Wynn Las Vegas now stands where the Desert Inn had been located.
But a series of design flaws and marketing gaps at the rebuilt Aladdin such as not having a players' club to track gambling action helped speed its bankruptcy in 2003 and gave Earl another chance.
Earl now owns roughly 35 percent of the property, with Planet Hollywood International investor Bay Harbour Management LC owning another 35 percent, Starwood with 15 percent and outside investors the rest.
Not only does the property have a players club, it is tapping into the marketing network of Starwood's Preferred Guest program, which awards deals to travelers who have frequently stayed at its Westin and Sheraton hotels.
Having bought the 35-acre property for $500 million, plus $300 million in renovations, the owners are also in the desirable position of having gotten in cheaply before real estate prices jumped in the past couple years, Deutsche Bank analyst Bill Lerner said.
"If you own land at half of the value of Strip land today, you're in a unique position to develop something that's more mid-market," Lerner said. "It's relatively attractive."
Weekend Planet Hollywood rooms could be found for late November for an average of $184 a night, compared with $329 at Bellagio across the street and $220 at Paris Las Vegas next door.
Design changes also have improved its chance at attracting walk-in traffic. The sandstone facade of the Aladdin, with its strangely obscure entrance, has been replaced by large, flashy screens, a few glass covered retail shops and a clearly marked "Casino Entrance."
Entrances from the attached mall, now called Miracle Mile Shops instead of Desert Passage, also stand out with bright facades and well-placed slot machines.
For now Earl is taking one change at a time. He's learned from mistakes he made at Planet Hollywood International, which he said expanded too quickly. Still, he has plans for the next Planet Hollywood casino in Atlantic City, N.J., and another in Macau.