You might say that veteran real estate executive Joe DeSimone has an eye for challenging deals. A transplant from Long Island, he learned four years ago that MGM Grand International wanted to unload the historic Railroad Pass Casino and quickly capitalized on the idea of owning an establishment that opened as Railroad Pass Club Aug. 31, 1931.
Now the state’s oldest continually-run hotel casino, Railroad Pass is situated at 2800 South Boulder Highway and it’s a rock’s throw from Boulder City and worlds away from the hubbub of Las Vegas.
Better yet, many decades ago Boulder City outlawed gambling, and Railroad Pass will continue as a gambler’s watering hole for everything from nickel poker to a good meal that doesn’t require having to get a second on your home.
A trucker’s haven for the long-hauler headed for either Phoenix or anywhere north, the 120-room Railroad Pass is in the hands of someone who not only appreciates its history but also wants to take the casino to another level. While the friendliness of the nearly 85-year-old (it was built during construction of Boulder Dam) casino won’t change, DeSimone didn’t waste any time getting started renovating the place.
All of those loyal residents of Boulder City who had heard and read about old hotel casinos being blown up don’t have to worry because Railroad Pass isn’t going anywhere now that the 49-year-old DeSimone has taken the reigns.
In fact, if nothing else, Railroad Pass is more secure now than ever before. Its new owner is cordial with the help and the customers and in fact, someone said recently he’s the younger version of Jackie Gaughan, who was known to play poker with the guests at the El Cortez in downtown Las Vegas.
Throw in the fact that an addition will include a $10 million truck stop and travel center on 25 acres, which is coming together nicely especially with the construction of U.S. Highway 11, which will bypass Boulder City and connect travel between Nevada and Arizona thereby relieving congestion and improve safety.
The truck stop, which will also serve as headquarters for those with motorhomes and trailers, will be a hub for those heading in any direction.
A resident of Henderson since 1991, DeSimone doesn’t shy from change and he is embracing the roadwork.
In a region of the country where similar establishments are turned to dust through implosions, Railroad Pass is receiving a $2.5 million facelift. In what might be considered perfect timing, DeSimone was wanting in just as MGM Grand International was wanting out.
Considering that DeSimone has done well building commercial properties throughout Southern Nevada, heading into the always-challenging hotel-casino business was nothing short of an adventure, for sure.
Before the ink had dried on the deal, the hotel immediately headed into a noticeable improvement mode.
“I am always looking at other business interests,” DeSimone said. “I was considering a few businesses in Henderson and heard that the MGM was trying to sell Railroad Pass.
“The next day I wrote an offer and they accepted it. The deal closed in April of 2015. It’s been different, but a lot of fun, too. The learning curve has been step, but there have been a lot of people giving me good advice.”
One thing long-time customers do not appreciate is immediate change, and DeSimone carefully made sure that Railroad Pass maintained its history. With 80 percent of his clientele hailing from Boulder City, it was utmost that the friendliness of Railroad Pass remained along with the allure both inside and outside.
“He’s very smart,” said long-time friend and former Nevada State Senator Mike Schneider. “We have been business partners for six years and one thing I really like about him is he is very cautious. He gets in and gets the job done, but he doesn’t go in like a bull in a china closet.”
Indeed, purchasing Railroad Pass was a massive undertaking monetarily and personally. But DeSimone is not someone who shies from a challenge as evidence by how his company recovered from a brutal economy during the Great Recession.
Slot manager Londa Kerner — herself a resident of Boulder City – has been with Railroad Pass for 19 years. Over the years, she has become friends with families who patronize the establishment and says the changes under DeSimone’s leadership have all been positive.
“He came in and made some changes that needed to be done like the roof needed to be replaced,” she said. “Then, he has also painted the outside and added some upgrades.
“Over the years, we have seen people celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary at Railroad Pass. This is like one big happy family here and I cannot imagine working anywhere else.”
In fact, the new guy on the block has not affected the friendliness of Railroad Pass one bit, Kerner added. The end result is a team that works together and noticeably has fun at the same time.
“Joe strolls through the casino all the time talking with the customers and asking what we can do to make things even better,” she said. “And he is always speaking with the employees, too.” +