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Aladdin Hotel's Controversial Korean 'Genie' : New Owner Has Colorful Past, Passion for Gaming

August 02, 1987|AL DELUGACH | Times Staff Writer

The first foreigner to own a casino on the Las Vegas Strip, the Aladdin's Ginji Yasuda, is a 55-year-old Korean-born resident of Japan who walks softly and carries a big wallet.

Yasuda has needed a healthy bankroll. He paid $54 million cash for the run-down gambling emporium, then spent an additional $30 million on an overrun-plagued remodeling job and maybe $10 million more on licensing and start-up expenses.

Not to mention his forays as a high-rolling gambler at neighboring casinos. By his own admission, he has lost $2 million playing baccarat at Caesars Palace in recent months. Ironically, the Aladdin acknowledges that, at about the same time, a high roller from South Korea was winning $1.7 million while gambling at there.

But although Yasuda has cut a highly visible swath through the Las Vegas community, even state gaming regulators worry that they know less about him than they do other casino owners. While approving his license to operate a casino last February, members of the Nevada Gaming Control Board publicly expressed concern that the state investigators were hampered by lack of access to criminal and civil records in Japan that in this country would be available to the public.

Yasuda brought the Aladdin out of bankruptcy proceedings in January, 1986, amid public fanfare. However, he couldn't operate its casino until he received a state license. He hired a politically influential Las Vegas lawyer and a chief executive to help get one.

But, instead of the projected half a year, licensing took an agonizing 13 months.

Those close to the case say the delay was due in large part to Yasuda's foot-dragging in supplying information to investigators. Yasuda, in an interview, blamed his original American aides for what he called the "mess." But casino regulators criticized him publicly for flouting their advice and instructions during the investigation.

State regulators also expressed misgivings publicly about one of Yasuda's Las Vegas associations. They brought out that Ash Resnick, who had been Aladdin casino manager under former owners, had steered him to the Aladdin. Although the regulators expressed concern at reports that Resnick was taking a behind-the-scenes casino role, Yasuda denied it.

The Aladdin's history of scandal makes licensing matters there particularly touchy in Nevada. Federal organized crime prosecutors won a conviction in 1979 of its corporate owner and several individuals for permitting underworld-related hidden interests in the casino. Subsequently, the state followed with a license revocation.

After that, state regulators rejected a series of would-be buyers, including Del Coleman of Chicago, the former head of another scandal-ridden firm, Recrion Corp.

Ultimately, they licensed entertainer Wayne Newton and his partner, Ed Torres, who aced out another bidder, night show host Johnny Carson. But Newton and Torres broke up over disagreements, and after Newton departed Torres put the Aladdin in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in February, 1984. That paved the way for the property to come up for grabs once again, its location and recognizable name as its main assets.

Enter Yasuda, whose Korean name is Sam K. Park. He was raised in Japan from early childhood but remains a South Korean citizen.

His reputation in Asia is that of the playboy-sportsman son of a multimillionaire real estate developer in Japan. Yasuda evidently has spent much of his adult life playing. According to biographical information issued by his staff, he won the European skeet-shooting championship and was on the 1964 South Korean Olympic team. He also was a race driver in Japan. In recent decades, he has been a breeder of racehorses and, by his account, a devoted plunger at gambling tables in Las Vegas.

Since 1971, he has divided his residence equally between Japan and Los Angeles. His Los Angeles home for 16 years has been in posh Holmby Hills, whose residents have included oilman Armand Hammer and Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, as well as an assortment of movie stars.

Besides his Holmby Hills house, where he and his wife raised three children, Yasuda has an expensive 12-acre ranch property in Bradbury, adjoining the San Gabriel Mountains, where he said he raises horses "five minutes from Santa Anita."

Yasuda received a real estate fortune from his father in Japan, regulators said they ascertained. The state also determined that he bought the Aladdin from proceeds of selling a downtown Tokyo property in 1984 for $120 million.

A notable coincidence related to Yasuda's residence, however, went without any mention at his public licensing hearings in Nevada.

County records in Los Angeles show that Sam K. Park (Yasuda) bought his Holmby Hills property Dec. 24, 1971, from a relative of Samuel Ray Calabrese, who has been identified by law enforcement as an associate of organized crime figures.

Group Bought Aladdin in '71

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