The Man Behind The D

Although the energy of Tony Hsieh and other non-gamers has helped fuel the transformation of downtown Las Vegas, a cadre of Fremont Street casino owners also deserve credit. Derek Stevens is prominent among them.

Stevens is overseeing two downtown remodeling projects: the addition of a new high-roller gaming area and 16 suites to the historic Golden Gate (the building housed the city’s first hotel, which opened in 1906), and the transformation of Fitzgeralds into The D.

Of the two, the Golden Gate is the smaller job. The high-limit pit is about to open, as is the first floor of suites, with the rest of the rooms to be completed by the end of May. The expansion has been executed with assembly-line precision and will open on time.

Turning Fitzgeralds into The D will take a little more time—at least four months. Stevens and his brother Gregory bought the rundown property at the end of October and decided to do a full remodel, followed by a rebranding.

They are turning one of the property’s biggest challenges—its two-story casino—into an attraction. Historically, multi-level casinos haven’t performed well, which is why you don’t see many of them. But Stevens is confident that, after the remodel, the novelty will be a draw.

“I wanted to take the aspect that’s different,” he says, “and truly differentiate.” So the first floor will be louder, more contemporary, with more LED lighting, while the second floor is more vintage, with prominent neon throughout. It’s going to feature classic games, including coin-operated slots and retro aspects from the 1950s through the ’80s. It’s a way of accommodating the old downtown with the new indoor/outdoor party vibe that outdoor bars—which have spread since Stevens introduced One Bar at the Golden Gate in 2009—have inspired.

At The D, Stevens picked a name that might take some getting used to. “The D” doesn’t immediately suggest a hotel-casino, but it’s got a certain old-school charm. It’s certainly not the same kind of focus-group-tested, picked-by-committee name as “Vdara” or “Aria.”

“We came up with it ourselves,” Stevens says. “In reality, it stands for downtown. It’s also a tip of the cap to Detroit.” Stevens is quick to point out that The D will not be a “Detroit-themed casino” by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s Stevens’ way of paying tribute to his hometown. It doesn’t hurt that many people call him “D” for short.

Some downtowners haven’t fallen in love with the name, but Stevens isn’t worried.

“I’m a firm believer that the name does not make a casino, but the hotel-casino makes the name,” he says. “I think by the fall, when everything is up and running, people will come here and say, ‘Wow, this is downtown?’ I’m comfortable with the design. It’s going to be a nice property, oriented around fun. That’s one of my key themes in Golden Gate. When people come out, they’re having a pretty good time. Whether they’re upstairs or downstairs, the same will be true at The D.”

Stevens—who also owns the Las Vegas 51s baseball team—loves downtown Las Vegas, but in many ways his heart is still in Detroit. That’s not a bad thing. He’s deeply committed to buying American, and here in Southern Nevada he’s even more committed to buying locally.

“Usually, you create your designs then quote it out to Chinese manufacturers,” he says. “But I wanted to stay local. I’m glad I stood firm. We got a great deal from a Las Vegas-based company that’s providing all of the furniture for the property. I’m awfully proud that we were able to do that.”