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Sam Nazarian Wants You to Sleep with Him

A reformed playboy and reality-TV star is transforming himself into America's next great hotelier

Sam Nazarian, 36, wearing a yellow hard hat that makes him seem taller than his 6 feet 4 inches, chooses his words carefully as he paces off the square footage of the Hyde Lounge at Bellagio, the nightclub he plans to open on what is perhaps the best piece of real estate in Las Vegas. Nazarian has worked hard to shed his reputation as a dilettante, the party-boy son of a billionaire who in a 2005 New Yorker profile came across as a combination of Mark Cuban and the movie character Arthur. The image Nazarian now projects is one of unflagging seriousness. The hard hat: serious. The construction site location: serious. The deals he is making: very serious. It still irks him that he was once dismissed as a lightweight. “I didn’t look serious,” he laments. “I’m not making that mistake again.”

Nazarian no longer invites reporters to drive around Beverly Hills in his million-dollar Bugatti. He has stopped dating starlets and appearing on MTV reality shows. He is busy trying to transform SBE Entertainment (SB is short for Sammy Boy), his $300 million nightclub-driven company, into a hospitality empire that he hopes will one day rival those of the great hoteliers of the past and present. He is already movie-star famous in Southern California, where his business deals are front-page news, but now Nazarian is going national, making bets in a half-dozen cities—most conspicuously in recession-ravaged Las Vegas, where he is developing a 1,622-room hotel as well as the club at the Bellagio. “This is going to be the most interesting 24 months of my life,” he says. When asked whether this will make or break his business, Nazarian smiles and says, “Ask me in two years. But everything I’ve done, everything I’ve learned, some of it the hard way, it was to get here and do this.”