On a trip to Milwaukee, Joe remembers his father saying, "'Let's keep track of all the people we run into and see who goes out of their way to cater to us, Maloof-class.' We came in contact with 57 people—bellman, taxi drivers, flight attendants—and out of the 57, there was one waitress who really went out of her way to service us like we were part of her family. That made a big impact on me."
The family's entrée into professional sports came in 1979, when George Maloof purchased the NBA's Houston Rockets for $9.5 million. The following year, he built the Classic Hotel in Albuquerque, what was to be his flagship property. Soon after it opened, he suffered a heart attack and died. He was 57. He left behind a reported $125 million-a-year empire and a bronze statue of himself in downtown Albuquerque.
At the time of their father's death, Joe was 25 and Gavin 24. Their siblings were teenagers. They could have cashed out and retired, but with mother Colleen at point, they decided to keep their holdings together. Yet George Sr.'s two sisters were part of the business at the time, and they wanted it sold. They filed suit.
In the heavily masculine environments of beer, banking and professional sports, Colleen was seen as a liability by everybody but her children. "Everybody came at my mom and told her, 'Sell, sell. You're a woman with a young family,' " Joe says. "Without my mom we wouldn't have a business, if you want to know the facts. She raised a family and had enough respect for my father and what he built to keep it going."
Colleen remembers flying to Colorado to meet with Joseph Coors—and found a sympathetic ear. "He told me, 'Go back home to your business and your kids and don't worry about anything,' " Colleen says. "He said, 'We're here if you need our support.' We're Democrats and they're Republicans, but they've been great to us."
The family lawsuit dragged on for a decade before George Sr.'s immediate family bought out the aunts. During this fractious time, the family sold the Rockets for about $12 million. Their timing was horrible: the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird rivalry had rejuvenated the NBA, while Stern's skills as commissioner would help elevate the league into an international marketing juggernaut. With the Rockets now worth a cool $250 million, it's no wonder that Colleen calls the sale "the biggest mistake we ever made."
"The rest of the family—especially my aunts—couldn't stand the thought of us paying [Rockets center] Moses Malone $1 million a year," Gavin says. "So we said, 'We'll sell it, go back to New Mexico and concentrate on our core businesses.' " He chuckles. "The day after we sold the Rockets we were looking for another sports team."
The experience taught them a lesson—to be wary of anybody but immediate family and trusted advisors. Joe estimates that it took him "about a decade" to come to grips with his father's legacy and to feel confident about his own business acumen. In the early 1990s, with the legal disputes settled, Colleen and her children branched out with investments that have paralleled George's original direction. Joe and Gavin bought a liquor distributorship and expanded their beer lines to include Corona. (They've since sold the liquor part.)
Young George studied hotel management at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. In 1989, he persuaded the family to purchase land in Las Vegas for a casino, but it took them five years to get construction financing. The family eventually signed personal guarantees to raise the necessary $30 million. Built in northern Las Vegas, far removed from the Strip, the Fiesta Casino was a winner as soon as its doors opened. Maloof hit on an innovative strategy: He concentrated on the locals market, luring them with a lavish buffet and "loose" slots that paid off better than the norm. "The casino still wins money," says Anthony Curtis, editor of the Las Vegas Advisor newsletter, published for casino consumers. "But instead of gutting people fast, it bleeds them slowly."
After two expansions, the family sold the Fiesta for $185 million in 2000, then used the proceeds to build the $265-million Palms. This time around, Maloof had a grander vision: He would merge the locals-only concept of the Fiesta with an off-the-Strip hideaway for young celebutantes looking to party.
Despite opening just two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, the casino was a hit. Opening night festivities featured Paris Hilton in a million-dollar corset made of casino chips. The master stroke was persuading MTV's "The Real World" to produce its show in a specially built suite, giving the casino instant "cool" status among the highly coveted youth audience.
The Palms is uniquely chameleon-like. By day, steady streams of locals feed the thousands of video poker slots and watch movies at the 14-screen theater; by night, a frothy mix of sports, music, and film hipsters turn the Rain nightclub and the Ghost Bar into gossip-magazine fodder. Curtis, who likens George Maloof to a contemporary Steve Wynn, describes the scene as "the blue-hairs meet Hollywood."
Michael Morton, co-owner and operator of N9ne, Rain and Ghost Bar, says, "We've developed the funnest hot spot in Las Vegas because George is driven to succeed. He is here night and day."
Maloof estimates pretax profits at $50 million. ("The Real World" suite now rents for $10,000 on weekend nights.) The casino will expand later this year, adding another tower of rooms and more private space for celebrities to romp. George pooh-poohs criticism that his "flavor of the month" casino cannot survive current trends. "Not long ago, you had the president of the United States addressing the nation, with 11 million people watching him," he says. "That same night, you had Paris [Hilton] and Nicole Richie debuting their reality show on Fox, with 12 million people watching. People are fascinated with both celebrities and reality TV."
The family has turned down offers to star in its own reality show, citing privacy concerns. Actually, they may be having too much fun for network television. Only sister Adrienne is married; each of the four brothers denies having a steady girlfriend. "I used to nag them about getting married," Colleen says, "and then I noticed they started to avoid me. So I stopped doing that. Whatever happens, happens."
"They enjoy their time being single," Adrienne says. "It doesn't look like they're ready to settle down soon."
Close friends say that they're too focused on work—and having too good a time—to slow their pace. "Being too busy—well, that's a good excuse," says Joe. "I tried to use that for about 10 years. I had a girlfriend for a while, but it didn't work out. Now I don't have a girlfriend, so you have to march on."
As other elements of the family business rolled forward, Joe and Gavin yearned to return to the sports world. They spent the 1990s hunting for a pro franchise. They can no longer recall every team they bid for, but the list included the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, a National Hockey League expansion club in Houston, and the Texas Rangers (before a fellow named George W. Bush bought the team).