GAMBLING

Andrew Fonfa Widow Needs More Time to Conclude Estate

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Posted on: January 11, 2024, 12:41h. 

Last updated on: January 11, 2024, 12:47h.

The widow of Andrew Fonfa, the Las Vegas real estate developer who built and opened the failed Lucky Dragon casino resort, says she needs more time to settle outstanding lawsuits and wrap up her late husband’s estate.

Andrew Fonfa Lucky Dragon Las Vegas
Andrew Fonfa, who envisioned, fundraised, and built the failed Lucky Dragon casino and resort in Las Vegas, died in June 2020. His widow continues to face lawsuits over the resort that went bankrupt just two years after opening. (Image: Casino.org)

The Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) this week approved Jodi Fonfa’s request to have her gaming license extended for three years. The Nevada Gaming Commission (NGC) is expected to formally approve the extension when it meets on January 25.

The late Fonfa devised a funding plan through the federal government’s EB-5 visa program. He attracted nearly 180 foreigners to invest a minimum of $500K into the Lucky Dragon concept. The EB-5 visa program grants permanent residency to investors. Projects are supposed to be built in areas with high unemployment.

When Fonfa proposed the Lucky Dragon just west of the Strip along W. Sahara Ave. in 2012, unemployment in Las Vegas was over 150% higher than the national average. Nevada at the time had the highest unemployment rate in the US at nearly 12%.

No Luck for Lucky Dragon

Nearly as soon as the $165 million Lucky Dragon opened in December 2016, it became apparent that it might not survive. The area at the time was sort of a no man’s zone with little pedestrian traffic.

The Asian-themed boutique resort closed its 40,000-square-foot casino in January 2018 after it failed to generate enough monthly gaming revenue to warrant its continued operation. The Lucky Dragon’s 203 guestrooms remained open for stays, but without a casino or significant convention space, the hotel failed to attract a meaningful number of overnight visitors.

Those who did stay complained about restaurants being closed or operating in limited capacity, and scolded the property for continuing to charge a nightly resort fee despite the presence of few amenities.

The Lucky Dragon shuttered in early October 2018. Fonfa then faced a series of lawsuits from EB-5 investors and Snow Covered Capital, the latter who had injected more than $40 million into the property through investments and loans. Snow Covered Capital said in a statement at the time that the Lucky Dragon’s operations “have been a dismal failure.”

Andrew Fonfa died in July 2020 at the age of 68 after suffering a massive heart attack. His obituary bragged about his business accomplishments and his extreme intelligence with an “IQ of 160.”

Jodi Fonfa, being the executor of her husband’s estate, is now named as the primary defendant in Snow Covered Capital’s lawsuit seeking the return of loans provided to Lucky Dragon. A 2023 lawsuit additionally alleges the “fraudulent transfer of assets between Andrew Fonfa (deceased) and … Jodi Fonfa.”

The Lucky Dragon was eventually auctioned to local businessman Don Ahern for $36 million. He reopened the resort as a nongaming facility called the Ahern Hotel in February 2020 just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Indian Springs Casino

In addition to being the controlling stakeholder in the Lucky Dragon, Andrew Fonfa maintained a 19% interest in the operations of Terrible’s Casino in Indian Springs, roughly 30 miles north of Las Vegas. Jodi claims that at the time of his death, Andrew was in the process of transferring ownership of that position to his son Evan Fonfa.

Should the NGC extend Jodi’s inherited state gaming license and issuance of a finding of suitability to maintain the concession, her attorney says it will provide the time needed to settle the outstanding lawsuits.

The cases are expected to be settled by the end of 2025. The NGC in January 2021 transferred Andrew’s gaming license to Jodi for an initial three-year period.

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