Frank Riolo’s leap of faith in Vegas 7

Finally, another Green Felt Journal in Vegas Seven. And this is a good one, too:

It’s not often that a CEO becomes a hero by jumping off a building, but most CEOs aren’t like Frank Riolo. And most companies don’t operate observation towers attached to a Las Vegas casino.

Since May 2008—just about the start of the current economic slide—Riolo has helmed American Casino & Entertainment Properties, the company that operates the Stratosphere, Laughlin’s Aquarius and Arizona Charlie’s East and Decatur for Whitehall Properties, an investment arm of Goldman Sachs.

In April, Riolo’s main charge, the Stratosphere, was putting the finishing touches on its new Sky Jump ride. As part of the opening festivities, he opened up the ride for free to all employees who wanted to try. It looked like so much fun, he joined them.

via Leap of Faith | Vegas Seven.

All of this grew out of a conversation I had with Mr. Riolo after he heard me on KNPR’s State of Nevada. As we were chatting, it dawned on me that he had a story everyone should hear.

While he was walking me around the property we ran into Brian Thornton, which turned out to be quite fortuitous, since he was an excellent guy to talk to about the El Cortez suite design competition. It’s another reminder of what a small town this really is. That’s not always a bad thing.


El Cortez suite competition winner in Vegas Seven

It’s Thursday, so I’ve got a Green Felt Journal column in Vegas Seven. This week, I dig a little deeper into the significance of the El Cortez’s Design-a-Suite Downtown competition:

When the El Cortez announced the winner of its Design-a-Suite Downtown competition recently, the downtown stalwart did more than decide the look for its suites; it reaffirmed its faith in the neighborhood.

“Jackie Gaughan’s always said that what’s good for downtown is good for the El Cortez,” executive manager Alexandra Epstein says. “That’s why we’re cultivating friendships with designers and the World Market Center and bringing in as many people as possible. We want to highlight our neighbors.”

via Suite Designs | Vegas Seven.

It’s a very important story for Downtown, and I think it has significance for the way casinos are going to operate.

A programming note: with the redesign of the magazine, the Green Felt Journal is now going to be bi-weekly, instead of weekly. On the down side, that means you’ll be getting 50% less GFJ each month. On the positive side, this might give me the chance to do more features.


Sandoval’s message to gaming in the Las Vegas Business Press

My latest column in the Las Vegas Business Press is now available. In it, I consider Governor Sandoval’s recent call for modernization in Nevada’s gaming regulations:

In his State of the State address, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval briefly noted the necessity of updating the state’s gaming regulations to reflect the new realities of 21st century gambling. It’s a good message to share and it highlights the work the industry and its regulators have done to keep moving forward.

Sandoval highlighted the need for “a flexible environment for the technological resources that are the underpinning of modern gaming devices,” suggesting that the recent forays into mobile gambling — courtesy of dedicated devices developed by Cantor Gaming and applications that run on smart phones, one of which recently gained board approval — will continue. With commerce and information-sharing migrating from brick-and-mortar to Internet to mobile, it makes sense that more people are going to want to gamble using these technologies.

via Las Vegas Business Press :: David G. Schwartz : As gambling shifts, state must be ready to adjust.

The importance of modernization was really driven home last Friday, when I went to the opening of Cantor Gaming’s new sportsbook at the Tropicana. Cantor is moving aggressively into mobile sports gaming. In addition to their dedicated devices, which you can already get at the M, Venetian/Palazzo, Hard Rock, Tropicana, and Cosmopolitan, Cantor is developing apps that run on smart phones and tablets.


Station hiring in Vegas Seven

It’s Thursday, which means another Green Felt Journal is available for your reading pleasure in Vegas Seven. This one is a look behind Station Casino’s recent hiring push:

The local employment picture has been a dire one. In the past five years, the unemployment rate has more than tripled. That’s why a local company hiring 1,000 new employees is pretty good news.

Of course, even 1,000 jobs hardly puts a dent in the unemployment picture. With more than 140,000 Las Vegans out of work, even if every casino in town added 1,000 workers—and that’s just not going to happen—we’d still have an unemployment rate higher than it was four years ago.

More significant is what these hires say about the near-future of the Valley—and the nature of casino work.

via Station’s math: More employees mean more business | Vegas Seven.

The jobs themselves mean a lot, particularly to the people who got hired, but I think that long-term the more significant thing we can parse from this development is that we might be seeing a reverse of the trend towards fewer employees per position.

With 140,000 people out of work, though, even that’s not going to help really “put Las Vegas back to work.” All of the casinos in Clark County employ about 147,000 people. They’d each have to double their payrolls to solve the unemployment problem, and that’s clearly never going to happen. Moderately higher staffing levels across the industry will create a few thousand more jobs, but clearly Las Vegas is going to have to diversify.


Kyle Markman profile in Vegas Seven

This Thursday, there’s no local news section in Vegas Seven since it’s a special People issue. Instead, I wrote a brief profile of Kyle Markman, who’s been doing some very interesting things at Station Casinos:

Kyle Markman knows how to throw a party. In June 2008, it was his job to set up a celebration for the release of Nelly’s Brass Knuckles at Red Rock Resort. Nelly was so taken by Markman’s personal tour of the resort’s suites, pools and lounges—and the way Markman juggled arrangements and handled VIPs during the bash—that he filmed the entire video for “Body on Me” at the casino.

The 27-year-old has since been promoted to Station Casinos’ director of nightlife, and it’s a job that goes a lot deeper than making stars happy. “It’s not all about bottle service and oontz-oontz-oontz music,” he says. “It’s about giving locals someplace to have fun and a great value.”

via Kyle Markman | Vegas Seven.

Kyle was not only interesting to meet, but also a legitimately nice guy who’s got a good grasp of both the casino nightlife and locals entertainment. That summer concert series should be a real game-changer.


Gaming insider talks in Vegas Seven

The latest Green Felt Journal in Vegas Seven is out. In it, I profile long-time Gaming Control Board inspector Patrick Wynn:

Many Nevadans have transitioned into new jobs and even careers. Patrick Wynn is one of them. The former Nevada Gaming Control Board deputy chief of investigations, who recently retired after more than 31 years of service, sees his new role as more of a shift in position than in mission.

Wynn, no relation to the casino operator, started his career with the Gaming Control Board after getting tired of living in Los Angeles. Looking to expand beyond his job—he was an accounts payable manager with Union Oil—Wynn got a position as an investigator. The division remained his home for the next three decades, minus a yearlong “sidestep” into enforcement.

via Gaming insider moves to the outside | Vegas Seven.

I had a ball listening to Wynn talk about his career. Naturally, he couldn’t share names or details with me, but it’s clear that he knows as much about the gaming industry–and particularly the financial side–as anyone else in the state.

It’s really fun getting to do these profile pieces. I don’t get to look at their hard drives or bank statements, but, like Wynn, I get to learn a little bit about what makes the subjects tick.


Casino cyber security in Vegas Seven

This week in Vegas Seven‘s Green Felt Journal, I take look at an interesting letter Randall Sayre sent last month that, I think, we’d all do well to read:

According to the letter from then-Gaming Control Board member Randall Sayre on Dec. 15, the board has investigated “numerous incidents” where databases containing personal and/or financial information had been compromised. Further, the board acknowledged that as the amount of information in those databases increased, they would become an even more inviting target.

While most players wouldn’t be happy if the world discovered just how much time they spent on Kitty Glitter, there is much more at stake: The personal and financial information sitting in casino databases represents a potential gold mine for cyber criminals.

via Serious about cyber security | Vegas Seven.

This is a really, really serious issue that deserves further investigation. Casinos are entrusted with an enormous amount of sensitive information, and the security of that information is of paramount importance.

I remember hearing about the Cisco incident last summer, but this is the first I heard about the Desert Rose breach.

Hopefully we don’t have to see a major breach of a casino database before everyone in the industry takes this as seriously as Sayre is suggesting.


Tony Grant, Star Maker in Casino Connection AC

This month, I have a milestone Atlantic City history column in Casino Connection that celebrates one of the real personalities of Atlantic City, Tony “Mr. Wonderful” Grant:

Today, most of the entertainment in Atlantic City comes courtesy of seasoned veterans and nationally known recording artists. Once, however, the city was a mecca for amateur performers seeking applause—all courtesy of one man, whose name became synonymous with young talent. A staple on Steel Pier for 32 years, Tony Grant’s Stars of Tomorrow show gave thousands of children their first taste of the performing arts.

via Star Maker | Star Maker | Casino Connection Atlantic City.

Grant’s Stars of Tomorrow was one of the real institutions of post-war Atlantic City. Generations of children performed in his shows. This was a fun column to research; I found the Stars of Tomorrow Facebook page, which is a real treasure trove, and got to interview Tony’s grand-daughter Roxann.

It’s a milestone column because this is the last print edition of Casino Connection, so this is the final Atlantic City history column I’ll be writing for them. It’s been a great run–more than seven years of monthly columns–that gave me a chance to explore the history of my hometown and share some neat things with readers. I’d like to thank Roger Gros for giving me a great opportunity to write about a topic I’m passionate about for so long, Rob Rossiello for pairing my words with some fine images, Boo Pergament for sharing his photos with us, and the entire staff of the Atlantic City Free Public Library–particularly Pat Rothenberg (reference) and Heather Halpin Perez (Heston Collection). And of course everyone who read the column–thanks.


October & the future in LVBP

This week in the Las Vegas Business Press, I finally get a chance to discuss the October Nevada gaming numbers:

For both the state and the Strip, it was the third consecutive month of positive year-over-year revenue growth — as good a sign as any that, for now at least, the bleeding has stopped. At the very least, the data suggest that revenues for Nevada casinos have stabilized.

Yet October was very different from previous months, particularly on the Strip.

via Las Vegas Business Press :: David G. Schwartz : October numbers may point way to future.

It’s definitely shaping up to be a more varied year than 2008 and 2009 as far as the gaming revenue numbers go. I predict more volatility in the near future.


Silverton goes off-beat in Vegas 7

I missed this yesterday, but my latest Green Felt Journal column is out in Vegas Seven. It’s about some of the unusual events taking place at the Silverton:

Santa is floating inside the 117,000-gallon aquarium at the Silverton Casino and Lodge, his white beard billowing as the parrot fish and stingrays glide by. He’s taking orders for Xbox Lives and bikes via an assistant standing outside with a microphone.

“This is very unusual,” says one Summerlin resident who is here with her three toddlers to see Santa. “But it’s great. I love it.”

Once known for its bargain buffets, a 2004 renovation gave the property a more upscale look and higher-end amenities such as the Twin Creeks steak house. The recession shelved plans for a larger expansion, and in the current economic climate, the casino is finding it as hard to compete as anyone else.So, snorkeling Santa to the rescue.

via Not your father’s casino marketing strategy | Vegas Seven.

The underwater Santa was really quite unusual. With the microphone picking up his scuba breathing, it really sounded like he was about to ask HAL to open the pod bay doors. Very surreal.