This week I’ve got three separate pieces in Vegas Seven. The first is a short news item comparing and contrasting two Strip casinos with similar origins and dissimilar fates:
The Tropicana and the Sahara are a study in contrasts despite some shared history; at opposite ends of the Strip, both holdovers from the 1950s managed to survive into the 21st century. Both drifted further and further down market as they faced larger and more luxurious competitors. And, as of today, they are facing profoundly different fates. One is closing, while the other has a new lease on life.
via A Tale of Two Casinos | Vegas Seven.
Why did they end up going in different directions? I’d say it’s equal parts decision-making and geography. Obviously, the Tropicana’s going to get much more walk-in action and attract more people who want to be around other casinos. The Sahara, as of today, is almost in a no-man’s-land. The decision making part is: the Sahara folks (SBE) wanted to go for a massive renovation project that would have aimed towards the luxury market, and missed the timing. Two years earlier, and they’d have gotten funding, no problem. The Tropicana, on the other hand, took a smaller approach, simply remodeling its rooms for the mid-market.
The new Vegas Seven is available online now, and I’ve got an interesting piece about some happenings Downtown:
The folks running downtown’s Las Vegas Club hotel-casino think the slot players are right. PlayLV, which operates the club for the multinational investment group Tamares, has embarked on an ambitious course of slot-loosening—and a pull-no-punches campaign to let downtown gamblers know about it.
via Loosening Up | Vegas Seven.
This was a lot of fun to research, mostly because I don’t usually get to talk to people with such strong differences of opinion (well, except for John Curtas and Marilyn Spiegel, maybe). The biggest obstacle that the LVC will face, I think, is getting the players to actually believe that they’ve willingly loosened their slots.
Steve Rosen’s thoughts about Downtown branding itself specifically as a value gaming destination, with loose slots above everything else, are interesting, and make some sense. A few years ago hotel and f&B values were enough to distinguish Downtown from the Strip, but today that’s no longer the case. Would giving gamblers genuinely looser slots make a difference? I think it might.
Here’s a custom piece of art the PlayLV folks sent me that didn’t make the magazine–I still think it’s pretty funny:
“The Center of Pleasure Has Shifted,” it’s not.
A profile piece that was a lot of fun to write is out today in Vegas Seven‘s Green Felt Journal. It’s the result of a long talk with Skylofts concierge Sherman James, who has quite a story:
Sherman James might not be onstage when he arrives for work at 6 each morning at MGM Grand’s Skylofts, but he’s still the star of the show.
He’s been a concierge at the 51-loft hotel within a hotel since it opened in 2005, and he brings a different kind of experience than most employees of the ultra-luxury guest boutique: Long before he was a concierge, the sprightly 62-year-old had a career singing professionally and touring with groups like the Platters, the Coasters and the Imperials.
From the age of 18, James, who sings tenor, baritone and falsetto, spent a good part of each year on the road. Touring with revues such as Dick Clark’s Rock and Roll Revival and backing singers from Aretha Franklin to Loretta Lynn, he learned to be versatile and gained an appreciation of the world beyond the stage.
via Lofty expectations? Here’s your man. | Vegas Seven.
I really enjoyed getting Mr. James’ perspective on things. It’s great to hear stories about the road, and he’s really got a unique perspective. If you ever stay in Skylofts, you definitely want to ask his opinion about just about everything.
This is in today’s Vegas Seven. Again, since it’s a short piece, there’s no online link, but here’s the text:
Last spring, Harrah’s Entertainment (now Caesars Entertainment) rolled out an offer that, for those who like to stretch their waistband without stretching their dollars, sounded almost too good to be true: the Buffet of Buffets, an offer that let any Total Rewards member eat their fill for 24 hours at any or all of the company’s seven buffets for a mere $29.99.
Turns out, it was just slightly too good to be true: the company quickly raised the cost to $39.99. And, since last April, that’s where the price has stayed. Until now. Very quietly, Caesars has changed billboards and its website to reflect a new $44.99 price for the all-you-can-eat…and eat..and eat extravaganza.
The cost bump didn’t get quite the same media coverage as Celine Dion’s impending return to the Colosseum as Caesars Palace—in fact, there hasn’t been any buzz about this in print or online. In a town where the bargain hawks usually don’t miss a thing and even a two dollar increase in resort fees is met with public wailing and donning of sackcloth, this is as rare as a keno player catching 20 out of 20 spots. Or maybe the city’s first ultra-buffet is still such a good deal that a 12.5% increase isn’t news.
Vegas Seven–Inflation Hits Buffet Buffs
I don’t know exactly when the price went up. A few weeks ago, I noticed that the billboard near the airport connector reflected the $44.99 price. I didn’t find anything online when I looked around, not even from the usual bargain-hunting suspects.
What can I say–when something’s plastered all over a billboard, I’m a great investigative reporter.
If you want to see it in its true print context, you can check out the digital edition.
Page 18 of Vegas Seven has a brief profile of our last Gaming Research Fellow, Dr. Darryl A. Smith.
Don’t tell Darryl A. Smith that Las Vegas isn’t a thought-provoking town. The Bonanza High School graduate has long been fascinated by the tensions just underneath the city’s surface. He channeled his wanderlust into academics, pursuing a degree in philosophy at the University of Nevada, Reno before getting a divinity degree from Harvard and a doctorate in religion from Princeton. His academic work focuses on ethics and language. And recently, he returned home to give a talk at UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research that illuminated some of the connections between poker tells, common-enough in Las Vegas, and several strands of philosophical thought.
Starting with quotes from Jean-Paul Sartre, Ralph Ellison, and Joseph Conrad, Smith related how writers and philosophers through the ages have described hiding things, both physical and cerebral, with excessive light, something that poker players, used to projecting strength when holding weak hands and vice versa, employ ever day. He didn’t just use literary examples, however—he pulled in the lived experience of Las Vegas’ own Westside as an example of a place darkened by surrounding light, and a neighborhood with its own “true names,” sometimes at odds with those on Mapquest.
Smith, an assistant professor of religious studies at Pomona College, drew on his own fieldwork along the alphabet streets conducted while on a resident fellowship at UNLV. And he’s proof that Las Vegas, often derided in the national media as an intellectual wasteland, is capable of producing an academic thinker capable of truly ambitious scholarly work in the same vein as the high-flown theoretical discourse echoing in the halls of the Ivy League.
Professor Smith’s talk is available via UNLV”s Gaming Podcast
Vegas Seven Digital Edition
I can’t find these short pieces on the website, so I cut-and-pasted my original Word document. You can see the article, with a pretty cool picture, in the digital edition for 3/3/11.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.