Heavyweight Hospitality at Caesars in Vegas Seven

In the past few weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to have some very good conversations with people in the casino business that, I hope, have translated into good writing about the business. Here’s the first, a Green Felt Journal column about the challenges that Ramesh Sadhwani is taking on at Caesars Palace. From Vegas Seven:

Ramesh Sadhwani, who in September was named the hotel’s vice president of operations, might be the man to help Caesars recapture the title.

He’s certainly got a championship resumé: 15 years with Four Seasons, living in several countries and managing a number of five-star properties; five years as senior vice president and general manager of hotel operations for Wynn Las Vegas and Wynn Tower suites. Sadhwani knows top-tier hospitality, both in its broad international context and its specific Las Vegas spin.

On paper, he’s the first guy you’d want on board to run your five-star hotel. What doesn’t come through on paper, though, is Sadhwani’s genuine enthusiasm for the business of other people’s leisure.

via Heavyweight Hospitality | Vegas Seven.

What is difficult to convey is the genuine warmth in Sadhwani’s voice as he walked me through his decision to join Caesars which, within about five seconds, made his passion and his friendliness–two qualities essential for anyone in hospitality–immediately apparent. It’s usually just about impossible to build a rapport with someone who you’ve got 20 minutes to interview over the phone, but with Sadhwani it happened pretty quickly. He was upfront about the challenges he’s facing at Caesars and very specific about what he’s planning to do there.

It’s always refreshing to talk to a consummate professional like Sadhwani, who knows his business back-to-front and is so confident in his knowledge that he doesn’t have to roll out pre-stamped corporate boilerplate; he can just talk about his job. If you wanted to go into the hotel business, I can’t think of a better teacher.

In the column, I tried to draw on some of the history of Caesars Palace to show where it’s been, which certainly has a bearing on where it’s going.

As one of the best-known casinos in the world, I think it’s better for Las Vegas as a whole when Caesars Palace is doing well. And, despite some questions I’ve got about the Nobu tower concept, I have a lot of faith that Sadhwani’s going to deliver a Caesars Palace that, from a hospitality standpoint, is in the Vegas elite.

G2E convergence in the LVBP

I wrote up some of my thoughts on the new tech stuff at G2E for the Las Vegas Business Press. Take a look:

The official theme of the Global Gaming Expo, held Oct. 3-6 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center, was “innovation,”; but it could have been, more specifically, “convergence.”

As always, there were plenty of new products on display on the exhibit floor. International Game Technology alone demonstrated 400 new games for potential casino clients (and the occasional industry rival), and the other large manufacturers boasted similarly large offerings. But the real story was how the casino industry is converging, on several axes, with popular culture the latest technology, and, in the end, itself.

via Las Vegas Business Press :: David G. Schwartz : Annual gaming expo all about convergence.

I’m mulling a piece right now that will consider the consequences of all that new tech. How will casinos use it, and how should they use it?

G2E smells sweet in Vegas Seven

The latest Green Felt Journal is out in Vegas Seven. I take a look at a few vendors at this year’s Global Gaming Expo and then talk about the bigger significance of the show:

Purveyors to the gaming industry have three chances a year to show off their wares: the two Global Gaming Expos and London’s International Casino Exhibition. For those after the American market, the Las Vegas expo is their big shot; if they don’t sell it here, it might remain unsold.

That’s why, from the obvious cash-sorting devices to the whimsical a product billed as “zero gravity fruit”, if a casino could possibly want to buy it, someone was selling it.

via The Sweet Scent of the Global Gaming Expo | Vegas Seven.

I didn’t get to stop by the zero-gravity fruit booth, which is one of my true regrets. Hopefully they’ll be back next year, because this is a concept that I’d like to learn more about.

I thought it would be interested to focus on a few smaller exhibitors–after all, there’s tons written about the big slot manufacturers (I’ve got a Business Press piece coming out on Monday that references some of them), but to me the heart and soul of the show is the one- and two-man booths.

I had a lot of fun at G2E this year–there’s really some neat stuff going on if you know where to look for it. And I learned quite a bit about the major, major role that candy can play in a modern casino gaming operation. Unexpected.

Tectonic shift for gaming in the Business Press

Mulling over two seemingly contradictory bits of news–that the Justice Department had labeled Full Tilt Poker a “global Ponzi scheme” and that the AGA was launching a renewed push for the legalization of online poker–I got to thinking. It’s a dangerous pastime, I know, but in this case it led me to my latest column for the Las Vegas Business Press:

Gambling online and by mobile devices seems to be on the march. Despite a still-simmering online poker scandal, it now appears that its only a matter of when Internet poker is legalized, and last week the Nevada Gaming Commission approved two expansions of sports betting. To some, this is a surprise, but it shouldnt be: Smart players are just adapting to the latest technology, as they have been for millennia.

Gambling shifts to suit the times arent just inevitable — theyre a smart response to changing conditions.

via Las Vegas Business Press :: David G. Schwartz : Tectonic shift for gaming seems poised to come.

The Nevada legislature–which doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation as a forward-thinking, pro-active body–first addressed online gaming ten years ago. I wonder how much longer it will take for Congress to do the same.

Hiding Vices in Vegas Seven

Inspired by a conversation with September Gaming Research Fellow Kah-Wee Lee, I wrote a Green Felt Journal for Vegas Seven about Singapore and Las Vegas:

Imagine a casino-resort complex built by a world-renowned architect responsible for iconic buildings on multiple continents. From the start, it’s designed to be more than a mere gambling hall: It will have unparalleled convention facilities, restaurants helmed by celebrated chefs and buildings that look nothing like anything that’s been seen in Las Vegas before.

If you’re MGM Resorts International, you’ve just built CityCenter. It has posted operating losses each quarter since it opened; the company is attempting to implode the Harmon, which was to be its gateway structure. While it’s debatable to claim that it’s a failure, it certainly hasn’t been a catalyst for a dramatic rebound on the Strip, as MGM CEO Jim Murren forecast it to be, and no one’s claimed that it’s been particularly successful.

But if you’re the Las Vegas Sands Corp., owners of the Venetian and Palazzo, you’re presiding over the Marina Bay Sands, which recorded $585 million in net revenues in the first three months of this year—nearly double what the company’s Las Vegas properties brought in. And the Marina Bay resort is still ramping up.

via Vices, Hidden and in Plain Sight | Vegas Seven.

It’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it? And location, naturally.

Good July might be great news in the LVBP

My column in this week’s Las Vegas Business Press takes a deeper look at July’s Nevada gaming revenue numbers. The more I thought about them, the more I thought that a good month might not be such bad news:

On Sept. 12, the Nevada Gaming Control Board released its July gaming revenue report. In both May and June, large increases in baccarat win on the Strip powered the state to double-digit-percentage revenue increases. July didn’t have that kind of dramatic story, but that doesn’t make it a bad month for Nevada’s gaming industry. That July was a only a good month for Nevada gaming is, in fact, great news for its future.

via Las Vegas Business Press :: David G. Schwartz : July’s good numbers are great news for gaming.

It’s part of the bigger theme for the past few weeks, which, I’m finding, is “lowered expectations.”

The real test will be August–I’m very curious to see how the market turbulence of early August impacted gaming numbers here. Historically there’s not a very strong correlation between the market and gaming revenues, but I think that the bigger uncertainty might have kept a few dollars in pockets, so to speak. We’ll see in a few weeks.

Riviera’s Rebirth in Vegas Seven

My piece on the Riviera is out in Vegas Seven as of yesterday. Busy day, so I didn’t have time to post this. It’s this week’s Green Felt Journal:

As destroy/erase/improve gives way to rework/repaint/recycle, older Las Vegas hotels that a few years ago might have been imploded have gotten new leases on life. Over the past year, both the Tropicana and Plaza have been thoroughly revamped after each had been bandied about as a possible demolition candidate. Now it is the Riviera’s turn for a makeover, and the ultimate fate of the property could reveal much about the next decade or more of Strip development.

via Riviera Rebirth | Vegas Seven.

I think the Riviera is an interesting test case for what many properties are going to face in the next 10-20 years. I don’t see the need for implosions and new construction coming back anytime soon, so the question is, how do Strip casinos age gracefully? At the other end of the spectrum, the Bellagio’s facing the same dilemma.

As far as changes, I like some of what I see, and I don’t like other things. Bingo’s a great idea. Keeping prices low is a great idea. Changing the names of Kady’s and Kristofer’s–not such a good idea. At a time when everything strange and idiosyncratic about Las Vegas seems to be disappearing, I don’t know why they replaced those names with standouts like “Poolside Cafe” and “R(iviera) Steakhouse.” I can only hope they’re not placeholders before they bring in Bahama Breeze and Lone Star to run them.

I might do another blog post about the Riviera soon–I have a number of observations about the place that didn’t make it into the column, and I’d like to share them.

Dreamer’s paradise reality check in the LVBP

My column in this week’s Las Vegas Business Press is out. It’s a meditation on what less ambitious Strip developments really mean for Las Vegas.

With just about everyone in the industry mistaking the 2005-2007 boom for a new normal, it made tons of sense to trade in your sun-faded casino for a newer, bigger one with higher revenue per available room.It seems incredible that the 2000s saw exactly as many big casino demolitions as the 1990s four in each decade, but the Strip’s upside seemed so limitless that the present seemed little more than a springboard to better times.

via Las Vegas Business Press :: David G. Schwartz : Dreamer’s paradise hit with dose of reality.

I think there’s a lot to this story. What does it mean when we stop shooting for the stars?

And that little factoid about casino demolitions surprised me. If you want to stretch it, you can say there were actually more in the 2000s. Here’s my complete list, though I kept a few out for each decade. The ones I counted are in bold”

1990s: Sands, Dunes, Hacienda, Landmark, Marina, Vegas World

2000s: Desert Inn, Stardust, New Frontier, Boardwalk, Bourbon Street, Castways/Showboat, Sahara (closed, destruction almost inevitable)

I might have forgotten one or two.

Linq’s stirring up the Strip in Vegas Seven

When I was at the Linq-announcing press conference, I had many questions about how building this project would impact the casinos it will linq together. So I asked them. The result is this week’s Green Felt Journal in Vegas Seven:

With all due respect to artists’ renderings, the recent unveiling of plans for Caesars Entertainment’s Linq have people wondering just what the east side of the Strip will look like when the project opens in June 2013. But behind the aesthetic curiosity is another, more immediate question: How will the massive construction project affect guests and employees? Most of the initial dislocations will be behind the scenes, says Rick Mazer, president of Harrah’s Las Vegas, Flamingo, Imperial Palace, Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon and O’Sheas.

via Stirring up the Strip | Vegas Seven.

To me this is the interesting aspect of the story right now–how’s all of this construction going to work, and how will they keep negative externalities to a minimum? They seem to have a plan, and it will be interesting to see how well it goes.

I’m most curious about what’s going to happen on the Imperial Palace’s casino floor, and I’m looking forward to walking around it when it’s in the middle of being transformed, just to get that old>>>new under construction vibe.

Beer Pong Forever! in Vegas Seven

Last week when I first tweeted news that O’Sheas was being closed as part of the great Linq construction, I got a lot of questions, testimonials, and eulogies about beer pong. So I asked Rick Mazer (I’m too tired to retype his entire title, but he’s in charge of CZR’s Center Strip properties) what was happening. He said don’t, worry, beer pong’s safe, and I said, looks like I’ve got a quick, fun Vegas Seven piece:

When the details of Caesars Entertainment’s $550 million Linq were announced last week, most people were riveted by what the project promises to bring to Vegas in June 2013: 200,000 square feet of outdoor dining and shopping, a new name and appearance for the Imperial Palace, and a 550-foot sky wheel (Caesars doesn’t want us to say “Ferris,” so … OK) as an anchor.

via Beer Pong Forever! | Vegas Seven.

It just goes to show that if customers like something enough, casinos will keep on offering it. Usually.