The Importance of People in Vegas Seven

In this column for Vegas Seven, I think a little about how not everything can be automated:

It’s hard to argue against the financial benefits that a robot bartender or check-in kiosk can have over a human employee. In many cases, automation can lead to a better customer experience. If you don’t believe me, tell me the last time you cashed a check with a teller in a bank? The development of direct deposit and ATMs has made lives much easier for a lot of us, but probably hasn’t helped launch many careers for bank tellers.

Read it all: The Importance of People in the Gaming Industry and Beyond

This is a big issue for the entire world, but is particularly crucial to Las Vegas.


CEO Shuffle at Scientific Games – Vegas Seven

In this week’s Green Felt Journal, I take a look at the CEO transition at Scientific Games:

In a move with big repercussions for the gaming industry, manufacturing giant Scientific Games recently announced that its chief executive officer, Gavin Issacs, is being replaced by former Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Kevin Sheehan. This is a major transition for Sci Games and reveals the direction the industry is headed. 

Read more: CEO Shuffle at Scientific Games – Vegas Seven

The manufacturing side has seen a lot of consolidation but remains just as compelling as the operating side.

One Trip Worth Taking in Vegas Seven

It’s Thursday, which means a new Vegas Seven is available at news racks throughout Southern Nevada and online. In this week’s Green Felt Journal, I take a look at, trying to figure out what makes the site tick: isn’t a marketing mouthpiece. It’s not trying to sell you anything. And that might be why it’s become an Internet sensation.

The site has scooped multiple mainstream media outlets on several stories in the past few years, including the Aria Legionella outbreak. Insiders and “Internet ferrets” send photos and documents that pull back the veil of secrecy from construction projects and new developments. On discussion boards, members share stories of their stays in Vegas and seek advice on the best place to have breakfast or find 3:2 blackjack. It’s almost like TripAdvisor meets Wikileaks, only populated by people with whom you’d like to drink single-malt scotch.

via Here’s One Trip Worth Taking | Vegas Seven.

It’s nice to be able to do a profile of a site that I’ve been reading and occasionally commenting on for several years. I’ve had interesting exchanges there, to say the least.

I’d be curious to learn if other markets attract this kind of web attention. Are there similar independent sites that pull back the curtain on Orlando or Hawaii?

The Palms’ Big Break in Vegas Seven

Here’s my latest Green Felt Journal in Vegas Seven:

In the beginning, Las Vegas catered mostly to serious gamblers and casual vacationers. In the late 1950s, business travelers entered the mix. Later on, the town tried to be everything to everyone—both family-friendly and high-roller heaven, at the same time.

Since the onset of the recession, though, niche marketing has blossomed in Las Vegas. Whether it’s Trekkies, porn stars or March Madness bettors, Las Vegas hotels are bending over backward to make groups feel welcome, even when they don’t fit the traditional profile of the Vegas visitor.

via The Palms’ Big Break | Vegas Seven.

I find the growing niche-ization of Las Vegas one of the most interesting trends in the business today.

November Revenue Run-down

I had a busy morning yesterday. Every month, the day that the Nevada Gaming Control Board releases its monthly revenues numbers is a busy one. As usual, I prepared the historical summary for the month in question (November this time) and updated the rolling six-month summary. Here are the highlights and links. First, the monthly historical comparison:

November was good for Nevada’s gaming industry. Most reporting areas saw a second straight month of increases in gaming revenues.
Generally speaking, handle rose along with revenues, indicating an at least modestly rebounding demand for casino gambling. Partially this was
because November 2010 was a particularly bad month, but the increase in several areas indicates a small recovery for the gaming industry.

Statewide, casinos bounced back (+7.06%) from an atrocious November 2010 and then some—this was the strongest November since 2007; though revenues were still well (-10.29%) below their 2007 equivalents, this is a move in the right direction. Slot revenue, handle, and hold percentage all increased, and this pattern held for table games as well. These increases were small but definite, lending credence to the notion of a mild rebound.

Las Vegas Strip revenues grew by 9.02%, driven by slightly (+2.40%) higher slot revenues and what appears to be a major bounce in table play (+17.90%). But this is only because November 2010 was exceptionally weak for table games. It was a decent, but not a great, month when factoring in the favorable comparison. Table handle grew less than 7%, and much of the gain was driven by higher table hold percentage.

Downtown Las Vegas increased revenues by slightly more than the state average (+7.26%), due to high slot win (+4.63%) and especially table win (+17.31%). Much of the table increase was due to higher hold, however, so the actual increase in play is not as dramatic as it first appears.

On the Boulder Strip, total revenues grew by 12.44%, keyed by a 64.47% increase in table win. This was only, however, because November  2010’s hold percentage was just 4.88%; total table play actually fell, but a return to a normal hold made play more profitable for casinos. Slot  handle and win increased respectably, indicating continuing strength in the Las Vegas locals market.

Washoe County revenues increased slightly (+1.95%), a welcome respite from the usual decline. This bump was due to higher hold, however, as  handle remained nearly constant from last year. Perhaps this indicates a stabilizing trend in Northern Nevada.

Tables for Statewide, Las Vegas Strip, Boulder Strip, and Washoe County follow

Nevada Gaming Statistics: November Comparison

Second, the six-month analysis:

Statewide, November built on a strong October, canceling out—and then some—the disappointing
August and September results. It looks like the mini-downturn of the late summer has reversed, which
bodes well for strong December.

The Las Vegas Strip now has five out of six months in positive territory. Particularly impressive are the
three months of double-digit gains and one near double-digit increase (November). Slot revenues have
increased in each month in the period, with table revenues less consistent, but still showing an overall
increase. The Strip is moving in the right direction, albeit, in the case of slot machines slowly, and in the
case of table games, inconsistently.

Downtown Las Vegas now has an overall positive trend for the past half-year, with four out of six
months showing increases in revenue for tables and slots. This may be the long-awaited Downtown
turnaround. Consistent improvements in slot revenue are the key, looking ahead, for future growth.

The Boulder Strip continues to impress relative to the rest of the state, with a revenue increase well
above the statewide average. While the overall economic indicators for the Las Vegas Valley continue to
remain flat or worse, this reporting area is outperforming its expectations.

Washoe County appears to be stabilizing. Three out of the past six months have seen slight (less than
2%) revenue increases, which may be a signal that the decade-long slide of Northern Nevada’s gaming
revenues might have reached bottom. There doesn’t appear to much room for growth, but this market
may be through the worst of its contraction.

Tables for Statewide, Las Vegas Strip, Downtown Las Vegas, Boulder Strip, and Washoe County follow

Nevada Gaming Statistics: The Last Six Months

And finally, I took a look at exactly what the numbers mean on Two Way Hard Three:

This appears, at first blush, to be a good month for Nevada casinos with no qualifications. There were, however, a few qualifications, though November was still a net positive for the state and the industry.

First, lets put November in context. The state’s gaming industry has been on a bit of a roller coaster, with an apparent recovery trend through much of the first half of 2011 ended by two consecutive months of declines (August, September). Then came October, which had an 8.12% increase in year/year revenues. Some started to believe that the recovery was back on track.

November makes it more likely that the state can anticipate further (modest) growth in its gaming industry. For the month, the state had a 7.06% increase in gaming revenues. And nearly every major reporting area posted positive results. For the first time in as long as I can remember, all five of the reporting areas I look at for my monthly reports (Statewide, Las Vegas Strip, Downtown Las Vegas, Boulder Strip, Washoe County) reported gains. That in and of itself is good news.

November in Nevada

That’s what I think. Share any of your opinions in the comments.

Looking back on Two Way Hard Three

In case you missed it, I’ve had two posts on Two Way Hard Three this week–each, in its own way, looking backward.

The first, Biggest Story of 2011–Six Nominees, breaks down what I think were the six biggest stories of 2011.

The second, The Las Vegas Hilton: Looking Back, takes a look…back at the history of the Las Vegas Hilton, which as of Tuesday became “LVH–The Las Vegas Hotel and Casino.”

So if you want a look at recent and not-so-recent history, that’s about 4,000 words worth of history for you to read.

Nevada’s Online Poker Regulations & My Busy Day

I’ve had a busy day. Going over yesterday’s changes to Nevada’s gaming regulations that open the door for online poker, I thought that it would be neat if someone created a sort of Cliff Notes guide to them. Then I realized that I was probably that someone. Five pages later, I was done. Here’s the executive summary:

On December 22, 2011, the Nevada Gaming Commission adopted amendments to its regulations that make possible the licensing and operation of online gambling operations within the state. Specifically, these regulations were amended:
• Regulation 3 (Licensing): Adds “operator of interactive gaming” and “service provider” to the list of entities that have to report “qualifying employees” to the Board.
• Regulation 4 (Applications): Creates three new categories of gaming license: manufacturer of interactive gaming systems, operator of interactive gaming, and service provider.
• Regulation 5 (Operations): Adds a new section, 5.240 Service Providers, to the regulations that currently govern the gaming operations; creates classes of service providers, defines them, and elucidates the disciplinary framework
• Regulation 5A (Operations): A new regulation that outlines exactly how online gaming will be conducted in Nevada.
• Regulation 8 (Ownership): Adds “operator of interactive gaming license, or a service provider license” to the list of licensees who must report loan/lease transactions to the Board.
• Regulation 14 (Manufacturers, Distributors, Operators): Adds language about interactive gaming systems to the devices covered and mandates that games display the rake and wagering limits.

Nevada’s Online Gaming Regulations: Changes Adopted December 22, 2011

There’s a lot more, including lots of details of what’s included in the regulations. It’s an interesting five pages if you’re a fan of gaming regulation or want to play online poker in Nevada.

I then wrote a semi-opinion piece for Two Way Hard Three about the changes:

So what does all this mean? Basically, that Nevada casinos will be able to start offering online poker as soon as they can get their systems together and get them approved by regulators.

How is all of this going to happen? There are going to be two ways casinos will offer online poker:

1. By building (or buying, or partnering with the supplier of) an “interactive gaming system” themselves. They would own it outright and run it.

2. By contracting with an “interactive service provider” to do the same….

Nevada Online Poker: What Just Happened? Two Way Hard Three

On top of that, I wrote up the UNLV Center for Gaming Research December Update and then fielded a bunch of calls about the Department of Justice memo that says, “Sorry for the confusion, but the Wire Act only applies to sports betting.

I can hope that the Wire Act being in the news will trigger a surge of interest in my 2005 book on the statute, Cutting the Wire: Gambling Prohibition and the Internet, but I won’t hold my breath. It being so close to the holidays, I can’t think of any better way to celebrate than by giving an academic monograph on federal gaming law as a gift to your loved ones. I’m only half joking there.

UNLV is closed next week thanks to budget austerity measures, so I’ll say thanks to everyone for an interesting 2011 right now. I hope 2012 is even better for all of us.

Cosmopolitan commentaries

I was tied up with jury duty Monday and Tuesday so I didn’t get the chance to share my Las Vegas Business Press column about the possible implications of The Cosmopolitan’s charging for wifi:

When The Cosmopolitan opened last December, its managers consciously positioned it as an in-the-moment alternative to the traditional Las Vegas casino. They commissioned artists to create murals in their parking garage, a far cry from the typical maroon/aqua/orange scheme most casinos use (remember which color you parked on?). Art-o-Mat machines installed throughout the property dispensed bite-sized artful odds and ends at $5 a pop. No cheesy cover bands running through the 1970s songbook three times a night in its Book and Stage casino lounge; instead, The Cosmopolitan booked cutting edge indie rock acts.

All of these touches, along with many more (small plates in the buffet! wraparound balconies!) were to make The Cosmopolitan irresistible to the curious class, an indefinable group of heretofore-untapped potential Vegas visitors who would spend sufficiently to justify the paradigm shift.

Free Wi-Fi was to be one of The Cosmopolitan’s difference-makers….

Charging for Wi-Fi bodes ill for The Cosmopolitan

Since I’ve waited so long to post the link, I’ll also share my extended Two Way Hard Three meditation on what can go wrong when you take back a freebie. Most people are sounding off about The Cosmopolitan’s wifi, but I took a pretty big detour into the Atlantic City Bus Wars:

I’d put The Cosmopolitan wifi in the same category: now that we’ve grown accustomed to free wifi there, whether as hotel guests or restaurant/club visitors, we’re going to be irked every time we look at our phones and see “3G” instead of that wavy wireless symbol. It’ll just be a reminder that we’re not getting as much out of the resort as we used to.

Freebie Bye-Bye Blues

Either way, this is something people clearly feel strong about.

With The Cosmopolitan already losing nearly $170 million this year, I almost wonder what the point is. Even if they got 500 people a day to pay $15 for wifi, they’d make an extra $7,500 a day, or about $2.7 million for the year. Which sounds like a big number, I won’t dispute, but when you’re already losing $227 million a year (which, if they keep on going at the pace they’re at, they will), does that incremental revenue really represent that big a gain over the negative PR/reduced bookings/reduced time on property?

I guess we’ll find out.

I’d still like to figure out how a 50-room La Quinta can lump the wifi costs in with your $70 room rate, but a 3,000-room place charging $200+ needs to add the charge on.

Island Sushi rundown plus social media talk in Vegas Seven

This week in my Green Felt Journal column I talk a little about the role of food in marketing a casino, the future of Downtown, and how the Plaza’s going to fare by looking at Terence Fong’s Island Sushi. From Vegas Seven:

In that light, recruiting chef Terence Fong, owner of Henderson’s Island Sushi and Hawaiian Grill, to open a branch of his popular Eastern Avenue eatery in the Plaza was a masterstroke for two reasons. First, Fong is a casino veteran who spent years at Caesars Palace and with Wolfgang Puck; he worked in some of the city’s most historic restaurants (Bacchanal, Andre’s) before leaving the Strip to spend more time with his family and, ultimately, to pour his energy into Island Sushi. He knows how to run a casino eatery.

via In the Dining Business, the Plaza Plays Smart | Vegas Seven.

I first tried the Plaza Island over a lunch meeting with a trio of high-powered Plaza marketing executives. Got the chicken katsu. Was very impressed. Would have gladly paid for it had one of the execs not had the Power of the Pencil. While I’d been thinking about doing a piece on Fong, I’ve got to admit that the quality of the food made it a “hey, I want to write about this next week” as opposed to, “this might be a good idea for an article someday” piece. In a later interview, I found Fong to be passionate and deeply knowledgeable. I don’t usually do “food” writing, and I wouldn’t call this food writing since I’m more looking at the role of the restaurant in the Plaza (and Downtown’s) rebirth as opposed to comparing it to other sushi places.

I thought highly enough of Island to check out the Eastern location, where I had great sushi and some of the best-tasting seaweed salad I’ve had in a long time. It put the stuff they serve at the Wynn buffet to shame, at the very least. I paid my own check, so this is not a sponsored conversation.

Speaking of which, I also took a look at the Cosmopolitan’s social media strategy at the prompting of a Vegas Seven editor. I struggled to articulate just how I felt about it. While the piece, part of the new media section, isn’t available in its own html page just yet, you can check it out in the digital edition right here.

Two Way Hard Three triple-play

If you’re not tuned into my Twitter feed or don’t regularly check Two Way Hard Three, you will be surprised and, one hopes, delighted to hear that I’ve had a very productive few days there.

This came about because, in the run-up to the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic,* I wanted to stoke excitement by doing the most exciting thing I know how to do–writing about casinos (yes, that’s a personal shortcoming that I’m working on). So on Wednesday, I penned a number-heavy analysis of Atlantic City casino comps vs. Las Vegas Strip casino comps. Here’s a little teaser:

Worse yet, the trend is heading in the wrong direction. In 2007, there was one casino in the over-40% red zone: the AC Hilton. In 2010, four casinos were there.

As a whole, the industry is spending 8 cents more per dollar of casino win in revenues. That’s not sustainable, and those properties with the highest comp ratios are the most likely to collapse.

Let’s now turn to the Las Vegas Strip….

Comps: Atlantic City Vs. Las Vegas

I followed that up on Thursday with an in-depth treatment of the Tropicana’s recent game of musical chairs. I’d been asked to talk about it quite a bit, and wanted to just get my thoughts out there, unmediated. Here’s a sample:

I can’t speak directly to the circumstances around Mr. McCartney’s departure, I will say it’s not unprecedented for casino presidents to leave abruptly. Obviously neither side is going to have a frank discussion about the real reason for the departure, so for now it’s best to just let that one go, since anything anyone says is going to be speculation, which isn’t that illuminating or respectful to those involved.

The second essential, entertainment turnover, I can speak to directly. We’ve seen tons of it on the Strip, and at successful casinos, too.

Tropicana shuffle: Panic or business as usual?

And just this morning (after Hunter’s posting of a CCTV-camera quality, last-known-photograph shot of the possible Wynn Cotai) I offered up some thoughts on casinos, history, and the mob, sparked by Henry Hill’s stint signing autographs at the Global Gaming Expo earlier this month:

Fast forward ten years and all things organized crime are, it seems, embraced. There’s been a Godfather slot machine. There’s been a Sopranos slot machine. In Atlantic City, Resorts is embracing a “Boardwalk Empire”-inspired Roaring Twenties theme, paying tribute to Prohibition-era law-breaking. The Tropicana, which once hid secret interests from reputed mob bosses Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky and was, in the 1970s, implicated as mob-tainted as part of the Strawman investigation, went all-in with a “Mob Experience” that not only celebrated organized crime, but made it seem as natural a part of the industry as comp buffets for slot players. And Henry Hill was part of the industry’s biggest showcase.

The mob & casinos: time heals all wounds

So I’ve been pretty busy. Between this, my Business Press column, and the Vegas Seven piece on Ramesh Sadhwani, you’ve got about 3,000 words (or more) of my writing to entertain you. And, if you’re a guest at the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic* this weekend, you get a chance to stump me. Sounds like fun.

* Not a real mafia.