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.

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.

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.

Cosmopolitan will start an era in LVBP

In my latest Las Vegas Business Press column, I talk about how the Cosmopolitan marks the beginning of an era on the Strip:

With the opening of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, some observers believe we’;re seeing the end of an era. Unless the economy improves remarkably, it’;s likely the last new hotel-casino that will open on the Strip for quite some time.But there’s a lot to suggest that The Cosmopolitan marks the beginning of the next phase of Las Vegas.

For one, The Cosmopolitan is the first bank-owned casino to open on the Strip. As such, it’s a sign of the new economic realities of Las Vegas. Developers are no longer getting blank checks from lenders or investors. The recent fizzled initial public stock offering by Harrah’s Entertainment now Caesars Entertainment Corp. is a less visible reminder, but The Cosmopolitan, opening after a Deutsche Bank affiliate bought the project out of foreclosure, is a skyscraping reminder that there’s life after default.

Las Vegans whose neighborhoods are dotted with foreclosed homes and who are underwater in their own mortgages, might take some solace in that.

via Las Vegas Business Press :: David G. Schwartz : Cosmopolitan debut will start, not end, new era.

This is the final piece in my pre-opening Cosmopolitan media trifecta. You can get the other two-thirds, which appeared in Vegas Seven magazine last week, right here.

I know this might be at odds with what most other people are saying–probably even what’s been said in some stories I’ve been quoted in–but I think it gives a different perspective on what’s going on with the Strip today.

Remember that we had about 5 years–2000 to 2005–without a major opening on the Strip, so this isn’t unprecedented. The longest drought was the 1973-1989 wait between MGM Grand and the Mirage, even though there were plenty of expansions and smaller properties (Barbary Coast is one) opening during that time.

Instead of looking backward, I thought it might be good to try to look forward and see what we can read into the future, based on how the Cosmopolitan’s shown itself to be different. Interesting thought exercise that I hope gets people thinking.

Cosmopolitan coverage in Vegas Seven

I’m thrilled that two-thirds of my Cosmopolitan pre-opening trifecta are out. In today’s Vegas Seven, I’ve got two pieces about the soon-to-open casino.

The first is a profile of John Unwin, the Cosmopolitan’s CEO:

John Unwin’s not quite moved into his new office—the artwork’s still waiting to be hung and the shelves are mostly bare—but he’s right at home as the Cosmopolitan hurtles toward its Dec. 15 opening. As of this writing, it’s 14 days, three hours, 47 minutes and eight seconds until the curtain officially rises, according to the Strip-front clock. For the CEO, life and work will be controlled chaos until then, and probably for some time afterward.“The last two weeks are always nuts,” he says with a smile that belies the oncoming storm. “Even if we pushed the opening back four months, the last two weeks would still be just as crazy. That’s just how it is.”His crisp white shirt and dark purple tie, framed by a well-tailored gray suit, match the color palette of the Cosmopolitan’s logo. At this point, it’s hard to tell where the hotel ends and the man begins.

via A Shot at the Brass Ring | Vegas Seven.

I really liked talking to John. He’s an extremely interesting guy, and extremely engaging. Fantastic story-teller, too.

My second piece is in the Green Felt Journal. It focuses on what the “curious class” is, isn’t, and might be:

“It’s not a demographic,” Cosmopolitan chief strategy officer Sherry Harris says. “It’s a mindset.” Yet Harris has a strong image of who is in the curious class.

“She defines herself in terms of wanting something new and different, but it has to be meaningful and relevant. The new luxury is less about status and more about purpose. It’s defined as seeking experience over services, and it requires emotional connection that is worth returning to.”

Lisa Marchese, senior vice president of brand marketing, offers an explanation of the brand that will draw this adventure-seeking guest.

“Basically, it’s ‘polish without pretense.’ That’s our guardrail for every decision we make, from what amenities we have in the rooms to the artists on our marquee. The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is about creating stories that are worth telling.”

Catering to the ‘curious class’

As always, the proof is in the pudding, and we’ll learn a great deal about the efficacy of catering to the curious class once the Cosmopolitan has been open.

Five diamond party in Vegas Seven

Went looking for my Green Felt Journal column in the Local section of Vegas Seven’s newsroom this morning. I didn’t find it. “Well that’s not a good sign,” I thought.

Then I took another look at the mouseover menu for News and saw that the Green Felt Journal now has its own dedicated section. Cool.

This week, I share some of the vibe from the Bellagio Five Diamond celebration:

The fun started at 10 p.m. with a DJ spinning hits in the M Life headquarters across from Mangia, Bellagio’s employee cafeteria, which retooled its menu for the occasion. Employees dined on dishes inspired by the creations served at Bellagio’s gourmet restaurants, such as Sensi’s cedar plank salmon, Picasso’s paella and Le Cirque’s lobster salad.

The crown jewel, however, might have been the five-tier, five-diamond cake crafted by Bellagio executive pastry chef Jean-Marie Auboine, with five sugar diamonds representing the prestigious award.

via Five stars and one big party | Vegas Seven.

Full disclosure: I was induced into eating an unbelievably tasty macaroon at the party, but wasn’t otherwise plied with free stuff. Even so, the giddiness was infectious: hopefully I can communicate everyone’s excitement and pride.

On another note, I was walking through the Spa tower yesterday en route to Cosmopolitan (right now, Bellagio self-park seems to be the best option for the under-construction resort). Got to thinking about the Bellagio’s soundtrack, which segued from a Phil Collins “Two Hearts” (tell me that doesn’t put a spring in your step) to Bruce Springsteen “Dancing in the Dark.” Great songs, but nothing you wouldn’t hear on the radio.

Contrast that to Wynn/Encore, where you get Wynnified versions of songs that you’ve heard before. It’s hard to describe, but they feature a breathy-voiced female vocalist singing over a trip-hoppy beat. Last time I was there, I heard a Wynnified “I Know It’s Only Rock and Roll But I Like It.”

Definitely a different vibe. I wonder how the select the songs to be Wynnified. There’s so songs I’d really like to hear that way.

M Resort reshuffle in Vegas Seven

Even though I’m having a phenomenally busy week, I can still post a link to my latest piece for Green Felt Journal in Vegas Seven. It’s about the reaction at the M Resort to Penn National’s recent debt acquisition:

On a recent Saturday afternoon, there was no sign that any change was imminent on the M’s casino floor. Gamblers were playing more than half of the resort’s 1,900 or so slot machines—good business for an average weekend—and the tables were doing a similar business, with an energetic crowd circled around a $5 craps table, and the blackjack and pai gow poker tables similarly jumping.

via Reshuffling at M Resort not hurting business | Vegas Seven.

It was a fun story to research. I got to spend some time hanging out at the M’s casino, and got to talk to Anthony Marnell. Reading between the lines of what he said and what he didn’t say, I might guess that we’ll hear some bigger news about his future soon, but this is all just speculation on my part.

Madder, leaner, Vegas

Since it’s Thursday, I’ve got a new Green Felt Journal for you to read in Vegas Seven magazine. This week, I talk about March Madness on the Strip:

The basketball-mad crowd covers all ages, from cigar-chomping sharp bettors in their 60s to still-in-school rowdies wearing their college colors. It skews young, however, with 20- to 30-somethings dominating in most casinos. The audience in most sports books is about 97 percent male.

The NCAA Tournament, particularly the first weekend, has become an unofficial cross-country college reunion getaway. Although many fans have moved on from the frat house or dorm television lounge and might live thousands of miles apart, they return to Las Vegas in groups of varying sizes each spring to watch the games, drink beer and enjoy what’s become the ultimate guy trip.

The tournament has become one of the biggest draws in town. While it’s impossible to directly assess its total economic impact (no one fills out a survey saying they came to town for the games), it’s acknowledged as a huge draw.

via March Madness offers peek at leaner Vegas vacation | Vegas Seven.

I used the word “crowd” three times in the story, and might have used it more, because gathering information for this story really brought to mind Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Not that I’m saying that the guys betting on March Madness are deluded, but it is March “Madness,” and there are big crowds, so I guess my brain filled in the blanks.

And there was something very compelling, but very exhausting, about the atmosphere in the books. I can’t see how anyone has enough energy to do anything but crash for 12 hours, beer and other depressants of choice notwithstanding, after a day of March Madness Vegas action. It must be all the oxygen they pump into the casino.

That last sentence, my friends, is the closest I’m getting to an April Fool’s joke this year.