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.

Recession luxe in Vegas Seven

This week’s Green Felt Journal is out–I talk a bit about marketing luxury properties during a recession. From Vegas Seven, as usual:

The laws of supply and demand aren’t sentimental, particularly when it comes to hotel rooms. No matter what kind of rate a suite might have gotten in the past, when there are more beds than bodies to fill them, the room rate will go down. But when running a luxury property, there are concerns beyond just filling rooms tonight: Long-term position of the hotel’s “brand” can make price-cutting a double-edged sword.

via Selling luxury in the Great Recession | Vegas Seven.

It’s been a busy week around here, which explains the fewer blog posts. I wanted to talk a bit about Bill Zender’s bacc protection seminar, which was profiled in the LV Sun. Some positive news is that instead of just doing a blog post about the kids unattended in cars thing, I’m writing a Vegas Seven article about it. I’ve already talked to Jerry Markling with the Gaming Control Board and look forward to talking with a few other people.

I also am working on a few work projects that I might talk about here, time permitting.

Texting Terribles in Vegas Seven

It’s Thursday, which means the latest Green Felt Jungle in Vegas Seven is out. This week I talk about the Primm casinos texting promotion that you probably know about if you’ve driven along I-15 in either direction in the past few weeks:

The company is just coming out of bankruptcy, and its Primm properties might be the best route back to solvency.

That’s because those casinos are in position to exploit a rare bright spot: While most tourism indicators are down, traffic on Interstate 15 is actually up. Every day, about 35,000 vehicles whiz past Primm on their way north. Capturing just a slice of that traffic has been Job No. 1 at Primm since the first casino opened there in 1977. But today, the area’s casinos are using new technologies to improve their technique.

Even before there was an interstate running from California to Las Vegas, billboard advertising was one of the ways that value-oriented casinos tried to reach customers. As traffic moved from Highway 91 to I-15, the billboards got bigger, but the messages remained the same.But since March, the New Member Millionaire Mania promotion has used cell phones to move those ads into the 21st century.

via Texting promotion driving traffic to Primm casinos | Vegas Seven.

Good article to research–I tried to find the earliest example of highway advertising I could, but the furthest back I got was a few shots from the Binion’s collection of 1960s-era billboards. I think the most important thing here is that Richey hits the nail on the head: it’s not enough to just use technology, there’s got to be a good promotion under it. And it doesn’t get much better than free money.

Old-school at the eC

This week’s Green Felt Journal is about the El Cortez:

In many ways, the El Cortez is the anti-CityCenter. Built in 1941, it’s the oldest continuously operating hotel-casino in Las Vegas. Its most prominent feature—the “new” neon sign—was installed in 1946. It has only 364 guest rooms, and, for better or worse, it’s in the middle of a real urban neighborhood.

Yet there are some similarities to CityCenter. The El Cortez has a swanky nongaming hotel a few steps from the casino. The old Ogden House, massively renovated in 2009 and reopened as the Cabana Suites, might not have the Mandarin Oriental’s cache, but its art-deco-meets-mid-century modern stylings and contemporary fittings (plasma screens and iPod docks) are a fraction of the price. And, thanks to the renovation, natural light spills through the hallways.

via Old-school El Cortez wins by staying relevant | Vegas Seven.

I had a lot of fun researching this story, much of which was talking with Mike Nolan. As I referenced in the article, he’s been around for a while and really knows a lot about the business.

There were really two separate things I wanted to get across–that it’s still “old school” gambling at the eC, but that there’s a lot of new stuff, and that the casino’s connecting with the arts in a different way. The first is pretty obvious if you walk around the place. Hearing the plinking of coin-in slot machines really brought me back–you don’t miss it until you hear it again. The El Cortez is just a cool, unpretentious place.

The second point, about the arts, needs a little more explaining. This isn’t a contrived attempt at being hip or artsy, it’s just a response to what’s happening downtown. Opening the former Fremont Medical Center as Emergency Arts is a brilliant move, and really the logical way to bring the arts into the neighborhood. It’s the kind of thing that CityCenter could have done, but didn’t. Sure, there’s galleries there, but if they’d have converted some of their condos into artists’ lofts and recruited artists from all around the country to move in, they might have had something unique. They wouldn’t have made much money renting the spaces–I’d practically give them away–but you’d at least create an attraction, and maybe start drawing serious art patrons, a group that would probably be comfortable with the luxury, non-trad-Vegas approach at CityCenter. That’s what got me thinking about the “anti-CityCenter” idea.

The El Cortez has done this on a downtown budget, and I’m eager to see how it turns out.

One stat I didn’t get to include: the El Cortez’s casino has about 70% local patrons, 30% visitor. With that many repeat locals, you know that they’re doing something right as far as the gambling goes. I don’t think many locals would drive down there for 6/5 blackjack.

So if you haven’t seen the El Cortez for a while, give it a chance.

Social media is cheap and effective, but…

Interesting story about the Las Vegas Hilton’s Twitter initiative, though the timing couldn’t be worse, coming on the heels of yesterday’s LV Sun article about the Hilton’s abysmal 4Q earnings. From

The marketing budget for Las Vegas Hilton is miniscule when compared to multi-property powerhouse rivals like MGM Mirage, Harrah's Entertainment and Wynn Resorts. And despite being relatively late to the social media party, the hotel has picked up enough incremental business from Twitter and Facebook to convince once-skeptical executive management to fund a full-time social media coordinator position.

The Hilton’s first “tweet-up” last year drew 130 participants to the hotel—the vast majority of them as first-time guests. “It caught the attention of our executives—they said, 'Wow, you did this with nothing?’” says Peter Arceo, executive director of casino marketing. “These have become loyal customers spending money at the bar, talking about the hotel. That was the buy-in [the executive team] needed to fund this.”

Monthly tweet-ups keep growing in size.In less than a year, @LasVegasHilton has accumulated more than 23,000 Twitter followers. While other properties in Vegas complement social media marketing with heavily promoted contests, viral videos and even digital Twitter billboards, the Hilton has no social media budget, so it instead focuses on building personal relationships with brand advocates that extend beyond the computer screen into real life. “We’re trying to build solid, loyal fans and followers—people who want to come here,” Arceo says.

via Hotel Social Media On A Shoestring Budget – 2010-04-01 07:00:00 | Hotels.

Here’s the Las Vegas Hilton Twitter stream. Seems like an awful lot of #hash #tags to me. Here’s a sample post:

Have you tried #Benihana? One of The Most Popular #LasVegas #Japanese #Restaurants around.

If Twitter is reaping such benefits for the hotel, that’s great, since this is likely the most challenging year the property’s ever faced, including the aftermath of the 1981 fire. Clearly, though, this isn’t enough to compensate for the bigger economic problems that are to blame for the Hilton’s poor performance over the last year.

I can see Twitter helping draw a few more FIT people in, but the Hilton will rise or fall based on its convention business.

Speaking of drawing incrementally more business, it’s worth saying that the September 2008 closing of Star Trek: The Experience has left a huge hole at the Hilton. With the new movie coming out last year, I can only imagine what kind of traffic it would be drawing right now.

New UNLV Gaming Podcast: Casinos and New Media

Not much time to write because of a big project I’m working on, but I’ve posted the latest UNLV Gaming Podcast: it’s an interview done at the Casino Marketing Conference with Nichole Barker and Hetty Fore, who share their expertise about casinos using the “new media” to talk to patrons and potential customers.

You can subscribe in iTunes here, visit the podcast page, or just listen to the mp3 here.

I’ve had reports of troubles with iTunes that I’ve hopefully ironed out, so if you subscribe to the UNLV Gaming Podcast and there aren’t 13 episodes available, please let me know.

Also, this episode marks the debut of opening and closing music and narration. It’s still a work in progress, so I’m open to any and all thoughts on the content and audio quality. Ditto for the interview itself. They were breaking down the room as we started it, so there is some background noise for the first five minutes or so, but it quiets down after that.

And if you’re curious about what I’m working on that’s got me too busy to share my thoughts on Episode V: The Donald Strikes Back, it involves the big project references above and cold-calling several casinos where I don’t have a contact to get some distribution. Since cold-calling is about my least favorite thing to do, I give it another hour or so before I retreat back to analyzing sold hold numbers.

By the way, I don’t recall reading this anywhere, but as far as the Trump stuff goes, there is a connection between Beal Bank and gambling. Andy Beal, the guy who owns Beal Bank Nevada, is a big poker player whose exploits in a famous series of games against some of Vegas’ best players were chronicled in Michael Craig’s The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King.

They took the leads?

And the phones? What kind of office is this? Ah, it’s OK. Shelly Levine just closed a big deal.

None of that will make anything approaching sense if you’ve never seen Glengary Glen Ross, but trust me, it does.

All of this is my lead-in to what is surely the casino caper of the decade: three former employees are accusing of stealing a player list from the Trop AC. From the LVRJ:

Three casino workers were indicted Monday on charges they stole a list of more than 20,000 top players from the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City.

New Jersey prosecutors said the list was worth more than $108 million because it included the names, addresses, phone numbers and gambling data on important casino patrons.

“We charge that these marketers stole one of the most valuable assets of the casino, namely detailed contact information and ratings for its top-level players,” Attorney General Anne Milgram said in a statement. “This type of corporate espionage and theft involving proprietary information is a very serious crime.”

The three had all worked for the Tropicana three years ago and later left for other casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas.

Prosecutors charged that while at Tropicana, Conklin had Litterelle download a list of top-level player names from the Tropicana computer database for “future leverage” so they could take patrons with them when they went to other casinos. The list was placed on three discs Litterelle labeled “Bette Midler,” officials said.

In March 2007, Conklin was at the Borgata when he called Litterelle, who was a national marketing manager at the Bellagio, and asked Litterelle to send DiMarco the player list because DiMarco had lost his job at the Tropicana, officials said.

Litterelle e-mailed the list to Conklin and arranged with DiMarco to send him a paper copy. Litterelle tried to send the paper copy from the Bellagio mailroom, but an employee notified Bellagio security department, officials said.

Bellagio notified the Tropicana and the Borgata, and all three casinos cooperated with New Jersey’s investigation, authorities said.

Casino workers accused of stealing player list

Let’s put aside for a second the notion–as humorous as it is–that the Tropicana’s leads are worth $108 million. I never knew that it had a reputation for high-end play.

Definite points for style for labeling the disks with the purloined leads “Bette Midler.” Was that because they figured no one would want to listen to three generic Bette Midler CDs? Or was it some kind of back-handed tribute to the stage legend? We can only hope this comes out in the trial.

What elevates this from a simple case of theft is the monumental stupidity involved. So you steal three disks worth of player info from your employer, but instead of keeping it, you let your assistant take it with her to Las Vegas. Of course, you wouldn’t want to waste five minutes by burning a back-up copy. Then, you try to send a paper copy of the list to your buddy. You don’t print it out yourself, at home or at Kinkos. No, you print it out at work–which just happens to be a major Las Vegas casino–then try to send it out through the mailroom.

Of course, no one will find this suspicious at all–and naturally, casino management would be happy about someone mailing out a long list of player information, because they are committed to open source casino marketing.

But strangely enough, someone notices, tells management, and the police get involved. And you find yourself facing a variety of charges for stealing leads from the Tropicana Atlantic City, of all places.

Where’s Jerry Graff when you need him?

Happy New Year!

In Las Vegas, it’s New Years all right…Chinese New Year. I’ve often said that casinos are in the forefront of commerce-driven multi-culturalism, and this is yet another example: Strip resorts are proclaiming, at considerably expense, their jubilation at the advent of the Year of the Dog. From the LV Sun:

Marketing to Asian — particularly Chinese — gamblers is Management 101 for casino bosses. Just about anybody who works in a casino knows that many Chinese believe the color red and the number 8 are lucky and that the number 4 is unlucky.

Many Las Vegas Strip properties have decorated their lobbies and casinos with orange trees, red lanterns, gold coins and other Chinese symbols of luck and prosperity.

Caesars Palace’s top executive will be on hand Feb. 4 for a traditional “painting of the eye” lion ceremony in front of the property. The Venetian will host a dragon dance, complete with firecrackers and traditional music, in its casino on Saturday. At the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Chinese singer Paula Tsui will perform in Mandarin and Cantonese on Saturday and Sunday.

For non-Chinese, the public displays are an intriguing and colorful nod to an important ethnic group. For Las Vegas casinos, it’s a business imperative.

Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year, has grown from a small, private welcome for Asian high rollers to a more mainstream event for middle-income Chinese and Asian-Americans.

It now ranks as one of the biggest gambling events of the year for Las Vegas, vying for second place with the Super Bowl, behind New Year’s Eve, experts say. Hotels are expecting 100 percent occupancy this weekend in advance of the celebration, which begins Sunday and lasts for two weeks.

A Chinese propensity to gamble is a long-held truism in Las Vegas that has yet to be documented with any accuracy. But some say there is a cultural basis for gambling during Chinese New Year — a holiday that is inextricably tied to testing one’s luck.

If a person wins a wager, it could bring new luck for the rest of the year, or so the tradition goes. Losing a bet could rid the bettor of bad luck that’s accumulated over the past year.
Las Vegas SUN: Casinos open arms for Asians with open wallets

I like how winning a bet is good luck, but losing is good luck as well. It’s very optimistic.

The rest of the story is very good, so click on through.

Just so I’m not left out, I’d like to extend my warm wishes for a lucky and healthy New Year to everyone:
Happy New Year!

Here’s a hot tip: check out the “Strip Tease” column in Monday’s Business Press. There will be an item about the impending demise of a storied Strip resort.