In May 26, 1978, Resorts International opened in Atlantic City, the first legal casino in the United States outside Nevada. In an iconic black-and-white photo, singer Steve Lawrence threw out the first pair of dice.
Steve Lawrence? A crooner in the Sinatra mold, Lawrence hadn’t had a hit record in 16 years, since 1962’s “Go Away, Little Girl.” But he was perfect for the casino crowd, and that night, he and wife Eydie Gorme sold out Resorts’ 1,400-seat Superstar Theater.
That was casino entertainment in the 1970s: Steve and Eydie, Sinatra, Wayne Newton, Elvis—they were kind of hip, kind of square, fairly tame, and middle-brow verging on middle-aged.
Today, the definition of casino entertainment is entertainment, period: rockers and rappers, country bands and blues bands, magic acts, Cirque-style spectaculars, game shows, poolside deejays and everything inbetween—including the venerable Lawrence, a fan favorite who continues to perform at 80. Even A-list movie stars are getting into the act. In “An Evening with Al Pacino,” coming to the Venetian this month, the Oscar-winner will share tales from his legendary career, from Serpico to Shakespeare.
In other words, something for everyone.
The Circle of Life
The tilt toward a non-gaming economy isn’t news. It began with a swell of new competition, which split the revenue pie, followed by the Great Recession, which made consumers more careful about their leisure spending.
Though the economy has improved, the competition for consumer dollars has only intensified. Every customer counts: graying slot players, young adults, teenagers and sometimes even children. And that means more and different kinds of entertainment.
“You have to focus on the whole spectrum, give the older clientele what they like but also inject stuff that’s young and new,” says Fedor Banuchi, vice president of entertainment for the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. “That gives you something to grow on going forward, because every year, someone 20 is turning 21, someone 30 is turning 31—it’s a life cycle, a constant evolution.”
While the quest for millennials makes most of the headlines, the average age of Las Vegas tourists last year was 47.7, and 65 percent of visitors were 40-plus, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
“If I book bands that focus on 60-year-olds, they sell as quickly as bands that attract people 25 and 30,” says Banuchi. But that doesn’t always translate to better profitability, he adds.
“Do I make more money booking a $75,000 act that appeals to 30 and under, because everybody is going to buy their tickets for cash and drink a lot? Or do I make more money if I book a legendary artist for $300,000, because the crowd is older?”
In the latter case, “I have to make the showroom all seated, so now I have less than two-thirds of the capacity than in a standing-room show. And more than 50 percent of the people aren’t going to buy tickets—they’ll get comped from the casino. You can’t only do one thing or another; you really have to strategize.”
Right now, he says, about 20 percent of his lineup is made up of cutting-edge performers for millennials (Jay Z, Drake); 20 percent is comprised of old-time rock-and-rollers, euphemistically known as “heritage” rockers (Steve Miller, Lynyrd Skynyrd); 20 percent ties in with one-off or periodic events (like the National Finals Rodeo); and the rest is “a mixture of tours coming through the market and comedy.”
To hear his job title, you might think Howard Weiss never sleeps. A nightclub executive whose resume includes the Borgata and Harrah’s in Atlantic City and Pure and LAX in Las Vegas, Weiss is now vice president of entertainment, day life and nightlife for Penn National Gaming.
His focus “is completely divided between day and night”—like the resort pool at Penn National’s M Resort in Henderson, Nevada.
In a billion-dollar casino, every square foot has to pay. The M Pool spans 100,000 square feet of entertainment space and offers private cabanas, “Penthouse Patios” and other luxe upgrades. On weekend nights and holidays, it becomes the 21-plus DayDream Pool Club, with live dancers, celebrity deejays, “Rock Your Bod” bikini contests and other entertainment.
The pool at Tropicana Las Vegas, acquired by Penn National in 2022, does double duty. Covering two landscaped acres and featuring swim-up blackjack, it now features the after-hours Sky Beach Club. The club opened Memorial Day weekend, complete with a Kardashian (Rob) and his fiancé Blac Chyna as special guests.
While some entertainment is still geared toward “the higher-end elder customer,” says Weiss, the focus is on up-and-comers who will eventually become the patron base: “the millennials who like pool concerts, nightclub events or the kind of mini-residencies that Caesars and Planet Hollywood did with Britney, Pit Bull and the others. Those things have been wildly successful and targeted right toward the 21-to-45-year-old demographic.”
Tropicana will attempt to lure the same party-hardy contingent with its upcoming show, Cherry Boom Boom, described by Weiss as “a rock-and-roll-slash-go-go show with dancers, specialty acts, and an upscale bar and beverage perspective.
“As gaming begins to decline and level off,” says Weiss, “entertainment is a really, really big component at the casino resort. It’s now about the overall experience: entertainment, hotel, spa, food and beverage, pool—the whole nine.”
By the way, the push to attract millennials into the gaming environment can be summed up in two words: Mr. Belding. Actor Dennis Haskins, who played the high school principal in the ’90s TV sitcom Saved by the Bell, has become a popular guest at casino resort parties geared toward young adults 25 to 35, who grew up with the show.
Criss, Crobot and Clifford the Big Red Dog
Monique Sebastian, vice president of entertainment and marketing for Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, says the regional tribal resort caters to everyone, “from your ‘Bingo Marys’ to the core demographic of 45 to 65, to people 25 to 40 with a little more disposable income.
“For the middle demographic, we have Jeff Beck, Cheap Trick and all those classic rock shows. We add the comedy—Jim Gaffigan and Louis CK—plus pop, our Liquid Sunday pool parties, kids’ weeks for holidays and vacations—everything to get them in our door, from Criss Angel to Clifford, the Big Red Dog.”
Variety is especially important at Foxwoods, because for many it’s an overnight destination, “with people driving in from New York or flying in from Florida,” Sebastian says. To keep those guests happily occupied, the resort has become “very amenity-driven.” Customers can shop at the sprawling, 80-store Tanger Outlets, bowl at High Rollers “luxury” bowling lanes, or take youngsters to the Tree House Arcade, which features classic video games “for the kid in all of us.”
Today, no single customer demographic is most prized, Sebastian says. Even head-bangers are welcome. In September, Foxwoods staged its first-ever outdoor rock concert in partnership with AEG Live. With bands like Avenged Sevenfold, Anthrax and Crobot, the daylong extravaganza hosted some 15,000 people paying from $59.50 per ticket (presale price), with hotel and parking packages available.
“When you look at the whole, obviously we take care of the core gambler who visits three or four times a year; there’s a certain spend associated with their visit, and we have a strategic focus on keeping them happy, whether it’s promotions, entertainment, food offerings, the spa, or amenities like the golf course,” says Sebastian.
“But I don’t think one customer is more valuable than another. We treat everyone like a high roller, no matter their stature gaming-wise. That’s what makes them come back—besides the product, it’s the service.”
Mariah Carey may be dating a billionaire, but Australian casino magnate James Packer doesn’t always have to pick up the dinner tab. Carey earned $500,000 per night for her Las Vegas residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, which began in May 2022 and ended in September.
Britney Spears isn’t hurting either. The pop princess pulls in $475,000 per night for her Piece of Me show at Planet Hollywood’s 4,500-seat Axis auditorium. And sing no sad songs for Jennifer Lopez, though she makes a mere $350,000—or $3,888 per minute—for her 90-minute show All I Have, which runs on a split bill at Axis until December.
That’s a sample of the serious coin commanded by A-listers in Las Vegas. According to Billboard, even deejays like Calvin Harris, Deadmau5 and Tiësto can pull down $400,000 a night.
But that’s strictly on the Strip. Judy Alberti, former entertainment vice president for Station Casinos and onetime VP for entertainment and sports at Foxwoods, has programmed for mega-resorts and locals casinos. She’s seen it all, from both sides.
Beyond budget, she says, geography matters, at least in Las Vegas. “I had 10 casinos, but none on the Strip, and getting artists to play off the Strip in an entertainment destination like that is always a challenge, no matter what size the venues.”
During her time at Station, Alberti was known for nabbing a number of artists on the cusp of stardom. “We got the Dixie Chicks when they were on their first hit; by the time they got to us, a 500-seat venue was way too small for them, but thankfully, they honored it. Same with Joe Bonamassa in our blues series—now he’s huge; you can’t touch him.”
Those “gets” earned Alberti points for clairvoyance; she calls it a combination of guesswork, radio play, buzz and sometimes, plain old odds-making. “For me, you hear a breakout song, you jump on it. You get that act booked before they blow up. We got out ahead of acts like Toby Keith and Keith Urban, most everybody in country who got famous after Tim McGraw.”
On the flip side, in 2008 she opened the 4,000-seat MGM Grand Theater at Foxwoods with a superstar lineup that included Josh Groban, John Mayer and Alicia Keys backed by David Foster and his orchestra. “And that was spectacular.”
Whether she’s booking for a casino lounge or an arena, Alberti—now head of her own firm, Alberti Entertainment—is always mindful of relationships. “You’re usually working with agents who book an entire roster, from $5,000 acts to million-dollar acts. If you handle their clients well, make sure the show is sold out and see that the artist has a great time, they come back.”
Station Casinos won the Academy of Country Music Award for Casino of the Year five times—a record, Alberti says.
In the current environment, she agrees, it’s important to offer entertainment for many tastes. “At Station, I used to joke that we were the only ones to book Jerry Vale and Keanu Reeves’ band, Dogstar, in the same venue in the same week. We really were trying to talk to everyone, from 21 to 85.”
And what makes a good entertainment executive? “You’ve got to be a multitasker,” she says. “You’re keeping all these plates spinning. You’re juggling at the same time. It’s also the relationships you’re able to build. Ask an agent or artist or manager why they select one venue over the other, and often it’s something to do with the integrity of the buyer.”
Take a Bow
In 2022, even as Las Vegas set records for tourism with more than 42 million visitors, gaming revenue remained flat. But entertainment was up, along with hotels, restaurants, retail and conventions.
Even in Macau, the most gaming-centric jurisdiction in the world, operators are scrambling to develop theme parks with virtual-reality rides, Ferris wheels and other mainstream attractions to attract more tourists and compensate for a drop in gaming revenue.
It’s something for everyone, with entertainment as the game-changer. The secret is to stay a step ahead, knowing that tastes will evolve, all things will pass, and the Jay Z of today is the Steve Lawrence of tomorrow.
When the Gordon Group developed the Pier Shops at Caesars in Atlantic City in 2006, the company used the successful model of the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
Naysayers said the Pier Shops wouldn’t work, for two reasons: Atlantic City visitors were unlikely to park in a casino garage and hike across a casino to get to the shops. And they wouldn’t spend money at high-end retailers like Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Though the nearby Walk outlet district had succeeded selling brand names at reduced prices, the Pier Shops failed.
But in Las Vegas, the explosion of retail shows no signs of abating.
“Las Vegas is a globally known and internationally visited destination, known not only for its casinos, resorts and gaming but also for entertainment, culinary options and as a shopping destination,” says Maureen Crampton, director of marketing and business development for the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.
Today, there’s retail everywhere: the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood; the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian; the Linq; the Park; the Shops at Crystals; Wynn Esplanade; Encore Esplanade; and the soon-to-be Wynn Plaza.
“Shopping here beats shopping anywhere in the world,” says Courtney Fitzgerald, communications manager for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “Stores range from affordable mid-price brands to luxury designer wear not unlike those found in New York, London and Paris.”
"Shopping, for many, has become the reason for the visit,” says Don Thrasher, president of Park District Holdings, which operates the Park, a new locale in a neighborhood that includes the Monte Carlo, New York-New York, the outdoor Toshiba Plaza and the T-Mobile Arena. Much of the retail is connected to New York-New York, such as Hershey’s Chocolate World, Stupidiotic and Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity Boutique.
“We found that the Las Vegas visitor of today wants to get outside, explore, and collect experiences during their stay,” Thrasher says. “The Park and surrounding resorts provide opportunities to discover unique culinary offerings, inspiring art, live entertainment and interesting retail.”
The company declined to reveal financial figures about the Park or its adjoining attractions. “But we haven’t had any turnover in New York-New York’s Strip-facing retail spaces, nor have we had any at the Park’s food and beverage venues,” Thrasher says.
Another marriage of outdoor retail, dining and entertainment is the Linq Promenade, at the heart of the Strip between the Linq Hotel & Casino and the Flamingo.
“The entire space is unique, from new-to-market tenants to nightly live entertainment and signature attractions” like the High Roller, says Bob Morse, president of hospitality for Caesars Entertainment. The High Roller—at 550 feet, it’s the tallest observation wheel in the world—offers 360-degree views of the Las Vegas Valley.
“It’s the attraction that draws guests from the Strip onto the promenade,” Morse explains. “We recently launched yoga sessions on the High Roller, a one-hour experience that allows guests to find their Zen while taking in the views. We’re getting ready to launch a chocolate-tasting experience for guests. And we also have the very popular Happy Half Hour, an open bar for those 21 and older.”
Morse sees a direct correlation between High Roller visitors and those who spend time and money at the promenade. The marketplace offers approximately 40 shops and restaurants in a 200,000-square-foot area including Pier 30, Bella Scarpa and Ruby Blue.
“We encourage visitors to bar-hop, see a show, ride the wheel, dine the flavors of the world,” Morse says. “There’s no other location on the Strip that offers all of this, plus the added ambience of an open-air promenade.”
It works. The Linq Promenade attracts as many as 85,000 visitors a day. Leasing is brisk and the demand from retailers and restaurants is strong. “We’ll see the opening of eight new tenants by the end of 2023,” says Morse.
“We have multiple ongoing conversations with potential tenants, but we’re very strategic about who we sign leases with. We want to ensure that no two brands or experiences are the same.”
The Linq Promenade is the only retail center in Las Vegas owned and operated by Caesars Entertainment. The Forum Shops, owned by retail giant the Simon Property Group, also remains a major force for Caesars, attracting up to 30 million visitors a year to some 160 specialty stores, restaurants and attractions, from ANGL to Versace to Zadig & Voltaire.
“We were the first in the industry to set new trends and raise the retail bar,” Crampton says. The ancient Roman-themed building was home to many Vegas firsts: the first thematic shopping environment and the first celebrity-chef restaurant (Wolfgang Puck’s Spago). It was also the first shopping district to bring in celebrated designers like Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo and John Varvatos.
“The Forum Shops exemplifies how the perfect tenant mixture combined with the best brands and an immersive thematic shopping experience is the formula for year-over-year success,” Crampton says.
“We’re consistently among the top-performing retail centers worldwide based on sales per square foot. Numerous shops and restaurants declare their Forum Shops location as being the top in their portfolio.”
Browse, Eat, Repeat
The 875,000-square-foot Italian-themed Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian and Palazzo feature cobblestone walkways and illuminated painted ceilings along a quarter-mile-long canal.
The venue adds the first West Coast location of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill later this year, marking the James Beard Award-nominated Miami eatery’s inaugural expansion, encompassing more than 6,500 square feet on Restaurant Row.
The Grand Canal Shoppes recently welcomed the first-to-market location of Mercato della Pescheria, an Italian seafood concept. Royce Chocolate, the notable Japanese brand, also made its Las Vegas debut here. And in September, Louis Vuitton opened a new store prototype and design based on the Atelier at Vuitton’s SoHo boutique in New York.
According to John Zilliken, senior general manager for Grand Canal Shoppes, “These additions and notable brands and dining establishments continue to position the destination for success.”
By contrast, Atlantic City’s retail and dining success consists of the Quarter at Tropicana Casino and Resort and the Walk, as well as more traditional shopping areas at resorts like Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
The former Pier Shops—named for their location on the site of the Million Dollar Pier on the city’s famed Boardwalk—is now the Playground, which so far has struggled to find its footing under its new owner, Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein.
The Quarter plays off its Cuban-themed walkways and architecture and its Havana Nights ambience, which plays well especially as the U.S. and Cuba renew old ties.
“Tropicana reminds people of a Las Vegas casino hotel,” General Manager Steve Callender says. “When I first decided to come here, the Quarter was a big reason. It’s a critical part of the property. Everyone has gaming. Non-gaming amenities are the most important thing we have. They’re a major part of our success.”
The Tropicana doesn’t have access to sales per square foot and other measures, Callender says. “We do not own the space; we rent the shops. But we try and have a balance. Not everything is high-end. You can make a mistake and go too much in one direction. There’s more value when you offer variety.”
At Borgata, retail was part of the package from the beginning. But it wasn’t a priority, says Vice President of Operations Joe Lupo.
“Retail simply is not a large focus considering the short stay of the Atlantic City consumer,” Lupo notes. The availability of shopping elsewhere in the region makes retail in Atlantic City less important than spas, entertainment and dining. “We provide a small selection of nice products, most notably due to the value it brings to the comp dollars earned through My Borgata Rewards,” Lupo adds.
The Walk has proven a profitable venture, expanding twice. Tanger Outlets declined comment for this article, but Rummy Pandit, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University, calls it a “tremendous success, because it has a good mix of brand names. It caters to a lot of segments of the market.” Unlike the Pier Shops.
“Atlantic City doesn’t have the volume for that level of market. Las Vegas has 125,000 hotel rooms, 60,000 on the Strip. Atlantic City has 13,000 rooms,” Pandit says. In a visitor profile a few years ago, the organization found that 60 percent of respondents had an income less than $100,000. Only 16 percent had an income greater than $150,000.
Could Las Vegas reach a saturation point with too much competition for retail dollars? Possibly, says David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Casinos would have to repurpose existing retail spaces or build something that was more in demand.”
The Linq’s Morse has a different spin. “It’s never been a competition between retail centers, as we strive to make each experience different than the last.”
Vegas wouldn’t be Vegas without consistent additions and reinventions, Fitzgerald says. “It’s the nature of the destination to offer new and interesting venues, attractions, entertainment, etc., to its visitors.”
The same can be said about Atlantic City. “We always look to add new experiences to Borgata, and as of late, we’ve spent some time speaking about retail,” Lupo says.
Callender says more retail will help everyone. “If someone else builds something and more people come to Atlantic City, we’re confident some of these people will come to Tropicana.”
Other resorts outside Las Vegas have shown that the right mix of retail can be a positive amenity as well.
Foxwoods has added a Tanger Outlets as part of its retail. Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York is also building a Tanger Outlets. Foxwoods also created its own boutiques with retailers like Bulgari, Chopard, Pandora, Michael Simon, Jared Lang and Hugo Boss.
“If you live to hunt for that perfect outfit, accessory or piece of jewelry, there’s no better place to be than Foxwoods,” says spokesman Adam Jalbert. The tribal resort, which welcomes 30,000 to 40,000 guests per day, reports $1,200 per square foot in daily sales by retailers.
“We’re a study in the importance of presentation and transition,” says Jalbert. “Always have something new for guests to explore.”
It’s a numbers-crunching dream.
Blend revenue forecasts, previous spend performance, projected room availability and perceived customer value into one company snapshot. Roll that into a lucrative convention proposal. Analyze, interpret and bid.
Welcome to the world of Big Data, the revered next driver of casino-hotel revenue. Its numbers, codes and spreadsheets span several gaming eras.
Casino data began as volume displays that delivered reams of information to operators. Sorted properly, the content was priceless. Somewhere in the color-coded, software-driven technology were trends on customer spending, resort vacancies and effective marketing campaigns. But operators climbed a mountain of information for a small edge.
Data later looked at property teamwork; as more casinos united hotel and gaming areas, they reversed the former approach that insisted each be self-sustaining. According to some estimates, non-gaming spend accounts for two-thirds of overall revenue. Restaurants, bars and spa business now impact casino room rates.
Finally, there’s speed. Data allows properties to make split-second decisions if they can align their market position with the right group of patrons.
Big Data = Big Money
Unlike some technological innovations, data does not have to threaten the workforce; it can create revenue, rather than eliminate jobs. A host can hike a patron’s reward beyond what numbers dictate, issuing an unscheduled upgrade. The practice often works. Players, like anyone spending money, want to feel exclusive. Roaming the floors, schmoozing, and determining player value with informal “eyeball-a-sis” hasn’t changed, it’s been enhanced.
Analyzing data is like a statistical treasure hunt.
Gaming and hospitality converge in Atlanta, headquarters of Agilysys. Gaming is its largest market and accounts for about half the company’s revenue, according to President and CEO Jim Dennedy. The company has several worldwide locations, including Nevada and Hong Kong, and has thrived by anticipating market needs.
“The contemporary technology trends remain on mobility and guest self-service enablement,” Dennedy says. “It’s not that every guest wants self-service, but self-enabled services must be available. Guest preferences have become quite finicky—for the same service, the same demographic and the exact same guest, the guest may choose to self-serve or want to be highly served. And they expect the desired nature of service on-demand.
“We offer mobility and kiosk-based solutions for our property management and point-of-sale products,” says Dennedy. “It enables our customers’ properties and venues to serve guests across the entire spectrum of high-touch to self-service in the same venue with the same business system.”
More than any other industry, gaming must create intrigue in order to capture its guests’ attention.
One of this company’s tools is rGuest Analyze, an innovative business analytics tool designed specifically for hospitality operators. It meets the evolving needs of hospitality professionals, Dennedy says.
“There’s a growing need for more information and more data about guest preferences, their spending and other patterns. Understanding the value of each guest type is critical: the gaming, non-gaming, non-staying, or low-intensity gaming guest. To understand each guest persona, operators need to segment their consumption data across all activities at the property.
“The casino has little chance of accessing the gaming spend if the non-gaming offer is not attractive to the demographic the property desires. Tools like rGuest Analyze provide the precise information operators need to make more informed business decisions. That empowers employees and better aligns their day-to-day activities with guest trends.”
Dennedy says Agilysys has listened closely to its customer base and provided game-changing solutions, even using an advisory board to launch the rGuest platform.
“Customers told us they need their solutions to work better together to drive operational efficiency and realize more value,” he says. “We responded to these demands with the Agilysys rGuest hospitality platform—a standards-based solution on an open architecture with public APIs to enable richly integrated applications delivered from Agilysys, its partners and customers.
“Rather than silos of disparate guest data, the result is a single repository of guest profile and consumption data across the enterprise. Customers are benefiting from the efficiency and insights that this platform integration offers.”
Agilysys continues to build an integrated business view to help operators. That includes improving recruitment through promotion to the most valuable demographic for a given business, increasing wallet share through contextually relevant offers, and strengthening an operator’s connection with guests by knowing their preferences across various traveling personas, from business to leisure with or without accompaniment.
This approach combines with the company’s strategy of flexible solution deployment including SaaS, hybrid and on-premise, Dennedy says.
The Price is Right
Rainmaker Group is a market-leading provider of automated revenue management and profit optimization software solutions for the gaming, hospitality and multifamily housing industries. A world leader in automated forecasting and profit optimization software and services, the Atlanta-based company has offices in Las Vegas and Singapore, and deals with powerhouses like Mohegan Sun and the Cherokee Nation.
“Distribution seems to get more and more complicated, but revenue management doesn’t have to,” says Angie Dobney, vice president of pricing and revenue management for Rainmaker. “We have better tools to help people master their data and make better, fast decisions that drive profitability, which is what we specialize in. Hotels are leaving money on the table by not putting the data to work.”
Since January, Rainmaker has welcomed more than 200 hospitality companies representing more than 300 properties worldwide. Its solutions run the gamut, from transient and group market pricing and forecasting (with proprietary programs like guestrev and grouprev) to the competitive positioning and performance benchmark capabilities of revintel and revcaster.
Grouprev is the vehicle driving new leads. Perhaps the “rev” also refers to speed, a big factor in leads conversion. Dobney estimates that 70 percent of first-time responders land the lucrative convention business.
The company recently introduced a partnership with Cvent, ensuring that hospitality and gaming clients using grouprev can seamlessly respond to group business leads from Cvent’s event management platform. That platform eliminates the duplication of RFPs (requests for proposal) that have long plagued the group lead process. Cvent scores the lead based on relevance. An operator can interpret the value of a lead and a suggested price point at one glance.
Grouprev helps an operator quickly decide its price point for marketing offers. The solution enables hotels to price group bids optimally. Each bid is analyzed based on market conditions, potential displacement and booking behavior. The results are presented through a user-friendly interface, making the process faster.
According to Dobney, a recent Rainmaker study showed that when hotels customize group bids rather than use the pre-defined rules most hotels do, they increase rate capture significantly with no effect on conversions.
“It’s time group business stopped being treated as the ‘poor relation’ in revenue management,” Dobney maintains. “It can represent 40 percent of a hotel’s business, but most of the analytics are still focused on transient guests. When you stop using MARs (minimum acceptable rates) and start optimizing, you capture additional revenue without impacting conversions.”
Guestrev, meanwhile, is cloud-based, enabling operators to view suggested room rates produced by their own player database and by probabilities incorporated into the software. Mathematical algorithms, price suggestions and an updated view as to what types of players have been booked in which types of rooms are constantly available to an operator. Each guest’s past spending history is available for those in charge of deciding what room to offer.
Revcaster lets operators know what their competitors are doing, and will soon tell companies what to do in response. Dobney says a major new release of revcaster will arrive in September with enhanced functionality.
Revintel identifies an advanced level of information, Dobney says. “This makes it easy to mine the data to identify the trends behind the trends. It deepens the user’s understanding and is one of the fastest-growing products Rainmaker has ever taken to the market.”
Duetto, based in San Francisco and Las Vegas, unveiled what it considers the future of loyalty pricing at G2E.
The company hails its new My Rate app, connected with Game Changer, the company’s cloud-based revenue strategy solution. Game Changer is Duetto’s predictive analytics platform for hotels and casinos, providing insights into demand and the ability to leverage it through a pricing engine. Duetto delivers revenue strategy solutions to hotels and casinos.
My Rate was unveiled this summer as a tool for hosts, according to Marco Benvenuti, co-founder of Duetto and its chief analytics product officer. It provides property-wide capability for operators who want to provide “personalized” room rates to individual loyalty members based on their worth to the property.
“Many casinos don’t have a way to get someone a quote right away—say, for example, if their host is somewhere else on the property like a golf course,” Benvenuti says. “This feature goes right inside your tablet or iPhone. You can put a player’s loyalty number in and right away you have the rate or decide an appropriate comp for that person.”
Game Changer integrates with casinos’ customer relationship management tools to track on-property spending and calculate total customer value beyond average daily theoretical.
The system segments guests into as many different casino rates as a property wants for filling rooms with high-value customers. Reinvestment rates can be flexed dynamically across tiers, giving a casino more control over its pace and pickup, and letting resorts move away from restrictive casino blocks.
Besides replacing casino blocks with a better yielding strategy, properties can also add value to guests by offering free-play bonuses, food and beverage offers or other perks, based on the reinvestment they’ve earned, Benvenuti contends.
One loyalty-pricing product illustration pictures three customers, with a room rate on top and spending value placed underneath the individual’s face. As the gaming level increases, room rates decrease. The tool is at the fingertips of anyone making a room-rate decision. It removes the layered process of marketing departments haggling with executive staff to obtain discounted rates or comps for individual players.
All that input is already in the numbers.
Player development decisions can be made in real time, as casino personnel can also access a player’s information with the Find My Rate app on any device.
Benvenuti says Duetto is working on a new product to help large casino chains monitor the performance of each property in real time. Duetto has also unveiled a white paper urging properties to think outside standard evaluation patterns. Among other topics, it encourages them to think of intangibles.
“The paper is tied in with the concept of changing loyalty programs,” he says. “In the past, you would stay at a property several times, obtain points and then redeem them after you’ve reached a certain amount. We encourage an instant-gratification relationship.”
Instead of waiting to redeem points, they can be rewarded on total spend throughout the property. Even if someone does not qualify for a suite, for example, that person might be able to upgrade fairly quickly and easily at the time of booking.
“There are many ways to look at all of this. You’ll find speculation about whether or not you’re diluting your price for no reason if you give something to someone. One argument says not to, because the person would have come anyway.
“Another says that giving the person a discount presents a strong emotional connection between the customer and the property. That player will come back and book right with you rather than either of you paying Expedia. It makes them more connected to you.”
One of Benvenuti’s favorite conversion cases concerns El Cortez, a Downtown Las Vegas property and the longest continuously open casino and hotel in Las Vegas.
“Three years ago, it would have seemed like something out of the 1960s, right out of the Casino movie,” says Benvenuti. “That was all great, but they were leaving money on the table. Now they’re walking around, checking the rates on tablets. They’re making more money, and it’s fascinating to see. It shows me that technology does not have to be scary.
“If you have the right technology and it’s implemented properly,” he says, “it’s a winner.”
Dancing for Dollars
As non-gaming revenue continues to drive Las Vegas tourism, casino operators are generating more revenues from dayclubs, nightclubs and pool parties.
The season has changed, too, from a three-month summer campaign to a year-round battle for the dollar.
“Return on investment is measured completely differently now than 10 years ago,” says Evan Hunt, director of VIP services for the Foundation Room Las Vegas. “Back then, there were only a handful of non-gaming venues, primarily focused on the summer season. Now, there are so many new venues, you have to draw guests year-round if you want to hit your desired return on investment.”
Since 2011, more than 20 new, renovated or rebranded dayclubs, nightclubs and pools have been introduced in Las Vegas. The season has been extended from St. Patrick’s Day in March to Labor Day in September, and marketing to millennials and locals has skyrocketed. Successful dayclubs achieve ROI by charging top dollar for admission on holiday weekends, when popular DJs play or celebrities host the parties.
The price of admission during these events often increases throughout the day—entry fees of $75 for men and $50 for women at 11 a.m. can jump to $100 and $75 respectively by 2 p.m. At the height of the party at 4 p.m., admission can soar to $150 and $100. To maximize a dayclub’s profit, there are no comps for high-profile events, so everyone has to pay. With capacities that can exceed 500 and even 1,000 people, it’s clearly easier to clean up.
“Before, you could just throw a pool party during the day and expect a decent turnout because the competition was so limited,” says Jerome Davis, president of Urban Professionals, host of the longtime “Urban Hangover” summer party series in Las Vegas. “Now you have to review the programming at other dayclubs and pools before you schedule anything, just to make sure you can maximize your return on investment.
“However, the increased competition has given tourists a better entertainment experience, which is great for the Las Vegas brand.”
For pool venues that stay away from massive parties, maximizing ROI is not nearly as straightforward. It involves more marketing to hotel guests and other distinct demographics.
In Downtown Las Vegas, the pool at the Golden Nugget has done it several ways—first, by keeping the venue (and the bar) open as late as midnight during summer non-swimming hours. A “trickle-down” effect of the pool’s elaborate waterfall and aquarium is that they draw locals. With ongoing promotions for its food and beverage outlets, the Golden Nugget has created a blueprint for the successful pool venue.
“The Golden Nugget pool developed a buzz among us locals because it’s so accessible,” says longtime Las Vegas resident Karl Anderson. “Locals are always looking for a unique experience where we don’t feel like an outsider in our own city. The pool has great nighttime reverse-happy hours to complete the experience.”
In the middle of the Strip, two pools at neighboring properties use two different marketing and pricing techniques to maximize ROI. The Pool at the Linq, now in its second season, has already earned a reputation as a “come-as-you-are” party pad, often with minimal to no admission fee and a variety of DJs for all musical tastes, from EDM to hip-hop and even classic rock.
The Pool’s objective is to drive longer stays, attracting guests who arrive between 9 a.m. and noon and stay until 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Many dayclub guests stay between two and four hours maximum; longer stays mean more food and beverage revenue to offset the low admission fees and lower prices on daybeds and cabanas.
A short walk from the Linq is the ever-popular Flamingo pool, one of the largest in Vegas. Because of its size, it’s maximized return on investment via unique programming, including an ongoing series of concerts by hip-hop and dance music artists of the 1990s, from Tone Loc to Rob Base to Freedom Williams of C&C Music Factory.
The concerts draw a lot of fans from the Southern California market as well as the 35-to-50 age demographic—often overlooked in Vegas advertising, even though these people have more disposable income than their younger, hipper millennial counterparts.
Another on-site marketing technique adopted by the Flamingo: ongoing interactive contests that are heavy on audience participation. These contests, revolving around F&B sponsors, a holiday or sporting event or other entertainment, encourage guests to stick around for another 30 minutes or an hour until the next contest, where they have a chance to be selected. That adds more revenue to the food-and-beverage bottom line, and a dynamic energy to the pool programming overall.
“The interactive part of my fashion show at the Flamingo pool really made it stand out and got the audience involved,” says Natalie Yaru, Beverly Hills-based designer of the Manam fashion line. “It’s rare to see that at a fashion show, but since you’re in the middle of Las Vegas and everybody wants to be involved, it’s a perfect fit.”
In the nightlife industry, the buzzword du jour is “programming,” drawing talent that ensures high turnout and solid food and beverage revenue results.
“We measure return on investment very analytically,” says Anthony Olheiser, executive director of brand activation at Luxor, which operates the LAX nightclub. “Our booking decisions are largely driven by pro forma scenarios to determine the financial viability of the evening. This allows us to keep our prices lower than most of the competition, which positions LAX to a broader consumer base.”
One of the most enduring nightlife venues in Las Vegas, LAX also made the decision to operate one day less each week in 2023 compared to 2022, a decision that has “paid large dividends to date this year,” says Olheiser. “We’re experiencing record revenue and profit months this year, and the momentum continues to climb.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, many industry insiders believe the premium nightclub trend may have reached its apex, and the days of high-priced DJs, quarter-mile-long admission lines and expensive bottle service are limited.
Omnia, Hakkasan and XS are the only nightclubs left on the Strip that routinely pay large amounts ($25,000 and above per night) for DJs and celebrity guest hosts. While they have cornered the market among the millennial and 35-to-45 age demographics, maximizing return on investment for these pricy nightclubs is truly a 24-hour-a-day, all-season job.
So, those nightclubs proactively market to corporations. They typically see a spike in venue buyouts during the busy convention and trade show season, from October 1 to April 30. Because many corporate nightclub events end between 10 p.m. and midnight instead of 4 a.m., the shortened staff schedule means less overhead for the nightclub. Meanwhile, the older crowds generate substantial amounts of revenue.
“Before, the nightlife industry was scared of the winter time, especially after Halloween. It was like being in hibernation for four months a year,” says Jamel Mitchell, owner and operator of In Ya Entertainment, which hosts large corporate and social groups at all the major nightclubs on the Strip. “Now, both the nightclubs and promoters are embracing it, because the convention season gives everyone a new opportunity to drive revenue and brand the venue to an entirely different demographic.”
Making it Work
For Evan Hunt, the Foundation Room’s location at Mandalay Bay has made him an expert on convention-goer outreach, strategy and tactics. A prime example of the Foundation Room’s innovative programming approach occurred on a Saturday night in July, when the popular CosmoProf cosmetology trade show was at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center the same night superstar comedian Steve Harvey hosted his annual Neighbor-hood Awards at the property.
To maximize his return on investment, Hunt had to identify a celebrity guest host for the Foundation Room who would be marketable to both the cosmetology convention attendees and the predominantly African-American guests at the award show.
His answer? Legendary model and celebrity Tyson Beckford, who was a smash hit.
Beckford “tweeted about it weeks in advance, and we were able to use that as the basis of our promotions,” says Hunt. “We did our job, got a lot of press out of it and felt the residual income and buzz until a week after the event.
“That’s how you use targeted nightclub programming to maximize return on investment and publicity at the same time.”
Dress to Impress
Appearances are everything. Because employees are the public face of casinos, what they wear—their uniforms—is as much a part of the overall resort experience as how they greet and interact with guests.
Casinos are constantly changing to meet increasing competition and the challenge of attracting new customers. As decor has evolved, so have uniforms. Many styles of the past seem gaudy or even costume-like by today’s standards. Nowadays, casinos are opting for a simpler, more elegant look—though a touch of glam remains.
Staying on trend is essential, says Joanna Cordero, manager of design at Cintas Corp., one of the country’s leading casino uniform outfitters.
“I see a new generation, a new customer in these casinos. I see a lot of properties changing that image of the shimmery, Old Vegas look. Now it’s simpler. It still has a lot of luster, but it’s not as flashy,” she says. “It’s more sophisticated.”
Keeping Up Appearances
Because employees bring the brand image to life, operators often involve them in the uniform design process.
“The employees of a casino are walking, talking guest-service specialists,” says Chuck Campbell, president and co-founder of At Work Uniforms, based in Orange Beach, Alabama, which been outfitting casino employees across the U.S. since 1991. “The employee’s role is conveying the hospitality and looking the part—playing a role—in the casino’s overall theme.
“In the past, management said, ‘It’s a uniform; just wear it,’” he says. “Now, most uniform decision committees on the property have participants who are actually going to be the ones wearing the uniforms.”
At Work Uniforms serves as both a wholesale distributor of stock uniform brands, such as Carhartt and Dickies, and a custom uniform designer.
Uniform outfitters’ knowledge of the industry is vital in creating uniforms that fit the job. If an operator wants a specific uniform style, but it’s one that may not work well for someone of a larger size, there’s always an alternative, Cordero says.
“We have ample options to work with, but we have to understand who’s on the floor. You gather all the team members in each department and cohesively design something that works for everybody,” she says.
“Uniforms contribute to the integrity of the staff,” agrees Elana Gallant, director of sales and development at Uniforms by Class Act, based in Pompano Beach, Florida, which has served the casino industry since the early 1990s. “Combining style and comfort can really give them the confidence to feel and look good. The staff must look comfortable and confident. That’s why many of our designs are made to fit all shapes and sizes.”
Wear testing is important to ensure that garments work for specific jobs. For example, Campbell says, if the maintenance department switches to a new brand of work pants, “You’d better put one or two of them in it to make sure everyone likes them.”
Color, fabric and print may tell most of the story, but it’s comfort that completes it, boosting employee morale and adding to the customer experience.
“Uniforms pull together the look of the staff to coordinate with the much-thought-about interior design of the casino,” says Gallant. “If an employee is uncomfortable in a uniform, it can be apparent. When the staff is comfortable and confident wearing their uniforms, the casino’s desired image will be clearly realized in the positive and proud attitude of their staff.”
Most of Class Act’s business consists of custom-made uniforms in an array of pattern designs that can be tweaked with changes to color, fabric or other features, Gallant says. The company is also a reseller of familiar brands like Edwards Garment, SanMar Corp., Uncommon Threads, Chef Works and others.
The ‘Wow’ Factor
While today’s casino uniform styles may not be as glittery as in years past, they remain on trend. Outfitters and suppliers attend design, technology and fabric trade shows to stay on top of what’s new.
Eco-friendly and washable fabrics, with clean lines and simple styles, are trending these days. It’s mainstays like color, design and fit that make a memorable first impression—and details matter. Buttons, trim, lapels and texture: “It’s those details in a garment that you see when you’re out shopping,” Cordero says.
“Everyone is trying to outdo each other, especially in Las Vegas. We’re in such close proximity here. The customer is changing. We have a new generation—the millennials—that they’re trying to attain.”
Today’s uniform trends may not be “the glitz of the famous ladies of Caesars Palace from the 1980s, but they’re still fashionable with newer colors and fabrics,” Campbell says. For example, he says, “Charcoal gray is the new black.”
The pressure casino operators feel to tell a new and different story via a refreshed design scheme exists in Vegas and beyond. Many markets now include multiple properties and new competition.
“You do see those individual properties outside Las Vegas feeling the heat a little bit,” Cordero says. “You’re coming for an experience, and the last thing you need to see is an old, dated uniform. People want the experience of seeing something new and different.”
Casino operators tend to bring in new uniform designs about every three to five years, Campbell says, usually coinciding with carpet and wall covering changes.
“If you come in and put all new carpet down, the first thing you notice is the carpet had orange; the shirts have orange,” he says. “Now, we’ve got blue. We need blue shirts.”
Styles change, but they are also likely to resurface. The tuxedo halter top and women’s tails coat have been in the lineup for more than 20 years, says Gallant.
“We evolve our designs and keep everything fresh, but you can always choose a classic if needed,” she says.
“Casinos have always been regarded as the place to go for the highest entertainment value providing a truly unique experience for their customers. Today we’re using fabrics that require less maintenance but still offer enough flash to maintain the ‘wow’ factor.”
The “wow” factor is an essential part of the story, with the employees wearing them as the storytellers. A well-designed uniform conveys a clear message to customers, Campbell says: “We’re glad you’re here, enjoy the entertainment, and please come back.”
Topping the Food Chain
Franchise restaurants may not be the perfect fit for every casino, but gaming venues that buy into the franchise model find it a highly effective way to leverage the power of national brands, differentiate their F&B, and engage with a greater variety of customers.
Just ask Wendy Carter, marketing director for Oklahoma’s Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant.
Fresh off a $255 million expansion that added a second hotel tower, luxury spa, 3,000-seat arena, 100,000 square feet of meeting space and a lively entertainment and recreational quarter called the District, Choctaw Durant also boasts as varied a food offering as any you’ll find in Las Vegas: 12 casual and fine dining outlets that blend casino-owned-and-operated restaurants with well-known franchises like Gilley’s, Subway, Papa John’s Pizza and Smashburger.
It’s a model the Choctaw Nation replicates across its eight principal gaming venues in the southeastern part of the Sooner State. The goal: maximum appeal.
“When you think of resort food and beverage, the mix is very important,” Carter says. “You want your own brands, but that isn’t enough. You need the recognition factor of these national brands. We look at our demographics, and with a mix, we’re attractive to all our players.”
The brands, for their part, love pitching their wares to hungry, willing consumers concentrated indoors in large numbers.
“If you look at it pragmatically, you have a captive audience,” says Gregg Koffler, senior vice president of franchise development for Smashburger. “These are high-density, high-traffic areas, and if you’re offering them a good food choice, they’re not going to leave. They’re going to eat there.”
Grab & Go
Smashburger has outlets at Caesars Palace and the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, where they serve a custom burger called the “Sin City,” and a location in southern Nevada at Harrah’s Laughlin. Sales average “well above” the company’s as a whole, says Koffler—and that’s across 380 corporate and franchise restaurants in 37 states and eight countries.
Smashburger likes the casino partnerships so much, the company currently is talking with gaming venues in no less than eight states about possible openings.
As Subway’s Donna Curry describes it, it’s a match made in fast-food heaven.
“One of the important things is we’re open 24 hours,” says Curry, development agent for Subway in southern Nevada, where the chain has 22 casino locations. “A lot of the restaurants and nightclubs shut down, so we’re able to serve their guests who want something to eat in the wee hours. Our line moves very fast; if a guest wants to grab a sandwich and go to a concert or get something to eat after the show, or if they’re at the tables and want to grab a bite and go back to gaming, we’re there.
“A national brand is what people are attracted to, because they know the product. And we’re healthy, too, so people say, ‘There’s a Subway—let’s grab that.’”
It helps that the chains are experienced in adapting their product to the demands of the physical environment. As Koffler recalls, “We did a little bit of marketing in the trades and got the word out on the street: We were ready to roll out a prototype tailored for casinos, by that meaning locations that are a little smaller than our usual 2,500 square feet.”
Curry’s Subway locations can be as large as 1,200 square feet or as compact as 450. “I work on identifying unused space and work with casinos to create an income-producing area where there may be dead spots,” she says.
Not to be discounted either: the confidence factor that comes with working with nationally known brands. “Casinos look for someone who’s seasoned,” Curry says. “They like experienced operators to make sure their guests are taken care of.”
Carter says the recognition associated with the big brands drives patronage, for effective cross-marketing. “I think it’s a win-win for both of us,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity for any retail or F&B operation.”
The Vision Board
But surviving in what is obviously an increasingly crowded franchise field makes it more important than ever to differentiate your offering. Entrepreneur magazine picked up on this more than a year ago, writing in the January 2022 issue, “Companies that have been franchising for decades have high speed and low prices locked up, so newcomers are looking to compete on food quality and atmosphere instead.”
This has resulted in a noticeable trend toward food choices that are more “personalized,” exemplified in the “build-your-own” model that’s increasingly popular for everything from burgers and subs to pizza and sushi.
Dallas-based Pie Five Pizza, an up-and-comer in this new “fast-casual” space, opened at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Biloxi, its first gaming location, just over a year ago. “The feedback we’re getting is over-the-top—great stuff,” says Kurt Guttshall, the franchise partner who brought Pie Five to the popular casino on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.
Pie Five’s hook: every pizza is custom-made from a menu that offers a choice of four crusts, seven sauces and 28 different toppings. Your pizza is dressed in front of you, then baked at very high heat in a special conveyor oven so that it’s yours in two and a half minutes. And every pie is the same price.
Smashburger, not quite 10 years old, is another young company that’s evolving fast. It recently branched out into alcohol service, teaming up with a Cincinnati-based boutique brewery, Christian Moerlain, to serve craft beers and ales tailored to different regional styles and tastes. The chain also works hard to counter the industrial image associated with fast food. Its diverse menu includes chicken sandwiches and salads, sweet potato fries, a vegetarian black bean burger and “Veggie Frites.”
The Rio location came about, says Koffler, precisely because the resort was looking to rebrand its quick-service offering away from the traditional image of “fast food.”
“They wanted a better offering,” he says.
It’s about knowing your customers, something casinos are very good at, says Wendy Carter, a veteran marketer with 13 years in the industry. “It comes from surveys, from monitoring every aspect of your resort activity over 20-plus years of operations in the area,” she attests. “So we feel we can make very solid decisions about what our guests are looking for.”
Easy as Pie
Guttshall is a believer. A longtime franchisee whose Birmingham, Alabama-based investment group runs 60 Applebee’s restaurants, he never considered opening a Pie Five in a casino before the Hard Rock contacted him.
“We were a little skeptical,” he says. “We asked Pie Five, and they weren’t sure either, and they didn’t want us to fail. But then we thought, let’s try it, let’s go for it. We looked at the site, the traffic was great.”
He got a strong location, along a route where guests have to pass to get from the parking garage to the casino and the hotel front desk. It’s also near the theater and the pool area. The outlet stays open extra late on weekends (until 1 a.m.). If there’s a show, it stays open until the last customer is served. And it accept casino comps, a nice cost-saver for Hard Rock, which also gets a percentage of the outlet’s sales.
“But I think the best thing is, people really like the concept, and they like the product,” Guttshall says. “It’s been a great partnership.”
So great, in fact, that his group has returned its allotted territory, encompassing all of Mississippi, Alabama and eastern Tennessee, to Pie Five in exchange for an exclusive right to develop Pie Five restaurants in casinos anywhere in the United States. Gutshall has an agreement with Pie Five that calls for his group to develop 18 more outlets, 25 in all—“But they’re not going to be in that territory,” he says, “they’re going to be where the best casino opportunity lies.”
Smashburger’s gaming expansion is part of a “non-traditional venues program” that’s working well for the company and continues as a strategic priority. To aid in its nationwide casino search, Koffler says the company is working with Compass Group, a food services conglomerate that manages outsourcing for companies worldwide.
Guttshall says his group is “excited” about the potential in gaming. “We know the model works well. People like it. There are several casinos we’ve talked to that have no outside or external brand, and we’re saying, ‘Let’s try it. Let’s see if it works for both of us.’ We know there’s interest out there. The question now is finding the right location and the right property. The site has to make sense to us too.”
Curry works with the same persistence. She says her “vision board” is what got Subway into Las Vegas Strip giants like MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and the Venetian.
“I’ve been targeting these properties for years,” she says. “It’s about building relationships.”
Ship to Shore
For a quarter century, the Rhythm City riverboat casino was a fixture of the mighty Mississippi River.
In June, that ship sailed, to be replaced by a $110 million land-based casino, located for maximum accessibility at Interstates 80 and 74 in Davenport, Iowa.
Though the name hasn’t changed, the rest is all new. In 2021, Elite Casino Resorts, owner of two other casinos in the Hawkeye State, acquired the gaming license previously held by Isle of Capri. The firm has since developed a world-class gaming facility on 40 acres with 900 slots, 30 table games, a six-story, 106-room hotel, an event center, a spa, a pool and three restaurants.
The resort’s design was inspired by its waterfront home, starting with a curved roofline and blue-and-white exterior meant to represent flowing water. The theme continues with LED lights that wash over the walls of the porte cochere, as well as staggered rooflines and building shapes that evoke trees edging the river.
Inside, the casino’s soaring Grand Hall has curving soffits that ebb and flow through a dramatic space. The ceiling treatment includes a reflective blue acrylic panel with hundreds of winking pendant lights. The custom carpet design features a background of water-like waves, and the gaming floor’s brightly colored starburst patterned carpet is bordered by a flowing edge.
The VIP/High Stakes area was inspired by the jazz rhythms of the Mississippi Delta. A fuchsia light strip inset into the wooden entryway conveys a feeling of kinetic energy. While the High Stakes area is open and welcoming, the VIP Lounge is more discreet, subdued and sophisticated.
The new complex also features a five-star steak-and-seafood restaurant, an upscale sports bar (with its own indoor fire pit), an indoor pool and a full salon and spa. The resort’s 1,500-seat, 16,000-square-foot event center is ideal for banquets, meetings and concerts.
At the ribbon-cutting in June, General Manager Mo Hyder said the new Rhythm City Casino “marks another milestone” in Iowa gaming.
“We’ve created an experience that’s going to position us as the market leader,” Hyder said. “It’s an incredible, awesome feeling.”
Owner: Elite Casino Resorts LLC
Architect: Cuningham Architecture
Builder: Baxter Construction
Total Area: 270,213 square feet
Investment: $110 million
It’s been a landmark of the Santa Cruz Valley since 1994. In 2011 and 2019, Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino added a $20 million hotel and entertainment center. Three years later, it was ready to grow again.
In 2022, the Ak-Chin Indian Community announced it would invest $100 million in a massive expansion of the property, which has been likened to “a great saguaro cactus rising above the desert.”
The plan calls for a ballroom-event space, additional restaurants and a 700-space parking garage. The expansion will also add a new hotel with 230 luxury rooms and suites. Featuring panoramic views of the valley, the rooms will have a distinctly tribal flavor, thanks to 75 Ak-Chin elders who consulted on the decor.
“They wanted to make sure the facility, from a cultural perspective, reflected something very unique,” says Chandra Reilly, project director for general contractor Sundt/Yates, a joint venture. “While they’re connected to other O’odham communities, they have their own unique culture.”
The design scheme will integrate images of water, cacti and the devil’s claw plant. The color palette will evoke the warm, vivid hues of the great Southwestern desert.
Of course, every desert needs an oasis. The existing pool area, known for its swim-up bar, will be replaced with a zero-entry beach pool complete with water jets and poolside cabanas. First-floor guest rooms will become pool bungalows, with their own private terraces. Multiple integrated hot tubs will allow guests to select water temperatures and settings at the push of a button.
The existing 40,000-square-foot gaming area (including Caesars’ only bingo hall, companywide) will also grow.
“This expansion will provide our guests and visitors with the high-quality hospitality and entertainment they have come to expect here at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino,” says Ak-Chin Chairman Robert Miguel.
Construction began in June. The project is expected to be complete in 2023.
Owner: Ak-Chin Indian Community
Operator: Caesars Entertainment
Architect: Thalden Boyd Emery
General Contractor: Sundt/Yates JV
Investment: $110 million
One of the world’s most profitable casinos is also one of the newest, tucked away on a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean.
Only 12.5 miles long and less than six miles wide, Saipan is the principal island of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, a U.S. territory.
The Best Sunshine Live casino, which opened on the island in 2022, is only a temporary facility with just a handful of VIP tables. It doesn’t even have a hotel. But according to reports, the gaming hall already ranks No. 4 in the world for VIP rolling chip revenue, a figure based on turnover of about $2 billion a month.
With that level of patronage and success, Hong Kong-listed Best Sunshine International, a subsidiary of Imperial Pacific International, is comfortable investing a total of $3.1 billion in an opulent permanent resort, with Phase I set to open in early 2023, just in time to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
The lavish integrated resort on Saipan’s western coast promises an atmosphere of unsurpassed elegance. It will include regal façade treatments reminiscent of the grand palaces of Paris, with crystal dragons standing guard in the grand lobby. The casino, with up to 300 gaming tables and 400 slot machines, will feature towering golden columns and gilded stone panels. Sky-lit gaming balconies will overlook the formal garden seascape.
The natural surroundings are just as impressive. Saipan is a true tropical paradise, formed by a rising coral reef with soft white-sand beaches, crystal-blue water and a balmy climate (with air and water temperatures of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round).
The island is also less than five hours by air from most major cities on the Chinese mainland, and to make it even easier for inbound visitors, the territory allows 45 days of visa-on-arrival entry for Chinese tourists.
To date, most of Best Sunshine’s direct VIP patrons hail from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Korea and Saipan, the company has stated. Imagine what will happen when they can actually check in for the night.
Owner: Imperial Pacific Holdings
Architect: Steelman Partners
Total Area: 140,000 sq. meters (35 acres)
General Contractor: Sundt/Yates JV
Investment: $3.1 billion
When Steve Wynn conceived of a new property in Macau’s Cotai region more than six years ago, later dubbed Wynn Palace, the SAR was running strong with no signs of a pullback. VIPs were arriving en masse and Wynn had a corner on many of the good ones at his existing properties, Wynn Macau and Encore Macau. The growth of the mass market was encouraging but not crucial in the face of the healthy VIP segment.
And then it all changed. A Chinese economic downturn followed by a crackdown on corruption made a visit to Macau risky, leading to two years of decreasing revenues. Suddenly, a $4 billion investment seemed risky too. But the design was set in stone. And this year’s opening of Wynn Palace was probably the most glittering seen in Macau in several years, unlikely to be rivaled in the near future.
Dedicated to art with a floral design, Wynn Palace has the signature of a Wynn development:
• Performance lake and fountain show. Eight acres of water with almost 1,200 jets send more than 8 million gallons of water into the air. With more than a dozen intricately choreographed musical shows, the fountains dance to a diverse program of Chinese, European and American songs, operatic arias and musical numbers. Guests can view the shows and enter the heart of the resort via dramatic “Sky Cabs” that travel more than 90 feet above the lake.
• Floral sculptures. Guests are welcomed at two major entrances to the resort with two massive floral sculptures, one of a carousel, the other of a Ferris wheel. Each is fabricated from 100,000 real flowers and moves in time to music. The sculptures are custom-made by renowned flower designer Preston Bailey.
• Art, art, art. An investment of more that $125 million has brought thousands of pieces of art for view by visitors to Wynn Palace. Of particular interest is Wynn’s effort to bring Chinese artwork home, including four rare Qing Dynasty vases that are among the finest examples of chinoiserie in the world. The only other such quartet is at Buckingham Palace in London.
• Amazing amenities. Wynn’s lead designer, Roger Thomas, outdid himself with the Wing Lei Palace, a spectacular example of restaurant design overlooking the performance lake. More than 1,700 rooms, suites and villas echo Wynn’s focus on luxury. And the spa, Macau’s largest, features 22 treatment rooms alongside the pool and poolside restaurant nestled next to the lake.
• Shopping. Like all integrated resorts in Macau, Wynn has shopping—1,850 square meters of shopping. Unlike any other mall, the Wynn Palace Esplanade features 50 of the most renowned names in retail.
But Wynn says the luxury he designs into his resorts only works when you have the best service to complement the amenities.
“To be the prettiest hotel in the world frankly is something that money and good taste can buy,” Wynn says. “But to be the best hotel is something else altogether. In any hospitality business there are only two words that matter—guest experience. All the rest is irrelevant. All the marble and the crystal chandeliers, all the wonderful good taste that has been put into this building is dedicated to that one thing.
“It took six-and-a-half years to design this magnificent building, and yes, the name on the sign is Wynn Palace. But tonight this becomes the palace of the people who work here, and it is they who will make this the best hotel in the world.”
We’re No. 1
There’s something about being first. People remember Neil Armstrong as the first man on the moon. Few remember who was second. People know Richie Havens opened up Woodstock. Does anybody know who followed Havens?
Neither do we.
Plainridge Park Casino opened in June 2022 as the first casino in Massachusetts. Working with Penn National Gaming, Turner Construction Company and JCJ Architecture designed and built the $250 million complex ahead of other proposed gaming developments.
The expanded racetrack features 44,000 square feet of gaming space with 1,500 slot machines and electronic tables along with live and simulcast horse racing.
But Plainridge is more than a place to make a bet. It has live music, upscale casual dining, and the first-ever Doug Flutie Sports Bar, named after the former Boston College and Patriots quarterback. A 1,100-space parking garage completes the complex.
First built in the late ’90s, Plainridge began as an undistinguished two-story steel and metal structure. It was important to seamlessly integrate racing with the casino, says architect James T. Murphy, project manager and director of risk management for JCJ Architecture.
“To that end, there’s a single entrance for all patrons. And the existing building is no longer all racing. The first-level track-side has upgraded finishes for track customers. The second-level trackside is now a banquet/multi-use facility that can accommodate up to 500 people.”
JCJ upgraded the second-level Simulcast Theater to accommodate family dining, while converting the first-level simulcast into Slacks Oyster House and Grill.
Because the original building was nondescript, JCJ created a unified identity and appearance. “It got a facelift,” says Murphy. “By applying finishes, colors and textures of the new onto the existing building, there’s a visual relationship between the two. The exterior expresses a clean and contemporary geometry, inspired by the site’s previous use as a rock quarry. By using stone to highlight each stair tower and by providing a sleek horizontal façade, the exterior has a distinctive, modern expression.”
The design incorporates sustainable features including a broad array of solar panels which contributed to an LEED Gold certification. Storm water discharge is accommodated on-site and does not run off the property. In addition, Plainridge contains over 20 charging stations for electric vehicles.
The casino also references Flutie’s hometown-hero status with a display of memorabilia. “To honor a very local and specific point of pride brings a special regional touch to the facility, creating a strong connection for first-timers or repeat guests,” Murphy says.
Owner: Penn National Gaming
Architect: JCJ Architecture
Builder: Turner Construction Company
Investment: $250 million
The most luxurious accommodations at the new Crown Towers Perth will set you back a bit.
“You’re looking at about $20,000 to stay at the top villa,” Crown Ltd. CEO Barry Felstead says of the lavish six-star hotel tower, on track for a December opening.
Crown Towers aspires to be not just the finest hotel in Perth, but the tallest in the city and the most opulent in Australia. The $568 million, 25-story structure will add 500 new rooms to the complex, for a total of 1,200.
Amenities will include a new VIP gaming hall, a full-service spa, a business center and convention complex, and abundant retail and dining options. The latter will include internationally renowned brands such as Nobu, Silks, Bistro Guillaume, Rockpool and Epicurean.
YWS Design, which is the lead building designer of Crown Towers Perth, is leading more than 20 design and consulting firms in delivering this world class integrated resort. The look is truly luxe. The tower’s architectural aesthetic is one of contemporary elegance. It all starts at the dramatic podium. Arriving guests are greeted by a series of seven-meter-high glass wall panels and stone columns. The distinctive aesthetic continues in the lobby, where an atrium, skylights and expanses of glass bring in abundant light and picturesque views.
A multi-tiered pool area will be a relaxing retreat for guests, who can enjoy luxury cabanas and a cocktail bar surrounding a circular infinity pool. Large outdoor patios and cantilevered roofs will offer shade and protection.
With event spaces such as the Great Lawn and the palatial Crown Ballroom, Crown Towers Perth “will surpass even the most seasoned traveler’s expectations,” according to a statement from Crown.
Felstead goes a step further, saying the hotel tower overlooking the Swan River will be “the best hotel in Australia, there is no doubt.
“It will be absolutely magnificent.”
Owner-Operator: Crown Ltd.
Designer: YWS Design
Builder: Brookfield Multiplex
Materials: 2,500 tons of steel
Investment: $568 million
Last summer, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma broke ground on a comprehensive expansion and renovation of its Choctaw Grant Casino Resort in the community of Grant. On August 18, tribal leaders and state and local officials turned the first shovels for the project, to be designed and built by the Hnedak Bobo Group (HBG).
The project will improve the resort’s existing operation and alleviate traffic while adding exciting new amenities.
The expansion includes:
- A new 96-room hotel tower featuring 23 luxury suites;
- A new lobby and check-in that will create an enhanced arrival experience for hotel guests, with a sundry, valet, bellhop and business center;
- An expanded swimming pool and outdoor bar nestled in a tropical garden;
- An exclusive new poker room and 125 new slot machines; and,
- Food and beverage options including a new 155-seat bar and grill; an expansion of the popular Firehouse Buffet; and a convenient new grab-and-go coffee shop.
HBG designers coined the term “refined rustic” to describe the design approach. At once contemporary, edgy and pastoral, the concept builds on the Choctaw brand’s warm color palette as well as the existing property’s transitional styling, natural textures and materials and wood accents.
The designers also drew inspiration from the Oklahoma landscape: grain stalks blowing in the fields, the vast open sky, and a natural palette of deeply contrasting colors. The team was especially taken with the shape and texture of the area’s weather-worn grain silos.
The aged structures have a timeless, iconic aesthetic that combines wood and metal in a multitude of patterns, textures and patinas. This raw materiality within a distinctive contemporary form creates visual interest and consistency among new and existing building elements.
“Choctaw red” color accents throughout the resort will further reinforce the brand.
The resort will remain open throughout construction, which is expected to be complete in June 2023.
Owner-Operator: Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
Architect/Interior Designer: Hnedak Bobo Group (HBG)
Employment: Estimated 80 new jobs
Investment: $50 million
Making a Spectacle
Usually, an escalator ride is a way to get from Point A to Point B. But not at Resorts World Sentosa, Genting’s 121-acre resort in Singapore, which opened in 2010.
There, the Hall of Treasures transforms what is often a mundane trip into a magical mystery tour. As guests go from level to level, they’re surrounded by mirrored cladding that creates an infinity effect. Visual motifs created by LED ribbons stream dynamic images of water, fire, earth and air.
It’s just one of several multimedia, multi-sensory, mind-boggling guest experiences created for the resort by L.A.-based Entertainment Design Corp. The award-winning firm is known for eye-popping attractions and live productions including the spectacular stage show for Cher’s three-year residency at Caesars Palace, Barbra Streisand’s 2023 North American tour, the opening ceremonies for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and the giant Viva Vision screen at the Fremont Street Experience in Downtown Las Vegas.
EDC also produced Resorts World’s Lake of Dreams, which transformed a pedestrian plaza into a dynamic entertainment destination. While beautiful by day, the lake explodes with color and imagery after dark. Light, fire and laser effects tell a story of good fortune as giant vines are transformed into fire-breathing dragons.
Perhaps the biggest crowd-pleaser is the Crane Dance display. This modern re-telling of an Asian folk tale tells the story of two mechanical cranes whose love for each other turns them into real birds. Created by Emmy-winning designer Jeremy Railton, the show stars a pair of 10-story, 80-ton mechanical cranes. Despite their size, they move with balletic grace in a touching courtship ritual accompanied by groundbreaking audio and visual technologies. The 10-minute nightly show is the largest dancing animatronics performance in the world, and the cranes are powered by 5,000 HP diesel engines, the kind used by railroads.
Using a cohesive narrative, EDC’s “360-degree entertainment” approach extends the resort brand in multiple areas and elevates the guests’ overall experience, paving the way for repeat visits and loyalty to the location. The firm’s designers, directors, illustrators, producers and technical experts are capable of taking each project from start to finish—from concept through production and finally, to applause.
Owner: Genting Singapore PLC
Entertainment Overlay: Entertainment Design Corp.
Less than a year after it completed a $100 million renovation of the property that included new signage and Boardwalk access, the Atlantic City Tropicana wrapped up another $50 million upgrade.
Designed by SOSH Architects, the Trop renovations continue the reinvestment in the property that has been ongoing since Carl Icahn purchased it in 2010. The Tropicana today is one of Atlantic City’s most successful casinos, and includes the most non-gaming amenities of any casino in the city.
This round of renovations included a complete renovation of the 500 rooms in the Havana Tower, matching the renovations completed a year earlier in the North Tower. The rooms feature sophisticated new décor, contemporary artwork, modern furnishings and spa-inspired bathrooms. Natural light floods all the rooms through large windows with various ocean and bay views. Cues were taken from woven textiles in neutral hues, lively accent colors, and bold patterns inspired by the Cuban marketplace, which is also celebrated at Tropicana’s The Quarter shopping area.
In a nod to the casino’s most important customers, the Tropicana added a new High-Limit Slot Room, with 175 high-denomination video slot games. At the entrance, more than 2,000 illuminated falling flower crystals give the illusion of petals floating softly through the air. Private luxury restrooms, leather-wrapped walls, walnut woodwork, marble floors and both smoking and non-smoking areas complete the well-designed space.
And finally, in an effort to improve operations and customer service, the Trop opened up a back-of-the-house area to provide a Pacific Avenue entrance to the property, something previously lacking. The project consists of three amenities—a newly redesigned Rewards Center, the Corner Market, and the high-end Luxe Salon. The repurposed space boasts a sleek modern look and feel, with marble flooring, dimensional metal columns, and neutral walls with saturated color accents to add to the contemporary design. The use of luminous LED spheres in various sizes and patterns emanates spectacular light throughout the concourse.
The end result is a dynamic new space and amenities for guests to enjoy at the Atlantic City resort.
Owner: Tropicana Entertainment
Architect/Interior Designer: SOSH Architects
General Contractor: Massett Building Company
Investment: $50 million
The Morongo Casino Resort and Spa outside Palm Springs, California, has a unique solution to attracting the millennials so sought-after in today’s casino world. The theme for the casino’s new MEBar is “Sit down, log in, drink up and start trending.”
With a variety of unique cocktails and award-winning craft beers from the Dudes’ Brewing Company in Torrance, the MEBar is an unusual interactive environment where guests can share selfies and musings on the high-definition, social media-linked monitors that pack the new lounge.
“The MEBar will redefine the term ‘hot spot’ by allowing our guests to share the fun of a night out at Morongo with the rest of the bar and across the cyber-universe,” says Simon Farmer, Morongo’s executive director of marketing. “Our goal is to integrate social media into the lounge environment to create a distinctive experience that our guests won’t find elsewhere.”
MEBar monitors are linked to Twitter. Everyone tagging a tweet with #MEBar or #Morongo can see their posts appear around the bar and across the internet in near-real time.
Built alongside the High Limit Gaming Room, the sleek new MEBar features iconic fire-red stone walls, 15 LED TVs, a custom mural framing the outside, and a menu of camera-ready concoctions, perfect for snapping and sharing.
The MEBar is open 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week.
Owner-Operator: Morongo Band of Mission Indians
Architect/Designer: Bergman, Walls & Associates, Las Vegas
Although the Asian gaming customer is one of the most lucrative in the casino industry, there aren’t enough amenities available for that segment, or so say the developers of the Lucky Dragon in Las Vegas.
Dave Jacoby, Lucky Dragon’s chief operating officer, says his smallish property (200 rooms, 27,000-square-foot casino) will cater to the domestic Asian markets in the U.S.
“We’re playing on the existing market that isn’t served well,” Jacoby says.
So while the Lucky Dragon won’t have the amenities of the mega-resorts, it will be well suited to serve Asians, who will feel more comfortable in an environment designed just for them. As the first Las Vegas casino resort that recreates an authentic Asian cultural and gaming experience, the Lucky Dragon builds the guest experience on four pillars:
• Restaurants. The target market should respond strongly, since the Lucky Dragon hired renowned San Francisco restaurant owner (Koi Palace and Dragon Beaux) Willy Ng. The property will feature a “night market” called Dragon’s Alley offering the street food of the Far East; the Pearl Ocean, a dim sum restaurant that will set a new standard in Las Vegas; the Phoenix, a luxury eatery that will feature a menu of cutting-edge culinary trends found throughout modern China, like kurobuta pork, deer tendon, abalone and countless other delicacies; and the Cha Garden, an indoor-outdoor tea garden that will feature a variety of settings adjacent to the hotel’s pool area.
• Hotel rooms. More than 200 rooms and a spa will combine ancient Chinese culture with modern-day amenities.
• Gaming. The casino game mix will be heavily focused on popular games including baccarat, pai gow, fan tan and sic bo, and will boast several Feng Shui-designed private gaming parlors.
• Hospitality. Lucky Dragon employees will be trained in multi-cultural service so they will be familiar with the language and customs of guests, ensuring an authentic and accommodating experience.
Jacoby says the unique design and the direct appeal to the Asian market will give the Lucky Dragon a leg up on Las Vegas casinos that have a loyal Asian clientele but lack the amenities and service those clients desire.
“We’re taking it a step further than what you may have seen elsewhere,” he says. “This is the first property built from the ground up to appeal to Asian-American players’ needs, particularly when it comes to entertainment, value and service. A lot of properties may have some visitation, but we are built for that customer. We appeal directly to them.”
Owner: Las Vegas Economic Impact Regional Center
Architect: Ed Vance & Associates
Interior Designer: Lee Cagley, Cagley Tanner
General Contractor: Penta Building Group
Investment: $373 million
Welcome to Casino Style
For the past dozen years or so, Global Gaming Business has produced Casino Design, an annual magazine dedicated to the architects, designers and builders of the casino industry.
In recent years, the pace of growth in that sector has slowed, even as the industry expands. At the same time—and for many of the same reasons—casino revenue has flattened, and non-gaming revenues have become more important. More and more, casino executives are looking to non-gaming amenities to grow their properties.
As a result, Casino Design required a revamp and a re-branding. Welcome to the first issue of Casino Style.
The cover story on entertainment is indicative of Casino Style’s new direction. Whether your guests buy in or are comped, entertainment is one of the most powerful ways to define and brand your property.
Building and renovation won’t cease—far from it. Just look at our “Building Excitement” department to note the extraordinary, cutting-edge, relevant work of the industry’s best architects and designers. But Casino Style is about more: restaurants, pools and spas, meetings and conventions, entertainment and nightclubs, and even cleverly built promotions. We’ll cover the new ways casinos reward customers for non-gaming spend, and explain how to find and keep those non-gaming guests.
One holdover from Casino Design is the Q&A compiled by Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs of Lifescapes International. What makes it different this year is a roundup from experts outside the design field, and a new emphasis on marketing. The experts brought together by Julie provide insight that will benefit all casinos.
Casino Style will be distributed at G2E and appropriately, the Integrated Resort Experience exhibit dedicated to non-gaming amenities. Exhibitors at IRE will be prominently featured in upcoming editions, along with their products and services.
So welcome to Casino Style. It’s an exciting new venture for us at GGB. We invite your feedback and perspective as we develop this valuable new tool for the gaming industry.
The Big Leagues
Entertainment has always played a big role in the casino industry. From the lounge acts of the 1940s to the Rat Pack of the ’50s and the crooners of the ’60s and ’70s, entertainment was often a reason guests visited casinos (while of course partaking in a few bets here and there).
But casino entertainment had stagnated by the 1980s, though few realized it. The standard performers were regulars: Sinatra and his crew, including Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, etc. Movie stars like Ann-Margret put together revues. Even the legendary Elvis Presley was considered staid and respectable.
So in 1983, when a fresh-faced Tom Cantone arrived at his new job at the Sands Casino Hotel in Atlantic City (he had previously worked at Hersheypark outside Harrisburg), few noticed. After all, booking casino entertainment wasn’t rocket science. You just did what had always been done.
Cantone had different ideas. A new generation of entertainers was creating lots of buzz—Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Steve Martin… The list was long, and growing longer. Cantone figured these acts would be perfect for Atlantic City, particularly for the upstart Sands and its intimate showroom, the Copa Room.
He had one problem.
“If I had a nickel for every time I heard an agent or manager say ‘He’ll never play a casino,’ I’d be a millionaire,” says Cantone.
It was especially true of young, up-and-coming stars. Eventually, Cantone broke down the agent for Eddie Murphy, at the time a big movie star and headliner on Saturday Night Live.
“He was the hottest entertainer on the planet at the time,” Cantone says. “And from that moment on, the walls came tumbling down.”
Murphy’s performance instantly transformed the Sands into the hottest place in Atlantic City, surpassing Caesars, Resorts and Steve Wynn’s Golden Nugget.
Like Cantone, the other executives at the Sands were also young and aggressive. It didn’t take much to convince them this was the way to go. “Bill Weidner, Brad Stone, Rob Goldstein… They allowed me to experiment and take risks,” says Cantone. “It was overwhelmingly received. Not always to everyone’s satisfaction, but it worked.” Soon other young stars were flocking to the Sands.
Cantone later joined the Trump organization as vice president of marketing for three Atlantic City properties. Larry King says hiring Cantone was Trump’s best decision in Atlantic City. Under his oversight, the Trump properties brought the newest and hottest acts to the 5,000-seat Mark Etess Arena.
Then it was time for a move. Foxwoods in Connecticut was looking for a way to establish itself as a major player in the market. Cantone provided that.
“Tom’s leadership, especially his ability to connect with people, our values, and culture as a tribe, helped bring the Foxwoods brand to the global stage,” says Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, the owners of Foxwoods.
Cantone’s success attracted the attention of the neighboring Mohegan tribe, which recruited him to book entertainment at Mohegan Sun, home of a 13,000-seat arena. Cantone has brought in some of the biggest names in the business, including Billy Joel, Taylor Swift and Ringo Starr.
He has one regret.
“I’ve tried to book Paul McCartney for years, so far without success,” he says. “But with our arena at Mohegan Sun, I’ll never give up.”
In 2022, Cantone wrote a memoir, Book ‘Em: From the Man Who Revolutionized Casino Entertainment. It’s a fascinating read, heavy with anecdotes about the amazing array of entertainers Cantone has booked over the years.
And in September, Cantone received the Lifetime Achievement honor at the Casino Entertainment Awards at G2E. Typically, he credits others.
“It’s a great honor, but it’s not mine alone,” he says. “I’ll accept it on behalf of all the people who helped me along the way. Without them, I would never have been able to achieve this recognition.”
A Whole New Game: Making Money Beyond the Casino Floor
With gaming revenues flat or decreasing, it’s more important than ever to develop non-gaming revenues through meetings and conventions, food and beverage, retail, entertainment and more.
While few casinos away from the Las Vegas Strip can generate more non-gaming than gaming revenues, there are numerous ways to boost profitability off the gaming floor. Casino Style spoke with 12 industry experts to find out how.
The roundup was compiled by Julie Brinkerhoff Jacobs, president and CFO of Lifescapes International, the design firm behind the volcano at the Mirage, the lake at Bellagio, and landscaping landmarks across the industry.
- Brad Friedmutter – CEO, Founder and CEO, Friedmutter Group
- Leonard Bergman – President/CEO, Bergman, Walls & Associates
- Tom Hoskens – Founding Principal, Cuningham Group Architecture, Inc.
- Dike Bacon – Principal/Planning and Business Development Leader at Hnedak Bobo Group (HBG)
- Michael Shulman – Executive Director of Design & Business Strategy, Illuminating Concepts
- Paul Gordon – Senior Vice President of Sales, Rymax Marketing Services, Inc.
- Paul Curtis Steelman – CEO, Steelman Partners
- Nick Schoenfeldt – Vice President & Principal, TBE Architects
- Thomas A. Wucherer – Principal/ Founding Partner, YWS
- Thomas J. Sykes – Principal, SOSH Architects
- Lee Torres – Chief Marketing Officer, Pechanga Resort & Casino
Diego Alessi – Senior Principal/ Landscape Architect, Lifescapes International, Inc.
To satisfy customers and maximize profits, what non-gaming amenities are essential?
Wucherer: There isn’t a single answer that works for every market or property, but there are a few must-haves.
Food and beverage has the No. 1 impact on customer satisfaction in just about every market. However, a well-rounded offering of retail and entertainment is typically just as important.
For maximum profit, casino properties must have a deep understanding of their customers. Who are they? What do they like? It’s different for every market, and each property should cater to the desires of their target market by offering an array of amenities.
It’s also important to consider the right brand associations, right price points, the right interaction between venues, and how the venues are organized. All impact customer satisfaction and revenue potential.
Hoskens: Las Vegas casinos get 60 percent of their revenue from non-gaming. The key is activities that attract a wide variety of vacationers. High on the list are outstanding restaurants, then convention centers and retail, and now we’re seeing stadiums as the big draw, pulling in thousands for individual sporting events and concerts.
That still leaves 40 percent of revenues from gaming. As Las Vegas looks toward the future and with technology advancing at hyper-speed, gaming companies should continue investing in games research to see what can be the next big attraction. Games are going to change quickly.
To maximize profits, you need to have your finger on the pulse to be the “first in”—that’s where the highest rewards are. Keep your IT people looking to that. The Venetian putting in an arena-style gaming environment is about being ahead of the curve. They’re diversifying for their guests and building clientele for the future.
In emerging markets, there are many opportunities beyond restaurants and convention facilities. Look to theaters and other entertainment like bowling, retail such as outlet malls, specialty hotels, pools—anything to create a varied entertainment experience and attract a regional market.
Friedmutter: Property access. Providing adjacent, climate-appropriate parking and entries is key to customer satisfaction.
Knowing your customer and tailoring amenities like food and beverage create a synergistic experience and establish brand loyalty. Center bars, sports bars, electronic content-based venues and dynamic gaming areas increase the energy of the property, creating fun and competitive environments for players.
Gaming is a serviced-based industry. Making the customer feel like they’re No. 1 and getting a good value for their dollar is as important, if not more important, as any brick-and-mortar amenity.
Schoenfeldt: For the first time, we’ve included a Zen garden and noodle bar adjacent to an area appealing to the Asian guest.
Structured, covered parking remains one of the most critical and cost-effective amenities. It enables guests to get closer to the floor and protects them from the heat, cold, rain and snow. Parking can consistently turn a slow gaming day due to the elements into one of the best.
Hotels are always an asset. The key, like most major investments, is to make it right-sized. A quality environment, including superior bed sets, linens and a multimedia experience, is critical. The single biggest hotel draw has followed the real-estate trend in luxury baths. “Experience” showers, superior linens and lighted wall mirrors are just a few of the upgrades our clients are insisting upon.
Also, the salon/spa concept has evolved as well. We’ve seen them become more focused on hands, feet and body. Hair has declined, but styling stations still persist.
What would you consider a good mix of non-gaming amenities for local, regional or large-scale casino properties?
Bacon: The roadmaps are pretty loose. Every market is different, and one size or program mix doesn’t fit all.
In most markets, the percentage of non-gaming to gaming amenities is increasing, but it can vary widely. We see the percentages of non-gaming amenity seats to gaming positions ranging from 25 percent to 50 percent, depending on total resort size or proximity to urban environments.
Friedmutter: The casino business is very interesting because it’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The market changes through the seasons, months, and even in the course of a day.
To engage customers, local properties become extensions of the community, with amenities that serve gamers and non-gamers alike. These can include dining venues, marketplaces, theaters, bowling, meeting spaces, bars and pubs and other places people want to return to on a frequent basis.
In regional markets, these amenities expand to include retail districts, sport facilities, and proportionate hotel components for well-needed getaways, while keeping a residential scale and feel.
The integrated resort approach is the best model for large-scale properties, creating memorable, iconic moments that people take away for a lifetime. Theme parks, beaches, shows, arenas, convention centers and world-class retail put anything you desire within reach. That captures customers’ imaginations and creates a returning, loyal fan base.
Hoskens: At local casinos, minimal amenities can work. Great food, great meeting spaces, and great games—it can be that simple for locals.
In more regional markets, you need to complement gaming with amenities like theaters and bowling, some retail, other sports-related venues, and then of course hotels and hotel-related amenities. Drawing people in from farther away—especially for multi-day stays—takes those added attractions.
In the case of large-scale casinos in emerging markets, a standard amenity mix is pretty tried-and-true: convention center, great pool, water feature, cinema, bowling and retail.
Golf is a good differentiator that larger resorts can support. Branded restaurants also come more into play in large-scale venues. An overall amping up of the typical attractions works best for that type of market.
What are the secrets of honing non-gaming amenities?
Bacon: The challenge is not to define products that appeal to one audience or another, but take cues from all generational perspectives and customer demands, and incorporate them in new and exciting ways.
Alessi: Educational group opportunities in culinary arts may set a unique trend. With Las Vegas becoming a food-driven destination, casino resorts should create packages for guests centered on a culinary experience through the eyes of a chef.
Destination clubs are an interesting offering for adventure-driven clients, where they get adrenaline-boosting activities for enjoyment.
Hoskens: As architects, we believe “wow” spaces are still part of the nongaming attraction of resorts. Whether an iconic building element, a dramatic entry experience, or that branded destination within a property, good design gets people interested in and excited about visiting a place.
We’re also seeing more casinos open up their gaming environments to the outdoors—to the pool area or to landscapes and natural views. These can be great differentiators in contrast to the dark, closed-off spaces we typically see. Another trend we’re seeing and have worked with is supplying clean air at the floor rather than ceiling so that the fresh air comes right to the guests.
Schoenfeldt: As professionals, we’ve been in the “place-making” mode for some time with gaming properties. We now recognize that the refinement of space is more important. The essence of what’s happening is on a personal-interaction level; our spaces need to facilitate that interaction.
Younger patrons want contact with people. All day long they work and play on machines and listen to canned music. They were raised in the “Kentucky Fried” system of daycare. They want release from the everyday machine. They yearn for interaction.
The underlying trend is to provide a space that encourages and facilitates the interaction of guests with each other and with the staff.
Sykes: While nightclubs are your traditional focus, day clubs are ever more engaging and rewarding for patron and property. Pool scenes interlaced with nightclub amenities—private access and VIP areas, bottle service, celebrity DJs—are important attributes, as are the character of the space and the whole focus of parties in the sunshine.
Wucherer: We’ve been talking about micro-environments for a while—a cluster of amenities grouped together to satisfy the needs of a specific customer psychographic profile.
In the past, we’d design casinos to encourage the movement of people around the whole property; now I think it’s important to captivate a specific type of customer and engage them in a smaller physical space.
The Millennial Moment
What attracts millennial customers? What makes them stay?
Alessi: Millennials tend to favor a social, more experiential attitude, often spending as much money as Gen Xer’s, yet staying a shorter time. Work and play go hand-in-hand, and often the expectation is for a more communal and convenient environment. Urban settings are popular.
Tech, quality of design, walkability, flexibility, and outdoor living are the key attributes of project amenities.
Bacon: Millennials as a pure demographic segment aren’t currently good casino customers. They don’t have the time, disposable income or propensity to gamble. A recent survey indicated they contribute an average of 5 percent or less of total gaming revenues.
For sure they’ll be better casino customers in 20 years, but it’s impossible to predict what they’ll want then. Meanwhile, the industry seems to be losing sight of a huge, untapped market potential. The next significant customer demographic post-baby boomers is Gen X, which is estimated to be 80 million people. Many of the current sociocultural innovations can be traced to this market segment, not millennials. And they have money to spend.
Bergman: As a generation that grew up with hand-held and console games, millennials have shown less interest in traditional slots and prefer more interactive entertainment such as table games and sports betting. To stay relevant, slot manufacturers are quickly developing skill-based games to meet the demands of a clientele with constant entertainment available on a tablet or mobile phone.
We’re not far from seeing games like those millennials grew up playing against friends in their homes, but in a casino setting and with money at stake. The advantage of this lifelong practice—whether real or perceived—is attractive to millennials. They’re competitive and expect to see their results, especially when compared to those of their friends.
Steelman: Right now millennials are attracted to nightclubs and pools. In the future, we’ll need to design casinos to attract them. These casinos will need to feature new and unique skill-based gaming.
Sykes: Millennials crave social interaction and want to be fully entertained—whether it’s dining out with friends or experiencing the latest interactive games and technologies. The variety of offerings will attract them to the property. Entertainment and engagement will keep them there.
Wucherer: Emerging consumers want to explore, so how casinos package their offerings matters. Static experiences bore them. Remember, they’re part of a society that has lots of information available to them. Finding the right elements and remaining genuine (not gimmicky) is key.
Nightlife. Still as hot as ever? What are the latest trends?
Bergman: Absolutely! In Las Vegas and major urban areas, nightclubs are going strong. World-class DJs establish residencies at the top clubs, and even midweek entertainers draw sizable crowds and long lines. Day clubs are popular during warm weather and offer the opportunity to enjoy a nightclub atmosphere with the bonus of working on a tan. Tops are frequently optional for all guests.
While these high-energy venues are big draws, there will always be a demand for smaller, low-key bars and lounges. Guests have many of the same expectations for their bars as for restaurants. From locally brewed craft beer to house-made syrups and bitters, even booze is elevated to surpass the offerings we once accepted.
Schoenfeldt: Nightlife with live music is growing, and guests are becoming more demanding about their expectations.
One trend we see is higher-quality spirits and designer drinks. While these drinks tend to be more expensive, millennials seem to be satisfied with fewer of them, and prefer a quality non-alcoholic alternative as well. The dress of nightlife patrons has improved. Baby boomers still prefer jeans, but millennials make a night of it, dressing more elegantly. As the father of three millennial daughters, I know—I pay the bills.
Again, quality is the key. This generation saw the rise and fall of MTV, and when they’re out on the town, they want the real thing. An interesting component is the cigar-and-scotch bar, reminiscent of a simpler, more elegant time.
Shulman: Yes, it’s still hot! It’s about the brand of the internationally known DJ, interactive design interlacing with the interactive and personal relationship to the physical environment, and the external stimuli created by one’s senses.
The trend is not about the five traditional senses broken down into their individual siloes, but the combination highlighted by the “sixth sense,” or what can be deemed the X-factor. Millennials want real-time connection to each other and the world around them.
Steelman: Nightlife is not hot. Several casinos have successful nightclubs, but little is translated into the casinos. Most clubs are open three or four nights per week. People have overspent to create temporary attractions for a few. Over 50 nightclubs in Vegas have gone out of business. Today’s high rollers hate nightclubs. Nightclubs put young drunk people into the casino at 5 a.m.
I believe in what Bob Stupak said: “The casino is my nightclub.” When casinos feature skill-based gaming, the younger casino market will be reborn.
What would encourage millennials to share their experiences?
Gordon: Millennials and actually most of today’s demographics live in the moment. Watch the cell phones light up at a concert or at a tourist spot. Everyone needs to share their experiences now. So experiential is a very new part of the casino experience.
Torres: Millennials are unique due to the diversity of the group. They range from 16 to 35, giving them a huge spectrum of mindsets. On one end, you’ve got people in their mid-30s settling into careers and settling down. At the low end, you’re talking to teenagers.
Age gap aside, millennials are driven by experiences and are digital natives, always aware of their options. By staying ahead of digital trends and making them comfortable and engaged, you’ll gain loyalty from this seemingly unsolvable generation.
What are the current trends in F&B? How often do operators change their F&B offerings and why?
Bergman: Dining out is less and less a special occasion and more the norm. Social, unfussy venues are popular with diners of all ages and backgrounds; a space that’s equally approachable for families with small children, young professionals at happy hour and baby boomers ensures that these restaurants remain busy.
A focus on health and social responsibility means sustainably and locally-sourced food is preferred. Chain restaurants with lengthy menus are losing ground to one-off venues featuring fewer dishes that allow the freshness and quality of ingredients and skill of the chef to shine.
Friedmutter: The perceived value of food and beverage is the same as it was in the old-school casino world. Customers want variety, quality, and great service for the best price.
Gaming properties need to stay on top of their business by assessing the market and giving the best they can. You have to have the exact number of blueberries in every muffin!
Staying current and keeping up with trends is paramount to a property. Celebrity dining, healthy options and farm-to table are all in vogue.
Hoskens: Brand-name franchises in casinos continue to be the trend. We’re also seeing a shift towards more food markets that feature display cooking and presentations and more branded elements than traditional food courts or buffets.
We’ve noticed that as operators renovate and remodel their casinos, they’re totally changing their food venues to offer the latest concepts and brands.
Shulman: Trending right now: upscale, fast-casual, deconstructed food, farm-to-table organics, and mostly being part of the experience.
People don’t want to leave the action for a meal. The food experience should be part of the overall casino experience, not hidden in a dark corner. Staying relevant isn’t about the real estate, it’s about the offering, the menu, the event and the see-and-be-seen culture.
Sykes: Within food and beverage trends, alcohol is leading the charge. In the last few years, more beer-focused F&B concepts have emerged. Other trends we’ve observed include more marketplace food/farm-to-table, wine bars and beverage options, and coffee shops and lounges that offer small plates and high-end cocktails, craft beers, and fine wine and whiskey selections.
Restaurants tied to celebrity chefs and other strong brands are also trending right now.
How do your clients use social media to attract customers?
Bacon: To enhance its online customer service, our client the Sycuan Tribe and Sycuan Casino strengthened their social media communication on Twitter and Facebook. They’ve leveraged cutting-edge cloud technologies to design and develop the gaming industry’s first truly engaging and responsive mobile application for iPhone and Android users. The app provides quick and easy access to important information about entertainment events, dining options and personal club accounts, and lets patrons participate in exclusive offers and rewards.
It’s visually inclusive of younger and older generations. Their customers consistently say the new phone app is a major driver in where they decide to game.
Bergman: BWA recently completed a tribal casino bar centered entirely on social media engagement.
From the name of the venue to the drinks on the menu, every aspect was designed to be shared. When patrons use certain hashtags on social media sites, their posts are shown in real time on screens throughout the bar. Gone are the days of “no photos in the casino.” Properties today know that a lack of social media presence means they’re out of touch.
Friedmutter: Many of our clients are using social media as a way to create a “pre-opening” fan base for their properties.
Projects are sharing what used to be secret industry information: live construction cams, renderings, naming, branding, sneak peeks of interiors, key employee profiles and live webcasts, community outreach, giveaways, employment opportunities—the list is endless! Starting early to raise awareness of the brand and build excitement has effectively created customers before the doors even open.
Shulman: Social media is the event journal of millennial life. It’s not about inventing new social platforms but reinventing the physical space though the revolving reinvention of digital experience. It’s also not about verbal bragging rights. It’s about global social credit.
Wucherer: In this day and age, guests are looking for their 15 minutes of fame, 15 seconds at a time. Providing a variety of opportunities for shareable moments is most certainly the goal.
Operators are also using their own social pages to promote the latest and upcoming events. This stream of conversations from consumers helps properties understand what’s resonating and what’s not, and refine their environments/events/experiences to meet and exceed consumer expectations.
What social media platforms do you find most effective? How do you use them to drive engagement, customer acquisition and retention?
Gordon: Rymax has been in front of the revenue shift because we saw that ancillary services created a greater revenue stream than gaming. This was due to the aging of the boomers and the emergence of the millennials.
We took an in-depth look at all social media so we could speak to the broadest possible audience. Casino promotions and calls-to-action via various sites are important, but creating a social network that reinforces the attributes of the casino and its promotions through actual players is paramount.
Traditional social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram drive engagement, customer acquisition and retention. Facebook is consistently the most successful platform to run marketing campaigns and drive engagement through contests and promotions. It’s great to connect current and potential clients with the events and activities on our main web page or blog. But Facebook is starting to be less of a force for the younger demographic, and that demographic is quick to seize on opportunities at the spur of a moment.
Social media is a vital proponent of the marketing strategy. It provides invaluable data about what players like, don’t like and want to see more of. It lets us tailor our programs to fit the targeted audience and successfully promote, implement and maintain our programs in the industry.
Torres: If you ask most businesses, they’ll say Facebook is a huge factor in digital marketing success. We’re no different. Some look at Facebook as a simple social network, but it’s much more than that. With the ability to target posts and ads using an exhaustive list of demographic and psychographic attributes, you can be sure you’re getting your message in front of the correct audience for maximum effectiveness. This helps not only engagement but loyalty, creating brand ambassadors to advocate for your brand.
What impact do rating sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp! have on your clients’ decision-making?
Gordon: We live in a new world where rating sites need to be looked at carefully. If a service is provided to 1,000 people and they’re all satisfied, the percentage of people from that group who will take the time to offer a review is fairly low. Their expectations were met, and they were satisfied.
Get one or two people in that group who had a bad experience or felt less appreciated, and the probability of them saying something negative increases. Negative reviews can come from “trolls,” the competition, or from a customer’s legitimate feeling that they were not satisfied. We stress that our clients always look for promotions that initiate trial. Let players experience and decide for themselves.
Recommendations from peers, friends and coworkers are very powerful. If there’s a common thread of discontent, it can be addressed. Rating sites serve an important function, but should not be the only criteria for a player to make a decision.
Torres: Review sites are the new word-of-mouth advertising. With such a large population of online users and reviewers, a bad review on Yelp!, TripAdvisor or a community forum could devastate your business.
Maintaining a positive image on these forums is essential to a thriving business these days.
From cashiers to cocktail servers, bell captains to baccarat dealers, your employees are the front line of the property—the first to greet your guests, and the last to bid them farewell.
That’s why it’s so important that they look and feel great in attire that’s stylish, flattering and functional. For more than 25 years, Cintas Corp. has been getting employees “Ready for the Workday”—at MGM Las Vegas, Bellagio, Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun and other resorts.
Cintas collaborates with each client to select the perfect cut, color and fabric. The reception has been enthusiastic. In 2022, its uniforms for the Cromwell Las Vegas won the Image Apparel Institute’s coveted Image of the Year Award; in 2023, Cintas was honored for its collection for the Greektown Casino-Hotel.
Cintas’s ready-to-wear line includes durable back-of-the-house uniforms, sleekly attractive dealer ensembles and hostess confections that turn uniforms into fashion statements.
No wonder more than 5 million people go to work each day in a Cintas uniform.
For more information, visit Cintas.com/gaming.
When Cuningham Group Architecture designed the Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino in North Carolina, it didn’t fall back on the typical Appalachian rustic style (exposed beams, stacked stone, carved totems, et al.).
The structure emerges from the forest through bold vertical lines, with angled roof planes that echo the undulating terrain of the Smoky Mountains. Dappled multi-hued patterns on the façade are inspired by the forest canopy. Tall, vertical windows allow views in and out of the Great Hall and connect the activity inside with the landscape outdoors.
“There’s a sense that this building belongs here—it’s not just a box plunked down on the landscape,” lead architect Sam Olbekson told the Smoky Mountain News.
A member of the White Earth Band of Minnesota Chippewa, Olbekson was uniquely qualified to lead the project. “I had the lens of my own experience of a native person living in a modern world and the duality of that,” he said.
The resort, which opened in September 2022, is both contemporary and timeless—and as alive as the hills that surround it.
For more information, visit cuningham.com.
It may be one of the most talked-about attractions in Macau: the spectacular “Fortune Diamond” show in the lobby of Galaxy Macau.
The display was created by Entertainment Design Corp., the firm behind James Cameron’s Titanic Experience at Fox Studios Sydney and Nicki Minaj’s 2022 Pinkprint World Tour, among other extravagant productions.
During the show, the massive, glittering Fortune Diamond arises from a cascading water fountain and hovers in air, its facets seeming to change in color and reflectivity before it submerges once more. The gem symbolizes abiding prosperity—a fitting icon for the world’s No. 1 gaming destination.
Casino Style asked Entertainment Design Corp. CEO Alex Calle to share a few of his creative secrets.
Casino Style: What technical challenges came with creating the Fortune Diamond?
Alex Calle: It was one of those projects where we pitched the idea during a creative charrette and it immediately landed. The sentence started with “What if…?” and the next thing we knew, we were building a show that magically revealed an eight-meter diamond floating in the middle of the main lobby water feature.
One of the biggest challenges was to make a diamond with the qualities of a real diamond on a grand scale. We did mock-up after mock-up, testing mirror boxes in different configurations, testing inner facet reflections, mirror quality, finish—and then, testing how to light such a fantastic icon.
CS: How did you create the special effects?
AC: We turned to our trusted film/television vendor relationships to help create these magical moments. They bring their long history in movie magic to help problem-solve efforts in our work—on a daily basis.
CS: Start to finish, how long did it take?
AC: Around 14 months from concept through design development, with eternal sketches, concepts and models until we settled on the perfect form to illustrate our core narrative.
CS: So the design relates a story?
AC: Absolutely. We pride ourselves as being storytellers, no matter the project. Working with Galaxy Vice Chairman Francis Lui, we established that we wanted guests to have a sense of fortune. Our hope was to make Galaxy Macau the luckiest place on the Cotai Strip.
For more information, visit entdesign.com.
The Comfort Zone
Gary Platt Manufacturing produces seating exclusively for casinos including slots, table games, poker, bar-top and bingo. The company was founded on the concept that a high-quality, more comfortable chair would increase players’ time on device, and as a result, boost casino revenues.
In the business since 1996, the company relocated from Southern California to Reno in 1999. It supplies IGT, Scientific Games, Aristocrat, Everi, Aruze and Konami with seating for all their participation games. As a result, Gary Platt seating is in virtually every casino in the North America.
The company’s proprietary foam, which is the heart of the chair, is unique in the industry. The foam is injection-molded with built-in lumbar support and other contours to fit the human form.
The seat has a waterfall front edge to relieve stress on the player’s legs. The wood is also fully contoured to match the foam, ensuring that neither will break down over time. Moreover, Gary Platt’s chair frames incorporate slider glides that make the chair easy to move and more user-friendly.
For comfort and innovation, operators rely on the only chair manufacturer that focuses exclusively on gaming chairs for the casino market, Gary Platt Manufacturing.
For more information, visit garyplatt.com.
Best Seats in the House
When the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians expanded the gaming floor of their Alpine, California casino in 2022, they added 2,500 new slots requiring 2,500 new chairs. For Rich Marino, VP of slot operations, there was little question which firm would provide the seating: Gasser Chair Company.
“Many companies build a beautiful chair, but my concern is functionality,” says Marino. “Gasser chairs are the most durable and high-quality.” With a patented Halo circular base that “floats” across the carpet, the chairs “move like a dream.”
Because Gasser is a manufacturer, it can craft custom designs like its famous “corset” chairs for the Bellagio with laces crisscrossing the back. The company even makes its own foam, and can adjust the firmness to meet the needs of each operator.
The Viejas team chose seating with a wear-resistant, textured fabric, gleaming bronze accents and rich hues that complement the casino colors. “Our customers immediately loved them,” says Marino.
Beautifully engineered and built to last, Gasser chairs don’t merely perform. They dazzle.
For more information, visit gasserchair.com.
Invitation to the Dance
When guests enter the newly expanded Wind Creek Casino and Hotel in Wetumpka, Alabama, they’re greeted by an overhead “sky of ribbons” that unfurls throughout the resort’s lower level, leading them on a journey of discovery.
Starting in the hotel lobby, the design treatment by Hnedak Bobo Group echoes the ebb and flow of wind and water along the nearby Coosa River. Designers also drew inspiration from a native ribbon dance to create the concept, which comes to life in a curving, shimmering pattern of lighting elements. Shifting colors illuminate the hanging sheer metallic mesh fabrics and crystal, creating a feeling of vibrant motion.
The sky of ribbons and custom flooring patterns direct guests to the casino, where the ribbons strengthen in mass along the ceiling plane, curving and intertwining around the resort’s showpiece: a dazzling 360-degree aquarium center bar.
It’s intriguing. It’s artful. And it leads guests naturally and intuitively on a tour of the resort’s many attractions.
For more information, visit hbginc.com.
When the $285 million Pechanga Resort & Casino expansion is completed in December 2023, it will bring a veritable Garden of Eden to Southern California’s Temecula Valley.
Lifescapes International—the creator of iconic landscapes at the Bellagio, Wynn and Venetian hotels, among others—was selected to design the resort landscaping and create a sumptuous pool area spanning four full acres.
Flowers, grasses and shrubbery will flourish throughout the property, from a lush rooftop garden to secluded private gardens in a bi-level stand-alone spa. Guests will stroll along meandering pathways edged with greenery and paved with cobblestone accents. The Lifescapes team will emphasize landscape elements native to the valley including live oaks, sycamores and pepper trees.
Ready for a dip? The pool area will include not one, not two, but eight fabulous pools including five hydrotherapy pools, a family-friendly pool with water slides and a lagoon-style pool. The pool area will also feature a swim-up bar, fire pits and cabanas for shade, relaxation and entertaining. It’s a fitting addition to the resort, which has earned AAA’s Four Diamond rating since 2002.
For more information, visit lifescapesintl.com.
Smart casino operators know every customer is a VIP whose comfort comes first. That starts with seating. For more than 20 years, Patir Casino Seating has created premier seating for the casino and hospitality industries.
“Player seating is subject to constant wear and tear,” says Natalie Heldt, sales director for the firm’s Las Vegas branch. “It must be manufactured according to the highest quality standards with fabrics that are exceptionally robust. Comfort has a direct influence on the length of stay at the machine.”
Patir seating is known for its beauty, function and flexibility. Consider the recent Noblesse Collection, with quality finishes and accessories including:
- Stylish metal hand-pulls for easy movement
- Elegant quilted patterns on backrest covers
- High-gloss mahogany finish on the collection’s wooden chairs
- An innovative new material, Depar, with improved flexing endurance, tear strength and color fastness
Patir can customize seating from existing bases and upper seating components, or create exclusive seating just for your property.
Patir casino seating makes the difference—on the floor and in the bottom line.
For more information, visit patirseating.com.
Furnished to Perfection
Four stars. Five diamonds. Two thumbs up.
When it comes to hotel accommodations, the ratings that matter most are those you get from your guests. That means rooms and suites that aren’t just stylish and comfortable but exceptional, with furniture, fixtures and equipment that meet your high standards—and theirs.
Purchasing Management International is the industry’s premier FF&E and OS&E purchasing company. With extensive experience in large luxury projects, PMI works with designers, architects and owners to offer the accuracy, integrity and buying power needed for demanding resort projects.
The company has purchased and installed more than $2 billion in furnishings, operating equipment and systems at Bellagio, Tropicana, Caesars Palace, MGM Grand, Harrah’s, Treasure Island, Mirage, Hard Rock and Station Casinos’ Red Rock Resort. Beyond Vegas, PMI has worked on casinos from east to west including Borgata, Harrah’s Cherokee, Wind Creek Casino, Wild Horse Pass Casino and Sandia Casino.
PMI offers a seasoned staff, deep vendor knowledge and checks and balances like a separate expediting department that controls custom approvals, deliveries and final delivery costs.
For the operator, that means projects that are completed on budget, on time, every time. For guests, that means opening the door to an extraordinary experience.
For more information, visit pmiconnect.com.
Where Business Meets Intelligence
In the age of Big Data, casinos capture more customer information than ever before: a landslide of intelligence on guest behaviors, preferences, spend, receptiveness to special offers, etc.
But data without analysis is nothing but noise. In a competitive industry, gathering customer data is just the first step in a business strategy that defends a property’s market position, builds customer loyalty and beats the competition.
The Atlanta-based Rainmaker Group mines those mountains of data, sifts out value and develops plans of action that produce meaningful, measurable results. Among its proven proprietary solutions:
- guestrev, to forecast room demand and set rates based on total customer value
- grouprev, to optimize rates for group business
- revcaster, to maximize ADR and drive profitability
- revintel, a web-based platform that gathers all the information that matters to revenue management and places it at your fingertips
Rainmaker distills complex datasets from multiple sources and turns them into highly prescriptive recommendations and actionable insights.
So put Rainmaker on the case. And put your data to work.
For more information, visit letitrain.com.
The Suite Life
When SOSH Architects designed the new hotel tower at the Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort in D’Iberville, Mississippi, they ensured that each guest room had unobstructed views of the Gulf Coast.
Light and air stream in through floor-to-ceiling glazing. Ceiling heights top out at nine feet to maximize the views and fill the rooms with natural light, but blackout drapes ensure a restful night’s sleep.
Lavish guestroom amenities include natural millwork, polished onyx countertops and California king-sized beds with exquisite leather headboards. Deluxe suites feature a living room and dining area that seats four.
The spa-like baths feature Italian porcelain tile, walk-in showers with recessed LED cove lighting, wall-to-wall vanities in a driftwood tint, and veneer silver travertine countertops. Suites include drop-in bubble tubs with Italian mosaic relief porcelain tile and luxurious gold tub decks.
The suite level includes a Concierge Lounge, where guests can enjoy those panoramic views under a “star-lit sky” ceiling feature.
Just say, “Ahhh…”
For more information, visit sosharch.com.
Lobbying for Change
Talk about sophisticated marketing.
When the Solaire Resort & Casino opened in Manila in 2020, Bloomberry Resorts Corp. and Steelman Partners took an innovative approach to the lavish $1 billion-plus resort, the first of four to be developed in the capital’s Entertainment City.
A distinctive “stratified” design featured lobbies and entryways for each of four guest segments, with games, restaurants and bars tailored to each customer category. The approach was and is unique to Solaire.
“Today, we design casinos into distinctive segments,” explains architect and Steelman Partners CEO Paul Steelman. “In the near future, the casino will be designed in segments that allow a millennial to have a unique experience too. That experience will not be able to cohabitate with a 60-year-old slot player.”
As for results, the numbers don’t lie. In July, Entertainment City resorts recorded overall gross gaming revenue of PHP7.2 billion (US$155 million), up 25 percent year-on-year for the sector’s third best month ever.
“Casinos are changing drastically in almost every way, from planning to design to operations to marketing,” notes Steelman. “It’s a whole new world.”
For more information, visit steelmanpartners.com.
Fast, Fresh & 24/7
Casino resorts are known for unlimited dining choices, from high-end restaurants to all-you-can-eat buffets. But when your guests crave a fast, filling meal on the go, Subway is a natural choice.
Customers love the hearty, healthy food and speedy service. Casinos value the internationally known brand, strong corporate support and Subway’s ability to turn even small spaces into profit centers.
Perhaps most importantly, the restaurants are open 24 hours, says franchise owner Donna Curry, who operates locations in 22 Las Vegas casinos. “When other restaurants and nightclubs close, we serve guests who want a bite to eat in the wee hours,” Curry says. “Guests who want to grab a sandwich and get back to the gaming table choose Subway.”
Subway restaurants succeed because they fill a need—quickly and deliciously. Their sandwiches are made to order with fresh produce, lean meats and cheeses and other healthy ingredients on fresh-baked bread. In 2019, the American Heart Association chose Subway as the first restaurant chain to display its Heart-Check Meal Certification logo on selected meals.
As the undisputed leader in fast, healthy food, Subway is a winning bet for casinos.
For more information, visit subway.com.
Your casino’s sensational. Your hotel rooms are out of this world. But for positive buzz, repeat business and diehard customer loyalty, you’d better have a great bar.
When the San Manuel Indians undertook a $50 million renovation of their San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino near San Bernardino, California, the bar underwent a total makeover, expanding occupancy, gaming and entertainment and transforming it into a dramatic centerpiece visible throughout the casino floor.
With 20 table-top video poker terminals, three blackjack tables and seating for 70, the memorably named Bar Bar Bar designed by Thalden Boyd Emery Architects extends and enlivens the casino floor, giving guests a place to relax, play, sample artisan cocktails and craft beers and observe all the action.
The bar features a dazzling light show in which layered, internally lit leaves create a glowing overhead canopy. Color-shifting special effects can be modified for holidays and other special occasions. Bar Bar Bar gets high marks for its vibrant design, friendly vibe and can’t-miss location.
For more information, visit tbe.com.
Ace in the Hole
Bigger isn’t always better—except in Las Vegas. That’s where Dallas-based Topgolf and YWS International developed an extraordinary “golftainment” center spanning four levels and 115,000 square feet on eight acres adjacent to MGM Grand.
“The driving range gives the feeling of a fresh outdoor environment in the desert,” says Holly Casswell, YWS senior interior designer.
Interior and exterior seamlessly connect, allowing guests to migrate from golf bays and pools to bars to cozy lounging niches. A mobile Sports Book in the Yard lets fans enjoy the action on giant HDTVs. The Yard is also home to Topgolf’s main entertainment venue, which showcases local and national acts.
The greatest challenge: deciding what to do first. Play interactive golf hitting micro-chipped golf balls onto an expansive green? Explore the pools, retail shop or Callaway Fitting Studio? Visit the VIP suites or cabanas? Or simply enjoy the views in sleek, modernist golf bays with seating for up to six friends?
This is Topgolf “Vegas-ized”—an upscale, playful venue unique to the Strip.
For more information, visit ywsinternational.com.
50 Years of Amenities
When Jay Sarno designed Caesars Palace as the first fully themed casino hotel in Las Vegas, he wanted each guest to be treated like a “Caesar.” The hotel logo featured busty women feeding grapes to a reclining man (who looked suspiciously like Sarno himself).
But it wasn’t only a theme that made Caesars Palace stand apart from other Vegas casinos in 1966. It was the nascent development of non-gaming amenities, which would become the property’s signature.
The pool at Caesars Palace resembled a Roman bath. Although the pools of those days were hardly extravagant, current resort pools and spas are direct descendants of those water wonders.
And while every Vegas casino had the requisite high-end restaurants, steakhouses and buffets, Caesars Palace had the Bacchanal. Guests were advised to reserve at least three hours for this incredible dining experience, complete with toga-clad waitresses dubbed “Wine Goddesses” who offered mouthfuls of wine from bags carried on their shoulders. They’d even offer a back rub to any gambler stiff from sitting at the blackjack tables. (Today, the Bacchanal Buffet isn’t quite as elaborate, but it does feature the most unique buffet experience in Las Vegas.)
In 1992, Caesars Place opened the Forum Shops, becoming the first casino to recognize the link between shopping and gambling. The venture was so successful, it expanded several times and inspired a dozen other shopping venues on the Las Vegas Strip and around the world.
And while every Las Vegas casino had entertainment, when Frank Sinatra left the Sands to take up residence at Caesars Palace, it became the place to be. He was joined by Rat Pack friends Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin, among others.
In 2003, Caesars Palace opened the Colosseum for a residency with Celine Dion, and entertainers such as Elton John, Bette Midler, Shania Twain, Rod Stewart and others flocked to the property for mini-residencies of their own.
If nothing else, Caesars Palace was built for high rollers. The original casino, the Forum, is surrounded by 20 black Italian marble columns with white marble and gold-leaf trim. No other casino has been center-stage in so many movies, from Robert Redford’s Electric Horseman to Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man to the ultimate buddy movie, The Hangover.
In August, Caesars Palace celebrated its 50th anniversary. It barely resembles its original silhouette (the first hotel tower has been renovated at least three times), and it has at least a half-dozen towers, a Nobu Hotel, and some of the world’s best restaurants including Guy Savoy, Rao’s, Nobu, Old Homestead and Mesa Grill.
For 50 years, Caesars Palace has blazed the trail for non-gaming amenities, a strategy that’s been copied far and wide, from small tribal casinos to the massive integrated resorts of Asia.
Despite the financial woes of its parent company, Caesars Palace will continue to set the bar for non-gaming amenities—and revenues—in the industry.