I wanted to see Pinnacle's new casino, L'auberge du Lac in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Pinnacle's CEO is Dan Lee who formerly was Steve Wynn's CFO at Mirage Resorts. Pinnacle (PNK) is doing very well and has two new properties which will be built in St. Louis city and county. My report relates to Las Vegas only in that Lake Charles represents a closer destination for people in south Texas and Louisiana. Anyway, that's my justification for publishing it on a Las Vegas blog.
I spent two nights at L�auberge on the way home from Las Vegas. It was 150 miles from Houston International and took 2.5 hours. There were lots of billboards in Texas for Delta Downs, Harrah�s and Isle of Capri but none for L�auberge. That all changed by the time I got to Beaumont, TX and then in Louisiana. L�Auberge is very convenient to I-10, but the I-210 intersection with Nelson Road is already becoming a bottleneck. PNK�s construction has spurred new bar/restaurants, strip malls and unfortunately, a Sam�s Club. Contractors are already working on the intersection.
L�auberge�s entrance drive gives a great first impression with the golf course on either side. There were quite a few golfers, but it won�t be fully opened to the public until the grass is more established in the fall. There�s nothing like it in the area.
What was most interesting to me were the three distinct market segments served by PNK, ISLE and HET. L�auberge is clearly middle to high end with many business travelers as well as players. Isle of Capri was unbelievable. As a shareholder, I was pained to see such a depressing, dirty, run down property. The clientele was certainly less than blue collar. Harrah�s had solid blue collar customers and PNK had the cream of the crop. Using Prizm�s market segmentation classifications, I would segment them as:
Isle---Back Country Folks
I didn�t drive to Coushatta. Why would anyone spend another 45 minutes or so when they can stop at L�auberge?
I had breakfast the first morning with a pharmaceutical rep who said she is in Lake Charles every Monday and had gotten PNK to give her the casino rate for her room each week. She said no other properties in the area can compare. She also said it was great to have a land based casino instead of a riverboat. When I told her L�auberge�s casino was a boat, she politely told me I didn�t know what I was talking about. That�s a good example of how seamlessly PNK has built the entire property.
I ate at the bar in Snake River Grill the first night. It�s a first class restaurant with high-end clientele made up of players, business travelers and upscale locals. The attractive bartender said she has brought a lot of her customers over from her former restaurant. I sat next to a player from Texas. He is a heavy player who stays at Venetian at least once a month. He also played at Coushatta until L�auberge opened. He said the tribal chief would send his plane to pick him up whenever he wanted. This guy said PNK has a limo pick him up at the Houston airport each trip, and if they would send the seaplane for him, he would quit Las Vegas completely. In his words, �L�auberge has everything I want, and it�s less of a hassle to get here.� I have to believe he wasn�t BS�ing me because his Host hovered around him all evening in the bar.
Jack Daniels Bar was busy both nights with a younger crowd than Snake River. The lazy river pool area is totally open with another bar. The private villas are open but too close to the pool area, in my opinion. They each have private, fenced, gated patios from which guests can access the pool.
The second floor of the hotel will all be suites. It will probably open by the end of August. Each hotel floor already has two �Versailles Suites� which have a large living room, bedroom, wet bar and 1.5 baths. VIP Services said the suite floor will have the same but with a few larger suites. The elevator wouldn�t stop at 2 for me to take a look.
Since the casino is surrounded on three sides by the hotel or public areas, there are three entrances which make it easy to get to from any location, including from the large parking structure. Wynn should have as large a garage.
Blackjack tables were busy most of the time with many $5 and $10 min. The high limit room was busy each afternoon and evening with $25, $50, $100 and up mins. There is also a bar in the high limit room. All the vp machines I saw were 9/6. The connecting high limit slot room was fairly busy with a surprising amount of play on the $10 and $25 machines instead of the $5 ones. Slot chairs are the most comfortable I�ve ever sat in. Staff throughout the hotel and casino was all very friendly, and when I asked for directions, walked me to where I was going. Early reports indicated some needed more training. 95% of the ones I talked with seemed competent in addition to being customer friendly. I asked as many as I could how they liked the company. They all said it was a great place to work and offered child care and other benefits they couldn�t get anywhere else.
One thing that might change is the round video poker bar in the center of the casino with a mesh curtain surrounding it. There was never any business, and I thought it was depressing looking. Reminded me of sitting in a tent with mosquito netting�which may be appropriate for hot, humid Lake Charles.
The rooms are nice, but I was a little disappointed that I could hear talking through the wall which has the HVAC vents. What�s with all the hotels now having down comforters on the beds? They�re too damn hot!
Lake Charles will never replace Las Vegas for me, but if I lived in Houston, Beaumont, Galveston or the surrounding Louisiana area, I could easily become a regular at L�auberge. I see an expansion being needed before too long. Add this property to Belterra and the two upcoming St. Louis ones, and I�m very comfortable and secure with my PNK.