Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

Jeff Simpson is back with his second at-bat, this time with a piece that examines a long-standing Nevada law: treating marker debt as a bad check if they're not repaid.

In addition, a few anecdotes on the state of the industry with comments on the Trop and Aria - keep reading after the jump for Jeff's latest.


I've made proposals that have antagonized the casino business before, including columns proposing casino tax rate increases, slamming the state for failing to fund problem gambling treatment and ridiculing operators who didn't know how to treat customers and employees. Sometimes those columns have had an effect, sometimes not.

I'm going to make a proposal that won't have much of an effect in this column, one that casino executives certainly would view with disdain, but also one which they wouldn't worry about, as it unfortunately would have no chance of getting enacted by the resort industry's minions in Carson City.

Don't get me wrong, I love Nevada and love the casino business. I enjoy gambling, whether it's poker, dice, even a little blackjack or video poker. But I'm convinced that the casino business benefits from a Nevada law that embarrasses the state and puts gamblers at unfair risk of imprisonment, the law that treats an unredeemed casino marker as a bad check.

If a casino marker isn't repaid, and if a gambler's bank refuses to redeem it, casinos can refer the matter to the district attorney's office, which acts as a debt collector and attempts to get the marker repaid.

If the gambler can't or doesn't repay, the DA can charge him with a felony (for markers of $250 or more; those with markers for less than $250 can be charged with misdemeanors), subjecting the gambler to possible imprisonment of up to four years, a fine of as much as $5,000, and fees of as much as 5 percent to 10 percent of the value of the marker. And the judge can sentence a gambler to multiples of those terms and fines, once for each unredeemed marker.

I'm not opposed to casinos offering credit and gamblers taking out markers, but I think imprisoning those who don't repay their debts is un-American. If casinos want to evaluate customers' credit risks and grant credit to them, that's fine. But unpaid marker debt should be pursued the way other businesses collect their debts, without the blade of imprisonment hanging over the customer's neck.

Most states and countries with casinos don't treat markers as checks, a sensible approach. Would the change hurt the casino business? Financially, I'm sure it would, as casinos would have to be more cautious when stuck gamblers plead for an increase in their credit lines so they can take out another marker.

Markers clearly are not checks -- they are promises to repay in time, usually 30 days or more. If markers really were checks, the casino could draw on the marker immediately. In this day and age, with the ease of round-the-clock financial transactions, casinos should either grant credit based on a player's proven creditworthiness or they should insist on cash or a cash transfer from the player's bank or credit card.

That would make the state look better and, more importantly, it is the right thing to do.


On a lighter note, a few observations on the Las Vegas casino business.

First, the Tropicana renovation:

The L.A. Times travel blog opened its story on the property's makeover with this line: "The Tropicana Las Vegas is getting a $165-million makeover that will transform her from a Vegas antique into a Latin vixen."

No it won't.

Spending that kind of money or a bit more will make a small difference for the property but it isn't nearly enough to make up for the property's age, disrepair and hokey design (check out the porte-cochere).

The two new marquees with the property's new logo are in place on Tropicana Avenue and on Las Vegas Boulevard, and they are a nice start, and the first bloc of room renovations look good. But the rooms and bathrooms are very small by contemporary standards, and the improvements during this weak room-rate environment won't give the Trop much additional pricing power.

The new pool club planned to open next year, Nikki Beach, seems like a great concept, but one unlikely to work at such an old hotel in a town filled with awesome and expensive pool concepts.

The hotel's ridiculously small two-level parking garage has a new coat of white paint, but most drive-in customers have to park in parking lots -- not an enticing prospect at this time of year.

Entertainment offerings seem lame, with a Mob Museum rip-off and a Brad Garrett comedy club. If rumors that Gloria Estefan will bring a show to the remodeled theater are true, that would be a big plus, as long as she's actually performing and it's not just an Estefan-produced or -themed show.

The Trop's top boss is putting on a confident face as he pitches his story of dramatic change.

"This transformation will revitalize our brand while redefining the ultimate resort experience, bringing the best of South Beach to the heart of Las Vegas," Trop CEO Alex Yemenidjian told the Times. Nice to see a confident executive, but c'mon, Alex. This renovation is just a time-killer while the owners wait for the Strip real estate market to rebound.


On the most recent Vegas Gang podcast chuckmonster regaled the panel with a few negative Aria customer service stories he experienced, including one involving housekeeping. I happened to be staying at Aria the next three nights and was amazed to see how poorly trained the housekeeping staff seems compared to the staff at Bellagio and other top hotels.

When I walked out of my room on Friday afternoon, there was a guy from housekeeping sitting on the floor next to a housekeeping cart parked outside of a neighboring room, talking loudly to a woman housekeeper inside the room about plans for the evening.

A couple of doors down, three housekeepers stood in the hallway talking about one of their childbirths. Another maid stood next to her cart, staring blankly as I walked by. Not one of the housekeepers said anything; at Bellagio I almost always get a "Good afternoon, sir," and at most places at least a smile and a hello.

On the other hand, front desk and Player's Club staff were friendly and efficient, the room was nice and everything (except the bedside phone) worked.

-- Jeff Simpson - June 19th, 2010


Read archived comments (18 so far)
June 20, 2010 3:32 PM Posted by TypeCast

I have to disagree with Jeff on the Trop remodel. Visiting there last week, it is amazing the difference from when I last visited in 2008. They have a lot of working going on; construction walls, front drive mess, etc but I like the simplicity of the new design and the intimate feeling the Trop has. Staff was night and day different from last time......eager to please and happy to be there. Much different than my visit across the street. It just has a nice feeling doubt in my mind that the Trop is going the right direction and finally has someone in charge giving it some TLC.

June 20, 2010 4:49 PM Posted by

If the Tropicana pulls off this whole South Beach thing correctly, they'll be successful. Recouping $165 million isn't like trying to recoup what CityCenter cost. At the end of the day, they didn't tank $70 million (the cost of Encore Beach Club) into Nikki Beach here, so modest results will be very acceptable and deemed successful. If it catches fire, it will just be a bonus.

June 20, 2010 4:53 PM Posted by Jeff Simpson

I appreciate the comment, TypeCast, and must confess I have not stayed in a remodeled room. I agree that the changes the Trop has made and plan to make are great for customers; I just think that the operator and some in the news media are exaggerating how much of an impact $165 million or so can make on a property that needs as much work as the Trop does.
I have warm feelings for the property as I spent many fun weekends there in the '80s, but to make the property something more than a bottom-tier Strip resort would take a lot more than what they're spending.
And thanks for the update on the workers. I'm not sure how much of the staff has persisted through the sale from Aztar to Columbia Sussex to its current operator, but I'm happy for any that have hung on through the horrible Columbia Sussex era and finally have an owner and management who care about the property and its staff.
Finally, I agree totally when you write: "It just has a nice feeling doubt in my mind that the Trop is going the right direction and finally has someone in charge giving it some TLC." I just don't think it's enough to justify Alex Y. saying the project will "revitalize our brand while redefining the ultimate resort experience."

June 20, 2010 8:31 PM Posted by Jeff in OKC

I'm with Simpson on the Trop. I don't think $165 million is going to get it to the top and I don't think it should aim for the top, in reality.
I wonder if Mr. Y. doesn't want to be associated with a mid-market project, since he may still feel that his rightful place in the world should be the chair that Jim Murren currently occupies? Or maybe his time in Hollywood has left him prone to hyperbolic overstatement?
I think the best property makeover I have seen in Las Vegas is what has been done to the El Cortez in the last 5 years, or so. I think Mr. Nolan & co. have done an excellent job of physical renovation and image enhancement on a reasonable budget & time frame.
The only thing I would advocate for is a premium remodel of the low-rise bungalows in the pool area, which could be a real "boutique" area on the Strip, if the Nikki Beach Pool is successful.
I sure hope the Trop renovation is successful. It would be a great story in a rough time in Las Vegas. A great story, and everyone is pulling for them.

June 20, 2010 8:37 PM Posted by Hunter


It's funny you mention the ElCo - one of the topics we didn't get to on the last Vegas Gang was the story about them opening up suite design to a competition judged by Todd Lenahan amongst others.


June 20, 2010 9:04 PM Posted by parchedearth

Check kiting and check fraud are crimes for which many people serve time. I don't think it is unreasonable for the state to treat markers as financial instruments in the same way checks are treated. Besides, not many gamblers end up serving time for bad markers (probably because out-of-state residency significantly inhibits full enforcement).

June 20, 2010 9:10 PM Posted by Jeff Simpson

I agree with Jeff in OKC about the El Cortez. When I used to write for the R-J (2000-2004) it was one of my favorite nearby downtown casinos (along with the Horseshoe and Golden Nugget), and it's amazing how much nicer the El Cortez is now. (A couple things I'm glad they didn't change are the neon "GAMBLING" sign on the Fremont Street facade and the script "El Cortez Hotel" sign on the roof.) Of course, the 'tez doesn't have that many rooms (364 plus the new annex compared with the Trop's 1,600-plus) or restaurants to drive up renovation costs. According to a column I wrote on the first phase of the renovation (they were almost done with the interior and the porte cochere) the tab was about $18 million.

June 20, 2010 9:20 PM Posted by Jeff Simpson

parchedearth is right that not many gamblers are imprisoned for unpaid markers, but not primarily because of out-of-state residency. Many foreign governments won't extradite, but most states will. The reason most gamblers don't serve time is because the threat of imprisonment is strong enough to get gamblers to repay or to agree to a repayment plan.
Certainly check kiting and check fraud are crimes for which many serve time, but my bone of contention is with treating markers as checks. I think most folks in the casino industry and our state lawmakers would totally agree with parchedearth that it is reasonable to treat markers as checks. For me, it's the time delay involved with markers (promise to repay in 30 days or more) that makes them more like a loan than a check.

June 21, 2010 6:00 AM Posted by Jinx

I like that the Trop is putting some paint on the property and remodeling, but I definitely have to agree with most of the sentiment that this is just the precursor until the market improves. I think they are making a mistake in shooting for a high end market with the wear and tear on the building and the relatively small renovation bucket. But that's just my opinion. That small amount for renovations to combat the wear and tear on the place can make it a nice mid-market property, but high-end, absolutely not. The buzz though from the remodeling might bridge the gap until the market recovers though or when Gary Loveman decides that he needs a shiny new toy, thinking he can brand it all over the world.

June 21, 2010 5:28 PM Posted by steve_c

Here's my quick take on the Trop renovations, forgive me if it's out of order. Already lost this message once as I was trying to post it.. don't want to write it a 3rd time.., lol

My fiance and I spent 4 days and 5 nights at the Trop two weeks ago.. and my reaction was very mixed as to the changes. I think that the overall changes so far on the casino floor are a huge improvement over what was there before. Just about every mirrored surface has or is being removed, a lot of the tackier aspects of the casino floor look like they are giving way to a more classic vibe, with large crown mouldings in the ceiling recesses replacing that tacky inversed plastic awning crap.. Overall, the changes are for the better... but I agree that they are going to have to shove a lot more money into this place to get it to a higher level.
Even with all the changes that have taken place thus far, there are some aspects that can never be changed. The Paradise tower only has 4 elevators, and it could have honestly used another 4. It got so crowded a few times, where people kept piling into the elevators, I thought the elevator was going to malefunction. On one day, we noticed that one of the elevator's doors had to pried open, probably due break down. So we had a full day of only 3 working elevators for all 22 floors.

It was really hard to imagine what the overall look of the place will be like, as a lot of it had yet to be touched.

We had a room on the 20th floor, right next to the elevator lobby. Usually this location in a hotel can get pretty noisy as most of you know, (TI and Mirage are a noise nightmare), but we hardly heard a thing. The room was pretty comfortable, the bed, while not the Wynn dream bed, or even the TI bed, was great. The furnishings seemed to be on the cheaper end, as there were already some chips in the finish and water stains on the dresser. The floor around the bed was very uneven, and everything slopped into the bed area. The bathroom is really only partially remodeled, as the tub and tile surround (even the fixtures) look to be original (the bathroom door and handle were also original, just with a fresh coat of paint. Overall it almost ranked up with the comfort level of TI, although the room was on the smaller size.

If I were Alex Y, I would tear down all the east Garden rooms and add a 50,000 sq foot casino expansion in this area, connected to a new east parking structure. Leave enough space to add another tower in this area, and maybe a new North east porte cochere. I'd try to level out the elevation of the main casino floor as much as possible, where possible.

June 21, 2010 7:48 PM Posted by Phil

I was at the Trop a few days ago and its hard to tell how well it will turn out as its still very much a work in progress.

I thought the new marquee was as bare bones as it gets. If they're going with a Latin theme they should have gone with a Rio like sign, something to draw attention to the exterior so it draws people visually to something new, thats the first step, to get people to look and see something innovative and fresh at the Trop, instead that sign doesn't give any eyes on the Strip a second look, its a joke, this is Vegas!! What happened to the visionarys when it comes to signs in Vegas??? Does the Yesco sign company have any sales guys that push innovative ideas or just bow to whatever they can get when a strip sign order comes up? Not to rip Yesco specifically, I don't know who did that sign, but you get my point.

Somebody brought up the idea I think of backlighting the Tiffany glass in different colors, perhaps even transitioning them every ten seconds to make it come alive and after seeing it how it fits with the new decor, I think lighting could make it work, but like many people say, it doesn't necessarily fit the new theme. I'd just hate to lose something very special for another bare bones light they'll buy at Home Depot.

One thing the locals or regular visitors may not be aware of in regards to the Latin theme is there is a strong community of latin dancers in this town. Dance schools and their students that attend are a tight community and of course we as a town have a strong Hispanic base. The various Latin dance get togethers with bands at places like South Point, Gold Coast .....etc. all get big turnouts and more importantly, they're locals so my point being is they would be wise for the Tropicana brass to investigate a latin dance club maybe with Gloria Estefan's name on it to lend credibility, just my 2 cents.

As I was walking around I saw the coffee shop next to the pool is still closed. I'm not sure where they're temporarily holding it. Also noticed whatever shops were left near the old Folies Begere theatre have been wiped out. The italian joint in that walkway upstairs was packed for a weekday. Looks like they eliminated the lounge acts at the bar at the end of the walkway too. Also, I found it odd that the large room that you enter from the walkway linking MGM and Trop was vacant. It used to have some activity, but now its a ghost town. Maybe a dance club could go there.

June 21, 2010 7:59 PM Posted by Hunter

Pretty sure YESCO did do the new marquee because when I watched them installing it, YESCO guys were there working on it.

June 21, 2010 10:41 PM Posted by steve_c

When we were at the Trop, that two story foyer area was being used a staging area for the casino renovations, there were tons of new slot machines and seating ready to be installed on the casino floor. I believe they are reworking access from the pedestrian bridge into the foyer currently. I think the garden cafe by the pool could be replaced with a new concept or even new retail as the Havana a Go Go coffee shop and the cafe next to the Cellar downstairs seem to fill the cafe/coffee shop niche.

June 23, 2010 8:18 AM Posted by billyinlasvegas

I have to defend the YESCO guys. They did some amazing work for FB that we'll never get to see.
They have an amazing portfolio and some really creative people working there; but they also do whatever the client tells them to do.

Speaking of YESCO at CityCenter they did tons of installs for companies that went out of business or "disappeared" right before opening so a YESCO install might not necessarily be a YESCO design.

June 23, 2010 4:46 PM Posted by socalduck

Treating a marker like a bank cheque was a brilliant move on the part of the casinos. With the threat of criminal prosecution, not only does it insure they get paid before other creditors, but in the event of bankruptcy I believe they have the option to fall back on the criminal justice system for restitution.

Does anyone know if Wynn, Sands, etc. were able to set up a similar marker system in Macau? I believe they extend credit, but I'm not sure if they have a system similar to Nevada, or something else entirely.

June 24, 2010 12:46 PM Posted by atdleft

OK, I'm still catching up on all I missed, and it's good to see Mr. Simpson helping with all the goodies in this week's column. Here are my (I'll do my best to stay right on topic) thoughts:

- IMHO Simpson is right on markers. Why not just treat unpaid markers like other debt? Impose liens and ding the debtor's credit rating, but imprisonment??!! That's just too 18th century "debtor's jail".

- I'm wondering how The Trop intends to limit renovation costs to just $165 million, considering how much they say they're doing, but so far it looks promising. Those rooms do look much better, and considering how hot the "pool day club" trend has become, Nikki Beach may just work out nicely. And it's not like they're really aiming for "the top", but just a mid-level 4 star hotel (somewhere in between Mirage and TI). IMHO that's attainable for them.

- I guess Aria is making some progress, as the latest rounds of complaints aren't as universally negative, but it's still sad to see problems persist there. I hope it doesn't take too much longer to FINALLY work out the kinks there.

June 25, 2010 2:09 AM Posted by Duffman

Here is the reason Nevada should be criminally prosecuting the cases of unpaid markers. The casino gives a person money with the expectation that money is paid back before they leave. A person does not pay it back and leaves, he just stole that money. That is theft, and should be punishable by criminal prosceution since that person is willingly depriving the casinos of what is rightfully theirs.

June 25, 2010 8:27 AM Posted by hardways33

To Duffman's point, a credit card works the same way. The issuer loans you the money with the promise that you will pay it back. If you decide not to, you are stealing from them. However, the credit card company does not get the protection of the criminal courts but only civil actions. If credit card companies were responsible for such a large portion of the state economy in Nevada, I imagine they would have a fighting chance to get the kind of support that the casinos have gotten. This was a smart move by the casinos from a while ago to convince the legislature that the marker is a check and not a loan.