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