Here's Jeff's latest column wherein he examines parents towing their kids through the casino, Tamares and what's happening at The Plaza as well as his take on how The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas will fare when it opens in December.
Dr. Dave Schwartz, director of UNLV's Center for Gaming Research, penned an interesting column for Vegas Seven magazine about parents who leave their children in cars while gambling and the response of casino security officers and gaming regulators to the problem.
Leaving kids in the car while a parent or caregiver gambles is wrong and an important safety issue, but I want to complain about a few less clear-cut issues involving children in and around Las Vegas casinos.
Children and adults under 21 are allowed to walk through Las Vegas casinos -- some casinos require them to be accompanied by parents -- but they are banned by state gaming law from loitering in the casino. I don't really like the law and wish minors could be excluded entirely from gambling areas, but casino designs typically force hotel, restaurant and entertainment patrons to walk through gambling areas to get to their destinations and the powers-that-be certainly have no appetite to make the city an adults-only destination.
Given that reality, my complaint is with parents and guardians and their poor decision making when it comes to their kids. Ask a Las Vegas casino security guard about parents with kids in the casino and you'll get some crazy stories. I'm not talking about kids parked in a coffee shop while Dad gambles, small kids left in the arcade while Dad plays blackjack, even Mom and Dad and their kids walking through the casino at a time of day -- say, three in the morning -- when children should be in bed sleeping. Those transgressions are everyday events that barely cause casino workers to raise an eyebrow.
About eight years ago I watched a man and boy who looked to be about eight squeeze through the aisle between a craps table and casino cage at the Golden Gate. The kid asked the man, presumably his father, what the dice table was and, before Dad could answer, the kid jumped up and tried to pull himself over the rail to see what was going on. The father pulled the boy down and a security guard standing by the cage immediately told the man they couldn't linger in a gaming area. I was at the other end of the table and at the time thought it was pretty funny.
Security officers all have far more egregious examples of parental stupidity, like small children or kids injuring themselves or getting sick in their hotel rooms while their parents are gone, presumably gambling or partying. On Fremont Street I've seen kids left outside on the sidewalk ("there'll be a show on the canopy in a few minutes") while parents go inside one of the casinos, and have seen the kids more than an hour later, still parked outside, sitting on the ground, waiting for Mom and Dad to return.
Folks say you can't legislate against stupidity and maybe that's right, but I'd like to see casinos get tough when it comes to guests with children. The customer isn't always right if he is leaving kids alone in their hotel rooms, leaving them unaccompanied near the casino or bringing them into the casino late at night -- after two in the morning, say, although I'd be fine with one o'clock -- without a damn good reason. Make sure parents with kids who are hotel guests receive a copy of common sense rules, and don't just warn violators. Boot them. And the same goes for non-hotel guests. Give them the heave-ho, and let the police know if laws were violated.
Next, I'd like to address the Plaza hotel's "temporary closure." I don't believe it will reopen in a year and wouldn't be surprised if it never reopens. I also won't be surprised if owners Tamares Group pulls the same stunt at the Las Vegas Club, making them three-for-three, with their Western casino being the other Tamares joint with a closed hotel. With room rates so low and with their properties in advanced states of disrepair and decrepitude, Tamares is closing the Plaza's rooms to allow it to lay off its housekeepers (Culinary Union members) and some maintenance workers, not that there are many left to lay off. I also am highly skeptical that Tamares will spend $20 million to refurbish the Plaza. I don't think they care about the casino business, and their attitude -- like those of the other cash-starved owners of other downtown casinos -- is really hurting all of the casinos downtown.
I hope the Cosmopolitan is successful and that it gets the share of business it deserves, but I'd like to throw a bucket of cold water on the optimistic expectations that some folks have for the soon-to-open property.
Cosmo will have some big advantages: Newest property, sweet location and a deep-pocketed owner, Deutsche Bank. I really like its Strip marquee and it has a strong lineup of restaurants. Property executives were smart to change the property's original design and confine casino action to the ground floor. And the early reports on rooms and interior design sound good. Room balconies will be cool (at least until someone takes a swan dive from the 30th floor).
But the disadvantages outweigh the positive. The economy and room and gaming revenue trends show no sign of an upturn by the end of the year, or even early next year. Opening a new resort in such a negative environment isn't easy -- just ask Steve Wynn and Jim Murren, and they had strong customer databases to mine to prop up occupancy with proven gamblers. That's Cosmopolitan's biggest problem -- no customer database. Ask the Aladdin's former owner. Sure, Cosmo has a partnership with Marriott but that's not enough. When Aladdin went bankrupt and became Planet Hollywood it partnered with Starwood, which wasn't enough to prevent its eventual sale to Harrah's.
Maybe the new property can tap a new market. Cosmo CEO John Unwin thinks so. In a recent interview he told hotelinteractive.com that the hotel is seeking the "curious class." He said upwards of 100,000 of these people visit Las Vegas (in a year, presumably) and that "about 59 million that fall into this psychographic nationwide." Unwin said he hopes to draw them to the Cosmopolitan, particularly those who have an interest in visiting Las Vegas but have yet to do so. "We know there is a big opportunity for this customer and this experience," he told the site.
Hope is one thing, but I don't see a lot of difference between Cosmopolitan's aspirations and MGM Resorts' hopes for CityCenter and Steve Wynn's for Encore, and those openings were accompanied by big-spending public relations and advertising campaigns.
I expect the biggest question mark for the Cosmopolitan when it opens to be this: Just how deep into its pockets is Deutsche Bank willing to go?
-- Jeff Simpson, September 2010