With a renewed push for a casino smoking ban in Nevada, I go to thinking: which would happen first--no smoking in a casino, or a casino dress code? They are both changes that some people think would improve the casino experience, but would probably be fought tooth and nail by most operators. I just can't see them turning away a player because he's in a t-shirt instead of a sportcoat, or because he wants to smoke.
Still, I thought it would be interesting to consider which of these following scenarios might happen first.
1. A casino eliminates its nightclub/dayclub.
Super profitable, yes, but draws a crowd that doesn't necessarily gamble. Pumping music and lines snaking onto the casino floor might disrupt players. But with insane mark-ups on bottle service, this thing is a cash cow. As long as people are willing to spend their money on it, these will be here. With casinos trying to simultaneously appeal to as many segments of the demographic pie as they can (business travelers, gamblers, vacationers, nightclubbers, retirees, etc, etc), I don't see anyone who's gotten into this game getting out just yet. The Tropicana/Nikki Beach partnership is the experiment to watch. Amid all of the gushing I haven't really heard too much talk about how the last two Nikki Beach casino locations--Reno's Grand Sierra Resort and Atlantic City's Resorts--didn't work out. It's not out of the realm of possibility that, as gleaming white as it is, Nikki Beach just isn't compatible with casino resorts.
2. A casino goes entirely non-smoking.
We've seen it happen in other states, but so far Nevada casinos have steadfastly resisted any legislative attempt to make them go smoke-free. Back in 2006, voters approved a referendum that forced taverns with kitchens to go smoke-free or retrofit separate smoking and non-smoking areas. That went over so well that tavern owners are trying to get the legislature to overturn that referendum. But could a major Strip casino go smoke-free by its own choosing? There's talk that Revel in Atlantic City might go that route, and with non-smoking facilities becoming the norm across the country, it's probably only a matter of time before at least one Strip casinos gives it a shot. Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom says that serious gamblers smoke, and I don't see any casino executives risking their job to gamble otherwise.
3. A casino institutes--and enforces--a dress code after 6 PM.
This one came up in JohnH's VegasTripping post earlier this week. Almost everyone decries the sartorial deterioration of Strip casinos; jackets and evening gowns have been replaced by t-shirts and shorts. Partially, it's a bigger cultural change (Americans don't get dressed up as much to go out as they once did), but it's also a sign of how the Strip's cast its net progressively wider. Since the 1980s, families and low-rollers have been welcome at most casinos, and that means a more casual experience. As thing stands now, if you've got money to spend, casinos don't care how you're dressed.
4. Metal detectors and limited entry to casinos
After that "epidemic" of casino chip robberies, I wrote a column for the Las Vegas Business Press about why casino crime was something we'd just have to deal with. Basically, casinos are built around the principle of open access--there are as few barriers as possible between the people outside and the slot machines inside. That means multiple entrances with no natural choke points to restrict the pedestrian flow. Without costly renovations that would restrict accessibility, it would be impossible to force all casino-goers to submit to scans for weapons. Casinos as we know them in Las Vegas are, almost by definition, impossible to secure in that way. Even if they lost a million dollars a month to strong-arm robbers, it wouldn't make economic sense for them to make patrons pass through Checkpoint Charlie before playing.
5. Another casino closes on the Strip
This is a real possibility. We've already seen the Sahara close this year, and though the Riviera has new ownership its competitive position isn't exactly strong. Some of the near-Strip casinos, like Hooters, Westin Casaurina, and the Tuscany might also be in jeopardy. Throw the Hilton into the mix, and there's a possibility that another Strip-area casino might shut down. If the current status quo--visitation up but overall revenues still flat--continues for another 2-3 years, this could happen.
6. A new casino opens on the Strip
There are five North Strip would-be casinos that were, at one point or another, in the pipeline, and presumably it would be one of these. Ranked in order of completion, they are:
Fontainebleau: almost got done, but is currently being sold for parts by Carl Icahn. Unless something dramatic happens, it's never going to open, and presumably the existing structure would be completely dismantled before another casino could be built there.
Echelon: Started, then stopped. With Morgans out of the picture and the economic picture changing so completely, you'd have to think they'd go back to the drawing board on this one, or least open it in phases.
Plaza/El Ad Property/Former Frontier: They got the ground cleared, but nothing else. Again, the market has shifted so much since this was proposed we will likely never see the planned-for ultra-luxe Plaza Las Vegas. It'll be a case of El-Ad taking a loss on selling the land to someone else who would develop it. Until occupancy and room rates increase considerably, that's not going to happen.
CityCenter North: The almost-happened MGM/Kerzner joint venture north of Circus Circus would have seen Circus Circus Manor demolished and created another "master-planned urban environment" at the north end of the Strip. Since the first one turned out so well (though business at Aria has improved, the condos, which were a defining part of the project, have been a wash), this isn't very likely.
SLS Las Vegas: Promised for 2014, but with very little in the way of specifics, it's hard to believe that this is going to happen.
Until there's a broader economic turnaround that translates into higher gaming revenues and REVPAR on the Strip, no one is going to roll the dice on building another very expensive property that will just dilute the market.
7. An end to resort fees and other add-ons
Nobody likes them--outside of executives who trumpet how much they add to the bottom line. They're insidious, they make the customer feel like he's being nickel-and-dimed, and unfortunately they're not going away. With news that airlines made more than $21 billion on additional fees in 2010, executives at Strip casinos that have seen declining revenues for three years are probably trying to imagine more ways to extract a little more cash for a little less service from their customers. The only problem is that air travel's not quite as dependent on good vibes--and continued customer goodwill--as casino gaming. It's gotten to the point where travelers expect to be screwed over by their airline; while many come to Las Vegas hoping that'll happen to them here, few of them want it to be at check-in. Until there's significant resistance from customers, these fees aren't going anywhere, and will probably increase.
8. The end of 6:5 blackjack
The casino version of the resort fee, this kind of payout deflation makes serious gamblers livid and creates the impression that the casino is looking to put the screws to patrons playing games that already have negative expectations. And the next time the 6:5 tables aren't filled with $5 and $10 players happily trying to beat the dealer, casino managers will listen to you without breaking into laughter while you tell them that. It's debatable how much the games actually increase casino revenues anyway, since any player sitting at a 6:5 table isn't going to really be much of a skill player, and probably would lose just as much--and as quickly--with 3:2 blackjacks, though he might feel like less of a moron. But since it seems to be working--whatever it adds to the casino experience--it's also probably not going anywhere.