This time around, Jeff offers up some free advice to casino owners and operators for some of Las Vegas' most iconic properties.
This is the first in a series.
Continue after the jump...
In this column, the first in a series, I'm going to set up my little Las Vegas lemonade stand, except that I'm going to try something a bit different. Sort of like Lucy's psychiatry stand in in the Snoopy comic strip, I'm going to offer advice to casinos. Except that my advice won't cost 5 cents -- it will be free. And worth every penny.
I'm going to start at the north end of the Strip in this column and I will work my way south in the multi-part series. Las Vegas newspaper editors will disagree and tell me that the Stratosphere is downtown and not on the Strip but I don't care. I'm starting with the Strat.
The Strat has a lot of potential. Its owners paid too much for it by the standards of today's market but that's already water over the dam. The property is pretty far from the nearest open casinos: Circus Circus and the Riviera, so it can't rely on foot traffic. The Stratosphere's biggest asset is the tower itself. It needs to leverage the observation deck's awesome views and its cool rides by lowering the price of visiting the deck and maybe making it free for hotel guests. Give people who get 25 points on their slot cards a free visit to the top and maybe one free ride once they get there. Spend more on marketing the tower, deck and rides.
Now that Sam Nazarian has closed and stripped the Sahara there's not much advice I could give that would help its future. It was never one of my favorite properties: It smelled, was dirty and had a crazy combination of Moroccan architecture and a NASCAR-themed appendage. I always believed that Nazarian bought the place as a real estate play and thought his idea of redeveloping the Sahara was a ruse. And, if it wan't a ruse, it was dumb. So, my advice to Nazarian holds true to that belief: Keep the place closed and hope you can find some entity to buy the place (before your creditors take it from you), hopefully in combination with the neighboring Wet 'n Wild site and maybe even the Fontainebleau site, allowing the development of something really cool.
The Fontainebleau tower pains me every time I see it. Such a colossal waste. I can't imagine Carl Icahn ever finishing and opening it. At the price he paid for it, it will pencil out even as a land play. Supposedly it would cost about $1.5 billion to finish and most seem to think that there's no entity that would buy it from Icahn and spend that much to complete it. If that's true, and it seems like it is, maybe Icahn will eventually implode it. My advice to Carl: Change your philosophy and your entire way of doing business. Throw caution to the wind and stop worrying about every nickel. You can't take it with you. Hire Glenn Schaeffer and give him the money he needs to finish the project the way he dreamed he would. Even if it's $3 billion -- it's only money (your money --easy for me to say).
The place still makes money and it has an indoor theme park. Make the carnival attractions a little cleaner but keep them fun. Carnival games are how we train youngsters to enjoy gambling: Sure it cost $20 to win that $3 stuffed toy, but we had FUN! Circus-squared should spend a little more on cleanliness and maintenance and try to leverage its position as a family friendly, affordable property. Slots-A-Fun should always (or at least between noon and 4 a.m.) keep its sidewalk-side dice game open; it's one of the cooler craps venues on the Strip.
The Riv is really the last old-school, old-style casino on the Strip, now that the Sahara has closed and the Trop remodeled. Embrace the reality. Quit changing shows every couple months and come up with some cool, retro entertainment. Keep the focus on the quirky conventions (billiards, roller derby, military unit reunions) and spend as much as you can to make the place as clean and as fresh as you can.
I'm regularly amused by the folks in and outside of Las Vegas who gripe about Boyd Gaming's failure to complete Echelon. If they had tried the company would have gone broke and halting it saved the company. I think the time is coming near where Boyd needs to accept that there is no likely intermediate-term need for additional room or gaming capacity on the Strip and that when there is the prospect for new demand any new project would be a lot different than Boyd had originally planned. It will be painful to tear that Echelon skeleton down but I think Boyd should bite the bullet and do it, soon. Perhaps Steve Wynn will quit complaining about Barack Obama someday (maybe after 2012) and will contemplate building in Las Vegas again. Maybe he could buy the Echelon site (or the Plaza site) and save redeveloping his golf club for later.
Steve Wynn and his team should work harder to come up with more entertainment options to go along with Le Reve and the intermittent shows of Garth Brooks. They do have other occasional acts like Beyonce but there's no reason why they can't bring in even more big acts as well, using them the same way Caesars Palace uses Jerry Seinfeld. The two hotels are big enough to support a more robust entertainment lineup. Also, there was no need to tighten up the slot machines and the table game rules, despite what Marilyn Spiegel thinks. The Wynn casinos do very well and their perception as a place where a big gambler can do well if he gets lucky is much more valuable than the few million every quarter that can be gained by squeezing an extra percentage point out of the slot players.
You made a bad deal but there's not much you can do about it now. Take your medicine and exit, stage left. Sell to Steve Wynn. Or Sheldon Adelson. If you sell to Adelson, make sure your lawyers are very good.
My next column in this advice series will be on the center Strip. That means you, Sheldon.