We're back with part two of Jeff Simpson's 'Advice for The Strip' column here at Simpson on Vegas. This time around it's Venetian, TI, Mirage, Casino Royale and Harrah's.
Continue after the jump...
Continuing with my consulting trip down Las Vegas Boulevard, in this column, the second in a series, I'm taking a look at the northern end of the Center Strip, from Palazzo south to Harrah's.
There are many things to love about these properties (Palazzo's parking garage; entertainment, retail and restaurant lineups; and convention facilities) and many other things to like (quality poker room, big hotel rooms -- I refuse to call many of them suites, but they're still expansive and nice, and a vibrant Venetian casino.) But there are things that can be improved, and, while I'm sure Sheldon Adelson couldn't care less what I think, here goes. The Palazzo casino is markedly less exciting than the Venetian's and Las Vegas Sands should figure out some way to generate a little more pizazz in its newest gambling hall. The small lounge next to the "Jersey Boys" theater is great but maybe some live music in a mid-casino lounge would liven things up. I've written before about my doubts about the properties' comp policy and I believe the company overreacted to an overly generous policy in 2008 and 2009 by cutting comps more sharply than made sense. Sure, hotel room rates have risen but that's taking place almost everywhere on the Strip. Smart casino marketers should be able to balance the need to reward mid-level players enough to keep and maybe boost their business with the properties' need to maximize hotel revenues. My last advice is advice I know Adelson won't take: Quit suing people. Don't be such an angry man. Everybody's not out to get you or take advantage of you. Chill. You're rich and you've created an amazing company and a handful of renowned resorts. Every company has to fight some legal battles but Sheldon and his company seem to fight more than most. Contractors, prospective partners, former executives, shareholders and, yes, journalists (including me) have all been targets. Quit it.
I've seen Phil Ruffin's M.O. before so I know what to expect from him. He's not going to spend tons of money improving the place but luckily, he doesn't have to -- at least not yet. He bought the recently remodeled resort at a decent price and we should expect him to wring as much cash flow out of the TI as he can as long as he can. He's embraced the property's mid-market position and swapped out venues targeting more affluent customers with places his customers will like more. He doesn't mind spending a little and adding new things that diverge from or obstruct the existing theme if he thinks they'll make money, including a big country bar and a giant Stripfront Starbucks. My advice to Ruffin would be to make sure that customer service and cleanliness levels remain high, something that was a problem at his former casino, the decidedly down-market New Frontier. Many of Treasure Island's best customers, I'm fairly certain, have played at the property since it was run by Mirage Resorts or MGM Mirage and they will know if service levels and maintenance deteriorate. Second, if possible and if you are willing to risk more of your money, wait for an opportune time to buy the Mirage from MGM Resorts at an attractive (low) price. The Treasure Island's southern neighbor fits well with the property and they would make a nice tandem.
The property had a long reign as the city's top resort (1989-98) but its days near the top are over. A solid mid-market property, Mirage still excites folks who enjoyed its glory days and it aspires to reach a new audience with nightclubs, pools, restaurants and entertainment that target a younger clientele. My advice to MGM Resorts regarding the Mirage is simple: Embrace its theme and its history. Sure its rooms are small and the property's design has been bested by newer and more expensive joints, but there are plenty of people who love the Mirage. Maybe rip out the regular pool and replace it with a much bigger, kick-ass modern pool equal to anything anywhere in the city. That's an improvement that would fit well with the property's theme. Don't mess any more than you already have with the atrium and registration-area aquarium unless you want to expand and improve them. Perhaps introduce some Polynesian-style dancers to the volcano show and have them perform in and around the casino and registration area as well. Mandalay Bay used to have trained bird-handlers flying the parrots and other exotic species in its hotel registration area back in the Mandalay Resort Group days, a special treat that delighted folks and something that really didn't cost a lot. That might work at the Mirage as well. Finally, the Mirage retail outlets are really out of date. Scrap the whole operation and replace them with stores that make money and also say something exciting about your property.
Keep going with what you know. Franchised restaurants and excellent drink specials and close-to-the-Strip parking are positives. My advice: Refreshening the casino and hotel decor and maybe expanding your hotel into its under-utilized (all right, not utilized) vertical space above the small hotel. The property has a nice location and another option might be to sell to Las Vegas Sands. Again, make sure you lawyer up as best you can if you do that.
Harrah's Las Vegas
Finally, I can whine about a Center-Strip parking garage. Keep the garage clean and maybe connect it to a new Imperial Palace garage if you (hopefully) blow the existing one up to allow for better Linq-area parking. Make that Linq/IP garage bigger and much better and connect it by walkway to Harrah's (just as the IP's current one connects to the IP/Harrah's monorail station). Harrah's is a lower mid-market property that knows its customers and gives them what they want. Too many of the Harrah's slots and video poker machines seem like they have higher holds than necessary, strange for a property that still relies much more on gambling as a revenue-driver than the newer and nicer properties on the Strip. Loosen 'em up and advertise the fact. Don't treat your customers like suckers. Get rid of all of 6-5 blackjack tables and advertise that as well -- and this applies at every one of the Caesars properties. I think the company is the worst offender at offering the higher-hold games, but those games say something bad about the company. There's plenty of money to be made offering traditional blackjack. While I'm at it, quit offering crappy craps payouts on some of the exotic bets, like 14-to-1 payouts on elevens and ace-deuces instead of the traditional 15-to-1. Those bets already are great for the house. Why squeeze your customers? (I believe every Caesars Entertainment casino on the Strip except Caesars Palace offers the lame craps odds. Knock it off.) Just because some players don't know better and will play anyway, you are antagonizing other players and sending some of their business to your competitors, most of whom don't insult their players' intelligence with the sorry payouts. As far as the Harrah's property specifically, figure out a way to have a bigger and better pool. The existing pool is a diminutive joke, an anachronism that needs to be replaced. Don't make it a topless, cabana-focused party pool. Instead make it a big, modern pool that will send a positive message about the fun a guest can have at your property. Think Mandalay Bay's pools, or -- closer to home -- Flamingo's.
-- Jeff Simpson, August 2011