Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

November 16, 2011

Freebie Bye-Bye Blues

Posted by daveschwartz

A little while ago, the Cosmopolitan eliminated its free wifi. After the jump, I talk about the broader significance of taking away what has already been given.

When The Cosmopolitan opened, it told us it was different. This was going to be hip, almost anti-corporate (even if it was owned by a German bank) Strip casino for the next generation. It wouldn't have holodecks, but it would use technology in ways that other Vegas casinos hadn't. iPad check-ins! Super-advanced in-room technology! And free wifi throughout the property, so inveterate Facebookers and Tweeters wouldn't have any reason to post continuous status updates.

At the time, I thought it was a great idea. As I wrote in the December 13, 2010 Las Vegas Business Press, I thought it was the first resort built for the Facebook generation:

On a more positive note, The Cosmopolitan is the first hotel-casino to position itself, from the ground up, for the social-networking generation. Its loyalty program is called the Identity Club, and it promises guests variety above all. That's something that consumers weaned on custom ring tones expect.

The architecture of the hotel-casino itself is amenable to the kind of impromptu photo-taking and video-sharing that Twitter and Facebook enable.

Cosmopolitan debut will start, not end, new era

Free wifi was an integral part of rolling out the welcome mat to people for whom things like that mattered.

Now, it's gone. I already talked in my latest Business Press column about what that might mean. Now I'm going to take a step back and put this into the broader history of casinos giving, then taking away, freebies.

I can speak fairly strongly about this because I grew up during the Great Atlantic City Bus Wars. If you weren't around Atlantic City during the 1980s, here's the story: Atlantic City casinos then made a great deal of their money from bus people. These were folks who got on a casino charter bus in Philly or New York City and got a free trip down to Atlantic City to gamble. Often, they'd pay $10 for a bus ticket and get $10 in coin (no freeplay coupons back then) and a coffee shop or buffet voucher.

In 1988, the biggest bus year in Atlantic City history, more than 14 million visitors rode charter buses to town--about 42% of the total visitation.

When you think that the casino was paying many of these customers to gamble, you can understand why this got out of control.

One problem with bus promotions was that some senior citizens would catch the bus down to Atlantic City, get their roll of quarters, eat lunch, then sit on the Boardwalk for a few hours before heading back home. Doesn't sound like much fun but, as my grandmother would say, it's better than sitting at home. Some enterprising folks even figured out how to zig-zag a series of charters, picking up several rolls of quarters each day. For someone on a fixed income with time to kill, that's not the worst way to spend a day, particularly if you bring a book.

But that wasn't the worst part: casinos started getting too competitive, offering more and more money: $15, $20, $25. It doesn't sound like much, but, again, if you multiply it by 14 million each year, that's a considerably marketing expense that often didn't translate into play.

Around this time, a few casinos slipped into bankruptcy, and just about everyone cut back their bus marketing. People still bus it to Atlantic City (about 4 million last year), but it's nothing like it was in the glory days of bus giveaways.

The response was howls of protest--visitors had come to consider the free quarters an entitlement. Cutting them out created a lot of ill will.

Ditto for Atlantic City casinos charging for parking: once it was free, but when they started parking, there was a definite backlash.

We've seen the same thing happen in Las Vegas, as when the Venetian tightened its comping policies. Players became irate, because what they'd been getting for free was no longer free.

I'd put The Cosmopolitan wifi in the same category: now that we've grown accustomed to free wifi there, whether as hotel guests or restaurant/club visitors, we're going to be irked every time we look at our phones and see "3G" instead of that wavy wireless symbol. It'll just be a reminder that we're not getting as much out of the resort as we used to.

If you're a paying guest, I'd imagine that adding $15 for wifi to your bill isn't going to make you smile, either.

I'm certainly not disputing The Cosmopolitan's right to discontinue a service that they don't think is bringing return on investment. But when taking away what had been previously provided for free, there's always the risk of a backlash.

Judging from one Yelp comment, that backlash has already started. But looking at earlier wifi-related comments, it seems that wifi never really worked that well anyway. Maybe that was the problem, and instead of improving service the company decided to cut down on the users by charging.

In any event, when you're asked to pay for something that was once free, and that every LaQuinta Inn and Starbucks can afford to provide, it's reasonable to imagine that you're going to think less of the company that's charging you. To my mind, there's the potential for some real damage to the vaunted Cosmopolitan brand.

Or like the "digitally dead" thing, no one will really care.


Read archived comments (14 so far)
November 16, 2011 12:47 PM Posted by Mitesh Damania

There should be a surcharge to run electricity to the hotel rooms.

November 16, 2011 12:58 PM Posted by Eric

"...when you're asked to pay for something that was once free, and that every LaQuinta Inn and Starbucks can afford to provide, it's reasonable to imagine that you're going to think less of the company that's charging you."

Maybe. But remember, Cosmo was the outlier as far as Strip properties and wifi are concerned. Despite the fact that nearly every La Quinta and Holiday Inn gives away free wifi, properties on the Las Vegas Strip do not.

So, in a way, this is just Cosmo coming back in line with its competitors in the marketplace.

November 16, 2011 2:39 PM Posted by Dan Short

I do agree, however my wife and I used their WIFI to advantage as the $15 includes two computers and we had an IPad and a netbook. The other casinos wanted $12.99 and $13.99 for each machine. Unfortunatley the $15 does not get cut in half if you have only one machine.

November 16, 2011 5:51 PM Posted by Hunter

That fucking burns me up, when they want to charge per device.

On a typical trip, I'm carrying a smartphone, tablet and laptop. That's three devices. If my wife is along, that could be another three. Multiple devices is becoming the norm and with smartphones and tablets, they use way less battery on Wifi vs. 3G so there's a good reason to get connected.

That's just fucked to charge that much for what is almost always a terribly slow and latent connection that doesn't even work in all parts of the room.

It's these sort of little things - the stuff that costs them nearly nothing to provide on an ongoing basis - that really matters to the customers. Connectivity is one step behind electricity as expected these days.

Charging exorbitant fees for Wifi really piss me off.

It doesn't have to be free - just be fair. Have a single fee for an entire stay that covers however many devices you have... but if you want to charge for it, you had better make sure that it works and it is fast.

Or else.

November 16, 2011 6:59 PM Posted by briguyx

Maybe this is part of their commitment towards getting more gambling going! If someone can't use their Ipad while waiting around, maybe they'll put some money in a machine!

But really, this is the Cosmo looking at their bottom line. If they're losing millions while having high room rates and busy restaurants and bars, I guess they're thinking every little bit helps!

November 17, 2011 1:18 AM Posted by chuckmonster

And what about those of us who carry utility belts with multiple iterations of devices - iPhone 2, 3, 3gs, 4, 4s, iPad 1, 2, 2s, 3 and Droid HTC Mark II Super Incredible Underwater, Droid Invisible HTC Mark III Super Duper Subzero Underwater et al? Seriously... being a superhero requires effort, not just posing in a mismatched suit belt and tie. It also doesn't pay well either... at this rate I'm paying $225 per day for connectivity? Perhaps I should start bringing a wifi router?

November 17, 2011 8:31 AM Posted by Hunter

Don't laugh but I used to bring a router on every trip. Easy to do with an Ethernet drop but some places don't even have that anymore.

November 17, 2011 10:11 AM Posted by Duffman

I can see this being an irratation for Chuck and Hunter, being they run websites based on Las Vegas, but for everyone else is it really a big deal?

If I am using my phone in Vegas it is to contact the other people I am there with, or to drunkly text message people back home at 3 am about how awesome Vegas is.

I personally don't give a damn about Wifi, I don't use it when I'm there. Vegas is an escape from being interconnected with everyone all the time. If I am ever sitting around in Vegas reading something on my phone, something has gone horribly wrong.

November 17, 2011 10:15 AM Posted by Dan Short

I agree but you are correct. Often they do not have an ethernet connection. Maureen does have a smart phone but she picks up mail only at wireless hot spots so we don't try to connect it to the room. Kind of funny to be travelling with your router.

BTW we have been offered three night for the Super bowl plus a limo for our slot play only so maybe they are smartening up.

November 17, 2011 11:02 AM Posted by SouthLooper

Some information that would be really helpful: What is the signal strength of the top wireless providers' (i.e. ATT, Verizon, Sprint, TMobile) 4G service? At the various hotels, in various locations. That is, if you have one of those 4G wifi hotspots, will it work in your room?

November 17, 2011 4:02 PM Posted by Hunter

I know many many people for whom this is a big deal, yes. You may not want to use your gadgets when you're there but a lot of people do. For me, it usually has nothing to do with the Web site - I rarely post from town other than the random Twitter photo.

Also keep in mind that Las Vegas is a convention town - a lot of business needs to get done there. Many conventioneers are on expense accounts but not all... and they go to conferences in other cities where WiFi is part of their hotel's offerings.

As for hotspots and 4G - it would be good to have a list. In my experience with my hotspot, it's very hit and miss. Sometimes great and sometimes super flakey.

November 17, 2011 9:58 PM Posted by Chris Hall

Oh is a big deal...and no I don't sit in my room during the day and obsessively read the news...but...when I get back at nite, I usually have an email or two to send, and I often pop in to my room to get info off the web relative to my trip. For a small business owner, you're never really "off" of work...even if you're on vacation. On the flip side, I'm in Vegas for work several times a year...and yes...I do have to spend many hours a day in my room in the computer...and burns me up to pay for the wifi. I stayed at a week at Cosmo last April solely because there was no resort fee nor wifi fee...even if I was paying more for the room, it was more of a principal thing for me. I figured we would lose some amenities from that property in the first year...never thought the free wifi would go. Bad, bad choice...and I hope everyone writes Cosmo and tells them so (I have).

November 18, 2011 12:36 PM Posted by Dan Short

I can tell you it was very inconvenient at the other hotels that I could only use one device as my netbook has an outlook adaption which allows me access to my office e-mails wihch is not available on the IPad. So the choice was use the more convenient IPad and not have access to work or use the netbook without VEGASMATE!! :)

There, how's that for a plug, Hunter.


November 23, 2011 10:55 AM Posted by jinx

For business travel, I've had to bring a router, as the per device option is ridiculous, and even worse nowadays. Back when I was doing it, it was just a personal laptop and work one.

It's definitely never a good thing when they take something like this away.

Last trip the lack of free wifi was really bugging me, when places like Monte Carlo are charging resort fees on comped room and all their including is wired access, something is wrong across the board.

I'd almost rather see Cosmo just put a $5/fee per night on for guest wifi and just open it up. From a security standpoint, I have to imagine it's easier. I do wonder what other cuts we will see (perhaps premium cocktails to average players) which I have to believe might hurt a bigger base then they think, at least from their gambling base.