I'm very happy today to have a post from a guest writer, Paolo Mello.
Many of you will undoubtedly know Paolo from Twitter, where he posts as @paolomello. You'll also find him contributing to comment threads here and at VegasTripping.com where his username is 'middleclassbuzz'.
Paolo is a Nevada native and Vegas expert, currently living in New York City. In this excellent piece, Paolo muses on the future of leadership at Las Vegas gaming companies.
You'll find his text after the jump - enjoy!
Just shy of five years ago, celebrated journalist/blogger/podcaster Steve Friess wrote a piece for the New York Times on the reinvention of Las Vegas by the new young titans of industry. Those mentioned in the article were George Maloof, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, Tim Poster and Tom Breitling, Andre Agassi and Perry Rogers, Jim Murren, Sam Nazarian and Anthony Marnell. Some of these men were unfamiliar to me, and some of them were longtime heroes. All of them represented the new blood that would guide my beloved hometown forward and into the future.
What a difference half a decade can make.
While these gentlemen were then considered the young up-and-comers, they now seem like the old guard. To be sure, a few of these guys are still out there and at the top of their game. Anthony Marnell is doing a terrific job over at the M Resort, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta are gradually regaining control over their Station Casinos empire, and Tim Poster is at Fertitta Interactive, a venture that recently applied for an online poker license.
Some of the others haven't exactly lived up to their promise. It still isn't clear what Sam Nazarian is planning to do with the Sahara; the smart money seems to be on a big fat nothing. George Maloof is still running the day to day operations of his baby, the Palms, even though the family name has been stripped from the marquee. Tom Breitling is laying low and raising his family and Andre Agassi and Perry Rogers have long since split up their partnership. Finally, Jim Murren will likely live or die by the success of his vision of the future, City Center. The complex may not end up being a complete failure, but it in no way resembles what it was originally positioned and sold as.
This isn't the stuff we expected from our new "Titans of Las Vegas".
To be fair, Friess' article was written in May of 2008, on the edge of the cliff of a crumbling economy. Had the trend remained on an upward trajectory, each of these men would look like geniuses today. But like Warren Buffett is fond of saying, "when the tide goes out, you find out who's been swimming naked."
My purpose isn't to speculate on what could have happened, because we can't rewrite history. Rather, I'd like to make a simple request:
Would the next generation of gaming industry leaders please stand up?
To start with, what we don't need is more of the same. Amongst my generation and in my neck of the woods (I'm in my early 30's and live in New York City), Las Vegas simply isn't on the radar.
Why not? Mostly because of its reputation for kitsch and tastelessness. It doesn't help that Vegas is a manufactured fantasy land, often teaming with the type of people you would never want starring in your own fantasy. Nightclubs are losing their luster, partly because we've all been-there-done-that and partly because savvy vacationers are tired of getting fleeced. Gambling? Not in its present form. Losing large sums of money and getting nothing in return just doesn't appeal to the internet generation. We can get hours of free entertainment online and in the comfort of our own homes. How about golf? Ha! Just kidding.
So what does the next young, successful casino mogul look like?
For starters, let's talk technology. When people are used to having a state-of-the-art touchscreen smartphone in hand at all times, a box with some big plastic buttons and an 8-bit screen that only eats money won't cut it. We want our technology to work with everything, and I do mean everything. If there's a building that doesn't have internet access, and we aren't provided with the ability to share what we are doing inside that building with our networks, then we probably won't go into that building, end of story.
Can't check out of our hotel room with a simple application from our phone... why not? No integration between casino games, a property website, and a well-designed and useful smartphone app? That's a deal breaker. A smart leader will see opportunity for the types of improvement in service, efficiency, and entertainment that technology can deliver. This can all be created, practiced and perfected in Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. After that it can be exported to the four corners of the globe in the same way that Silicon Valley creates the tools that everyone else ends up benefitting from. The alternative? These technologies and competencies are built in Macau and we end up having to pay for them later.
And how about value? This is something that not only appeals to a younger (and less well-off) crowd, but surprise, surprise, appeals to most other age groups as well. Las Vegas is a value when compared to most other travel destinations, but compared to the Vegas of yesterday, it doesn't quite deliver the way it used to. We just went through a nasty recession, and many of us still aren't out of it. There is no other place in America that can offer what Vegas can, dollar for dollar; an average $100 room in Vegas would go for over $500 a night in Manhattan. Trumpet the value proposition. It's something to be proud of and it will find its audience.
Finally, and most importantly, every hotel/casino staff deserves a visionary that will treat them like they are the most valuable asset the company has. The service industry is here to stay, in both Nevada and nationwide. Las Vegas has been a leader in treating the art of hospitality with the care that it deserves. Innovation can continue in this area, with best practices exported to other destinations that haven't caught up. Online shoe retailer Zappos.com has proved that you can take an entry-level call center job and elevate it to something people are proud of. The next group of gaming industry leaders would be wise to do the same with wait staff, dealers and housekeepers.
Most of what I'm speaking of isn't revolutionary. The technology is already here, and none of it is out of reach. Vegas knows value, but often forgets to treat it like the competitive advantage that it is.
Company culture is important- making sure the best and the brightest in hospitality want to work at your property is paramount. The good news is, the next generation of leaders won't have it any other way.
They just need to step up and lead.
-- Paolo Mello, 2012