Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

December 8, 2005

The Future of Downtown Las Vegas?

Posted by Hunter

Inspired by a post on the WYNN Yahoo Finance Message Board from Hail2skins, I'd like to pose this question to the group:

What will downtown Las Vegas look like in 10 years?

The Fremont Street Experience is just about a decade old, created to increase visitor-ship with a 'must see' attraction. How well has it done this?

What will new owners like Landry's do downtown and how big of a problem is the Barrick Gaming's financial meltdown?

All comments are welcome!

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Read archived comments (13 so far)
December 8, 2005 6:03 PM Posted by detroit1051

I'm probably part of the problem with downtown. The only property I went to downtown was Golden Nugget. I'd drive to Valet, go in, get back in my car and drive back to the Strip. I did see the Fremont Street Experience once and didn't see any reason to go back. I don't know about downtown visitorship, but the gaming stats are down compared with '04:

If anything will help downtown, it's Landry's purchase of Golden Nugget. Tilman Fertitta has an excellent track record in Texas, is a cousin of the STN Fertitta's, and he seems to have some good ideas for Fremont Street. The LV sun article from November 8 is encouraging: 20nugget

I had forgotten about Barrick Gaming. Originally, wasn't Tamares Group the passive investor and Barrick the operator? If Barrick is out of the picture now, who's running the Plaza, Western, Gold Spike and ??? (can't remember the other one.)

I believe in ten years, downtown will be focused more on non-gaming businesses such as the new World Market Center and the Premium Outlet Mall on Grand Central Parkway. If the downtown lofts and condos being built or talked about are completed and successful, it will bring new life to the area. From a gaming perspective, I don't see how downtown can compete with the Strip except with a property like Golden Nugget if Landry's does expand it, build another tower and keeps it first class. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Golden Nugget always cater to Texans? If so, Fertitta ought to be able to recruit business from Houston and Galveston.

December 9, 2005 12:28 AM Posted by Mike E

With the new apartments being built and the buy-outs, I'm pretty sure Downtown is going to clean up quite a bit and become more residential in he next 10 years, especially the areas not under the canopy. Barrick, Landry's, and Harrah's (is that all of them?) are probably going to try to push it more towards the local market because in the end, unless you're absolutely set on finding the best odds at the lowest limits, Downtown doesn't have much appeal for most tourists.

December 9, 2005 12:42 AM Posted by Hunter

Mike, I disagree. Many Las Vegas tourists are looking for a taste of Vegas like it 'used to be', which you can only get downtown. I think that appeals to a lot of folks. Plus, the Fremont Street Experience is a huge tourist attraction, largely based on the massive amount of coverage it gets on the many Travel Channel programs.

Downtown is a great place for tourists to find a bargain in a city where the bargains are leaving the Strip, even the Northern end.

As far as Downtown operators, don't forget Magestic Star running the Fitz, Binion's being run by MTG and Boyd, which has several downtown properties. Harrah's doesn't have a downtown presence at this point.

The Golden Nugget is a gem. There are some great design choices that were made there, a clear precursor to The Mirage. That place will make money no matter who owns it.

Binion's is a classic but it is quickly losing its appeal. The steakhouse on the roof used to be a winner but I've heard bad things lately. Losing the 'Horseshoe' moniker was a blow.

One thing that Downtown has going for it - Oscar Goodman. He's determined to revitalize the area.

December 9, 2005 12:43 AM Posted by Hunter

Also, if you doubt the popularity of the FSE, ask cab drivers how many people they take down there... (Lots)

December 9, 2005 1:54 AM Posted by Mike E

I think I may have used some strong words in that last comment. Sorry, I take it back. From my own personal experience, I used to go to Downtown a lot for the low limits, but nowadays, I only find myself returning when I'm playing tour guide for friends and relatives.

December 9, 2005 1:46 PM Posted by cgriff

If I am not mistaken, though the Nugget remains a AAA 4-diamond destination, it lost its Michelin star after Wynn sold the property. Is there anything that you know of that Fertitta might be doing that could possibly reclaim the Michelin for the Nugget?

December 10, 2005 7:44 AM Posted by Bigbellagiofan

The Golden Nugget was my family's preferred location until Tim 'n Tom took over and began ruining the place -- I'm talking over twenty years of patronage. Even though we were disheartened by the damage done to its reputation be that tacky reality show, we were driven away primarily by their changes to the casino floor -- especially the removal of about 50% of their video poker machines, the diminished jackpots and the tight-fisted new comp policies.

Fertitta has interesting plans based on a quick conversation we had with a staff member a couple months ago: moving the Buffet from its current location and making that area a poker room, putting the Buffet upstairs in the Spa Tower area currently occuppied by Lillie Langtry's and Stephano's, putting up an additional tower, revamping the pool area so that guests will swim amidst a large acquarium.

Several quick changes I would recommend: number one, get rid of the aggressive time-sales hucksters who operate out of a South Tower marble-clad counter that misleads people into thinking they're approaching a concierge desk; number two, put more video poker machines on the casino floor and loosen them up a bit; number three, put back the table games that they removed from the area in front of the casino cage; number four, get some higher wattage bulbs in the rooms, especially in the bathrooms (Just before the end of the MGM-Mirage ownership, I once called the "VP of Hotel", I think her name was Barbara Davis, and complained that 25-watt bulbs in the bathroom fixtures and 60 watt bulbs in the bedside lamps didn't provide enough light for guests and she denied it, but called me back four days later to say she had done a room tour and was shocked to find out I was right. She said they were going to immediately begin a replacement program, but the arrival of Tim 'n' Tom derailed both her and the program. It is beyond me how AAA can award four diamonds when one of the criteria for that level designation is room lighting level.)

Speaking of AAA and ratings, I remember that just after Bob Sheldon left and Maurice Wooden took over as President of the Nugget the hotel lost its Mobil Four Star rating. I wonder if they'll get it back and I especially wonder why they lost that designation. I don't recall any Michelin rankings being advertised.

Someone mentioned Binion's, and it reminded me of the days when Jack Binion operated the place. Talk about a piece of Old Vegas! Anyway, the place was packed with video poker machines and always packed with people, especially that back room on the original Horseshoe side. As we would sit there putting coins into the machines, the public address system would be alive with announcements" "Binion's Horseshoe is pleased to announce the twenty-fifth Royal Flush of the day on machine XXX." In those days, the Royal Flushes popped up like crazy. And then every once in a while, "Binion's Horseshoe is pleased to announce a $25,000 sequential Royal Flush on machine #xxx." I wonder whether the business disappeared more because of the ineptness of Becky Binion Behnene or the arrival of the locals casinos put up by Coast and Station.

December 12, 2005 6:41 PM Posted by charlie

Our prayers our answered!

Haven't you guys seen the pictures of "Wynn Glitter Gulch"?

Damn, that was Wynn Macao.

Seriously, the FSE killed Downtown. I've been Vegas nearly 30 times since the FSE was built, and I have gone OUT of my way not to go Downtown at night, just because I don't want experience FSE.

My memory of Fremont Street is nearly identical to the great U2 video - glittering lights, the Vegas sky, and swarms friendly of people. The way it should be. If you want to build up Downtown, first tear down FSE. (And play U2 music)

December 13, 2005 5:14 PM Posted by detroit1051

This week's Gaming Today answered my question regarding Barrick and Tamares. The Navigante Group will operate the four Barrick casinos:

December 15, 2005 7:07 AM Posted by cgriff

I was probably wrong and Bigbellagiofan probably right about it being the Mobil 4-star rating that the Nugget lost, not a Michelin star. Thanks bbfan. And, yes, I too wonder what was the rationale for the loss of that rating.

January 8, 2006 1:15 PM Posted by Stephanie Schermerhorn

I think Downtown could actually carve a nitch out now that the strip is going megaglam.

If the downtown casinos concentrated their efforts on modernizing their properties, cleaning up the rooms with new fixtures, free wi-fi access, and moderate room upgrades (for ex: HDTV's in rooms, but not plasmas), they could easily attract middle income Americans. Especially, if they keep the feel of Vintage-Chic Vegas.

New fixtures (not high-end, just new) in the casinos, hire more folks to clean the casinos.

Also, if they got away from reserving their suites only for the high rollers, and let anyone pay for one that wanted one... as the strip has done.

January 16, 2006 12:13 PM Posted by NFL Adam

I love downtown. Best comps, best prices, and best gambling. I like to stay on the strip maybe once or twice a year, but the rest of the time I like to stay downtown. It's really no contest.

September 24, 2006 6:27 AM Posted by detroit1051

Downtown Las Vegas has captured the attention of the New York Times: