Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

May 31, 2011

Which will we see first?

Posted by daveschwartz

With a renewed push for a casino smoking ban in Nevada, I go to thinking: which would happen first--no smoking in a casino, or a casino dress code? They are both changes that some people think would improve the casino experience, but would probably be fought tooth and nail by most operators. I just can't see them turning away a player because he's in a t-shirt instead of a sportcoat, or because he wants to smoke.

Still, I thought it would be interesting to consider which of these following scenarios might happen first.

1. A casino eliminates its nightclub/dayclub.
Super profitable, yes, but draws a crowd that doesn't necessarily gamble. Pumping music and lines snaking onto the casino floor might disrupt players. But with insane mark-ups on bottle service, this thing is a cash cow. As long as people are willing to spend their money on it, these will be here. With casinos trying to simultaneously appeal to as many segments of the demographic pie as they can (business travelers, gamblers, vacationers, nightclubbers, retirees, etc, etc), I don't see anyone who's gotten into this game getting out just yet. The Tropicana/Nikki Beach partnership is the experiment to watch. Amid all of the gushing I haven't really heard too much talk about how the last two Nikki Beach casino locations--Reno's Grand Sierra Resort and Atlantic City's Resorts--didn't work out. It's not out of the realm of possibility that, as gleaming white as it is, Nikki Beach just isn't compatible with casino resorts.

2. A casino goes entirely non-smoking.
We've seen it happen in other states, but so far Nevada casinos have steadfastly resisted any legislative attempt to make them go smoke-free. Back in 2006, voters approved a referendum that forced taverns with kitchens to go smoke-free or retrofit separate smoking and non-smoking areas. That went over so well that tavern owners are trying to get the legislature to overturn that referendum. But could a major Strip casino go smoke-free by its own choosing? There's talk that Revel in Atlantic City might go that route, and with non-smoking facilities becoming the norm across the country, it's probably only a matter of time before at least one Strip casinos gives it a shot. Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom says that serious gamblers smoke, and I don't see any casino executives risking their job to gamble otherwise.

3. A casino institutes--and enforces--a dress code after 6 PM.
This one came up in JohnH's VegasTripping post earlier this week. Almost everyone decries the sartorial deterioration of Strip casinos; jackets and evening gowns have been replaced by t-shirts and shorts. Partially, it's a bigger cultural change (Americans don't get dressed up as much to go out as they once did), but it's also a sign of how the Strip's cast its net progressively wider. Since the 1980s, families and low-rollers have been welcome at most casinos, and that means a more casual experience. As thing stands now, if you've got money to spend, casinos don't care how you're dressed.

4. Metal detectors and limited entry to casinos
After that "epidemic" of casino chip robberies, I wrote a column for the Las Vegas Business Press about why casino crime was something we'd just have to deal with. Basically, casinos are built around the principle of open access--there are as few barriers as possible between the people outside and the slot machines inside. That means multiple entrances with no natural choke points to restrict the pedestrian flow. Without costly renovations that would restrict accessibility, it would be impossible to force all casino-goers to submit to scans for weapons. Casinos as we know them in Las Vegas are, almost by definition, impossible to secure in that way. Even if they lost a million dollars a month to strong-arm robbers, it wouldn't make economic sense for them to make patrons pass through Checkpoint Charlie before playing.

5. Another casino closes on the Strip
This is a real possibility. We've already seen the Sahara close this year, and though the Riviera has new ownership its competitive position isn't exactly strong. Some of the near-Strip casinos, like Hooters, Westin Casaurina, and the Tuscany might also be in jeopardy. Throw the Hilton into the mix, and there's a possibility that another Strip-area casino might shut down. If the current status quo--visitation up but overall revenues still flat--continues for another 2-3 years, this could happen.

6. A new casino opens on the Strip
There are five North Strip would-be casinos that were, at one point or another, in the pipeline, and presumably it would be one of these. Ranked in order of completion, they are:
Fontainebleau: almost got done, but is currently being sold for parts by Carl Icahn. Unless something dramatic happens, it's never going to open, and presumably the existing structure would be completely dismantled before another casino could be built there.
Echelon: Started, then stopped. With Morgans out of the picture and the economic picture changing so completely, you'd have to think they'd go back to the drawing board on this one, or least open it in phases.
Plaza/El Ad Property/Former Frontier: They got the ground cleared, but nothing else. Again, the market has shifted so much since this was proposed we will likely never see the planned-for ultra-luxe Plaza Las Vegas. It'll be a case of El-Ad taking a loss on selling the land to someone else who would develop it. Until occupancy and room rates increase considerably, that's not going to happen.
CityCenter North: The almost-happened MGM/Kerzner joint venture north of Circus Circus would have seen Circus Circus Manor demolished and created another "master-planned urban environment" at the north end of the Strip. Since the first one turned out so well (though business at Aria has improved, the condos, which were a defining part of the project, have been a wash), this isn't very likely.
SLS Las Vegas: Promised for 2014, but with very little in the way of specifics, it's hard to believe that this is going to happen.
Until there's a broader economic turnaround that translates into higher gaming revenues and REVPAR on the Strip, no one is going to roll the dice on building another very expensive property that will just dilute the market.

7. An end to resort fees and other add-ons
Nobody likes them--outside of executives who trumpet how much they add to the bottom line. They're insidious, they make the customer feel like he's being nickel-and-dimed, and unfortunately they're not going away. With news that airlines made more than $21 billion on additional fees in 2010, executives at Strip casinos that have seen declining revenues for three years are probably trying to imagine more ways to extract a little more cash for a little less service from their customers. The only problem is that air travel's not quite as dependent on good vibes--and continued customer goodwill--as casino gaming. It's gotten to the point where travelers expect to be screwed over by their airline; while many come to Las Vegas hoping that'll happen to them here, few of them want it to be at check-in. Until there's significant resistance from customers, these fees aren't going anywhere, and will probably increase.

8. The end of 6:5 blackjack
The casino version of the resort fee, this kind of payout deflation makes serious gamblers livid and creates the impression that the casino is looking to put the screws to patrons playing games that already have negative expectations. And the next time the 6:5 tables aren't filled with $5 and $10 players happily trying to beat the dealer, casino managers will listen to you without breaking into laughter while you tell them that. It's debatable how much the games actually increase casino revenues anyway, since any player sitting at a 6:5 table isn't going to really be much of a skill player, and probably would lose just as much--and as quickly--with 3:2 blackjacks, though he might feel like less of a moron. But since it seems to be working--whatever it adds to the casino experience--it's also probably not going anywhere.


Read archived comments (10 so far)
June 3, 2011 3:26 AM Posted by BigHoss

Although I'd prefer to see a casino with good blackjack, no resort fees and a dress code, I think the most likely candidate here is the demise of daylife. It'll take a while. But the hip ones who started this trend will tire of the swelling masses at some point. When the trendsetters begin doing something new and the masses start catching on, daylife will no longer be the flavor du jour. Then the resorts will move to capitalize on whatever replaces daylife as the next douchetastic "OMG!!!!!!!!!!" Maybe it'll be something we can all live with. And maybe we can get our normal not-so-loud and not-so-expensive pools back. I love M Resort. But last summer, I rented a cabana there at the main pool and could barely hear the main pool music because of the different daylife pool music being cranked up yards away on the other side of a row of bushes. Not sure if I liked either of the music choices much, but I definitely would've liked to have heard just one of them. It was very annoying.

June 3, 2011 5:28 AM Posted by Jason

Ruffin has kinda done #1at TI, eliminating Christian Audigier to make room for Senor Frog:

It's at least a shunning of the typical nightclub, though it was a nightclub that nobody went to.

What about Tryst? Surrender and XS already exist in the complex, and there's also Blush.

June 3, 2011 7:26 AM Posted by jinx

I'm in agreement with Big Hoss here, daylife is the one I'd put my money on. Nightclubs and dayclubs are definitely here to stay, however it's not going to be sustainable at every property. As Jason pointed out, TI is already branching out in that direction, and if they have any success, it won't be long before places like Luxor and NYNY kick their nightclub to the curb in favor of something less pretentious.

Your point about Nikki Beach is also a great one, it's definitely one to watch, as I just don't think the Trop is going to get the clientele it's aiming for. Visits there so far have shown me no proof that it can sustain or draw the high level crowd. They can put all the marketing in the world behind it, but at the end of the day, the Trop is a mid level (albeit nicely remodeled property) that offers very little outside of Nikki Beach to the high end crowd. They just don't have the amenities to compete with the other places.

June 3, 2011 2:35 PM Posted by MattK

Didn't Steve Wynn briefly try to enforce a dress code at the Bellagio when it opened?

I wouldn't count on any resort electing to enforce a policy (dress code, non-smoking, limited entry) that excludes any slice of the visitor pie.

June 3, 2011 5:03 PM Posted by briguyx

I think it would be hard to have a casino dress code as long as you have to pass through the casino to get to the rooms. Most young people don't wear jackets on a night out either.

As for Nikki Beach, it might be compatible with casino resorts. The question is it compatible with the Tropicana?

June 4, 2011 6:09 AM Posted by detroit1051

Smoking, drinking and gambling all seem to go together, and I doubt smoking will disappear from casinos as long as it's legal in Nevada.
Caesars Windsor, across the river from Detroit, is owned by the province of Ontario but operated by CET. When Ontario banned smoking, there was a noticeable reduction in business, especially from Detroit because gamblers who smoked shifted to MGM Grand, MotorCity or Greektown. It's hard to quantify the effect on business because, during the same period, crossing the border became such a hassle after 9/11 that many gave up on going to Windsor.

In South Florida, the Seminoles operate the only true casinos, and of course, smoking is permitted. However, the law that allowed racinos here prohibits smoking. Since the racinos don't have table games and are really slot parlors, it's difficult to quantify here, too. All the poker rooms are non-smoking, even at the Seminole casinos, and that seems to be well received.

Since the racinos also operate racing, and the weather is decent year-round, it's easy for smokers to go outside for a cigarette. Isle Pompano has a fairly new billboard on I-95 trying to make the most out of being a non-smoking casino:

June 4, 2011 10:06 PM Posted by mungroo

Dave: Good article. Lots of interesting points.

In Macau, there are metal detectors and security checkpoints at the entrances to all casinos. So I think it would be possible in Vegas. It just does not seem necessary at this time.

June 6, 2011 9:38 AM Posted by detroit1051

Speaking of smoking, Palace Casino in Biloxi will re-open as a non-smoking property. It's a pretty good place.

June 10, 2011 11:11 PM Posted by Elvis

Metal Detectors might detect some cheating electronic devices too. Nobody might bring a weapon, but there is always someone who wants to get rich quick. I see Metal Detectors in all casino.

There are so many smokers everywhere like gamble and smoking fused into one. From all the casinos that I tried in Las Vegas, Aria might be the least second hand smoke casinos. They freshens the air with the aroma of vanilla and filters the smoke in the air.

June 29, 2011 1:22 PM Posted by vespajet

The dayclub/nightclub thing has been going on for several years now and has seen clubs come and go at a several properties. In some cases, a club has closed and reopened under new management. I don't see it completely going away anytime soon, but I don't see anyone else jumping on the bandwagon.

I think casinos may start making more and more areas of their casinos non-smoking. You'll never be able to make a hotel or casino 100% non-smoking, as folks will find a way to get their nicotine fix. Older properties will just need to upgrade their ventilation systems so that the smoke isn't lingering too long.

Dress code at a casino after certain times of the day is never going to happen. I'd welcome such a move, but people go on vacation to get out of dressing up. When you consider that even cruise lines are loosening their dress codes for meals, it's not going to happen at casinos. Some nicer places to eat don't even seem to have dress codes. Heck, how often do you see someone whose not part of the flight crew wearing a jacket and tie on a flight?

Metal detectors may get forced onto casinos if they become the target of a suicide bombing. Much like how airports got forced into installing metal detectors in the 1970s as the result of a rash of hijackings, it's going to take some sort of tragedy to force the casinos to put in metal detectors. Casinos are not designed with such machines in mind, and may lead into parts of the gaming floor being lost to such security areas.

It would be curious as to whether its' an on-Strip casino or a Strip-adjacent casino. I'm leaning towards Strip-adjacent, like say the Clarion, Casuarina or Hooters.

As for a new casino opening, I don't see one for at least another 5-7 years at the earliest, and more than likely it will be Boyd Gaming restarting work on the Echelon site. I can see someone piecing together the block from Riviera Blvd. to Sahara Ave. into some sort of North Strip megaresort, but not in the near future. SLS is a non-starter, as is the (Strip) Plaza, and Fontainebleau is destined for the scrap heap, as it's about as economical to tear it down and start anew than it is to finish it as is.

Resort fees are here to stay. Harrah's is trying to present itself as the Southwest Airlines of casinos and promote its' "no resort fees" (much like Southwest's bags fly free promo), but they act like they're the only ones in Vegas that doesn't charge a resort fee when they're not. Just as airlines seems to be coming up with new fees to charge folks, the casinos will be coming up with new ones as well. Early check-in fees may become more widespread to the point that even if you check in an hour or two before the "official" check-in time, they charge you a fee. How about a housekeeping fee if you want your room cleaned everyday?

I don't see 6:5 blackjack going anywhere anytime soon either. My recent trip, I barely even played blackjack because I am tired of the 6:5 crap. Low craps max odds I can deal with, as I normally don't bet big on my odds bets anyways.