Gaming Industry in transition
September 26, 2017 3:00 AM
by Phil Hevener
Jack Binion says no one outside Nevada was pressuring Las Vegas to explain the city’s appeal when his family arrived here from Texas more than 60 years ago and took the first steps toward opening the Horseshoe gambling hall.
Things were just fine the way they were. There was not another legal casino romancing gamblers.
Binion, 80, says the chance to try their luck at a full slate of casino games was enough to lure travelers.
“If a man was not a player,” Binion said this week, “he would probably go someplace else. “Yeah, Las Vegas was all about gambling. There wasn’t any talk about this being a total resort.”
Funny, isn’t it, how times have changed as local officials continue efforts to reach out to a fast-changing world in awhich there are more casinos than anyone thought possible during the late 1940s and 1950s.
In the same way a corner convenience market could evolve into a super store offering at least a little something for as many as possible, Las Vegas marketers began looking at a bigger picture.
They found it.
Jim Crocket, a Las Vegas native and successful attorney who is now a state district court judge, says, “Until about 10 years ago I never heard what sounded like serious talk about becoming a big league sports city. I think most people believed the presence of all this gambling would preclude that from happening.”
But construction of a 65,000-seat stadium that will be home to the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League is being planned. Also available now is a new arena that is home to the Golden Knights of the National Hockey League. MGM has played a major role in both projects as well as a number of entertainment events that have been big enough to bring thousands of people to Las Vegas without regard to how they felt about the chance to spend some quality time in a casino.
MGM Chairman Jim Murren sounds like he may be saying to himself, ok what’s next? He clearly understands Vegas has moved far beyond its roots as a gambling town. Or maybe, as Binion was saying, “More people see gambling as entertainment.”
Murren is also believed to have taken a look at the prospects for landing a Major League Baseball franchise. There is nothing available at the present time. The Las Vegas Speedway has been routinely drawing more than 100,000 people to the biggest of the NASCAR races held at the track built by casino owners Ralph Engelstad and Bill Bennett.
Big league projects have not been confined to sports teams. High-priced dining and retail shopping have also played a role in the transformation of Las Vegas’ image as a travel destination.
Steve Wynn once credited Caesars World for sending executives at other casinos “back to school,” showing how profitable resort operations other than casinos could be.
When the first Hard Rock Cafe opened its gift shop with a large amount of logo merchandise on display, there were long lines of people waiting to buy t-shirts and jewelry, pins, etc., all of it with the Hard Rock logo. Most of the best known names and brands in the world of retail quickly became available along the Strip.
Nothing addresses the change any more dramatically than Wynn’s decision to install a Ferrari dealership when he opened the Wynn.
Resort marketers were suddenly part of a new order using online technology to reach customers before they had even left home.
Binion is not reluctant to discuss these changes but says he will probably remain content to be a fascinated spectator as Las Vegas-based companies respond to the changing world of commercial gaming and entertainment.
He says Nevada could chart its course until the late 1970s when casinos opened in Atlantic City and it became apparent other jurisdictions were intent on legalizing it, creating new pressures on what had been a purely Nevada business.
Neither the big revenue numbers generated on the East Coast nor the explosive growth of Indian casinos did anything good for Nevada; but they did expose the business to influential forces that could recognize its potential as a revenue generator. Does any government ever have all the money it needs?
Silly question, Binion says. “People could see that gambling was not a mob thing.”
Put all this together and it became apparent Nevada had to overhaul its most important industry. What that meant was the creation of more choices than there had ever been.
Las Vegas was no longer the one-dimensional gambling town Binion had been introduced to more than a half century to earlier.