Who will be next Vegas innovator?

Who will be next Vegas innovator?

May 01, 2018 3:00 AM


Jay Sarno, the visionary of themed casino resorts; Jackie Gaughan, the mastermind of coupons and slot promotions; Kirk Kerkorian, the visionary behind mega resorts; Si Redd, who recognized the power of video poker and slot machines; Howard Hughes, the reclusive billionaire who brought corporate legitimacy to casino ownership;

Benny Binion, perhaps the creator of the first ultimate selfie with free photos in front of the million dollar filled Horseshoe; the Perlman brothers, who turned sports and other special events into casino traffic drivers; Sheldon Adelson, who took convention goers and turned them into casino patrons and turned sleepy dingy Macau into a Las Vegas on steroids and of course Steve Wynn, who in my opinion could have taught P.T. Barnum more than a few lessons in marketing and brand promotion.

All seem to be of a different time, mindset and risk- taking talent pool that may just be fading if not already faded away. All are or were gaming pioneers of their time and helped make the oddity of Las Vegas gambling of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s into a regarded global industry.

It would take more space than allowed here to go over the speculations of if they could do the same things again into today’s corporate and regulatory world, or if some of them could even get a gaming license under current standards. Suffice it that they were all part of times and were pioneers with unique visions and all took the personal financial risk that made the gaming industry what it is today.

But who is coming behind them to lead the industry into the next era of the industry’s evolution?

Regular readers of this column will recall it has often been pointed out here that gaming has been reduced from the single largest revenue contributor in a Las Vegas gaming resort to one leg of the three-legged stool supported equally between the leg of hotel/resort revenue and the collective leg of revenue from retail activities of entertainment, food and beverage and shopping.

In years not so far back, the casino was the real driver of traffic to a property and the other elements were there simply to support the casino, now it seems to be the other way around. While the numbers speak for themselves, the point was recently driven home to me in an unusual way.

I received a lunch invitation from a global businessman who over the years became a friend and over those same years lost more millions gambling than I could keep track of. We dined in his penthouse ($20,000 a night), had a few bottles of Romanée-Conti wine (billed at $40,000 a bottle) were later joined by others in his entourage also staying in comparable suites. Lunch was good, but probably a bit overpriced ($3,100 for the two of us, wine was separate from the room service food). Conversation was lively, entertaining and speculative about wide ranging topics of business and politics.

There were a few more bottles of fine wine shared and as things were winding down and it was becoming time to leave I asked how he was doing on the tables. I was surprised when he said he had not played at all and had not played in months. Knowing how he had enjoyed it in the past, I was surprised and asked if he had stopped playing altogether. His answer caught me off guard.

“It’s not fun anymore, not interesting, don’t feel like I am playing against someone.” He paused then said, “Last time I played it felt like I was a monkey at a zoo with everyone watching me.” He went on with, “Wanted to give some chips to my son to play and was told it would be a suspicious activity report. What is suspicious about that?

“Everywhere I went I felt like I was being followed and when I saw a new game to try, the limits were too low to be interesting.”

I asked if his son played anything. He answered, “No, he said nothing in the casino interested him, but I did give him $100,000 for the night club on that trip.”

Near as I could figure based on our conversation, between his, his family’s and his entourage’s non-gaming spending, his out of pocket spend for vacationing in Las Vegas was going to land around $1.2 million without a bet made in the casino. After pleasantries and promises to get together again on his next visit to Las Vegas, I left amazed that an ardent gambler had lost interest in gambling in Las Vegas.

It also caused me to wonder how some of our above-mentioned gaming pioneers would react to the notion that the casino had lost interest from a high stakes gambler and if there is another gaming pioneer or generation of gaming pioneers on the horizon that can make gambling interesting, compelling or exciting for customers like my friend again.