The billboards near Chinatown send out the Palace Station message in Chinese: “We’re here for you.”
In Scott Nelson’s case, it could read: “I’m back.”
Nelson made a name – and a face – for himself in the local Asian market during a 25-year run at the Gold Coast and The Orleans, two of the closest casinos to Chinatown.
Now, after a few years in Denver and a short stint at Fiesta Henderson, Nelson has returned to compete against his two former employers at another nearby property that targets the lucrative Asian market.
Station Casinos announced last month that Nelson had taken over as vice president and general manager at Palace Station, the original locals’ casino in Vegas that celebrated its 40th birthday earlier this summer.
Nelson said he just wants to serve as “more of an enhancement,” and “not try to reinvent the wheel.”
“Station has done a great job through the years cultivating and nurturing the Asian business at Palace Station,” he said. “I’m here to continue that mission.”
Still, it’s clear Nelson’s background made him an attractive candidate for Palace Station, located just a couple miles from Chinatown.
Nelson, who has lived in Las Vegas much of his life, watched Chinatown “grow from nothing.”
“It took off in the mid-to-late ‘90s,” he said. “We saw a real explosion in 2002, 2003. Asian business after Asian business after Asian business started to open on Spring Mountain (Road).
“The casinos began to become more social hangouts. You could see there were more and more Asian people in your casino. It just grew and grew and grew. That ran in tandem with the growth of Spring Mountain Road, all the way up past Rainbow (Boulevard), where it continues to grow to this day.”
Despite his involvement with the Asian market, including the Asian Chamber of Commerce, Nelson doesn’t speak Chinese, Japanese or any other Asian language.
“I’ve always been fortunate enough to surround myself with champions who do speak these other languages,” said Nelson, who is featured in the billboards with three of the casino’s top Asian hosts and managers, Tri Hua, Benny Chui and Steve Phui.
To appeal to the Asian market, Palace Station features what is known as the “Asian pit.” That area includes 10 Baccarat tables, five Pai Gow tables and one table for Show Pai, a hybrid of baccarat and Pai Gow that was designed by a UNLV student.
The baccarat tables are bright orange with the popular EZ Baccarat logos and, most importantly, no five-percent commission charges when the bank wins.
Hanging from the ceiling are the favorite flowers of the Chinese culture. The Food Express restaurant serves traditional Chinese dishes and even provides tableside service so players can eat while they gamble.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the years of being a part of the growth of this particular market segment and being able to capitalize on that as an operator,” Nelson said. “We had no idea it was going to grow into what it is today.”
For Nelson, it’s been energizing to tap back into a market he was such a big part of for so long. He said the casino business is just “in my blood.”
After graduating from Clark High School and then serving in the United States Air Force for four years, Nelson worked his way up the casino ladder by being a security officer, bartender, dealer, hotel director, you name it. His mother, Betty Jo Spotti, is a 73-year-old blackjack dealer still working the swing shift on the Strip at Wynn Resorts.
“I know a lot of guys who burned out,” Nelson said. “I’m here for the love of the game. I love the casino industry. That’s what keeps me motivated after 30 years.”
While the Asian market remains a top priority – “the potential is still there for that to continue to grow,” Nelson said – it’s by far not the only point of emphasis these days at Palace Station.
The sportsbook recently underwent a renovation with new video boards and the switch from a manual to electronic odds board.
The casino also will be soon undergoing an expansion that includes a new location for the bingo hall and buffet, along with the addition of some other restaurants still to be announced. The project is expected to be completed sometime in 2017.