Sands taps the ‘wow’ factor

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I wonder if Harrah’s will
accentuate style and aesthetics as it trots out development plans for Las Vegas,
the Gulf Coast and other future projects.

MGM Mirage has already made a
commitment to innovative design with its $7 billion CityCenter, a project that
will eventually be duplicated to some extent in Atlantic City.

Fresh looks and design concepts
may come rapid fire as strategists with both companies consider what they
learned from their respective failed bids to win the right to create a
destination resort in Singapore’s Marina Bay district.

That bid was awarded to Sheldon
Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. last week.

Too bad CityCenter wasn’t far
enough along to possibly wow the Singapore folks.

When Steve Wynn visited Macau
several years ago as a CEO hoping to build a casino there, he used an approach
that roughly went as follows.

He reminded the Macau authorities
that many of them were already familiar with his trend-setting Las Vegas
resorts. They knew what he could do. There was no reason to bring in a bunch of
plans because if Macau wanted him then he would design a project that was suited
to Macau, just as Bellagio and The Mirage were designed for Las Vegas.

As Wynn would later explain to a
Las Vegas acquaintance, Macau officials did not need anyone to tell them how to
build buildings; what they wanted was something fanciful, something to excite
the senses — an Experience with a capital E.

That the Macau decision-makers
liked his argument is a matter of record. Wynn got his license, as did Adelson,
whose Venetian speaks for itself as a monument to resort design with a
difference.

But are Sheldon Adelson and the
key members of his team better casino and hotel operators than the folks
associated with Harrah’s and MGM Mirage?

Hardly!

It’s difficult to think of
operators who have done more than Harrah’s and MGM to keep shareholders
satisfied over the last few years. They’ve grown by acquiring competitors and
using technological and marketing savvy to drive revenues and profits toward
higher levels.

MGM has given some of the
brightest and most successful minds in the world of entertainment and dining a
chance to put their best stuff on display at its properties.

The Harrah’s Total Rewards
marketing program drives casino customers this way and that with unsurpassed
efficiency.

But neither Harrah’s nor MGM
has moved on its own to create the mind-boggling experiences manifested in the
creations of Wynn and Adelson.

As Wynn suggested several years
ago, it’s the “wow factor” that makes the crucial difference when
you’re selling gaming to people who are really looking for experiences that
happen to include gaming.

Let’s see what happens as the
selling of Las Vegas’ No. 1 product continues in lands far from Nevada and the
best companies continue to redefine the experiences they offer.

If all else fails, perhaps Harrah’s
will simply buy Adelson’s or Wynn’s company.

There is, after all, more than
one road to success.

World Series eyes
new world record

Registrations for the main event
at this year’s World Series of Poker were about 60 percent ahead of last year
several days ago. This is some two months before the start of the no limit hold’em
championship with the $10,000 buy-in.

This would seem to suggest a
final entry figure somewhere north of 8,000, but no one wants to say so
publicly. That would be, well, bad form and you just never know what might
happen between now and the first day of action.

But the points made by this kind
of volume are as valid now as they will be a month or two from now.

There were more than 5,600
players entered in the 2005 WSOP finale a year ago when Australian poker pro Joe
Hachem shed his comfortable anonymity to become an instant celebrity with a
first place win that netted him $7.5 million.

Not bad for a week’s work.

Several days later he was sitting
on Jay Leno’s sofa exchanging late night small talk with the TV host.

Months later, Harrah’s Chairman
Gary Loveman would remark that the crowds drawn to the Rio by the weeks of World
Series action had driven casino volumes and restaurant and hotel spending to
record heights.

There was the well-known poker
player who walked into the Rio one night with $5 million in chips from one of
the big Strip casinos where he normally played. What he wanted was to play some
high-limit blackjack.

I understand the Rio was happy to
oblige him.

Loveman would also explain that
there were more than a million advance orders for the next generation World
Series game that was a product of one of the many partnerships or licensing
agreements Harrah’s has developed as a result of the World Series.

Clearly, there is more than an
afternoon of poker going on here, even if most of the daily news media in Las
Vegas still tend to treat the World Series as a kind of non-event that is
scarcely worth attention by savvy seekers of news.

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