New venues can offer ‘right’ poker

Jan 18, 2005 6:07 AM

Will they ever get the message? Will they ever get it right? Well, some have in the past, and although those efforts have mostly become entangled in the never-ending businessman’s game of continued profit margin growth (i.e., in casino terms, machine hold percentage) it’s never too late to change, and new casino openings mean there’s always the chance they’ll finally figure it out for good.

What’s all this about? It’s about what it takes to attract the city’s most devoted casino-goers. It’s about what it takes to be known around town as THE place to play the video poker machines. It’s about just how much success casino managers want to have. And yes, it’s about the number of loyal customers casinos want to claim, how often these folks visit, how long they play for when they do...but above all, it’s about the amount of cash they bring through those ever-important front doors.

Since I’ve been playing video poker from 1990 through today, I’ve talked to or chatted with thousands and thousands of players around Nevada and elsewhere, and have regularly been on various video poker forums. Many of those who are either serious or simply hooked on the game have a single, very loud cry day in and day out: They want casinos to put video poker games in their full-pay, greater-than-100 percent format on their floors, and they want them to KEEP them there. I’d also say the message it is abundantly clear that they won’t play at casinos where these games are not found in the denominations in which they play.

Right about now you’re likely saying "I didn’t think Rob Singer was an advocate of such games." I suspect you get that from listening to others but the fact of the matter is I always will play the best paying games where I am comfortable playing. No, I am not neurotic about searching out so-called "positive’ games," but if they happen to be at the bar I’m at or in the section I sit down to play at, naturally I’ll choose them first. Remember, anything can happen at any time at any machine anywhere — and since we ALL go in to win every single time we play, any machine will do. I don’t make believe I’m going to win if I sit at one of those positive machines...or lose if it calculates out to a theoretical 99.999 percent or less. That’s a scenario adopted by the math geeks for a feel-good position only, and one that continues to be justification for playing far more than they should.

This year will see the opening of Steve Wynn’s new casino resort on the site of the old but elegant Desert Inn. Others will follow around town, and they’ll all have the same opportunity to get it right. There are those casino managers with vision and there are those who have none. How many times have we heard Strip casinos say they wish they could get more of the local crowd in to play? Well here’s a flash: LOAD THE FLOOR WITH VIDEO POKER MACHINES, AND MAKE SURE THE PAY TABLES ARE WHAT THE LOCALS LOOK FOR.

It’s no surprise that virtually every hotel/casino on Las Vegas Boulevard has floors saturated with touristy slot machines. Very, very few of those things are worth playing even for a few moments but visitors in for a good time seem to be the casinos’ targets. Now imagine if Wynn Las Vegas decided to make video poker the main attraction instead of Little Green Men or Quarter mania or something similar. Would that mean the tourists don’t show? Does that mean no one will play their machines? And I suppose most importantly, how would all that affect the casino’s bottom line?

Here’s a few good lessons for those in doubt. Remember when the Reserve (now The Fiesta) in Henderson opened? Or how about the Suncoast in Summerlin? Both touted nothing BUT positive expectation video poker machines for a long, long time. Did it destroy either place? Have you looked at their parking lots over the years? And what about the customer base? Has it gone up or down since they lowered the pay tables on many of their games?

So why don’t the newer mega-resorts follow suit if that’s the name of success? I can only guess it’s because of timid casino managers who for too long a time have not been able to see the whole picture. It’s a cold hard fact that 3 percent of $25 million is far better than 5 percent of $10 million, but the only people who comprehend that are those truly willing to do what it takes to be successful.

Get ’em in and keep them there. That’s the REAL name of the game. So what if a new mega-resort actually took the step and understood what many of the successful off-the-Strip local casinos have for years now? What if they actually realized how important the local population was when it comes time to offer something attractive? What if they understood the game of video poker just a little bit better than "the other guys" down the street.

I think when it comes to reality and risk-taking, it’s not a game many executives in the gaming business are prepared to take. But take a look at the crowds in a local casino on a Tuesday at 2 p.m. vs. a Strip resort at the same time. What percentage of the patrons are drinking and chatting, and what percentage is pounding away at the machines as fast as their wallets will allow?

Sooner or later the issue will come full-circle and ALL casinos will realize how important it is to reel in as many of those "advantage players" as possible. With so many tribal properties opening up in California, I’d say the time of reckoning is closing in. Las Vegas has always been on the cutting edge when it comes to innovation and risk. Video poker is an important game to the gaming industry, and people continue to want to play it. Give them what they want and they will come by the thousands.