Gaming avoids
creeping monotony

Feb 28, 2006 1:31 AM

"The city’s frightening now. That’s the basis of my reaction to Las Vegas. It’s not the city I wrote about. It’s not the same place at all. You’ll notice that even the — what do you call them? — milestone or trademark casinos are now gone."

Hunter S. Thompson reflecting on "modern" Las Vegas as compared to the Las Vegas of the early 1970’s. (Long live the spirit of Hunter S. Thompson.)

In the words of Mr. Mackey, South Park’s helium balloon-like headed elementary school counselor, "mmm”¦drugs are bad, m’kay?"

Do you know what else is bad? A lack of marketplace competition.

After spending the last week in Las Vegas completing some legitimate business related to casino direct marketing (the vocation that actually pays my bills), I had a few moments to take stock of the current Strip gaming environment. The contemporary Las Vegas gaming market’s tender seemed compromised.

(By the way and contrary to everyone who believes that holding back-to-back meetings in Las Vegas without a break for a dalliance with a showgirl or marathon slot jockeying is not possible, I can assure that there was no monkey business. The only monkeys I found were flopping to the Banker side at the Baccarat table).

The diversion in the Las Vegas market from Benny Binion’s business ethos of "Good food, good whiskey, good gamble" borders on appalling due to the creeping homogeneity of Las Vegas Strip gaming emporia. Properties operated by acronym-clusters are changing the rules of the game and, to borrow a Harrahism, "Avid Experienced Players" know it.

At a major Strip property, customer gouging included $6 Coronas from the bar and $2.25 bottled water in the gift shop, as well as single-deck blackjack games that offered a baize-battle with a high house advantage.

The significant house edge is a result of presenting 6-5 blackjack payouts as opposed to the traditional 3-2, no surrender or even "even money" on simultaneous players and dealer blackjacks, and to add injury to insult, the mandate of no silver allowed in play.

From this oligopoly supported/neo-fascist style player repression encroaching on the Las Vegas way, Colorado gaming outlets maintain a definitive advantage. Independent operators are forced to be scrappers, and the competition benefits the player.

Colorado casinos, by legislative design (e.g., limited stakes, floor utilization for gaming device limitations) are less attractive to operate for the major casino operators. While it is true that some larger, mid-cap companies such as Riviera, Ameristar, Isle of Capri, and Golden Gaming all own and operate properties, the majority of casinos are either strictly independents or holdings of small-cap or limited partnership groups such as Jacobs Entertainment, Century Gaming, and Nevada Gold (ironically based out of Texas).

Colorado gaming operators, lacking significant non-gaming revenue streams (unlike the integrated mega-resorts of Las Vegas where only approximately half of total revenue is derived from gaming), need to offer an attractive gaming product. Thus, the table wagering structure in some properties is player favorable and allows for such liberal options in blackjack as surrender and dealer standing on soft 17. Further present is a decent and comparable slot hold to tourist-oriented properties in Las Vegas.

The market-defining issue of individual property "personality" is also a result of the casinos not belonging to monolithic conglomerates.

In Las Vegas, one should be able to tell if he is in Rome or Paris, (but possibly, like the European Union itself, de-evolving to generic continental may be inevitable).

While most Colorado properties maintain an Old West genre, each property sustains a distinct "feeling." The Golden Mardi Gras experience is significantly different than Golden Gulch or Golden Gate. The Gilpin is unlike The Lodge.

Yet all properties are owned and operated by two companies, Golden Gaming and Jacobs Entertainment respectively. Due to the property’s inimitable character, more authentic customer relationships that build loyalty can be formed.

The rapport between guest and employees is only impossible because each property has a definite "sense of place."

Colorado casinos have completed an excellent job in celebrating their individuality, and the embracing of uniqueness (a derivative of competition) is one of the factors that permit the re-imagined mining towns to survive and thrive.