Harrah’s eyes Disney model

Mar 7, 2006 4:38 AM

Expect a Disneyesque approach to the future as Harrah’s eventually begins discussing still-secret plans for the redevelopment of Las Vegas holdings that includes about 110 undeveloped acres on or close to the Strip.

We can expect these details by about the middle of the year.

Mid-2006 is also about the time that the company expects to unveil plans for its Biloxi resort. It’s a good bet the company will make a major statement on the Mississippi Gulf Coast as gaming companies take advantage of their new ability to build casinos on land up to 800 feet inland from the mean high tide mark.

This means a lot to Harrah’s, which arrived in Biloxi and neighboring Gulfport via its purchase of the former and rather ordinary Grand Casinos facilities.

Look for Harrah’s to take advantage of a better location, improved efficiencies and the lack of uncertainties associated with New Orleans as Biloxi tourism is re-energized, thanks to new legislation.

But back to their Disneyesque approach in Sin City.

Chairman Gary Loveman envisions a final result that will ideally have visitors thinking in terms of a destination complex — something like Disney World — featuring interpretations of the major Harrah’s brands — Caesars, Bally’s, Horseshoe — amid a variety of other attractions.

What the development will not be, he insists, "is another effort to simply add another luxury hotel to the market, but rather the notion that we can create an environment or place where a visitor to the Las Vegas market can satisfy most of his or her interests within a set of offerings that we control."

He envisions the use of the latest in technologies and other tools to "guide the guest through a set of experiences that are very unique and very powerful."

Loveman continues, "Instead of saying that I’m going to this or that hotel, which is the way most people now think of a Las Vegas visit, it would be more akin to the way you think of a Disney World visit where you say, ”˜I’m going to Disney and I’m staying at the Wilderness Lodge.’ Implicit in a statement like that is the notion you’re going to visit many or all parts of the Disney offering."

That kind of talk sounds like it may include some kind of linkage between the company’s principal big names — Caesars Palace, possibly a signature Harrah’s, and a Horseshoe.

These three brands will probably cluster, in some fashion, around the Strip and Flamingo and probably be linked via a monorail (or whatever) with the nearby Rio on West Flamingo, which is the site of much of the company’s undeveloped Vegas property.

What planners are still doing is trying to determine "the right portfolio of experiences" to offer within the confines of this brave new Harrah’s World ”¦ or whatever.

The consequences of such thinking, he stresses, is that the company has no intention of tearing everything down and building it all up new.

"We have a lot of businesses that do very well and satisfy their customers well," he said. "We’ll be looking to incrementally add to what we have to achieve what we think is the desired result."

Some changes can be achieved very quickly, he says, while in other cases the components of change will be much more long term.

Harrah’s looks
at the Hard rock?

Do you suppose Harrah’s might revisit its long ago plans to be involved in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino?

It wouldn’t be surprising if that kind of thinking is dragged off the shelf for a close look, what with the company’s current focus on redeveloping nearby real estate and the Hard Rock’s Peter Morton looking to sell.

It’s not like Harrah’s would have trouble finding financing. And then there’s the fact that the company has planted its corporate flag in market niches during recent years that are not usually associated with the stereotypical Harrah’s slot player.

Colony Capital was the first suitor to approach Morton but whether its interest holds up under competition from others remains to be seen.