Sands taps the ‘wow’ factor

May 30, 2006 3:49 AM

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.