Setting the Gold standard

Sep 11, 2007 4:07 AM

In a city considered to be the epicenter of the gambling universe, it’s not easy to find "boot straps" success stories any more, as the big gaming conglomerates have extended their reach over most of the industry .

Until you take a closer look at Blake Sartini and his Golden Gaming company.

In just a few years, since he left a top executive post at Station Casinos, Sartini has evolved his corporation into a mini-empire of stand-alone casinos, gaming pubs and taverns and an expanding Nevada slot route.

The most visible of Golden Gaming’s amenities are its gaming taverns, including the upscale Sierra Gold taverns and PT’s Pubs, PT’s Gold and PT’s Place taverns.

The company also owns and operates casinos in Colorado, the Golden Nugget in Pahrump, and also manages the casino at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas.

Golden Gaming also operates a Nevada slot route (the former Southwest Gaming route), which includes more than 2,500 machines in 200 Nevada locations.

As noted, the taverns and pubs are the most visible and serve as the core of the growing business. And unlike the seedy bars on east Fremont Street or Industrial Road, Golden taverns have, well, set the gold standard for amenities and facilities.

"We wanted to raise the bar with our taverns, so we spent a lot of time designing them so they would appeal to certain demographic groups," Blake Sartini says, adding that his company’s stated goal is to operate Las Vegas’ "premier gaming taverns."

It would be difficult to argue that he hasn’t already achieved it. Depending on the brand and location, Golden Taverns offer a variety of amenities.

Overall, there are about 44 taverns in the state of Nevada. Sartini says that, because gaming is such a competitive industry, Golden taverns and pubs had to appeal to their core customers.

Thus, the selection of staff, amenities and level of service are of paramount importance.

"You’ll find our establishments are very social and very comfortable," Sartini says. "They also need to be convenient to the customer, while offering a neighborhood tavern environment."

Sartini says that the company opens about three or four taverns a year, often in areas pegged to be growth centers of the future. "We tend to put them up before the market matures," he says," noting the newly-opened Sierra Gold tavern across the parking lot from the company’s executive offices on Sunset Road and Jones.

You wouldn’t necessarily call PT’s "sports pubs" or taverns, but Sartini said sports is an important component of his pubs. That would be reflected in the easy-viewing of sports events on the multiple TV screens, sports-related contests and promotions and other inducements.

Another key ingredient to the success of the gaming tavern concept is the Golden Rewards program that Sartini is continually upgrading. Club members are entitled to a myriad of contests and promotions that are held throughout the chain of taverns, including "cash back," much like the neighborhood casinos offer in Las Vegas.

The "neighborhood casino" is probably where Sartini learned the most about the industry, starting from the ground up. He started as a 25¡ craps dealer at the El Cortez in downtown Las Vegas in 1982, then later worked as a sports ticket writer at the Barbary Coast.

In 1985, Sartini joined Station Casinos, where he worked in numerous management positions for the next 15 years.

"It was a great experience, learning all aspects of the casino business," he said. "When you work at that level — in the pit, on the floor, in marketing and the like — you learn the heart of the business."

Not only did he learn the heart of the business, Sartini advanced to the head of the operations as Stations’ chief operating officer (COO).

One of his efforts at Station involved consolidating a coin-machine route into a gaming route called Southwest Gaming.

Overall, during his 15 years at Station Casinos, Sartini was instrumental in developing what is now the company’s Boarding Pass program, the state’s most innovative slot club program.

He also oversaw Station’s explosive expansion from one small Bingo Palace casino to eight casinos with over 12,000 staff members.

When Sartini left Station Casinos in 2001 to form Golden Gaming Inc., he purchased Southwest Gaming and incorporated it into his new company. The acquisition of PT’s chain of taverns followed, along with other casinos and holdings.

And the rest, they say, is history.