It’s been nearly two years to the day since Blake L. Sartini announced he was leaving his high-level position at Station Casinos to purchase Station’s slot route.
At the time, the move raised a few eyebrows, given Sartini’s 18 years of service to Station Casinos, and his ties to the Fertitta family (his wife, Delise, is Frank Fertitta III’s sister).
But since he struck out on his own, Sartini has worked to build what was once just a slot route (Southwest Services) into a viable gaming operator, Golden Gaming, Inc.
In addition to the slot route he purchased from Station Casinos, Sartini subsequently bought the PT Pub chain of taverns and has developed a few pub/tavern concepts of his own, with, of course, a gaming twist.
"It’s been a very busy and exciting year for us," Sartini said. "We have continued to redefine and improve the PT’s Pub chain, which is the largest tavern chain in Nevada.
"We have spent this past year streamlining operations, re-branding each store, and developing exclusive products for our patrons."
What Sartini has done with the PT line of pubs is nothing short of amazing. The chain includes 20 PT Pubs, each of which holds restricted gaming licenses for 15 slots and/or video poker machines.
Three of the PT locations are slightly larger and hold unrestricted licenses for up to 35 machines. All of them have been upgraded or remodeled to make them more like the upscale, ultra lounges tourists find on the Strip.
In addition to cosmetic changes, such as fresh paint, new furnishings and interior re-design, the PT pubs were outfitted with new gaming machines and progressive games.
In addition, some locations were upgraded with full kitchens and 24-hour dining, while some received club-style conversation pits, pool tables, dart boards and other customer-friendly amenities.
"Guests who haven’t been to a PT’s in some time have come back and have been delighted with the changes," Sartini said.
In addition to the brick-and-mortar changes to the PT chain, Sartini put together a player’s reward program called Golden Rewards. It is the first of its kind for the Las Vegas bar/tavern industry, and will be available exclusively at PT’s.
The program, which has received preliminary approval from Nevada regulators, is in its field trial phase at two PT’s locations.
Sartini said the program was developed by Mississippi-based Ardent Progressive Systems and Games, which develops player tracking systems for casinos.
"Our requirements were simple," Sartini said. "The program had to be convenient and easy for our guests, simple to operate for our staff, and flexible enough so that we can continue to add benefits."
Just like the Boarding Pass program at Station Casinos, members of Golden Rewards will earn points that can be redeemed for cash, food, logo merchandise and gaming giveaways.
But, Sartini said, Golden Rewards goes further by offering casino-style promotions such as slot tournaments and "bonusing" programs that appeal to guests who prefer the tavern lifestyle over the casinos.
Pending final approval by the Nevada Gaming Commission, the Golden Rewards program will be rolled out to the other Golden Gaming locations throughout the summer and fall months.
The hard work for Sartini and his management team has paid off. The company’s Golden Route currently ranks as the third largest in the state with 1,700 machines, with a projected 2,000 machines by year’s end.
More important, the company has reported a significant increase in revenue, more customers at its locations and more machine play.
"We’ve very pleased with the performance of the taverns," Sartini said. "With a more consistent brand name, our guests can now find the same quality product at each location, whether it’s video poker, food specials or beer brands."
While the Golden Gaming operation moves ahead, it certainly isn’t standing still, Sartini said. The company recently acquired the Big Game Club at 4747 Faircenter Parkway (at Decatur Blvd.) and Duke’s Cantina at 3085 N. Rainbow, with the intention of converting both to PT-style taverns.
Moreover, the company’s 2003 expansion plans include two start-up projects. A new shopping center at Hualapai and Twain in the city’s southwest quadrant will be home to the first Golden Gaming prototype PT’s Pub.
According to Sartini, the location will serve as a model for the brand. "The tavern will be our first that will have been built to our exact specifications," Sartini said, adding that the location will have 15 gaming machines and a "Nevada theme," which will include a lounge-like ambiance with warm, neutral colors, clubby chairs and a pool table.
In addition to the PT pubs, Golden Gaming has created a new gaming concept to complement the taverns. In May, the company debuted JJ’s, or "Just Jackpots" at 46 South Water Street in Henderson.
Sartini said Just Jackpots includes signature progressive machines, very loose video poker and one-on-one service.
"The JJ’s project will offer an alternative for Las Vegans who want the gaming experience but don’t necessarily want a casino," Sartini said.
He added that the Water Street location will serve as a model for the new concept, and that he expects to expand the brand either through acquisitions of other properties or start-up operations.