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‘Local’ casinos touted as industry model

Sep 23, 2003 7:59 AM

Local casinos "get it" and, as a result, are making an impact on the big casino resort monoliths that brighten the Las Vegas Strip each night.

"Food and beverage drives local business," said Greg Shay, president and CEO of Venture Catalyst, which runs the Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino near San Diego.

"Players look at food as fuel and aren’t looking for the great dining experience," Shay said during a panel discussion last week at the Global Gaming Expo. "They want to eat quality fast food and that’s what we give them, along with the best in service."

Food was also the main item of attraction cited by Jonathon Swain, the chairman and CEO at Santa Fe Casino, located near the Nellis Air Force Base and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"It is No. 1 at Santa Fe, our top advertised and marketed item," Swain explained. "In a locals environment, your best customers



need to be recognized. I sign people for our slot clubs every day. When I was at the Trop, I might have done that once a year."

Swain said the secret to the success of Santa Fe and the sister Stations venues is the company ability to hire exceptional database managers.

"If your database manager isn’t as smart as the casino manager, your place is dead," Swain said. "We generate 75 percent of our slot revenue from seven or eight zip codes. We look at the value of our guests over a five-year period, not just one visit."

Swain said that local casinos like Santa Fe avoid the huge Las Vegas shows, instead concentrating on amenities such as bowling alleys and movie theaters.

"The fact we have smoking areas in our casino gives us a competitive edge of the Las Vegas casinos," Swain said. "We couldn’t afford to lose that customer base. It’s also essential to get to know your customers on a personal basis. You wouldn’t believe how people respond when they are known on a first name basis."

Shay has taken the personal approach one step further at Barona, utilizing rolling carts to serve customers food while they are playing.

"Nobody in Nevada is doing that," Shay said. "We don’t make people leave seats to eat. We bring the food to them. Now, we have to work on a way they won’t have to leave the machine to go to the bathroom."

The Barona resort competes with four other San Diego area casinos, so marketing becomes key to winning the customer. Shay explained that service is the way to make players want to drive the extra distance to his resort.

"People within 40 to 50 miles are passing two casinos to come to Barona Valley Ranch, and we aren’t that easy to find," Shay said. "It’s all about service. We are 100 percent cashless, so players never have to leave the game. We give customers old time Vegas service. If a jackpot pay time is longer than four to five minutes, we have failed as a property."

Swain and Shay agreed that local casinos should send their players to the major Las Vegas resorts as part of promoting their own product.

"Promotions drive customers," Swain said. "Vegas wants customers and they want to know our database," he said. "By working with the other companies and taking advantage of golf packages, we are helping ourselves and making our customers happy."

"We put an ad in the L.A. Times to stay at our casino and threw in two free tickets to Del Mar as a package," Shay said. "The promotion was a huge success. It’s all about treating people well and both Thomas and myself are fortunate to be working in such great environments."