Wildfire Sunset carving it's own space in the Sunset Station pavement

Wildfire Sunset carving it's own space in the Sunset Station pavement

August 30, 2016 3:01 AM
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Full disclosure first: I drove past the Wildfire Sunset casino many times and didn’t stop until after I’d already decided to take a job there as a ticket writer in the sportsbook a year ago.

It’s an interesting dynamic facing this Wildfire property, which used to be known as the Gold Rush. The building is located basically right in the parking lot of Sunset Station in Henderson, less than 10 miles from The Strip.

How do these small joints compete in an area known for such big casinos, hotels and resorts that are offering more dining options and entertainment, plus larger slot floors and seating areas, along with table games?

“We have to make sure we maximize what we have,” said Lucas Smith, who took over as the Wildfire Sunset general manager about two months ago. “Sunset Station is one of the biggest challenges, and one of the biggest opportunities, that we have.”

While Wildfire Sunset is clearly the little brother in the family, it does benefit at times from the traffic generated by big brother.

What you quickly realize is that many of the Wildfire Sunset patrons are regulars – creatures of habit who come to drink, play slots, watch a game and socialize several times a week, if not almost nightly. Kind of like the old “Cheers” TV show. They like the cozier environment with employees who know their name and tendencies. Some of those regulars go on to become very good friends with each other.

The other type of familiar patron to Wildfire Sunset is the bettor who takes advantage of the 10-minute-only parking spaces reserved specifically for sportsbook customers. The book (sports only, no race) is located immediately inside the doors, just a few steps from the parking lot.

Unless it is right before games are starting, most bettors typically can place their wager and be on their way within a couple minutes, if not seconds.

“Easy in, easy out,” said Smith, in his ninth year working for the Wildfire division of Station Casinos. ”For people on the run, it’s very convenient. You can park and make a quick bet.”

To try to attract more customers, the Wildfires have started their own college football handicapping contest, totally separate from Sunset Station and the other larger Station properties. It’s called the “College Football Clash” and is totally free. That’s right, the greatest four-letter word of all-time, F-R-E-E.

A total of $500 is paid out weekly ($250 for first place, $150 for second place and $100 for third place). The season’s grand-prize winner gets a trip for two to the Rose Bowl game, including tickets, airfare and hotel.

The sign-up process takes only about 30 seconds but does require a player’s (Boarding Pass) card. You then make 10 selections each week against the pointspread, beginning after Labor Day with games on Sept. 10.

The other Wildfire properties include Wildfire Boulder, Wildfire Rancho, Wildfire Casino and Lanes, Wildfire Lake Mead, Wild Wild West and Barley’s.

“For us to have something we could pitch to our guests exclusive to our division, helps our brand recognition,” Smith said. “The response has been extremely positive.”

Smith, 38, took over at Wildfire Sunset in June for Steve Mostella, who was responsible for turning the property around over the last two years. Smith’s late grandfather, Patrick Morrissey, was a longtime pit boss at the Riviera. His father, Dr. Warren Smith, helped put himself through medical school by dealing craps at Binion’s Horseshoe before moving to Boulder City and opening a family medical practice.

Besides running a casino, Lucas Smith is also currently taking classes full-time at Nevada State College and expects to complete his bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a double minor in business by next year.

And, oh yeah, his wife is pregnant and expecting a little boy “any day.”

“My life is good,” Smith said when asked about his incredibly busy schedule these days. “I have no complaints.”

One of his top priorities at the moment for Wildfire Sunset is to renovate/reorganize the sportsbook, which currently includes three televisions, three tall tabletops and four recently added sofa-like chairs. He hopes to have four more televisions up plus additional seating, by early October, along with another three TVs by January.

If it all goes through as planned, the sportsbook will then feature 10 TVs and roughly 24 seats.

“That’s one area I feel like we could do the most good right now,” Smith said.

It will never be like big brother, but for the regulars at Wildfire Sunset, that’s just fine.

One man’s parking lot is another man’s favorite hangout.