The late Jackie Gaughan owned varying chunks of Las Vegas casino action over a number of years and was the first person I recall making the following point:
“The most successful slot machines in any casino are those surrounded by the most interesting stuff.”
It’s all the “stuff” that makes a big difference.
It was Gaughan’s way of pointing out that there is more to success in the casino business than ownership of a room full of slots.
The keep-them-coming-back with interesting “stuff” message has been received, internalized and resort strategists everywhere are responding with project proposals that reflect this understanding.
That’s why Las Vegas has evolved into an entertainment market driven by special events – marquee topping athletic contests, major conventions and concerts of the type many customers would have no chance of seeing in their home towns.
Collectively, they provide reasons to come to Las Vegas and do some serious spending.
That means spending a lot of money on stages, arenas and what have you. You’ve gotta give the biggest shows what they need to reach the biggest audiences possible.
Steve Wynn was recently massaging this point as he talked with Wall Street investors, but resort bosses everywhere have been addressing it because competition between top travel destinations requires much more than the chance to gamble. Wynn has visited this thinking again and again as he has talked up his various projects over the last 30-plus years or so.
The uniqueness of slots quickly wears off because they are everywhere. Which is why non-gaming add-ons have become very important elements of the revenue equation at casinos from Atlantic City to Macau and back again.
No company has done a better recent job than MGM of responding to the need for the tools that enhance non-gaming interests – tools that make an experience memorable.
There’s the recent completion of convention space at Mandalay Bay and the decision to add facilities at CityCenter’s Aria. But the attention getters are the 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena that will lure other big events to Las Vegas and the on-going talks that could result in a domed NFL-ready stadium.
The Convention and Visitors Authority decision to add more trade show- and convention-friendly facilities on the site of the Riviera underscore the local decision to do whatever it takes to retain Southern Nevada’s status as a primary destination for business and pleasure travelers.
This kind of activity would have been incomprehensible during the late 1970s and early ‘80s when gambling was the only feature of either Las Vegas or Atlantic City that merited serious attention by people ranking travel destinations.
The Wall Street Journal covered gaming during that era by sending an organized crime reporter on occasional sweeps through the state. It’s tough to see gaming as just another business sector when it is illegal in the country’s major center of business and financing.
But times are changing in a big way.
Legal and regulated casinos are available within an hour’s drive of most of the nation’s metropolitan areas. American Association of Gaming President Geoff Freeman will not be at all surprised if legal sports betting is available across the country within the next three to five years.
By then, Wynn Resorts may have completed its current program of expansion by re-inventing CEO Steve Wynn’s concept of the “grand hotel,” a hotel in the Boston area that will feature gaming and, yes, a whole lot more.
Very much like what Wynn and other CEOs have in mind for Macau where they are being pressured by the Chinese government to spend more time and money on non-gaming features.
Wynn and Caesars have been leaders in introducing the casino business to features other than slots and gaming tables.
Wynn was able to successfully reshape the concept of a Las Vegas experience when he assembled all the elements that would become The Mirage in the late 1980s.
Some of the Caesars competitors were not sure they heard Caesars CEO Henry Gluck right back in the 1980s when he took some associates to the roof at Caesars where they could get some good looks at all the empty land on several sides of Caesars.
A great place for a world-class shopping center, he declared.
A what? His disbelieving colleagues responded.
The Forum Shops were created on that land and it quickly became clear, upscale shopping could become a tremendous draw that continues to work well for Wynn, Caesars, MGM and other companies to one degree or another.
Wynn expects to continue exploring the possibilities for generating non-gaming revenue with tentative plans for a park and water-related features on what is now a golf course.
The good ideas of a few years ago can become outdated in a hurry.
There are limits to what casinos can generate with blackjack tables and slots, but Wynn sounds positively gleeful when he points out that there is “no top” to what thoughtfully conceived non-gaming attractions can do.
MGM’s new super-sized arena with its appeal for a possible NHL franchise, more convention space and a stadium for an eventual NFL franchise may mean perhaps 50 million visitors a year is within reach for the Las Vegas area.
MGM officials sound confident with a prediction that they can bring another 75-100 additional events a year to Las Vegas because of the new arena.
And if history is a useful tool, most of those visitors will spend time in casinos.
Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. Email: .