Casino Marketer

Casino Marketer

Bugsy Siegel

Washington, DC

Male, 36

I worked for over two years in Las Vegas as a Director of Marketing for one of the casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, and in that time acquired a bit of knowledge about how casinos have finely honed the art of parting you from your dollars, especially if you're a gambling degenerate. I know a little bit about how the entertainment and F&B side work as well, and how casinos assess gamblers.

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Last Answer on November 11, 2013

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What would be some less obvious ways someone could save money on a Vegas trip?

Asked by j-bird over 4 years ago

I guess you could try to live like the locals do... GAMBLING Those who work in the Strip casinos generally eschew them on the weekends (only going in for work or if family/friends are in town). Many locals go to casinos, but go to places like Green Valley Ranch and other off-strip properties for gambling; not quite as glitzy or glamorous, but I suspect that the slots offer better odds and less costly table play. For example, many casual gambler tourists on the Strip play on strategically placed blackjack tables that offer 6:5 payment on blackjack rather than 3:2; for anyone who is semi-serious at playing blackjack, that's the kind of thing that cuts into your winnings. Also, spend a few bucks to buy those cards that show the "proper play" in blackjack - they are credit card sized plastic cards that indicate what you should do depending on your hand and the dealer's up card (e.g. stand or hit); you are allowed to bring those to the table to inform your play to make the most advantageous decisions ("basic strategy"). If your game is craps (and those of you in the know understand that the craps table has the only bet in the casino that is expected to break even over large numbers of trials), off Strip casinos let you take higher odds betting. For those of you playing slots, I suspect that on average, the hold on "locals" casinos is not as much as at Strip casinos. That said, if you must gamble and stay on the Strip, can I recommend the totally dumpy Casino Royale between Harrah's and the Venetian for the mathematically most advantageous games per the above. If you like playing anything other than what I've mentioned, the odds get mathematically worse for those games. Stay away from gimmick games like "War" and Keno, because they're horrendous games (from a casino odds standpoint). If you must play a machine, learn how to play video poker; it's the local's game of choice because it can provide engaging play and can be decent odds compared to other slot machines. If you gamble more than a few hours, be sure to consider registering yourself with the player's club and having your play rated during that time (give the floorman in the pit your gaming card when you sit down to play or stick it in the card reader of the slot machine). If you intend to gamble semi-seriously, ideally concentrate your play in as few days as possible; casinos rate you based on your play within a "gaming day" (which may not go midnight to midnight but say, 6am to 6am) - if you spread out the same amount of play over multiple days, you look like a less potent gambler than if you concentrate the same amount of play during one gaming day. FOOD & BEVERAGE: My favorite buffet in Vegas is at the Bellagio. Lunch is quite a bit cheaper than Dinner, so if you can get full there and have a light dinner elsewhere, you're probably better off. If you don't have a particular time you need to go to Vegas but really want to go to the fine dining restaurants, Restaurant Week is an excellent time to go and get bargains on excellent meals. Also, if you can make your way to Chinatown which is pretty close, you can get great Asian food in that area (Vietnamese, Chinese and Korean). Even closer than Chinatown is Lotus of Siam on Sahara if you want great Thai - but make reservations early if you want to go, and note, it's in a sketch area. But it's worth the hassle, Lotus of Siam was always my go-to place to take out of town guests. Basically, if you can escape the gravity of dining on-property, you'll be able to save some money. If you intend to gamble, flag a waitress down while you're playing or ask the staff in the pit for comp drinks (just try to stay in control) to enjoy one of the classic benefits of Vegas - don't forget to tip, especially if you want more! TRANSPORTATION: There's cheap shuttle service from McCarran Airport to any Strip casino...if you don't want a rental car, you can take that to your hotel. If a taxicab takes you through a tunnel on your way to the Strip from McCarran, they may be taking you the long way around for no good reason (note, I haven't lived there since 2009, so it is possible this no longer is true). Depending on where you intend to travel, if you don't have a rental car, you may be able to use the little-known Las Vegas Monorail to get around (remember, casino blocks are a wee bit longer than city blocks, especially in the Vegas summer). ENTERTAINMENT: If you don't have a lot of money, Vegas has unparalleled people watching. You can sit yourself down in the shade somewhere (it gets hot, but there's not much humidity in Vegas during the summer) and watch pretty much all of humanity pass by. If you want to spend a little more, there are niches like O'Sheas opposite from Caesars Palace between the Flamingo and Imperial Palace that has music nightly and beer pong in the back, and relatively inexpensive table games. If you want to see a Cirque show, I'd highly recommend Mystere at Treasure Island - as the oldest Cirque du Soleil show, it charges less than some of the other shows because it's the oldest. It has spectacular acrobatics and visual imagery. If you can afford a bit more, "O" at Bellagio adds amazing technology from the stage. You can see about dinner/show packages if you checkout the website or call the casino to get an even better deal. If you're open for the show that you want to see, I'd highly recommend going to the 1/2 off ticket booths (I think there's one near MGM and one in Fashion Square Mall opposite the Wynn) to see what shows are being offered. Casinos love and hate the 1/2 off ticket booths since it kind of cheapens the product, but it also provides a way to get at least something for a show instead of having empty seats. If you like insult humor (think Triumph from Conan) - I can highly recommend one of the best little-known secrets on the Strip - Vinnie Favorito. He has an amazing memory and basically does 5 min of canned standup before going through the entire audience and ripping on them, remembering each person's story and going back and forth between random members of the audience. Penn and Teller are a bit of a hike at the Rio off-strip, but they are among my favorite magicians ever. Many of these shows can be purchased at the 1/2 off booth. EXOTIC ENTERTAINMENT: The first month I was there, my friends and I thought it would be hilarious and ironic to deliberately go to a bad strip club. Instead, it was sad and depressing. And expensive. Stick to the big names (think: Spearmint Rhino). And avoid The Rhino or any other such club on a major holiday, like Christmas eve. Let's just say they don't send out the "A" team. I learned that the hard way too. And if you are having a cab driver take you to such a club, the cabbie typically gets a kickback from the strip club for taking you there (the strip club will charge you just to get in unless you have a local driver's license) so if you have the gift of gab, you might be able to weasel out of the fare if the cabbie ends up getting a kickback from wherever you go. HOTELS: I always got asked about free rooms. In short, the best way to get good deals on non-major events where the city is booked (e.g. New Year's Eve) is to use Priceline. Find out how to use "free rebidding" on biddingfortravel.com and avoid doing it with areas that have resorts. You'll pay a premium to be on the Strip, but you can always go a bit further off, to a joint like the Hard Rock, which will be a nice property that will probably cost less than a comparable Strip property. If you're a heavy gambler, you may be able to qualify for discounted rooms or even comped rooms depending on your level of play. If you intend to gamble more than a few hours and don't mind being in a gaming database, you should always get your play rated by registering for the casino's gaming club...when you make your bookings, you can always see if your play qualifies you for a discount for direct bookings.

Does Vegas make more money from people gambling, or from leisure and hospitality stuff (hotels, restaurants, nightlife)?

Asked by Snake-eyes over 4 years ago

Good question. I think the answer partly depends on what you mean by "make money" and who you mean by "Vegas." If you mean profitability for a property like the Venetian, gambling likely remains the greatest source of profits for a LV Strip property. With non-gaming sources revenues are a bit more comparable, as much of the growth of Vegas and revenue comes from its multifaceted appeal beyond gamblers. When I started in Vegas, my boss was fond of citing that Vegas seemed to defy basic supply & demand concepts - that over time, Vegas had grown and grown, and as new casinos opened, that seemed to actually increase demand [of course the 2008 bust illustrated how incorrect that was, but that's for another question]. In my opinion, when Vegas started, it was known primarily for gambling, but over time, it's added significant other ways to part you from your hard earned dollar. Vegas is now known for having top quality entertainment (Cirque du Soleil), amazing fine dining (that are actually recreations of great original restaurants from around the world), luxurious buffets (stick with the Bellagio and the Wynn if you can), great shopping (Caesars Palace's Forum Shops, for example), nightlife options (megaclubs galore like Pure at Caesars) and pool parties (think Rehab at the Hard Rock). Of course, you can't forget the hotel revenue side as well - while some rooms are given away to heavy gamblers, many are sold to non-gamblers as well, because it isn't easy to fill up 3,000 room hotels with just gamblers. But by expanding its offerings, Vegas has absolutely expanded its appeal to a larger customer base. So to be sure, growth in Vegas revenues have grown beyond gaming revenue. That said, for a resort General Manager (GM), while all these different compnents are of concern, the focus will probably be relatively more on gaming revenue and hotel revenue, with a lesser emphasis on the others - in part due to what they have control over, and where profits are coming from. When I think of all the things a casino might offer, it's generally about driving people to the property and getting them to stay, and hopefully drop money on the tables or in the slots. Gaming is a highly lucrative business for a casino, more profitable than most any other enterprise. So if you can have a great show, it's nice to have it for the prestige, but usually it's being more viewed as a tool to bring people in - though that might vary somewhat based on the show. For example, the public generally doesn't know that many Las Vegas acts are "four walling" which means that the entertainer effectively just rents the venue from the property and gets to keep the profits from the show. For smaller acts, the casino is often relatively happy if the show breaks even from their standpoint, and acts as a draw for people to come and visit, and hopefully stick around and gamble. Many marginal entertainers that you see advertised on the Strip probably have these kinds of arrangements. Then there's arrangements like the kind of deal that stars like Celine Dion have; Celine probably gets paid regardless of how full or how empty the showroom is. So either the act isn't really a mega-act and the show doesn't bring in a ton of money, or the act brings in a ton of money but the act gets the lion's share of that money. Regardless, the property isn't likely to be making the kind of money from entertainment that they can make from gaming. So with entertainment, a property GM will have say in what show comes in and the terms of the arrangement, but they tend not to be huge moneymakers for the reasons above. As far as shopping, I believe that usually the property just gets rent from the proprietors, so there really isn't much for a GM to do on a regular basis beyond collecting a check - and in fact, the property might not be collecting a rent check if the property doesn't own or didn't develop the commercial property (and it's just attached to the casino property). In terms of nightlife, this is a little bit more of a concern for a GM since many of the Strip's nightclubs are smack in the middle of the gaming floor which has an impact to property operations (say security issues). Again, the nightclub operator might just be renting the space from the property, so it's not a big moneymaker for a property beyond collecting a check - but because the club is right there, if there are problems, that can impact the property. The nightclub business is already a little shady, and in general, the authorities that issue gaming licenses such as the Nevada Gaming Commission frown on such associations. In Vegas, a gaming license is essentially your ticket to printing money, so it's vital for a property not to do anything that would threaten their license. For example, if you Google "Pure Caesars Palace Investigation" you'll see some links to raids of the nightclub over tax issues. That can be an embarassment at minimum - and worse if the casino is somehow linked to such troubles. I'm a little less familiar with F&B - in general, property-owned F&B like the buffet or the coffee shop can definitely bring in some revenue, but F&B doesn't necessarily have very high margins. When a casino brings in a restaurant from a famous chef, like Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand, I imagine that there's probably a rental arrangement rather than being wholly owned by the casino so the property gets less of the upside of a famous restaurant. Booze is generally a much higher margin product (less labor needed to deliver) so bars can be quite profitable relatively - though gaming is still going to be more profitable (so casinos give away drinks to customers who gamble). The hotel rooms are probably second to gaming in terms of what a GM is concerned about. Vegas casinos are among the largest hotels in the world, and keeping casinos full is a big job. Of course, you have the one-off transient guests who are just coming in for a few days who book via the call center or website. But there are a couple other groups that help keep the hotel full, such as group sales (say events like weddings) and convention sales which will provide rooms for big Vegas conventions like CES. Of course, to support gaming operations, the marketing department will give away free rooms to high end gamblers with the implied expectation that the guest will play. To make the offer sweeter, marketing departments often setup special events like baccarat tournaments, or acquire tickets to events like UFC fights, or host incentive-based events like gift cards where gamblers receive $X gift cards in addition to the free room. So in these instances, hotel revenue is being sacrificed for gaming revenue. If you think about it, casinos have evolved so that you never have to leave (even though the usual Vegas guest visits on average about 3 or 4 casinos). Because it's so lucrative, casinos want you to gamble endlessly, especially because of the unique nature of gambling - casinos don't mind if you win, they just mind if you stop because the laws of mathematics on the games mean that eventually, if you keep playing, the casino will grind you out of every single dollar you have. But if you choose not to gamble, there's still plenty of ways to part you from your dollar as well! Note, these remarks are about "destination" casinos such as those in Vegas. For "frequency casinos" - like the ones where grandma drags her oxygen tank to the worn chair in front of her favorite slot machine, dropping a hundred bucks every couple of days in the casino nearby her house - gaming is an even bigger proportion of the draw, I believe.

Do casinos pump in extra oxygen to keep people awake and gambling?

Asked by MH_2013 over 4 years ago

To my knowledge, they do not, though the casino I worked in was one of the older properties on the Strip. In my 2.5 years in Vegas, I've never actually heard of or seen actual evidence to support this claim. Nicer casinos will have good ventilation to help dissipate all the cigarette smoke, but in general, they are more likely to try to ply you with free booze, meal comps (if you're valuable enough), or make you unaware of the time by not having clocks on the gaming floor or windows to the outside world that indicate the passage of time.

Are casinos serious about the "we don't want your business if you're a problem gambler" ads they run, or is that all just for PR, and management is just as happy to take their money as non-addicts?

Asked by DRDR8 over 4 years ago

I believe in general that casinos, especially the larger, more well known ones with significant corporate influence, likely take the "problem gambler" resources relatively seriously, but it's not a priority. Basically, if you want/need help, and you articulate that need, casinos provide resources that you can access. They may not want your business if you're a problem gambler, but casinos don't put much effort into figuring out if you are a problem gambler. A casino is not likely to develop a nuanced understanding of a gambler or ascertain if they need help and offer that help without the gambler instigating a request for help. Casino hosts, depending on the type of guest, are in a relatively good position to know who guests are since they sometimes have a personal relationship with that guest; but given the economic incentives hosts have, they are actually disincented from reporting problem gamblers (since they are partly compensated based on the play their guests generate). Also, realistically, many hosts don't necessarily know the low-mid level gambler they're assigned to; the focus tends to be on cultivating personal relationships with the deep pocketed, big gamblers, while just servicing maintenance requests of the lower-mid level gambler. The dollars always make a big difference. Check out http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125996714714577317.html for the story of Terrance Watanabe, one of the largest gamblers ever seen in Vegas. Friends told me that his level of gambling was so significant that when doing analysis, they actually reported casino results in two ways, with his play and without because his level of gambling was big enough alone to materially impact financial results. Of course, Vegas eventually bust him out. Once the money's gone, of course the lawsuits start. Mr. Watanabe claimed that the casino permitted him to gamble, despite being impaired. "Regarding Harrah's alcohol policy, Ms. Jones says, the company tells its employees to ask people who are clearly intoxicated to refrain from gambling, as required under state regulations. Employees attend a responsible-gaming class every year where they learn how and when to tell gamblers to leave the casino. The company has a phone number that employees can call to anonymously report unethical or improper behavior by other employees. There are no reports that anyone called the number regarding Mr. Watanabe, Ms. Jones says." While the complete truth may never be known, the reality is that there were extremely powerful incentives/disincentives not to live by the letter or spirit of the law and permit Watanabe to gamble regardless of his state of mind. I'd be shocked if the staff actually lived by the letter of the law in this situation.

Is there a concerted effort to keep crime and suicide stories OUT of the press? A friend told me that there's an unspoken understanding that vegas media outlets should get them off the front page asap because it hurts the local economy.

Asked by worffle over 4 years ago

I'll be honest - I don't know that there is such an understanding, at least explicitly. The kind of thing that would make the front page isn't going to be your "run-of-the-mill" suicide or theft - the kind of thing that would make the front page would have to be pretty sensationalistic. It is Vegas, after all! What I can tell you is that properties will typically have PR professionals on staff to respond to media inquiries about incidents like these, and incidents are reported often in outlets like the Las Vegas Sun or Las Vegas Review-Journal - though they wouldn't typically make front page news unless particularly sensationalistic in nature. While there is some logic in thinking that the local media would behave this way, I think that very few tourists coming to Vegas read the Sun or the RJ, so these kinds of things don't typically scare people away. I think crime on the Strip tends to be generally petty misdemeanors (often alcohol-fueled stereotypical asshole behavior) as opposed to major incidents - in fact, I'm surprised there aren't more incidents. I think that's in part because the tourist areas are crawling with property security and the police, who are pretty prompt to any major situations. I've always felt very safe walking along the Strip in the tourist areas as far south as Mandalay Bay and as far north as the Wynn. Once you get going a bit further north beyond the Wynn, it starts becoming a bit colorful, up to the Riviera, where it starts becoming a bit sketchier (note, this is based on when I last lived there at the beginning of 2009). Your point isn't entirely lost though; Vegas is essentially a one-factory town (casinos) - and the wealth of the casinos helps fund everything, including local government (there are no state taxes in NV). Anything bad for the industry is going to disproportionately hurt a large portion of the local population. If there was something as sensational as say, a terrorist attempt or attack, I imagine it'd be impossible to keep out of the national press; by extension, I'd expect the local press to cover such an incident closely as well, even though it'd be sure to impact the economy. One interesting minor twist is that many of the locals casinos (off-Strip) are also owned by the Greenspun family, who also own the Las Vegas Sun newspaper.

What's the most unethical thing you've seen casinos do to part you from your dollars?

Asked by Liz over 4 years ago

While Vegas has a reputation for being a place of ill repute, I do believe that as far as casinos and what they do, generally they're above board. Having a gaming license from the Nevada Gaming Control Board is a license to print money - and it's not worth defrauding anyone just to make a few dollars. After all, if there was a scheme to say, cheat people out of money on the gaming floor, eventually they'd get busted and lose their license; if they didn't lose their license, real gamblers would be spooked from playing there for fear of a rigged game. So in general, I'd say that casinos are very above board; big casinos are run by large corporations now, which further makes them more conservative. That said, I'd say that I've certainly seen unethical behavior; coworkers stealing from the company whether its dealers trying to steal chips or marketing people stealing things from the casino that are supposed to be given to gamblers. More than most corporate environments, sexual harassment seems to be more permissible; I've seen very senior people do things that would be considered harassment in traditional corporate environments. I think the most gray thing that casinos do is informally permit individuals who should not be gambling to gamble. There are formal stipulations in place from the Nevada Gaming Commission Per Regulation 5.011 (http://gaming.nv.gov/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=2945): The board and the commission deem any activity on the part of any licensee, his agents or employees, that is inimical to the public health, safety, morals, good order and general welfare of the people of the State of Nevada, or that would reflect or tend to reflect discredit upon the State of Nevada or the gaming industry, to be an unsuitable method of operation and shall be grounds for disciplinary action by the board and the commission in accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Act and the regulations of the board and the commission. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, the following acts or omissions may be determined to be unsuitable methods of operation: 1. Failure to exercise discretion and sound judgment to prevent incidents which might reflect on the repute of the State of Nevada and act as a detriment to the development of the industry. 2. Permitting persons who are visibly intoxicated to participate in gaming activity. 3. Complimentary service of intoxicating beverages in the casino area to persons who are visibly intoxicated. So if you're disceribly drunk, you're not supposed to be permitted to gamble. This is policy, but the reality is that if casinos had to stop every visibly intoxicated player, they'd lose large numbers of customers and have to devote significant manpower to interrogating customers. Also, incentives are skewed; service delivery personnel are incented to not cut anyone off, since they work for tips - there's only downside to cutting off gamblers unless they are terribly disruptive. Given the stated Nevada Gaming Commission regulations that casinos are not supposed to allow the "visibly intoxicated" to gamble, plus the fact that major companies like Caesars provide resources for individuals who have gambling addiction problems (see http://www.caesars.com/corporate/about-us-responsible-gaming.html), the reality is that to take advantage of this help, that person has to reach out for help, rather than say, the casino checking on each patron to make sure they are responsibly gambling. Of course, that isn't a very realistic scenario, and at the end of the day, it's the individual's responsibility. But there is a reality that there are a lot of people out there who shouldn't gamble - and while casinos provide resources, generally they don't do a great job stopping individuals gambling who shouldn't gamble unless that person has it together enough to stop themselves.

Is organized crime still big in Vegas?

Asked by PV over 4 years ago

I'm assuming you are asking if organized crime still has influence in the casinos. If so, I'd say that organized crime is still big only if you consider the modern corporation "organized crime" (which you may, depending on your personal politics). While Vegas did have significant organized crime elements in its past - for example, the Flamingo was developed by celebrated mobster Bugsy Siegel - casinos in Vegas are largely owned and operated by three organizations: Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International, and Greenspun Group. The Nevada Gaming Commission is very serious about keeping the gaming in Vegas free of corruption, requiring extensive background investigations of casino leadership to help support this end. Of course, that's not to say that there's not corruption in other aspects of modern Vegas life. For example, unions are very prominent in Vegas casinos, which have been historically known for some degree of corruption. As a magnet for negative behavior, I'm sure that, like many modern cities, powerful criminals are involved with the local drug trade and prostitution (Which to many a tourist's surprise, is illegal in Clark County).