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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz
 

Ameristar Produces Page-Turning Report

2 June 2005

LAS VEGAS -- At first glance, it appears to be an issue of Rolling Stone magazine with a lead article about gambling. A cover photo of a half-dressed Marilyn Monroe look-alike, blanketed only in $500 and $100 casino chips and smiling seductively from a bright red bathtub, entices readers inside.

Only in this publication, the editorial content is completely one-sided.

Las Vegas-based Ameristar Casinos has gained a reputation for producing annual reports that are somewhat out of the ordinary, and the 2004 edition is no exception.

While providing the necessary year-end corporate financial information and snippets about the company's seven regional casinos, Ameristar produced a 170-page glossy magazine-style periodical that in appearance mimics pop culture icon Rolling Stone.

But company officials also hope the report gives readers an understanding of the company's philosophy.

"In general, most companies take a conservative approach to their annual report," said Paul Eagleton, Ameristar's chief marketing officer. "We wanted to produce a document that was unique, fun, interesting, grabs a reader's attention, and at the same time communicates what our brand is all about."

Eagleton said 20,000 copies of the annual report were printed. The bulk were mailed to stockholders, gaming analysts and other industry officials. He would not divulge a cost for the annual report, saying it was part of the company's corporate marketing budget.

A year ago, Ameristar produced decks of specially designed playing cards to go with its annual report. Two years ago, the company won a national award for its annual report, which featured 3-D images on the cover.

"Every year they come up with something that's completely outside of the box," said Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Marc Falcone. "Ameristar is not a company that likes boring annual reports."

Jefferies & Co. gaming analyst Larry Klatzkin said the idea for unusual annual reports comes from Ameristar Chairman Craig Neilsen.

"They are always voted the number one midcap company for annual reports every year," Klatzkin said. "It's Craig's fetish."

This year, working with San Francisco-based advertising agency Eleven Inc., the company developed a multiple-use document that serves as the annual report, company brochure, and development leave-behind.

Along with the traditional shareholders letter from Neilsen, the annual report has:

- A Vanity Fair-style photo spread on its casino architecture.

- A pull-out blueprint and artist's rendering for the remodel of the company's recently purchased casino in Black Hawk, Colo.

- Dessert recipe cards from several of the company's restaurants.

- A music compact disc featuring name artists who appeared at Ameristar properties.

- A "New Year's Eve at Ameristar" photo layout.

- A fashion-photo section featuring Ameristar employees reprising scenes from famous movies at various company casinos.

"We went to newsstands and looked at all different magazines to see what was in them," Eagleton said. "It wasn't a tough sell to our management. They believe it is important to be creative and fun."

One of the unique aspects that lends a touch of authenticity to the concept were full-color glossy advertisements promoting nationally recognized products as Absolut Vodka, Budweiser, Skyy Vodka, Michelob, Pepsi, UPN, Napster and Converse.

Eagleton said Ameristar didn't sell advertising space to the companies, but offered free inclusion in the annual report.

"The ads added a sense of realism," Eagleton said. "The ad agency and myself reached out to people we knew and made the offers."

Photographer Moshe Brakha, whose work has appeared in publications such as Esquire and Vanity Fair and has photographed sports and Hollywood icons, shot the annual report's cover and the pictorial of the Ameristar employees acting out movie moments. Brakha's ad for Skyy Vodka appeared in the annual report.