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As I See It, by Jimmy Vaccaro

14 January 2003

Running around town trying to chase down a few Bowl numbers put me in some casinos that I haven't visited much lately.

Unfortunately I caught up with a few great numbers. Penn State -5 and Washington State +7 that got me nothing back but a receipt and an invitation to a free lunch.

It was a good Bowl season for me but we will leave that for another story. Catching the Steelers -7 helped ease the pain.

I happened to go into the J.W. Marriott which is the old Rregent that opened up about three years ago. This was the brainchild of a foreign outfit that thought the Vegas market would be a pushover. They came in with plenty of cash but fell short in probably the two most significant ingredients to make the acquisition into a cash cow.

I remembered speaking well over five years ago to their general manager and getting a few bucks to help them fill out their race and sports application to Gaming Control. They were very nice people but you got a feeling that they were laboring under a field of dreams -- "If we build it, they will come" -- attitude.

It was built in the northwest corridor of Vegas which is one of the new Vegas Valley's hot spots. Michael Gaughan's Suncoast is literally a few hundred yards away and doing gangbuster business, and the Palace Station group has just purchased land in the vicinity and will start construction on what seems to be their 100th casino.

Not a bad looking joint, located near the freeway and a golf course. It started bad and stayed bad with investors scrambling get some of their investment back. After some haggling it got into the hands of a group headed by Bill Paulos. Bill has been around for a long time and has probably run joints in every jurisdiction that it is legal in the United States, and probably elsewhere which I might have forgotten about.

They are now in midst of some remodeling and the two basic changes they have instituted already seem to be paying back in spades.

So like I said I ran up to the Marriot to make a sports bet and saw the redone casino.

By the way the sportsbook is run by Sid Diamond, and I have known Sid from way back in the '70s. He used to work for Bill Dark, who owned and operated Del Mar race and sportsbook in North Las Vegas.

It reminded you of being back home with the newsstand or pool hall in front and the sports and horses in the back. It was a great meeting place where everyone sometime during the day meandered in or out.

Bill was the innovator of baseball totals and if you walked into the joint any baseball season you surely would see Michael "Roxy" Roxborough trying to rob Bill on the wind-in or wind-out days at Wrigley. Does my heart good to see that Michael went the straight and narrow.

Back to the story …

There is a book called DESIGNING CASINOS TO DOMINATE THE COMPETITION written by BILL FRIEDMAN, who is as good as it gets when talking about this stuff. It is a hard read but well worth it.

He says there are 13 principles in overall design, and if casinos employ at least 10 of them they will be more successful than their neighbors.

Now you can employ your own touch when it comes to theme or direction but you do have to follow some basic rules that have been handed down for the last 50 years. It is hard to go against that; with each new wave of building they keep fixing what does not work.

Obviously the easy ones are layout, traffic flow, lighting, and signage.

I remember Steve Wynn once telling me that once you get the guy in the front door you must let him know where he is at and where he is going. Without proper signage you might as well lead them to the gangplank.

I am by no means an architect or designer but when I first entered into the old Regency casino I had told my friend that it would be a hard sell to the very sophisticated Vegas crowd.

First mistake: no buffet. Buffets have been around a long time and probably were never better utilized than when Bill Bennet took over the Circus Circus property way back in the early '70s. At that time I do not believe any Strip property had one. The word buffet itself means "serving informally". And also, you always thought you were beating the price when they put in big letters ALL YOU CAN EAT.

Me and my degenerate buddies wound up many a night in the Circus buffet chowing down for $3.95. It never dawned on me but my friend made one of those earth-moving revelations that you take with you for the rest of your life: After the last seven-out came on the crap table we were eating and I turned to my friend and said, "Hey BURKEY this chicken is really good." His answer was, "It ought to be, you just paid $700 for it."

So buffets let you believe you are eating a decent meal cheap and it is done in an atmosphere that is not intimidating, especially to new customers.

My nephew actually interviewed for an executive position when they were hiring and he had mentioned his idea of having a buffet, when he was told they would not have one. Their answer was that their European interests did not have one so they felt they did not need one here.

Well they got one now and it is pretty nice.

The most monumental mistake was the configuration and design of the pit. And literally and figuratively that is what they bargained for and got.

The gaming tables were situated in the middle of the property and sunken in the floor roughly 10 feet. They had a railing around the pit where all eyeballers could gather around and stare down at you.

No matter what you do and no matter what personal situation you are in you do not want people staring DOWN at you. It is intimidating and very uncomfortable.

It almost reminds you of ancient Rome, in the ring fighting the lions. You look up to see if the emperor has his thumb up or down and you are awaiting your fate.

Can you imagine being stuck $1500 playing 21 and the dealer just makes a 5 card 21 on your Casey Jones bet and you look up to the crowd and some unassuming person is shaking his head in disbelief. That "PIT" must look 50 feet high.

Never ever ever ever let a "steamer" or a "sucker" think someone is poking fun at him even if they are not.

From what I understand, their table game play eroded each month from when the property first opened until they were bought out by the Paulos group.

The pit is now level with the rest of the casino floor and early reports are that they are making steady progress with the bottom line getting blacker as opposed to red.

Now there are many components that make for a successful operation but in the long run if the food is decent and the atmosphere is light but semi-serious you should be fine.

Two basic mistakes helped cost the original owners the chance to be a player in what is now one of the new hot spots in Vegas.

Take care, Jimmy V.

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