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Barney Vinson's World

5 August 2001

Planning a trip to Las Vegas in the near future? Each month we'll spotlight a different casino so you'll get a better idea of what each resort has to offer. This month, it's the Aladdin.

There's a story passed down through the ages of an ancient king so betrayed by his wife that he put her to death and swore vengeance on all women. Each day he would marry a beautiful maiden, then have her executed the following morning (which probably put a lot of divorce lawyers out of work). Then he met the beautiful and wise Princess Scheherazade. To prevent her own demise, she spun magical tales of mystery and intrigue, keeping the king in suspense for 1,001 Arabian nights. By the time she finished her stories, she had saved her own life and taught the king how to love. This is the fairy tale come to life at the new Aladdin resort on the Las Vegas Strip.

Before you get the idea, though, that this is a puff piece on yet another Vegas resort, let me set the record straight. I've shuffled through so many casinos in this town that I can scarcely remember one from another. Even the Aladdin has a confusing history: starting out in the early 1960s as a non-gambling resort called the Tally Ho, reopened as the Aladdin in 1966, closed in 1997, imploded in 1998, rebuilt and opened again in 2000. Its biggest claim to fame over the years wasn't its location or its history, or its Theater for the Performing Arts. Elvis Presley got married there!

Yes, the location was great -- right down the block from the MGM, Paris, New York-New York, Monte Carlo, and Bellagio. So what was the problem? Well, the problem was the MGM, Paris, New York-New York, Monte Carlo, and Bellagio. These were spanking new resorts, with new themes that caught the new public's fancy: Wizard of Oz, the Eiffel Tower, a big city skyline, Monaco, the Italian Riviera. The Aladdin just didn't fit in with all these splashy flashy images.

When it reopened last year, I decided to check it out for myself, and I made a startling discovery. The Aladdin was different. Sure, it had all the trimmings that a theme resort must have — spires and onion-shaped domes, a flying carpet, Arabian bazaars, Aladdin's lamp, and even belly dancers doing the hoochi-coochi. You didn't have to haul your luggage through the casino to get to your room, each guest room is within seven doors of an elevator, and a meandering pathway past waterfalls and fountains leads you right inside the hotel.

But the secret to the Aladdin's success isn't any of this. It's the people who work there. There's a fine line between being polite and being downright friendly, and those who gamble in a casino know the difference.

The Aladdin has over 2,500 rooms, almost two dozen restaurants, 98 table games, and 2,500 slot machines poised for action. It also has a unique stacked look that lets you see where you're going without hunting for signs. Unfortunately, I get lost sometimes just driving to work. Yet every time I asked for directions, I got a warm smile and easy-as-pie instructions. Quite a bit different from some of the other hotels. In a downtown casino, I once overhead a lady ask a dealer, "How do I get out of here?" The dealer scratched his head and said, "Lady, I've been trying to figure that out for 14 years."

At the Aladdin, the dealers greeted me like a long-lost friend, and for some I was. After all, I've lived in this town over 30 years. But complete strangers were getting the same treatment, which is unusual even in a town where courtesy is its lifeline. My wife, attracted to slot machines like a moth to a light, cashed out her winnings. Sure enough, "call attendant" flashed on her screen. Here comes a 15-minute wait, she thought, but the attendant was there almost instantly. It was like being a guest in somebody's house, and it's hard for a casino to pull off something like that.

Rick Fields is vice-president of table games at the Aladdin. He's lived in Vegas since he was eight years old, graduated from UNLV with a business degree, opened a restaurant with his father, and then? "Then I got into this crazy business. I was a dice dealer at Caesars Palace for twelve years, spent four years there in management, then I went to Station Casinos for four years." At Palace Station, he worked his way from casino administrator to casino manager to director of casino operations to vice-president of casino operations. Then he was recruited for his present position at the Aladdin.

Rick Fields, Vice President of Table Games at the Aladdin

Coming up through the ranks, Fields says, "I have the utmost respect for every dealer and every supervisor at this property. Every day they make or break the Aladdin. Every interaction they have with a customer will determine whether that customer comes back. We only ask the dealers to do two things: deal the games and be friendly. We don't ask them to be accountants, we don't ask them to be robots. We don't tell them you must greet every guest with 'Welcome to the Aladdin.' We let them tailor their greetings to suit their personality."

It's not something an employee learns by going to school, and there are no ongoing seminars in customer courtesy at the Aladdin. Instead, each prospective employee attended a "core values" interview before the resort's opening. The actual job interview came later. "We'd ask them questions like, 'Tell us about a time when you found something that didn't belong to you,'" Fields explained. "Or 'Tell us about a time when you tried to help another team member.' What we were truly trying to find out was are these team players, are these people who have the personality to be in a customer service organization, or are they just looking for a job?" Thirty two hundred were eventually hired, but 35% of those who applied at the Aladdin didn't pass.

This isn't a business for everyone. "And knowing that, we try to make the working environment comfortable for the employees. We don't sweat the money. All we sweat is service. My goal is to have all the dealers and supervisors develop a long-term relationship with the customers. I truly believe people don't come to the Aladdin because it's the Aladdin. They don't come to other properties because it's that property. They come for the experience. Do they feel welcome here? Did they get a good gaming value? And when they leave, do they feel that they had a good time?

"The games take care of themselves. It all comes down to how long people are willing to sit at that (gaming) table. And the better the experience, the longer they sit. It's just like the restaurant business. The better the experience, the longer they'll sit at the table and drink. There's no difference."

When someone commends an Aladdin employee, that employee gets a personal letter of commendation from Fields. He also writes a monthly newsletter called "Aladdin Table Talk" for all casino employees. In each issue, he profiles company policy, job opportunities, gaming facts, and gentle reminders about the resort's goal: working together to make wishes come true.

"This is an entertainment business," Fields said. "And all the different facets -- the restaurants, the hotel, the shopping, the gaming -- have to fit together. And my responsibility in the casino is probably the easiest. All we have to do is be friendly. My philosophy is that we'll never treat the guest better than we treat each other. And if the employees don't feel that they're treated with respect, there's no way the guests are going to feel that way."

So how many hours does a vice-president of table games work each week? "I work about 70 to 80 hours each week," Fields said. "I come in Monday through Thursday about 8:30 in the morning to about seven at night. Friday I usually work from about ten in the morning until ten at night. Saturday I either work an evening shift or a day shift, and then I try to take off Sunday unless there's a special event."

With hours like that, is he still happily married? "I don't know," he laughed. "As soon as I see my wife, I'll ask her."

Barney Vinson

Barney Vinson is one of the most popular and best-selling gaming authors of all time. He is the author of Ask Barney, Las Vegas: Behind the Tables, Casino Secrets, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas. His newest book, a novel, is The Vegas Kid.

Books by Barney Vinson:

> More Books By Barney Vinson

Barney Vinson
Barney Vinson is one of the most popular and best-selling gaming authors of all time. He is the author of Ask Barney, Las Vegas: Behind the Tables, Casino Secrets, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas. His newest book, a novel, is The Vegas Kid.

Books by Barney Vinson:

> More Books By Barney Vinson