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Howard Stutz

Nevadan at work: Arizona Charlie's executive aims to boost client count with warm welcomes

19 February 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Ron Lurie went from being the mayor of Las Vegas to the mayor of Arizona Charlie's.

After 14 years on the Las Vegas City Council and a four-year term as mayor, Lurie exited politics for the gaming industry. He had worked in slot machine sales while serving in the part-time elective offices.

He joined Becker Enterprises as the marketing director for both the company's slot machine route operation and Arizona Charlie's, a 4-year-old neighborhood casino.

When Stratosphere owner American Casino & Entertainment Properties took over Arizona Charlie's in 1999, Lurie became the casino's general manager.

"Being the general manager of a property is just like being a politician," Lurie said. "You have to be able to communicate well. You've got to research some of the issues customers bring up. Local customers are pretty savvy, and to be successful, you have to know what's important to them."

Lurie says that it's a daily occurrence when he's called "mayor" by a guest or an employee.

His political career ended in 1991 when he didn't seek re-election. Questions about his involvement in several land partnerships clouded his final year in office. When Nevada gaming regulators licensed Lurie as general manager of Arizona Charlie's in 2000, he considered himself vindicated after the agency's exhaustive background check.

"The gaming agents went back a little further because they wanted to look at all those land partnerships to make sure everything was above board, which is what they found," Lurie said. "I felt good about that."

As the hotel-casino's general manager, Lurie has piloted the 258-room Arizona Charlie's as it has battled for local customers with newer, larger properties.

Arizona Charlie's employs about 800 workers, including a handful who have been with the casino since its opening. Lurie said the casino, which is known for its 535-seat bingo room, continues to update its 1,400-game slot machine mix and add amenities. Last month, an outlet of the nationwide Outback Steakhouse chain replaced the casino's Yukon Grill.

"I know I'm doing something right when I see our competition walking through here looking at my games or looking at my menus," Lurie said. "They might try to pick up on something we're doing and they want to try and do it better. I just think we have to continue to build a better mousetrap."

Question: How does Arizona Charlie's compete against such casinos as Red Rock Resort, Suncoast and the Rampart?

Answer: We know our customer, and that's what makes us so successful. We can focus in and get real close to our guests, and they like that. In focus groups, our guests have said they like Arizona Charlie's the way it is. They haven't asked for movie theaters and ice rinks because we give our customers good service and good value in the food department. We also give our players time on the device and our hold percentages are lower, which is important to them because that's value.

Question: What has changed about the neighborhood casino business over the years?

Answer: There is a lot of competition out there and people have a lot of choices. We hope our guests make us the No. 1 choice. That's why we opened Outback, because it's a brand restaurant that fits right into our market. They know how to provide the same quality of service that we provide.

Question: How is customer service stressed at Arizona Charlie's?

Answer: It's starts when you pull up to the valet. Everyone -- from the valet attendants, to the casino floor personnel, to the bartenders, to the food servers -- we want to make the customer feel important. Our service has to set us apart and make us different because the customer has so many options.

All of my direct reports have to spend time on the casino floor every day. That way, you get to know the customer. If a customer has a question or a suggestion or an issue, somebody is always available.

Question: What did you have to learn about the business when you became general manager?

Answer: Because slots are such an important part of our business, my background in slot machines helped. But there's a lot to learn in one of these operations. I got with our table games manager and learned table games. I learned about hotel operations from our hotel manager. I even went through all our guest rooms and talked with our guest room attendants. I also spent time with our race and sports book manager to learn how lines are set.

I always believe in communication and I'm the type of person who wants to learn something new every day. When I have meetings with our direct reports, we always talk about how we can improve. We talk about the competition and always look and see what they're doing. That's important.

Question: What has kept you at Arizona Charlie's for 16 years?

Answer: I like the local property and I like to get to know the guests. It's a friendly property and everybody knows each other. It truly is a neighborhood casino in every sense because of where we are. At this property, you're not just a number. Our customers come here to meet friends and to socialize, maybe play bingo or eat lunch. Sometimes we see our guests three times a day or sometimes, eight to 10 times a month. I enjoy the atmosphere here.

Question: How have Arizona Charlie's customers liked some of the slot machine technology changes?

Answer: I worked for (International Game Technology founder) Si Redd when slots became a more successful area of the casino. When Si developed video poker and video keno, that started the revolution in the industry.

Back in the 1980s, people weren't comfortable with video slot machines. But then they took off. The same thing happened with ticket in-ticket out technology. We changed out our machines a third of the floor at a time at Arizona Charlie's. In the beginning, a lot of people want to handle the coins, but then they saw how easy ticket in-ticket out worked.

Question: What did you learn from Si Redd?

Answer: Si was a tremendous mentor. He taught me that you had to know your customers as well as you know your whole family.

Question: Do you think Arizona Charlie's customers will like server-based gaming?

Answer: I've sat through some presentations and I think it's one of the great things of the future. You can market to your players differently and you can offer them special promotions on certain games. I think it will take the slot machine department to another level.

Question: Do you still follow the events in local politics?

Answer: I watch Channel 4 and Channel 2 and read the newspaper. I keep up with what's happening. Being involved in the community is important.

Members of our staff here do a lot of things to put something back into the community. We try to focus it on youth, education and seniors. It's important, especially for a casino in the locals market, that we stay active and people see us in other roles besides in the casino.