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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz
 

Station players' points still safe

29 March 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- These days, Louis Frederick and his fellow slot machine players at Santa Fe Station discuss one subject more frequently than how they plan to spend their Station Casinos players club points.

They openly wonder if they will even have those points at all.

Station Casinos has been operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection since July. This week, the company submitted a reorganization plan to the federal bankruptcy court that could conceivably break up the locals casino giant.

But until the bankruptcy case is resolved -- possibly by the end of the year -- nothing will happen to the points customers have accumulated over the years.

A company spokeswoman said as much.

An expert on players club programs backed up her stance.

Nevada's top gaming regulator agreed.

Those pronouncements put Frederick's mind to rest.

The North Las Vegas resident claims to have accumulated some 1.5 million in players club points while gambling at Santa Fe Station and Aliante Station. He was a customer of Santa Fe long before Station Casinos bought the property in 2000 and cleaned up the casino.

"It's something we're all concerned about," Frederick said. "I can use my points when I want to take friends out to dinner. We can use them whenever we want. We wonder if we need to be protected somehow."

Station Casinos operates two players club programs, Amigo Club at the two Fiesta casinos and the Boarding Pass at all other company properties. Cardholders earn points while playing slots that can be redeemed for free additional play -- 1,000 points equals $1 -- or for hotel rooms, restaurants, movie tickets, live entertainment or other bonuses.

Station Casinos won't say how many customers are registered in the two slot programs. But with more than 22,000 slot machines in the Las Vegas Valley, the clubs are important programs in the company's marketing efforts.

On Friday, Station Casinos spokeswoman Lori Nelson repeated what the company has been saying since it filed its initial documents with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Reno. She tried to put to rest the fears of Frederick and his fellow slot players.

"It's been absolutely important to let our guests know that there are no changes to the Boarding Pass or Amigo Club programs while we work through the process," Nelson said. "Player loyalty is important. We plan no changes to either program."

Jeffrey Compton, a consultant to players club programs and co-author of a weekly column on the subject in the Review-Journal, said the points earned by the players actually belong to the casinos. The fact is spelled out in documents governing the players clubs.

However, it would be suicide for a casino operator working its way through bankruptcy to decide to take away the points.

"Can they do it legally? Yes," Compton said. "Would I ever advise them to take the points away? Absolutely not. The thing you want to do now is keep your customers happy. Nobody in their right mind would take away the points."

Under the reorganization plan, four of the company's largest casinos will be split off under a newly formed holding company that would be owned by its lenders, brothers Frank Fertitta III and Lorenzo Fertitta, and real estate investment firm Colony Capital of Los Angeles.

Compton figured those four casinos would continue to honor the company's players club systems.

The question will be what happens if any of Station Casinos' other 14 valley properties are sold in the bankruptcy and fall under new management.

In the past, Compton said new casino operators often honor slot club points of the casino's previous owner.

Gaming Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said he has never seen an issue about slot club points brought up in front of regulators. Those matters are usually worked out in bankruptcy court.

If a player were to lose points in a bankruptcy, a patron dispute could be filed with the control board.

"Something would have to happen, but generally with the slot clubs, the governing documents dictate where the points belong," Neilander said.