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Gaming Guru

Jeff Simpson

Jeff Simpson wonders whether the Trop's owner is encouraging the union to strike

17 September 2007

AS VEGAS, Nevada -- With MGM Mirage and Harrah's Entertainment contracts safely in hand, the Culinary now has to reach new deals with downtown hotels and a couple of Strip resorts.

As I've written several times since February, the Tropicana contract looks like the biggest stumbling block to citywide labor peace for maids, porters and food-service workers.

Tropicana's owner, Kentucky-based Columbia Sussex, has taken a meat-ax approach to staffing, cutting hundreds of jobs at the Trop and at the Tropicana Express (former Ramada Express) in Laughlin as well as at former Aztar Corp. casinos across the country.

With Tropicana's latest contract offer asking its Culinary workers to give up their union health plan and a guaranteed 40-hour work week, Columbia Sussex appears to be angling for a fight.

And if the Kentuckians think Culinary workers are going to give up their hard-earned health plans, Columbia Sussex executives are even more ignorant than I thought.

And that's pretty ignorant, at least when it comes to knowing what it takes to run a decent Las Vegas resort .

What worries me is that Columbia Sussex knows that the Culinary won't accept the Trop's onerous proposal. I think there is a chance that Columbia Sussex wants to drive the union to strike, giving the operator the chance to replace the workers with strikebreakers.

• • •

The Nevada Gaming Commission is set to consider a new gaming concept this week.

Casino ATM king Global Cash Access and slot powerhouse International Game Technology have teamed up to create the technology, which would allow casinos to place a new type of device near banks of slot machines.

The device would allow players to use their debit cards to buy vouchers that would buy credits on slot machines.

The devices, which are named using the acronym Edith (Electronic Debit Interactive Terminal Housing), are likely to get commission approval as a concept, a first step before the companies' joint-venture gets licensed and Edith is tested in a casino trial.

Nevada regulators, like those in most states, allow casinos to place ATMs on the casino floor.

But Nevada regulators have always been reluctant to allow players to use their bank accounts or credit cards directly at the machines or gaming tables, fearing that folks will play until they drain their accounts.

Because Edith is very similar to an ATM, except that it dispenses tickets rather than cash, there really is no reason for regulators to draw a line ruling out the concept.

The American public is getting more and more comfortable using debit cards rather than cash (or credit cards or checks, for that matter), and by fielding the Edith devices, the casino industry would be responding to customer demand.

That's a business concept that the Nevada Gaming Commission should support.

• • •

One mass trial in the casino business got off to a rocky start this month.

Station Casinos has an exclusive seven-month deal for IGT and Walker Gaming's Guaranteed Play feature, which Station premiered with a big Labor Day weekend promotion.

The Guaranteed Play feature allows customers to buy a set number of hands in advance, playing with maximum coins.

Grizzled video poker players that I talked to didn't like the feature.

Two of the complaints I heard: Optimal play of the game can require radical strategy shifts from traditional play as a session nears its end, and sessions that would end with a player being even in traditional play end with a loss of the entire buy-in in Guaranteed Play.

Many of the 2,000 Guaranteed Play devices Station downloaded with new software sat empty Labor Day weekend - and are still going unused, even though those devices offer traditional pay-for-play as an option.

Despite video-poker players' initial poor response to Guaranteed Play, I expect the concept to stick around. Marketers can use it as a way to package a certain amount of play with a hotel stay, and Guaranteed Play may appeal to the new player who is used to paying a set amount to go to a movie or view a concert.

And the Guaranteed Play concept should be much more successful when it is applied to strategy-free video or reel slots, options expected to be rolled out in the next year or two.

Jeff Simpson is business editor of the Las Vegas Sun and executive editor of sister publication In Business Las Vegas.