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Gaming Guru

Laura Carroll

JW Marriott finds way to address identity issues

24 October 2012

LAS VEGAS -- Six months into its new management structure, the JW Marriott Las Vegas wants to reintroduce itself.

The hotel-casino at 221 N. Rampart Blvd. has struggled with identity issues since its opening in 1999, which more than once has led to financial troubles. Its new management, through advertising and hosted events, is working to make sure local customers know what the property has to offer.

The JW Marriott, formerly the Regent Las Vegas, was purchased out of bankruptcy for $80 million in 2001 by Hotspur Resorts, a subsidiary of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Larco Hospitality. Since then, Hotspur Resorts had leased the casino to Cannery Resorts. But 10 years later, Hotspur decided it wanted to run the entire operation.

"For this property to become everything it was supposed to be and everything it should be, we really need to operate as one management," said General Manager Mike Gaughan Jr.

In 2011, Hotspur hired Gaughan, Affinity Gaming as a gaming consultant, and Michelle Bacigalupi as director of marketing. In April, the hotel and casino were united under one management.

"It's been pretty successful so far," Gaughan said.

Guest demographics inside the casino haven't changed much, but Gaughan said there seems to be more people gambling in the casino.

He attributed some of the pickup to increased advertising and special events. New advertising for the property includes mentioning gaming promotions, spa deals and hotel info on the same collateral, whereas before only one or the other were mentioned. In conjunction with that, a revamped players club was launched in September.

"One of the funniest things was when we hosted pool parties over the summer," Gaughan said.

He related that some of the longtime casino guests who came told him they didn't realize the property had a pool or what it looked like.

"They just hadn't made their way out there," Gaughan said.

On the hotel side, very little has changed, Gaughan said. The 545-room JW Marriott does a lot of group and convention business, and that's still a mainstay for the property.

"That's our primary sell," Gaughan said. "We're very active in that. But we've been a little more aggressive in bringing in a leisure guest."

On average, occupancy is up 10 percent this year, and the general manager said some of that uptick is from locals renting rooms for staycations.

In the November 2012 issue of Conde Nast Traveler, the JW Marriott Las Vegas was ranked No. 3 on the list of the top five resorts in its 2012 Readers' Choice Awards.

"We're pretty proud of that," Bacigalupi said.

Earlier this month, the hotel hosted its annual Oktoberfest celebration. In November, Kevin Johnson, a ventriloquist, will be performing.

"That does change our demographic a little bit," Gaughan said.

Some of the entertainment has been attracting a thirty-something crowd.

As for the future, the hotel's ownership is a little shaky.

In November 2011, Hotspur Resorts defaulted on its $160 million mortgage for the JW Marriott Las Vegas, and lenders are involved in a legal battle in New York Supreme Court over who owns the loan on the property.