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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

No Horsing Around -- Yet

20 September 2005

The neighs have it.

The South Coast has a whopping 6,000 parking spaces, the first trade show floor for a Coast Casinos property, the company's biggest buffet yet and is located in one of the fastest growing areas of the Las Vegas Valley.

But it's the South Coast Equestrian Center that executives believe will truly set the property apart from the competition.

The 4,500-seat stadium is unique in the nation because it's the only center that is attached to a hotel, not to mention a hotel with a casino and restaurants, a movie theater, bowling and other amenities, said Tim Lanier, event center general manager. It also features 1,200 climate-controlled horse stalls underneath the trade show floor as well as a vet clinic, retail outlet and a place for shoeing horses.

A stone's throw away is an 80,000 square-foot casino floor with some 2,400 slot machines and more than 50 table games beckons.

And then there's the rest of the city.

"Las Vegas is a big draw," Lanier said. "You get a lot more entertainment value for your money."

By its third year of operation, the equestrian center will host at least 40 different events that will take up some 45 weeks of the year. Most of the events will have a local draw and be free to the public. Many of them will also feature a consumer show that will use the nearby exhibit floor.

People who go to horse shows, the biggest and closest of which are in Burbank, Calif., Reno and Albuquerque, tend to have a lot of disposable income, said Lanier, a Texan who was recruited from the Will Rogers Memorial Center, an equestrian center in Fort Worth.

"It's an expensive hobby," he said of horse fanciers. Horse exhibitors have a yearly household income of $175,000 to $200,000 and a net worth of more than $1 million, he said.

Lanier gave a hard-hat tour of the South Coast to reporters Monday along with other Coast executives.

With about three months to go until it opens, the South Coast still has concrete floors, plenty of drywall and exposed wiring. But the major work is done on the $600 million property, which will open with 660 rooms.

The layout will be familiar to anyone who has strolled through the Suncoast, the company's well-traveled property in Summerlin. But there are some noticeable differences.

Besides the equestrian center, the property boasts some 150,000 square feet of convention, meeting and banquet space. About 80,000 of that is an exhibit floor that can accommodate up to 400 booths. South Coast also offers boardrooms, a 25,000 square-foot ballroom and catering facilities. By comparison, Coast's largest property, the Orleans, only has about 40,000 square feet of banquet space and no no exhibit hall.

Besides breaking into the small-convention market, the South Coast aims to offer consumer-oriented shows that will draw a lot of traffic, such as car and boat shows, Lanier said.

A 16-screen movie theater is located on the second floor and was moved upstairs to open up some 80,000 square feet of ground floor space for future expansion. The already roofed space will lie in wait behind permanent walls until it is ready to be used, South Coast Vice President and General Manager Michael Gaughan Jr. said.

The property was built with a mezzanine between the first and second floors which will contain air-flow systems and other machinery that is typically left on the roof. Taking some of those systems off the roof and out of the elements saves energy and creates another self-sustaining floor in the property that can be opened up someday for future amenities, Gaughan said.

Some of the new features are less noticeable. Guests will have access to both wired high-speed Internet access and wireless access.

"We'll even have it out by the pool area so people can at least look like they're working," Gaughan said, while conducting a two-hour media tour.

Coast also hopes to offer some of the newest gaming technology, including slot machines that can automatically download "credits" to gamblers and can otherwise interact with players. Like the Suncoast, the first property to offer all "cashless" slot machines that print paper tickets, South Coast will offer 100 percent ticket machines.

The look of the South Coast will be a "bit more upscale" than Coast has attempted but stop short of some of the pricier digs around town, Gaughan said. Average daily rates will be about $90, considerably lower than the Strip some three and a half miles north on Las Vegas Boulevard.

"Our tagline at Coast is 'affordable luxury,' " Gaughan said.

That combination has proven successful for Coast at the Suncoast and for Station Casinos at Green Valley Ranch, said Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor consumer newsletter.

"What they're doing now is they're making their locals casinos a more upscale brand," Curtis said. "Maybe they're stopping short of a Green Valley Ranch. But they're targeting areas of big growth in high-income neighborhoods like Southern Highlands."

As the first big casino on the southern approach to town, South Coast will also draw a significant number of customers who are driving into Las Vegas on I-15, he said.

The South Coast, which features 54 suites, will open with more rooms than any other locals property except the Orleans.

South Coast is master-planned with a second, 690-room tower that will open next spring and a third tower that has not yet been built, which could bring the total room count to about 2,000.

"That's a high room count for a locals property," Curtis said. "They're a very viable alternative for people who want to stay in a decent place but not pay those high Strip rates."

The South Coast is about five miles from its nearest competitor, Green Valley Ranch. Station and Coast properties typically are built to draw from at least a five mile radius.

"When they built Suncoast, people said 'What are they doing building all the way out there (in Summerlin)?' " Curtis said. "But they knew exactly what they were doing."

While some of the property's estimated 2,500 workers already live in the area, finding employees who may have to commute longer to work has been a challenge, especially people who can't afford the high cost of nearby housing, Gaughan said.

To help those workers, Coast will subsidize the cost of bus rides for a year for employees who live across town, he said.