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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Vegas Casinos Aim for Asian Gamblers

14 October 2005

LAS VEGAS -- In Las Vegas' Chinatown, it's not unusual to find signs, bus-stop ads and other promotions in Chinese and other Asian languages.

For Coast Casinos, a billboard in Chinese promoting the company's Gold Coast casino is a new venture and the latest sign that the valley's growing Asian community is commanding attention.

Chinatown, the business district on Spring Mountain Road, is the hub for that community.

Asian gamblers have long been coveted at Strip casinos, where high rollers wager thousands of dollars on the turn of a card at baccarat. But locals casinos have been slower to cater to that group.

As that community has grown to an estimated 7 percent of Clark County's population, some neighborhood casinos have followed the lead of Strip resorts by running ads and offering games to draw Asian gamblers.

The Gold Coast, just over a mile from Chinatown, is the closest of any casino owned by Coast or its parent company, Boyd Gaming.

The resort is home to an authentic Chinese restaurant called Ping Pang Pong that has developed a loyal Asian following. Gold Coast's casino floor features games that appeal to Asians, such as pai gow poker and baccarat.

Asian clients are an important part of the Gold Coast's business, Boyd Gaming spokesman Rob Stillwell said.

"Gold Coast has a strong Asian following and a lot of that has to do with the success of our Ping Pang Pong restaurant and our chef, Lai Lam," he said. The restaurant opened in late 2001.

Unlike Americanized restaurants, Ping Pang Pong features delicacies such as lotus root, Cantonese sausage and abalone and is known for its large menu of fresh fish and hand-made noodles.

Rival Station Casinos has taken notice.

Palace Station, less than three miles from Chinatown and Station's closest property to the Asian business district, last month opened a restaurant offering "authentic Chinese cuisine" called Chang's.

In early 2001 Palace Station opened "Pit 8," a specialized table-games pit offering baccarat, pai gow poker and pai gow tile games favored by Asians. Chinese consider the number eight to be lucky.

Palace Station is among the Las Vegas casinos that have advertised in Chinese-language publications in California. Both Gold Coast and Palace Station have also run ads in local Asian-language publications.

Palace Station, which is entering its 30th year, has "always been popular with the Asian market," Station spokeswoman Lori Nelson said.

The first property in what has grown to become Las Vegas' dominant locals chain, Palace Station was founded as a place where Strip casino workers could hang out after their shifts. Pit 8 has attracted Asians who work on the Strip and want to unwind, Nelson said.

Station Casinos has marketed to Asians for about t five years and has expanded those efforts as the population has grown, she said.

"I believe it's an evolution of who we are as a major leader in the locals market," she said. "It's important to us to appeal to all market segments.

Station has hosted events and concerts for the Asian community at Palace Station such as the Moon Festival, a Chinese version of Thanksgiving celebrating the summer harvest.

Station has employees who speak a variety of Asian languages, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean, at its various properties.

Gold Coast and Palace Station marketing efforts might not make sense for other locals casinos, said Anthony Curtis, publisher of the gamblers' newsletter Las Vegas Advisor.

"It's kind of tough to be a casino that's removed from that area and try to compete with Gold Coast and Palace Station," he said.

The nearby Palms, which has been successful luring local gamblers, also offers Asian table games but doesn't market to Asians to the extent that the Gold Coast does, Curtis said.

Yet Asians have historically been more favored by casinos, in large part because of their greater propensity to gamble, Las Vegas casino consultant Jeffrey Compton said.

In fact, Japanese tourists have become Las Vegas' fourth-largest group of international visitors.

"There's a good chance that if you can attract them to a casino (Asians) will play in the casino," Compton said. "There's a better chance they will show up and play" if some kind of promotion is offered, he added.

The Asian marketing efforts are evidence that the strategy is working, Compton said. "If you are marketing to people who can't afford to play in your place, it's a bad deal," he said.

Marketing to Asians and Hispanics in their language makes sense if a significant number of casino customers, say more than 15 percent to 20 percent, speak another language at home, Compton said.

Hispanics now make up an impressive 25 percent of the population, according to the latest Census estimates from 2003.

Multilingual marketing is also important for employees, Compton said.

Compton has advised casinos to publish promotions and their rules in Spanish so that Spanish-speaking employees can explain them to customers.

"Many of the people on the floor do not speak English at home. They might not understand the rules in English because they're complicated" and may be too intimidated to approach bosses for an explanation, he said.

Station Casinos also has focused marketing dollars on the Hispanic community.

The company runs about half of its advertising pieces in both English and Spanish and has hosted events with the Latin Chamber of Commerce and other Hispanic businesses. Spanish-speakers are employed in just about every department at each property, Nelson said.

"We've done a lot on the research front to understand the Hispanic market," Nelson said. "We believe our demographics mirror Clark County's population, from an employment standpoint and a guest standpoint."