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Rod Smith

Inside gaming column: Patient shoppers, nervous executives

11 December 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Midlevel casino managers here say customers are caught up in the spirit of Christmas, but that's not necessarily good for business. Surveys show one-third of all shoppers will hold off on their spending until the day before Christmas. The stalled decision-making, a sign of low and sagging consumer confidence, is affecting advance room reservations. Generally, casino managers who asked not to be named are resigned to the situation and will rely on price-management to boost "heads on beds" for the holidays. For 2007, they're more optimistic, even though "hold the course" has little more than spin value now.

The iconic hotel-casino for which Las Vegas may be best noticed today, the Stratosphere, is being overlooked by investment bankers or would-be developers. Location is still the killer. It has the visibility among players and visitors. It has the space for far-flung meeting facilities. And it has the infrastructure to turn it into a top-flight hotel-casino. Owner Carl Icahn and Chief Executive Bob Bennett continue to weigh alternatives, Hamletlike, insiders at the property tell us. Plans for possible condominium development have enhanced its value in the eyes of investors. On the other hand, some interested parties ask how you move a 100-story tower. Others say let Muhammad come to the mountain. After all, the Strip is moving slowly north, albeit in fits and starts.

Ironically, the "tale of foible, hubris and monumental oopsy" -- Las Vegas developer Steve Wynn poking a hole in his greatest work of art, "Le Reve" -- could end up enhancing its market value as well as its historic interest, major media are saying. This is something new, publicly poking a hole in your own $139 million work of art, arguably one of the greatest of the 20th century. But The Washington Post says all the missteps are just what the public wants to see from the rich and famous.

Those eyes in the skies at casinos aren't just for security anymore. It was OK when they ogled money laundering and crooks, but now marketing gurus say some tracking is being used to track consumer buying habits, just as they are in shopping centers. Cameras can monitor traffic flows in casinos, checking which promotions customers stop at and spend they're money on, or on how consumers behave before dinner or after a show. This all increases the profits pulled out of casinos, refines marketing techniques and even (in one case, we're told) gives the casinos a service to sell to retailers as they refine their consumer leading techniques.

Gaming Wire Editor Rod Smith can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 477-3893.