Bill’s To Become Gansevoort Las Vegas

Bill’s Gambling Hall closed in February so that Caesars Entertainment could renovate the property. The talk was that the property would cater to a younger, club going crowd and it seems like that will be the case with Bill’s becoming Gansevoort Las Vegas. Here’s the info straight from a Caesars press release I just received.

Caesars Entertainment Corporation announced today the collaboration with New York-based luxury hotel brand Gansevoort Hotel Group and nightlife impresario Victor Drai to launch a never before seen Las Vegas experience creating an intimate urban resort at the location of Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon. 

As the only standalone boutique resort, perfectly situated at the center of the Strip, Gansevoort Las Vegas’ exceptionally high standard of style and service will redefine the boutique hotel experience. Glitterati and everyday guests alike will receive the ultimate in VIP treatment and unique social experiences.

Gansevoort Las Vegas will be the fourth installment of the luxury hospitality brand following the recent success of Gansevoort Park Avenue in New York. Following a $185 million renovation, Gansevoort’s iconic style will completely reimagine the hotel experience in Las Vegas, creating the only intimate property among the Strip’s towering skyscrapers.  Gansevoort Las Vegas will feature 188 Parisian apartment-style guest rooms including 19 suites, designed by Tandem Las Vegas. An intimate lobby space will welcome guests upon arrival, with a redesigned lobby bar, ultra-lounge, retail outlets, and 40,000 square-foot casino providing a unique upscale energy. A destination restaurant overlooking the Strip will round out the guest experience.

Caesars Entertainment hasn’t created anything original in years so it’s no surprise that they would partner with a company (actually two companies with Victor Drai) to bring some sort of celebrity cool to their Las Vegas portfolio. USA Today was the first to report that the Gansevoort partnership was happening last week and I’m not very impressed with the initial renderings.

Of course, they are just renderings but the Gansvoort website looks like a 1990’s real estate website which is equally unipressive. I guess the “glitterati” don’t really care about that. Vegas Chatter has some useful information on Gansvoort Las Vegas:

  • Rooms will start at $249
  • Gansvoort Las Vegas will be part of Total Rewards (Bill’s wasn’t)
  • Beyonce, Prince, Brangelina are customers of Gansvoort

$249 seems to be the new price point for luxury hotels with Cosmopolitan and the Nobu Tower at Caesars Palace both charging prices in that range. Total Rewards players usually get better pricing so if you’re a gambler expect a small discount.

Gansvoort Las Vegas is exactly what I expected Bill’s to become and I’m curious to see how it develops.

Photo: USA Today

North Vegas Strip May Be Coming Back To Life

Fontainebleau Las Vegas
Fontainebleau

Yesterday it was announced that Resorts World Las Vegas would open in 2016. The renderings show a very impressive complex when construction is complete. The construction is supposed to be done in phases so don’t expect the casino to look like the renderings on opening date.

In February I mentioned that the SLS Hotel may have begun construction on the land where Sahara once lived on the Vegas strip. SLS Hotel is scheduled to open in 2014I still haven’t seen or heard a peep about construction progress and remain skeptical but they did make this snazzy sales video.

The Fontainebleau (above) remains a shell of a hotel today with no plans of opening. Since the bones of construction are completed I have to imagine that once construction is visible at both SLS Hotel and Resorts World we’ll begin to see movement on Fontainebleau.

That movement may with Fontainebleau be in the form of a sale first but the revitalization of the north Vegas Strip looks very real. The development of the north Vegas strip may be 10 years in the making but there is reason to believe that the Vegas strip will, once again, continue beyond Wynn.

Photo: Wikimedia

3 Awesome Downtown Vegas Casino Renovations And 2 Others

Old Vegas became Downtown Vegas over the past few years because of a myriad of changes to the area. There have been a lot of additions to the area but the places I care most about are the casinos. Many of the Downton Vegas casinos have been renovated over the past few years. Some renovations are better than others. Here are my favorite Downtown Vegas casino renovations.

1. the D – The D casino used to be Fitzgeralds but a complete overhaul of the property last year turned it into something entirely new and awesome. I know I’ve been inside The Fitz but I have no memory of it. The D has two very contrasting floors of its casino. The first floor is incredibly energetic (and loud) with great craps and good 3:2 blackjack. The loud music gives beats that the Go-Go dancers in between table games can dance to. Upstairs has a more mellow vibe with slower music and more machine games. This is where you’ll find Sigma Derby, old video poker and slot machines. It’s a fun contrast and easily one of my favorite places downtown. Photo: Yelp

the D casino

2. El Cortez – El Cortez was the first casino to renovate and the renovations almost seem old compared to the other casinos in downtown Vegas. The renovations being a little older than the other downtown Vegas casinos allows El Cortez to easily have the most real vintage feel. Besides having great gaming rules (3:2 blackjack, 10x odds craps) rules and cheap gaming ($5 blackjack, $3 craps) they give away free ice cream and free pie periodically. I love El CortezPhoto: AllVegasPoker.com

El Cortez Poker

3. Golden Gate – Golden Gate is the oldest downtown Vegas hotel and last year’s renovations go a long way to keep that vibe. The renovations were all done to a roarin 20’s theme. The casino is very small and can be claustrophobic to some but that coziness brings great energy to the tables. Golden Gate has the same owners as the D so much of the gaming is the same. The main difference is that the video poker here is not very good and some of the blackjack games use a Continuous Shuffle Machine (I hate CSM!). Most of the dealers at night are also G0-Go dancers. That doesn’t hurt. This is probably my favorite downtown Vegas casino to play craps (ironically, no go-go dancers are craps dealers). Photo: Priceline

Golden Gate Sexy Craps Dealers
Golden Gate Sexy Craps

Honorable Mention. Gold Spike – Gold Spike is a tiny casino off Fremont Street. The casino is made up of 4 blackjack tables. That’s it (I think). Gold Spike is fairly useless with the exception of $5 sexy blackjack. $5 sexy blackjack isn’t really sexy but it’s fun. Gold Spike is more of a change of pace than anything else. Drink service is super quick since it’s small and never busy.

sexy blackjack

Other: The Plaza – This is my least favorite of the renovated casinos downtown. There is just no vibe at all here. It’s clean, big and new but that’s about it. Odds are if I’m at this end of Fremont Street I’m probably across the street rolling dice or eating pancakes at DuPar’s inside the Golden Gate. 

Mandalay Bay Getting Major Facelift

Mandalay Bay has been undergoing a major facelift over the past year or so and will continue through much of this year. It’s about time.

Owner MGM Resorts Internationalembarked on a massive renovation of the 3,000-room resort, the first since it opened in 1999. Construction began late last year and is expected to be completed by summer.

A second phase of construction, slated to start this summer, will rebrand The Hotel as the Delano Las Vegas, with a projected 2014 opening date. MGM officials would not disclose the cost of the projects.

Las Vegas casinos, generally, do some kind of renovation every 6 to 8 years so these changes to Mandalay Bay are a little overdue. Most of the renovations have been annouced piece by piece and none stand alone as being awesome but when but together they have a little more meaning. Vegas Chatter breaks down the changes nicely.

  1. Michael Jackson Cirque Du Soleil Production
  2. Light
  3. The Delano
  4. A New Adult Day Club Experience
  5. Citizens Kitchen
  6. Another Light Group Restaurant
  7. A New Food Court
  8. Resto Redos
  9. The Casino
  10. A “Lobby-Lounge Experience”

Unfortunately the Mandalay Bay hotel rooms will NOT be renovated as part of the overall updates to the property. I guess that’s a good incentive to spend money on the more expensive rooms at The Delano or Four Seasons.

When I first started visiting Las Vegas, Mandalay Bay was my go-to casino to stay. They had beautiful and large rooms that were always a decent price. The rooms had an amazing oatmeal soap that I’ll never forget. They also had a light in the closet that turned on when the doors were opened. These two things were luxurious to me at the time.

Since I moved to Las Vegas I’ve barely spent time at Mandalay Bay because it’s secluded from the rest of the strip. Having low to mid tier properties (Luxor and Excalibur) blocking it from the rest of the strip does not help. Hopefully these renovations build a new life into Mandalay Bay and give me an excuse to go back in time.

Photo: flickr – judithlynn

Tweet me @eastcoastgamblr

 

Hooters, Golden Nugget and Terribles Get New

People often ask for cheap places to stay in Las Vegas and I like to send people to hotels with new and clean hotel rooms first and formost. After new and clean rooms I look to the casino and then other amenities since that’s how I roll. In the past couple weeks a few non-major hotel & casino renovations have been announced. Here’s the rundown.

Golden Nugget Hotel Room

Golden Nugget – I don’t go inside this building anymore after too many bad gambling losses. That said, the Golden Nugget is probably the nicest, most luxurious, hotel in downtown Vegas. Golden Nugget room rates are easily the most expensive downtown and are comparable to hotel room rates on the Vegas strip. That’s how the Golden Nugget can pay for the Rush Tower, which opened just 4 years ago, to get new rooms called the Gold Club. I’m biased but I’d save my money downtown and get a remodeled room at the D, Golden Gate, Fremont or Plaza. You can find more renderings and details on the Gold Club hotel rooms at Vegas News.

Best Craps Games – Downtown Vegas (2012)

Craps Table At Luxor
Craps Table At Luxor

You may have noticed that I’ve been posting where the best video poker in Las Vegas is recently since I’ve had trips staying at Main Street Station downtown and at Encore on the Vegas strip. A few weeks ago I was asked where the best craps games can be found in Las Vegas. Interesting.

I thought I knew the answer but wasn’t entirely sure. I only know the craps odds at casinos I visit but I don’t know the craps odds at every casino in Las Vegas. I’m not that good. At least I wasn’t.

Countless searches showed only very old craps odds – like pre-2010 old. I finally found odds that seem fairly up-to-date on Wizard Of Vegas. Here are the breakdowns of the best craps odds at downtown Las Vegas casinos (sorted best to worst).

  1. Main Street Station – 20x Odds
  2. The D – 10x Odds
  3. El Cortez – 10x Odds
  4. Golden Gate – 10x Odds
  5. Las Vegas Club – 10x Odds
  6. Binions – 5x Odds
  7. Four Queens – 5x Odds
  8. Golden Nugget – 3-4-5x Odds
  9. The Plaza – 3-4-5x Odds
  10. California – 2x Odds
  11. Fremont – 2x Odds

You’ll notice that Gold Spike is missing from this list of downtown casinos with the best craps. I don’t believe they have craps. They have Sexy Blackjack and I don’t think they could promote Sexy Craps so they just stick with blackjack.

It should come as no surprise that Main Street Station has the best craps downtown. Craps at Main Street Station has almost even odds. Probably the best thing about craps at Main Street Station is that it’s affordable for most gamblers.

Playing full odds at a Main Street Station craps table is $100 on a $5 bet. This is one of the most affordable smart bets you can make in a casino. Full odds on 100x or 1000x times a $5 bet is pricey even though the returns are as close to even as you will find at a craps table.

The Wizard of Vegas survey hasn’t been updated since the D replaced Fitzgerald’s but most of the list seems up to date. Feel free to comment if know of different odds. I’ll be glad to update this list.

 Photo – flickr jcnikon (PS: I know this picture isn’t downtown, but the downtown craps table pics weren’t interesting)

Encore…Do You Want More?

I’ve spent the past weekend at Encore and I’ve been loving it. I’m loving it so much that I’m going to extend my holiday another day.

Here are some highlights of the weekend.

  • Piero’s
  • SW Steakhouse
  • Encore Suite
  • Encore Casino
  • Wynn Esplanade
  • Table 8
  • Grand Marnier
  • Blondies
  • Monte Cristo cigars
  • Biggest video poker jackpot I’ve ever seen (not mine)

Here are some lowlights

  • Blackjack
  • Video Poker
  • Under 2nd half 49ers v. Patriots
  • Blackjack

I’ll expand on these later this week, but feel free to enjoy “Encore” by Jay Z in the meantime.

Rumor: LVH May Become Vegas International Casino and Hotel

At the end of 2011 Hilton decided not to renew their license with the casino that’s been known as the Las Vegas Hilton for years. The owners decided to keep continuity with the name by calling the property LVH. Well, the LVH has new owners and may have another new name next year.

Could the casino now known as the LVH wind up with the name Vegas International Casino + Hotel?

American Casino and Entertainment Properties LLC (ACEP), which applied for a trademark for the name and accompanying logo, is in the middle of the month during which outsiders can register their opposition. This standard part of the process ends Nov. 22.

Executives at ACEP, owned by an affiliate of Goldman Sachs & Co., declined to comment on what they would do with the name. “What’s in the public record is in the public record,” said spokeswoman Kathy Topp.

If you’re familiar with Vegas history you might remember that this property was called Vegas International before becoming the Hilton. Back then it was home to a guy named Elvis.He’s kind of a big deal.

Renaming the hotel Vegas International and bringing back Vegas history may help the casino find some identity and a niche with older Las Vegas vacationers. The article mentions that many of the acts already booked at LVH would make sense with this possible vintage rebranding.

If the LVH opts to adopt a version of its original International name, it would fit with an entertainment lineup heavy with acts that gray-haired guests can remember from when they were young. The current lineup includes impressionist Rich Little, the Doobie Brothers, a Rat Pack tribute group and an Elvis impersonator, reprising the hotel’s most famous headliner.

LVH is a filthy lifeless dump of a casino that offers nothing besides a large sportsbook and something to do when taking a break from the Las Vegas Convention Center.

This rebranding, along with a major deep cleaning and new ventilation, could help the casino continue to stay in business.

photo: Elvis Australia (1961 at Vegas International)

Casino Speak

I read about casinos and gaming a lot and come across quite a few business terms that I’m unclear on. Their meanings aren’t always logical. Sometimes they’re too logical. While going through some UNLVGaming Research Reports I came across a lot of definitions that I figured I’d share.

  • Win Amount: Cash-in minus payoffs; (for sports: the amount the sports books kept for the calendar year)
  • % Change: Percentage change in win from the previous year
  • % Win Drop: Win as a percentage of drop, AKA hold percentage, the percentage of money wagered that
  • the casino kept
  • Drop: Total amount bet by bettors during the calendar year
  • Total Gaming Win: Total amount won by casinos on all games and devices during the calendar year
  • % Total: Casino win as a percentage of total casino win
  • Win/Unit: Average win per unit for the calendar year
  • Positions: total number of slot machines, plus total table games multiplied by six
  • WP: Win per position
  • WPD: Win per position per day
  • Units: total number of slot machines or table games
  • Win Amount: the total amount won from gamblers
  • WPU: Win per unit: total win divided by total number of units
  • WUD: Win per unit per day
  • Win : Percentage of total money gambled (handle) that casinos kept; also known as hold percentage

There are more casino business terms that aren’t listed here and there are more day-to-day casino terms that I’ll pass on in the future. Craps seems to have a lot of lingo that a lot of people don’t seem to understand.

Craps having its own language is part of what makes it fun, but it’s also nice to lessen the feat and bring new people to the game.

Tweet me @eastcoastgamblr

 

Seven Stars Insider – November 2012

Total Rewards Cards
Total Rewards Cards

Here’s the latest edition of Seven Stars Insider. This is an easy read and an excellent resource for Caesars Total Rewards players. It’s long, but chock full of information. Head over to Seven Stars Insider to sign up for the newsletter.

Harrah’s Baltimore (Maryland)

Getting Political – I
It hasn’t even opened and already Harrah’s Baltimore is trying to rally certain of its potential customers to push for passage of legislation that would expand gaming options in Maryland. Several readers sent me a copy of this email (which is much longer than the small portion I’ve reproduce

From Empty Lot To Empty Pockets
An empty lot off Russell and Worcester Streets in downtown Baltimore soon will be transformed into the new Harrah’s casino. Construction is set to begin in mid-2013 and the casino is expected to open in mid-2014. The casino will have 1,200 permanent positions and an additional 500 jobs will be added if expanded gambling is passed by voters this month. Here is a link to the casino’s Web site (such as it is): http://www.caesars.com/baltimore/about.html.

Harrah’s Hollywood Casino St. Louis

‘New’ Casino In Town
The candidates for President may talk about creating jobs, but Penn National Gaming Inc. is actually doing something about it. The company hired more than 50 people last month in preparation for taking over ownership and operations this month of the Harrah’s St. Louis casino in Maryland Heights, Mo. The new hires were for dealers with craps, pai gow or baccarat experience, cleaners, security officers, and hostess/cashiers and bussers. Penn National also said it plans to keep most of the 1,250 employees who worked for Harrah’s.

Las Vegas

Great Gift Wrap Up Free Play Offer
If you’re not interested in any of the gifts or gift cards being offered at the Great Gift Wrap Up (November 8-12 at the Flamingo and November 29 to December 3 at Caesars Palace) you can trade in your gift points for free play at a 3:1 ratio, e.g., 15,000 gift points will get you $50 in free play.

Another Name Change?
With the Imperial Palace’s becoming The Quad, is there another name change in store? A reader received this invitation (above) that included a $250 dining credit to Center Cut at Flamigno. [By the way, this individual is a low- to mid-level Diamond cardholder. Considering Seven Stars cardholders get only a $500 annual dining credit, he wonders what the incentive is to play more when he gets offers like this. Good question.]

Improvement For Rooms
According to press reports, last month Caesars CEO Gary Loveman told an invited group of investors and analysts that Caesars was planning “an extensive” hotel room renovation for many of its properties in Las Vegas.

A Great Customer Service Story. . .From Bellagio
For some reason during my first night on a trip to Las Vegas it’s almost become a “tradition” that I have a late dinner at Cafe Bellagio overlooking the beautiful flower displays. I always order the same thing. Last month when I was there I was disappointed to see that my favorite lamb chops were no longer on the menu. Off-handedly, I mentioned this to my server Kong and almost immediately he offered to speak with the chef to see what he could do. A few minutes later he returned with the news that there were no lamb chops in the kitchen. . .but the chef was going to check with the other restaurants in the Bellagio to see if he could find some! Sure enough, about five minutes later, Kong returned and asked how I wanted them prepared. Finally, the moment arrived, and I had a plate of three succulent juicy lamb chops cooked perfectly medium rare, with delicious polenta and a huge pile of crisp tender green beans, oh, excuse me, haricots vert. I devoured it all! They were probably the best lamb chops I have ever had. The biggest surprise? The price: $34! I couldn’t find lamb chops for less than $50 in any Atlantic City casino restaurant, and probably not in any other Bellagio restaurant (or other Las Vegas casino). This was the ultimate in customer service, and I really appreciated it. (And did I mention that this all happened about 11 o’clock on a Wednesday night?)

Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon

Gamblin’ On Bill’s
A $180 million renovation is in store for Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon. Plans include a rooftop pool deck and nightclub overlooking the Strip. Once financing is in place, other projects include remodeling the hotel’s 198 rooms and its 17,200-square-foot casino. Like its neighbor to the north – Imperial Palace, Bill’s also could get a new name. Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings Service – considered one of the “Big Three credit rating agencies” (Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investor Service are the other two) – said it had a “circumspect view” of the project. (In September, Fitch released a negative report on Caesars that expressed concern over the company’s debt obligations, and even hinted that the company might have to undertake some type of bankruptcy restructuring efforts. Caesars officials have vehemently denied that the company would have to take that step.)

Flamingo

Paradise On Earth
Caesars Palace’s new Bacchanal Buffet (see below) may be getting all the publicity – the local Vegas newspaper last month sent five of its writers to see how many of the reported 500+ items they could consume in one visit – but don’t dismiss Flamingo’s venerable Paradise Garden Buffet. I was anxious to try the new Bacchanal for breakfast, but on weekends there is no breakfast, just brunch, and I wasn’t hungry enough to spend $39.99. (Weekday breakfast is $20.99.) Meanwhile, over at the Flamingo, weekend brunch (including champagne) is $20.99, but be seated by 10 and you’ll pay only the $15.99 breakfast charge. Seven Stars cardholders get prime window seats overlooking the beautiful gardens, a fancy bottle of water and the opportunity to be fawned over by the buffet’s attentive staff – everyone from the hostess, to the manager on duty, to the servers. The morning I was there a chef came around to prepare tableside a special bananas foster served over New York-style cheesecake. The buffet may have only 60 or so items, but, in addition to eggs prepared to order and standard breakfast offerings, you’ll find shrimp, crab legs, prime rib, ham, fried chicken, fish, sushi, smoked salmon, an extensive salad bar, and more. A separate dessert buffet also features crepes made to order – including savory crepes stuffed with scrambled eggs – however, you might miss this unless you survey the dessert section when you first arrive. In addition, there is a VIP menu on each table from which you can order special dishes which vary from breakfast to lunch to dinner.

Wasting Away [Your Money] In Margaritaville
Earn 25 tier credits playing in Flamingo’s Margaritaville Casino and get a free t-shirt. After qualifying, obtain a voucher from the Total Rewards desk in Margaritaville, then take the voucher to the gift shop. Restrictions apply, and this offer could be discontinued at any time.

Caesars Palace

Bang For Your Bacchanal Buck
For about the same cost as an al a carte breakfast at Central by Michel Richard, and not much more than the price of a continental breakfast at Payard Pâtisserie & Bistro or Java Coast, you can enjoy an incredible morning dining experience at the new Bacchanal Buffet. It’s like a fine art gallery, but where everything on display is food. Before making your first selection, take a few minutes (and I mean minutes – it’s that extensive!) to walk the entire buffet to get an idea of that day’s offerings. Skip the dry cereals and scrambled eggs – you can have that at home – and start with the cute little individual bottles of orange, watermelon and carrot juices, as well as some fresh fruit. Then go in for some shrimp and grits, red velvet pancakes, and/or chicken and waffles – you won’t find them at your local Old Country Buffet! (Note the Caesars logo imprinted in the individual circular waffle, but first enjoy that incredibly crispy, yet hot and juicy piece of chicken. KFC could take some lessons from the chefs at Caesars.) The rest of the menu is way too large to detail, but it’s definitely worth at least one visit. Of course, I have to cite a few minor quibbles: there are no signs at the entrance to tell you the meal hours or the prices (nor are the hours posted on the Bacchanal’s Web site); the individual frittatas had a slight metallic aftertaste, possibly due to the tiny cast iron skillets they were prepared in; it’s tough to scoop out cream cheese for the bagels without noisily tapping (and tapping and tapping!) those big spoons on your plate; and individual servings of butter are “hidden” in small ramekins which are difficult to identify. On the positive side, service is excellent: plates are whisked away promptly while you’re up getting something new to try. Other nice touches are the stylish stainless steel Spring coffeepots and salt and pepper shakers, and the fact that clean glasses and dinnerware are wheeled in discreetly covered with black table cloths. (At Paris’ Le Village Buffet, I was shocked to see an employee roll a large gray plastic garbage tub right through the middle of the dining room and past my table. Plus, a server used my table to “park” several bottles of champagne and open them with a shellfish cracker, all while dumping a dozen or so plastic pens all over the table as I was trying to enjoy my meal. It was pretty unprofessional.)

Harrah’s

Four Other Legends To Replace Legends
Million Dollar Quartet, the Broadway jukebox musical, opens February 4, replacing Legends in Concert which closes December 30 after playing the Strip for 29 years. No word whether the show will move to another Caesars property, or even another Las Vegas casino, but, according to Mike Weatherford, Las Vegas Review-Journal entertainment reporter, “the Legends folks vow to stick around.” Million Dollar Quartet was inspired by a recording session in Memphis that brought together Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins for the first and only time on December 4, 1956. The score includes “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Great Balls of Fire”, “Walk the Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues”.

Paris

Cable News
According to the Review-Journal, that crane sitting between Bally’s and Paris last month had nothing to do with construction. It was part of a stunt for the film Hangover III involving cables attached to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Harrah’s Reno

Bad Date
A reader was perplexed by the date on a survey he received regarding a recent visit:

Hype, Hype Hurrah – II
Once again, I guess it’s all relative, but a reader who sent this to me thinks a $30 gift card is not exactly “pull[ing] out all the stops” or a particularly big reward:

Atlantic City

Stormy Weather
Due to Hurricane Sandy, all Atlantic City casinos closed at noon October 28, and remain closed as of November 1. While none sustained serious damage, the casinos are still waiting for the state to allow access to the city before they can reopen.

Bleak Friday
You would have thought it was Friday the 13th, not Friday the 12th. Opening night of the Holiday Shopping Spree – exclusively for Seven Stars and Diamond cardholders – was a disaster: long lines to register, computers down, long lines to check out, angry employees and angry customers. Reportedly, someone even passed out while waiting – at least that’s what one of the check-out clerks told me. By Saturday, procedures were changed, cardholders other than Seven Stars registered at a different location, and an “express” option was offered. It worked. Saturday there was no line at the Seven Stars registration and, by 2:30 or so (they apparently opened check-in earlier than the advertised 2 p.m. start), even lines for all other cardholders were manageable. That didn’t help the mayhem in the ballroom trying to search out things to buy, though. First, there were way too many people – including too many children. Second, there was no one to ask for help. (One Bally’s executive – who shall remain nameless – was downright rude when I asked him about assistance. “No, there is no one,” he said curtly.) Third, why was there no list of available products – or at least a “map” of the layout? There seemed to be no logic to how things were displayed. Fourth, there was no explanation of the different color pricing tickets. It didn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out that blue was the Seven Stars cardholder price (a 10 percent discount) and white reflected the five percent discount for Diamond cardholders, but, nonetheless, it was confusing. And, fifth, why not control entry to the ballroom Saturday, limiting the number of people at any one time? [There was Friday evening.] As it turned out, on Saturday, I simply picked up tickets for a number of items I was interested in, took them home, did a little research, and returned Monday about an hour before closing time. I was in and out of there in less than 15 minutes. Lesson learned: Wait as long as possible when there is a multi-day event like this – especially when it’s the first time.

People were already angry leading up to the event. No one had any idea what was being offered, how much a “shopping dollar” was worth, or what the shopping times were. Even a last-minute reminder email about the event neglected to list the times. This has to go down in the history books as the worst promotion/event Caesars has done in years. Even before it officially started, dates were changed (it originally was supposed to start June 15 – and there were ads in the newspapers stating that), an additional shopping event in Chester was cancelled (again, after it had been announced). Even up through the conclusion of the event, the TR Web site still listed the “earning” dates as June 15 to September 30.

Borgata is doing a gift event this month, but I didn’t have to earn shopping credits, activate them or anything. I received notice about the previously unannounced event in the mail a month before. It said I had $XXX amount in shopping dollars – about the same as I had for the Bally’s event – with considerably less play, I might add. It also directed me to a Web site where I could preview the entire gift selection, as well as reserve a shopping date – I had three choices in 30-minute intervals (on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday). In addition, if I chose, I could purchase additional shopping dollars with cash, credit card or comps (at 2:1). How simple is that? Why does Caesars always make everything so complicated and why don’t the people in charge anticipate problems before they happen?

Bleak Friday Follow-Up
Some people – but not all – who attended the opening night at the Holiday Shopping Spree received the following email:

My name is Matt Heiskell and I am one of the executive team members for Caesars Entertainment in the Atlantic City region. I am writing you on behalf of Caesars Entertainment to express our sincerest apologies for the experience you had on Friday the 12th at the Holiday Shopping Spree event. As a loyal Total Rewards customer, you are surely to have experienced many other events we have held for you. The Holiday Shopping Spree experience you had on Friday simply did not meet yours or our expectations.

While we are working to fix the issues from Friday with our future events, I did want to provide you with an update on this event. If you should have any questions regarding the status of your order, you can either visit www.jdrshoppingspree.com or call (877) 920-SHOP (7467). Again, we apologize and do not hesitate to let me know if you have any further concerns.

Sincerely,

Matt Heiskell
Assistant General Manager – Bally’s Atlantic City

Others received this in the mail:

As a member of Total Rewards you surely have participated in many great events and promotions. You also know that the quality of these marketing programs are almost always impeccable and provide you with an experience worthy of your patronage. However, during the first day of our Holiday Shopping Spree gift selection event we know the experience we provided was not up to your standards.

Please access [sic] $25 dollars in comps as our apology. Comps will be issued in the form of Total Rewards credits that will be added to your account. You can redeem this offer by taking this letter to any Total Rewards Center in Atlantic City and we will add these credits to your account. This offer is valid until November 30, 2012.

Again, your experience matters to us and I do apologize for any inconvenience you experienced. We are certain that your next visit will meet your expectations and we look forward to seeing you again.

Sincerely,

Don Marrandino
Eastern Division President

Unfortunately, those who ventured up to the sixth floor of Bally’s that night, saw the mess and didn’t register – and there were many – didn’t receive either of these missives, and they deserve an apology (and extra Reward Credits), as well.

Uneventful TR Insider Month
Newly-minted and veteran TR Insiders were disappointed – no, make that pretty irritated – to find out that no special events were scheduled last month. “Throughout July, August and September I went to a lot of effort – and expense! – to become a TR Insider, only to get no benefit during the first month,” one person emailed me. A mailing finally showed up October 21 for an event on November 10 – just the day I’m leaving for a week’s vacation. The whole TR Insider, in my opinion, has been a disappointment. Other than what usually were two events per month, there are no ongoing benefits for Insiders. In other words, if you’re not available to attend one of the scheduled events, you get nothing for your efforts. At least in other parts of the country Insiders can frequently cash-in comps for free play at rates lower than 2:1, and there were other benefits which the Atlantic City market did not offer. Plus, there is no easy way to find out how many points you’ve earned as you near the end of a quarter. The whole program needs to be re-thought – or, better yet, abandoned.

TR Insiders: On The Cutting Edge
I actually read the invitation twice. The giveaway at the TR Insider event November 10 is a $20 ShopRite gift card and – no way! – a carving knife? Does Caesars really want hundreds of people wandering around their casinos on a Saturday night carrying knives?

Talking Turkey
Be thankful – unless you’re an employee. As of now, the Seven Stars Lounges at Caesars and Harrah’s will operate on their regular schedules for the Thanksgiving weekend.

In Sickness and In Health
If you need some low-grade emergency medical attention, don’t go to the nursing stations at any of Caesars four casinos. They’re all closed. While Borgata has a beautiful medical service for players, hotel guests and employees, it’s getting rarer and rarer that casinos have in-house medical facilities. A security guard at Resorts told me it’s just become too expensive to offer these services; theirs closed nearly two years ago, he said. Fortunately, Atlantic City has a number of first-class emergency centers, as well as a hospital – all close to the Boardwalk casinos.

Robert Now At Robert’s
Robert (Bob) Grabowski, most recently general manager at Showboat’s Scarduzio’s, is back at Trump Taj Mahal managing the new Robert’s Steakhouse, scheduled to open this month.

Withdrawal Symptoms
In addition to increasing fees to $5.99 per ATM transaction, according to one reader, the amount you can get in one transaction has been reduced from $3,000 to $1,000. I have a much smaller limit on daily withdrawals, so I can’t say I’ve experienced this, but now to get $3,000, it would cost $17.97 – three separate $1,000 withdrawals. [In Las Vegas, ATMs at Caesars properties also charge $5.99, but the limit seems to fluctuate between $1,000 and $3,000. Bellagio also charges $5.99, but its limit is $5,000.]

♫These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things♫
Here’s a YouTube link to an online interview with Caesars Eastern Division President Don Marrandino. In the video, Marrandino tells you his favorite restaurants, favorite places to take a date, shop, etc.

The Light Show Fantastic
I finally got to see the light show projected onto Boardwalk Hall every night. It’s really terrific. If you haven’t seen it, make sure you spend 10 minutes one evening. Starting times vary depending on the season, but shows begin every 20 minutes. There’s a countdown clock to let you know when the next show will begin. Here’s a YouTube link to a video of the show.

Bally’s

They’re Baaack!
Popular bartenders John Santini and Jennifer Jones have returned to the Diamond Lounge. Go pay them a visit and welcome them back.

Platelets
What’s with the tiny plates at Bally’s Diamond Lounge? They’re barely large enough for some salad, let alone an entrée, a vegetable and a starch. Doesn’t management realize that a tiny plate is still not going to stop people from gorging themselves? They just go back to the buffet more frequently, give the dishwashers more work and waste hot water. [Remember “Code Green”?] A table for two next to mine at lunch one Saturday last month had 15 dirty plates stacked up. I suppose not clearing plates promptly also is intended to discourage guests from eating more. Guess what? It’s not working.

Now That’s Italian!
Congratulations to everyone at Arturo’s. The restaurant has received a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor for earning a 4.5-star rating. (Top rating is five stars.)

Cutting Coupons
Speaking of Arturo’s. . .it was a Monday evening and the restaurant was practically empty. Two of the three of us each had a $30 coupon good at the Caesars Boardwalk Buffet or 6ix a Bistro – which we wanted no part of for dinner. Because the coupons are somehow coded as good only at “casual restaurants” we were unable to use them at Arturo’s. It’s a shame, too, because we would have spent a lot more than $60, and some servers would have gotten a nice gratuity. If Caesars is looking for an inexpensive Seven Stars benefit, why not allow these coupons to be used at its “fine dining” restaurants, as well? 6ix a Bistro certainly didn’t need the business; there were lines out the door. (Oh, by the way, we ended up at Golden Nugget’s Grotto, and, as usual, it was terrific. If they’re there, ask for servers Tripp or Keith.)

Caesars

It’s Not Your Eyesight
If you valet your car and retrieve it on the second level, you might think your eyes are playing tricks on you. One of the large posters outside the doors was printed backwards:

Burger King
Seven Stars Lounge Chef Tim Davis won an in-house corporate national burger challenge involving several hundred competitors from restaurants around the country called the Best Burger Battle 2012. His winning burger will soon be available at Café Roma [and, in Las Vegas, at KGB (Kerry’s Gourmet Burgers) at Harrah’s]. To see a video about how to make Chef Tim’s creation, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UkkUIet74k.

Harrah’s Resort

Conference Call
Caesars plans to construct a $134 million 100,000 square-foot conference center at Harrah’s. Caesars has applied to Atlantic City’s Casino Redevelopment Investment Authority for $45 million to help fund the project. According to Caesars, the conference center, which will break ground in January and should be open by July 2014, will target business meetings rather than trade shows that are typically drawn to the Atlantic City Convention Center.

Harrah’s Cherokee (North Carolina)

Free Food!
Seven Stars cardholders and a guest, as well as the Seven Stars Companion cardholder and a guest each get a free buffet daily, according to a reader who just returned. That’s up to four free buffets every day if both you and your companion cardholder are there at the same time. Prices vary depending on meal times, but, according to the Cherokee Web site, average price for the buffet is $26.

Harrah’s Philadelphia

Due to driving restrictions imposed by the governor and other reasons related to Hurricane Sandy, Harrah’s temporarily closed beginning at 4 p.m. October 29 and reopened at 10 a.m. October 31.

While the casino sent an email (see above) to some of its customers – I didn’t receive one even though I live about 15 minutes from Chester and am a somewhat “regular’ player there – advising them of the reopening, what the message omitted was the fact that there would be limited food service. The Diamond Lounge and Temptations Buffet were closed, as was the Cove restaurant, resulting in long lines at Caffè Napoli and BarleyQue. It probably wouldn’t have been as big of a problem had October 31 not been a “Senior Day” when eligible players got 30 percent discounts at these food outlets, and many people had coupons to redeem before the end of the month.

Forget The 47%, Watch That 30%
For three Wednesdays – November 7, 14 and 28 – Harrah’s again will offer seniors 30 percent discounts at most of its restaurants, as well as free valet parking. However, last month, after having lunch at BarleyQue, my server added 30 percent to the bill!

Veterans Benefits
November 12 Harrah’s will offer a 50 percent discount at its restaurants for all active duty and retired military, as well as veterans, with proper ID. Maximum one 50 percent discount per dining check. Offer not valid at Tony Luke’s or Krispy Kreme.

Driven To Distraction
It’s not going to do any good, but I will continue to press my point that better signage is necessary in the self-parking garage – particularly at ground level. It’s an accident waiting to happen – and I’ve come close to being a victim several times. Because they’re not clearly marked, most drivers think the lanes in the garage are one way. Even two of Harrah’s security guards driving their “golf cart” ignored the faded yellow arrows and practically cut-off another driver as they made a right-hand turn toward the ground floor exit. In addition, drivers also aren’t paying attention to the direction signs at the garage exit. Several times last month I saw drivers making left turns from the right lane.

General

Questions Of The Month
Is there a list – casino-by-casino – of which properties add a $500 folio credit vs. adding $500 in RCs to your TR account? For example, I understand that Las Vegas gives the folio credit, but New Orleans adds the RCs. Also, there seem to be differences in what the $500 can be used for. The current rules refer strictly to dining, but last year Caesars Palace credited some spa services against this account. Again, is there a casino-by-casino listing of which casino allows what? According to Total Rewards, “We recommend that all properties add this credit to the hotel folio, and are currently working with properties to execute this benefit more consistently across the network. Our goal is to create a consistent, seamless experience for our guests, regardless of where they choose to visit. In terms of how the credit may be used, there still will be a few exceptions. For example, in some states we cannot provide free alcoholic beverages. In those locations, alcoholic purchases are excluded from use with the folio credit.” My advice is that if you have a question about a specific casino or resort you want to visit during your annual trip, ask your host or contact a host at the destination casino. If you don’t think you’ll spend all your money on meals, I’m sure if you talk to a host, he or she might be able to work something out for you – but no guarantees! Remember, I’m not the authority (see more on this below).

What happened to the Web site listing of special Seven Star perks, e.g., horse race at Harrah’s Philadelphia, carriage ride in New Orleans, etc.? Is there a revised list? According to Total Rewards, “We removed the property-specific information from our Web site earlier this year because some of the items listed were outdated and actually created dissatisfaction for guests looking to utilize them. We’ve partnered with each property to create an updated list, and have already begun updating our benefits for 2013. Once we finalize those benefits, we will publish them on the Web site to provide easy reference for our guests. In the meantime, our Total Rewards and host teams have access to the current property-specific benefits, and should be able to answer any questions a guest may have.” Further, the good news is that many of these benefits are still in place. Unfortunately, Harrah’s New Orleans no longer provides the carriage ride, but they are hoping to identify a comparable property-specific benefit to add in 2013. Below are some of the current benefits:

A complimentary round of golf for the Seven Stars cardholder and a guest is available each quarter in Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Horseshoe Southern Indiana. This benefit is provided monthly in Metropolis and Tunica. In all locations, this benefit is not available during high-demand periods.
Las Vegas provides two free show tickets each month; free entry into Rio’s VooDoo Lounge; and a hotel upgrade to a premium Diamond room, when available.

Harrah’s Louisiana Downs will name a race in your honor, and guarantee racetrack suite availability.
Reno and Tahoe offer two Tahoe Star tickets per season, as well as an annual Tahoe Star private cruise for up to 30 people. They also offer two Improv show tickets, and up to four ski resort lift tickets per season.
Harrah’s Philadelphia will name a race in your honor and give you a starter betting card, plus provide a $125 dining credit to be used race day in one of several food and beverage outlets – some restrictions apply.

Available at all properties, where applicable:
Up to three complimentary movies per night (cannot exceed $45 retail value).
Complimentary spa and health club access – sometimes for a Seven Stars cardholder’s guest, as well.
Complimentary Internet access.
25% discount at Caesars golf spa retail shops.

If you want authoritative answers to questions about Caesars, Total Rewards, etc., do not post questions like this on any of the message boards out there, e.g., vpFREE@yahoogroups.com, harrahscasinos@yahoogroups.com, etc. Use the “Contact Us” feature on the Total Rewards Web site. Generally, you’ll get a response with 48 hours – usually less. Save the email and, if you experience a problem or something is not as you were told, then you have some valid proof. Citing a Web posting by John Smith (or some alias like “hotcasinomama@yoohoo.com”) isn’t going to cut it. Recently, someone posted a question about extended overnight parking at Harrah’s in New Orleans while the player was on a cruise. Rather than returning from the cruise to find my car towed, I would have picked up the phone and called Harrah’s to get a definitive answer from someone in charge, and recorded that person’s name and title, as well as the date and time of my call. These message boards are fine for gathering opinions on hotel room conditions, restaurant recommendations, etc., but when it comes to a policy question, please consult with the authorities at Total Rewards. That’s what they’re there for.

Odds Are. . .

“Whether you play slots, craps, blackjack, roulette or any other game in a casino, it is important to remember that games of chance are based on random outcomes and always favor the casino. These games of chance are a form of entertainment, at a price to you, the player.”

Sound like advice from Gamblers Anonymous? Nope. This is a direct quote from a pamphlet that Caesars distributes in its casinos. The copyright is 2010, but I just saw this brochure for the first time last month at Harrah’s Philadelphia. I applaud Caesars for this forthright approach. Unfortunately, the people who need to read this probably won’t.

A Not So Happy Birthday – Again
While every other casino where I play sent me bonus free play and/or comp dollars good this month, once again Total Rewards wants me to earn up to 5,000 tier credits, so it can match them as my birthday present. I have all of October, November and December to do this, but I have to decide – within 48 hours – which day’s play I want to count. Plus, I never got the offer until mid-October, after I had a pretty big day of play earlier that month which now won’t count. This might be a great promotion for someone who has a birthday early in the year, but by October, November and December, when a lot of people have already reached their threshold, it’s not much of an incentive – especially with all the competition.

Eat Your Heart Out, Revel!
Turns out that fancy new casinos aren’t what attract players, Revel – oh, I forgot, when you opened you weren’t interested in the gambling market. According to an article in the New York Times, a casino that opened a year ago at Aqueduct horse racing track in Queens has emerged as the country’s highest-grossing slot parlor, “helping to reshape the gambling landscape in the Northeast as patrons chose less opulent, more local casinos instead of traditional gambling meccas in Atlantic City and Connecticut.” Read the entire article here.

Keep Track Of Comps
I’ve been saying it for years, but, no matter how you do it, keep track of your comp dollars. Just last month a reader told me that he noticed a drop in his comp account. Upon researching his charges, he learned that someone used his comp dollars at a restaurant in Atlantic City – but he was miles away at home. Caesars temporarily froze his account and refunded the comps, but had he not kept track, no one would have been the wiser.

Holiday Hours
With the holiday season approaching, it would be nice to report any special hours next month for player’s lounges, restaurants, etc. Caesars executives, please start thinking about this now. I’d be happy to serve as your “unofficial” location to post these special hours.

Making A Statement
Kudos to the team at Total Rewards for those new statements detailing our “income” and “expenditures” during the previous month. I’ve been waiting for this for years. [OK, so on that first statement some players’ tier levels were wrong. . .it was an honest mistake that people couldn’t wait to jump all over.]

Getting Political – II
According to the IRS, Caesars Entertainment Operating Company – historically the most Democratic-leaning casino company, has given more than $165,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee; however, Caesars contributed to both Democratic and Republican Senate candidates, according to Nevada Secretary of State records.

Survey Says. . .
Last month I asked you what you’d tell Vice President of Total Rewards Joshua Kanter. Unfortunately, I can’t print some of your responses, but here’s a sampling of what I can report:
“I don’t fly. For my annual trip, why can’t I get a mileage allowance or fuel reimbursement if I show proof of these expenditures?”
“I’m a widow who frequently travels alone to Las Vegas. I love the shows – and think the two free tickets a month is a good benefit, but I’m disappointed I can’t get one ticket to two different shows. Short of finding another Seven Stars cardholder in the same predicament, what’s the difference if two of us each take two tickets to two different shows and trade, or you just give each of us one ticket to the two shows of our choice? Same with free buffet coupons. Why not give players two coupons each good for one buffet so we can enjoy two meals instead of just one?”
“Are you going to redesign those ugly new Seven Stars cards? They’re also difficult to read.”
“There are too many Seven Stars/Diamond and Seven Stars/Diamond/Platinum lines around the country – especially Las Vegas. I’m not that much of a prima donna that I can’t wait behind a few people, but you need to make it easier for us Seven Stars cardholders to jump to the head of the line – that’s one of the perks I enjoy most about Seven Stars.”
“Why am I getting mailings, emails and phone calls from casinos I may have visited once – sometimes several years ago – inviting me to dinners, gift-giveaways and other events? Don’t they look at my zip code or area code? Frequently, these casinos are thousands of miles away. Often with less than two weeks’ notice, why do they think I would travel there for a free Vera Bradley bag? It’s not only wasteful in terms of printing, paper and postage, but also a host’s time when he or she is making phone calls or signing letters to players who are probably never going to return – leastwise for some silly giveaway.”
“About those Las Vegas Diamond Lounges. . .why do they close so early [9 p.m.] – especially on Fridays and Saturdays? Also, in most other cities I can bring in three guests with my Seven Stars card, but in Las Vegas, I’m limited to one guest. Shouldn’t this policy be consistent throughout the country?”

This Month’s Survey: A Contest
Well, not really. Picture this: It’s a busy Saturday afternoon during a three-day holiday weekend last month at Caesars in Atlantic City. There are long lines at the Main Cashier and at practically all the self-serve Fast Cash dispensers. Why? Because there are only four cashiers working and the satellite cashier on the second floor has been closed – whether just “for the season” or permanently, I don’t know. Next door at Bally’s Wild Wild West, there is no longer a cashier and only one of the two Fast Cash dispensers in Coyote Kate’s Slot Parlor is operable. Again, the line is ridiculous. Add to this the fact that many people are just not capable of using these machines, and others use them not only to redeem their Fast Cash tickets, but also to break larger bills into smaller bills – we’re talking about first breaking $100 into five $20s, then breaking each of those $20s into $5s. Then there are those who refuse to consolidate all their tickets at a slot machine, and keep the rest of us waiting while they cash in one ticket at a time. The point of all this is: What else can Caesars Entertainment do to irritate its customers? (My vote goes to Total Touch – whoever approved that stupid system should be fired!) What’s your vote? Send me an e-mail (sevenstarsinsider@gmail.com) and I’ll share your thoughts – anonymously, of course.

Darryl D. McEwen, Publisher
Seven Stars Insider

Photo: Pulse of Vegas Blog