Seven Stars Insider – September Edition

Here is the latest Seven Stars Insider newsletter.  This is good information if you are a Harrah’s player and a Total Rewards card holder and has now been tailored for all levels of card holders.

The newsletter doesn’t teach you how to “game” the system, but rather how to maximize your comps.  Sign up for the newsletter here.

NOTE: While this newsletter was originally designed exclusively for Seven Stars cardholders, there is useful information for anyone who has a Total Rewards® player’s card and/or plays/stays at a Caesars property.  Please feel free to pass this on to your friends.  Back issues of the Seven Stars Insider newsletter are available online at http://www.sevenstarsinsider.com.  You will need Adobe Acrobat to view them, but this is a free program available at www.adobe.com.

It’s now easier to find the Seven Stars Insider Web site:  Simply go to:

 >> www.sevenstarsinsider.com <<

 Las Vegas

Restaurant Week

If you’re in Las Vegas between now and September 11, you’ll not only have the opportunity to get some good dining bargains, but help out some needy charities, as well.  With three-course breakfast, lunch and dinner specials running $20.11, $30.11 and $50.11, respectively, participating restaurants include Serendipity3, KGB, Hyakumi, The Range, Eiffel Tower, Bill’s Steakhouse, Payard, Beijing Noodle No. 9, Martorano’s, Rao’s, Mesa, Toby Keith’s I ♥ This Bar & Grill, and Empress Court.

Fast Cash Available Longer

I haven’t independently verified this, but a reader writes that those Fast Cash tickets the slot machines spit out with your winnings are now valid for 180 days, two months longer than previous.  It’s still a good idea to go home with your cash, so take those slips to the cashier before you leave Las Vegas.

 

Lake Tahoe

 Signature Event

My e-mail in-box was strangely empty concerning last month’s event at Lake Tahoe.  Let’s hope that no news is good news.

 

Atlantic City

Hurricane Irene: More Than Storm Damage

It certainly was no fault of the casinos, but the closure of the four Caesars-owned casinos (as well as all of the casinos in Atlantic City) left many players with hundreds of dollars’ worth of free play coupons and other offers they were unable to use.  According to a host, “corporate” made the decision not to honor them now that the casinos are back open.  Big PR blunder, in my humble opinion (and many others who have written me).  [While Harrah’s Chester in Pennsylvania was closed only from 8 p.m. Saturday through noon on Sunday, they are not honoring free play coupons either.  Borgata is honoring its “Hurricane Sunday” free play offer September 25.  I didn’t survey the other AC casinos.  Dover Downs in Delaware, however, is honoring its promotions from the hurricane weekend during Labor Day weekend.]

‘We’ll Buy The Food If You Buy The Drinks’

Once again, you gotta read the fine print in your offers.  I booked a two-night stay at Caesars that included – what I thought was – a $150 food and beverage credit.  As instructed, I charged dinner and lunch from two of the participating restaurants, but when I checked my bill on the TV set, it showed two charges which I thought should have been picked up by the offer.  Turns out, the offer was only for food.  My bottle of wine at dinner and two iced teas at lunch were at my own expense.  No big deal, but it seemed a little odd.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to question this, according to the folks at VIP Check-In.  [Cheapskate that I am, before checking out, I went next door to Harry’s Oyster House and got 2½ pounds of “peel-and-eat” shrimp to go – worth about $40.  I wasn’t about to give back any of the $150!]  Related to this, similar promotions were offered in different denominations, but some also included restrictions regarding which hotels were available on certain days.  Also, remember that, in order to use an offer like this, your hotel stay must be booked under a specific offer code.  Just because you are staying at a participating casino hotel during the time the free deal is offered doesn’t automatically allow you to take advantage of the promotion.

Cash Banks To Close Early

Now, in the category of “What are they thinking?”  First, actual cash back was changed to free slot play which is good for up to 90 days after you earn it.  Now that three-month deadline has been reduced to 60 days.  Fine for those of us who frequent Atlantic City to take advantage of it, but not so good for those who make the trek perhaps once a quarter.  I’ve heard from several people in the latter category, and they are not happy.  With Borgata, Resorts, Trump and Golden Nugget – and perhaps Tropicana and Hilton (I’m not familiar with their player’s card programs) – all allowing 90 days, this puts Caesars casinos at a severe disadvantage when it comes to attracting big-time players who don’t have the time or the inclination to travel to Atlantic City on a more frequent basis.  Whether they will follow-through or not, several have written to me and said “this is the last straw” and the final incentive they need to switch allegiances.

Seven Stars Benefits – That Don’t Exist

If you want to know what special benefits exist at the four Caesars Atlantic City casinos, don’t depend on the Total Rewards Web site.  According to the site:

Bally’s

  • Access to SEV lounge Thursday – Sunday (Available at Harrah’s Only)  [My guess is that “SEV” refers to the Seven Stars Lounge which is available also at Caesars.  And what about “exclusive access” to Bally’s Diamond Pointe area?  See more on this below.]

Caesars

  • Access to SEV lounge Thursday – Sunday (Available at Caesars Only)  [See comment above regarding Bally’s.]
  • Access to our exclusive slot room, Diamond Cove, Mondays – Thursdays  [Ah, but see the next “benefit”!]
  • Access to our exclusive slot room, Diamond Cove every day, including weekends and holidays  [So, if it’s available to you every day – “including weekends and holidays” (what other choices are there?) – why list as a “benefit” that it’s accessible Mondays – Thursdays?  But, wait, there is no Diamond Cove at Caesars!  The “exclusive slot room” is called Palace Court.]

Harrah’s Resort

  • Access to our exclusive slot room, Diamond Cove, Mondays – Thursdays  [See comments above regarding Caesars.]
  • Access to our exclusive slot room, Diamond Cove every day, including weekends and holidays  [See comments above regarding Caesars, but note that there is a Diamond Cove at Harrah’s.]
  • [Why is there no reference to the Seven Stars Lounge?]

Showboat

  • Access to our exclusive slot room, Diamond Cove, Mondays – Thursdays
  • Access to our exclusive slot room, Diamond Cove every day, including weekends and holidays  [Uh, it’s called “Jackson Square” at Showboat.  See comments above regarding these other “exclusive slot rooms”.]
  • [Why is there no reference to the complimentary Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.?]

And, what’s the big deal about access to these “exclusive slot rooms”?  Most of the time there is no one standing guard to check player’s cards, and I find it hard to believe that someone showing up with a wad of $100s and no Diamond or Seven Stars card is going to be denied access.

Bally’s

Goodbye, Red Pearl; Hello, Nanking

When Mr. Ming’s reopened as Red Pearl, I was sadly disappointed at the interior design, as well as the food.  The sign now reads, Nanking – Asian Fusion, but it doesn’t seem to be open yet.  Let’s hope for some improvements.

Caesars

Seven Stars Lounge Needs Some Direction

While I’m flattered that my opinion seems to be important to a lot of people who play in Atlantic City and want to know what I think of the new Seven Stars Lounge, I wanted to hold off making comments until it had been open a while.  However, after three months and five personal visits (three for cocktails – twice on weeknights, once on a Friday; once for lunch; and once for late-night dessert and after-dinner drink on a Saturday) – and many, many negative e-mails from Seven Stars cardholders, I feel compelled to raise some issues that someone needs to address.  The biggest problem is the room itself, but, hey, you work with what you’ve got, and there wasn’t much you could do with that big box of a room, formerly housing the Bacchanal.  The décor and furnishings are another story.  The style certainly isn’t to my taste, but you’re never going to please everyone.  What the room does need is more tables.  It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that the first seats to go are those surrounding tables.  Those long lavender sofas may look nice around the perimeter of the room, but try setting your drink down – or, worse, try to balance a bowl of soup or a plate of food – on those tufted leather (faux leather?) “cocktail ‘tables’”.  When a server brought my iced tea at lunch, she offered to leave behind her tray so I would have something solid to put my drink on.  Why go to all that expense to create a fancy atmosphere, then leave a beat-up serving tray behind so your guest has some place to rest his food and drink?  Come on, now.  And, speaking of food, for weeks I had been salivating over the sweet corn bisque and crab fritter I spotted on the menu.  When I finally got a chance to order it, it tasted like a bowl of warm milk into which kernels of raw corn had been scraped.  I barely had two spoonsful, and pushed it aside.  It was tasteless, and the undercooked corn was bitter.  God knows what that light green “oil slick” floating on top was!  Worse, the server never even questioned why I would leave almost a whole bowl of “soup” practically untouched.  That evening, a gentleman sitting next to me at the bar ordered the “Filet Mignon”.  The meat was about the size of a silver dollar and was artfully balanced on about two tablespoons of mashed potatoes.  He admitted he didn’t expect a full dinner, but this was ridiculous, he said – especially when he could have gotten all the prime rib he could handle by heading downstairs to the Diamond Lounge.  And, for those of us who just want a couple pre-dinner cocktails, is it too much to ask for the availability of some mixed nuts, or a nice cheese plate (as they have at the Harrah’s lounge)?  I even hinted to the server that maybe he could “borrow” some nuts from the Diamond Lounge downstairs, but the thought went totally over his head.  Oh, and don’t even think about ordering any food from the bartenders.  If you’re sitting at the bar, they’ll hand you a menu, but it’s up to you to track down a server (or hope one stops by) to place your order.  Considering that the bartenders are rarely that busy, and spend most of their time watching TV or talking to their colleagues, isn’t it too much to ask that guests deal with two different employees just to get a shrimp cocktail?  Again, the bartenders at Harrah’s take orders, as do the bartenders at the Diamond Lounges.  (On my last visit for a late-night after-dinner drink and some ice cream, I sat at the bar for five minutes before someone came to take my drink order – in the scheme of things not that long, but when you’re sitting alone watching the bartender glued to a soccer match on TV and chatting with the other servers, it seems like an eternity.)  When she finally spotted me, she asked, “Is this your first time here?”  “No, actually, you made a drink for me about 30 hours earlier,” I replied.  When she asked if I wanted some food, I said, “Just a little dessert.”  She brought me the menu (which I didn’t need), and when no one came to take my order, gently chided me for not propping the menu upright on the bar.  I apologized for not knowing the “secret code” necessary to get served.  Enough already!  Just take my order and relay it to a server.  Finally, how about a friendly greeting when you enter?  Unlike Harrah’s (and I hate to keep making comparisons to such an established operation, but maybe the folks at Caesars could learn something instead of going out of their way to be “different”), a revolving door of the same folks who work at VIP Check-In, as well as the Diamond Lounge, swipe your player’s card as you enter.  It’s fine if you know the person, but, usually, the individual sitting there is busy checking personal e-mails and barely gives you the time of day.  He or she is probably bored due to the fact that so few people are frequenting the lounge.  In addition, management needs to be more visible – and shouldn’t be wasting time bringing food orders to tables when there appears to be plenty of servers.  If the rumor is true about the high level of staff turnover – and I’ve heard it from a number of sources – someone in charge needs to step up and fix a very broken situation.  I’ll stick to the Caesars Diamond Lounge where I feel I’m treated more like a real VIP.

Parking Garage Reminder

Have you ever self-parked somewhere, only to return later and forget where you parked?  Caesars offers “memory joggers” in the form of little cards near the elevator that read:

 

WELCOME TO CAESARS

YOU ARE PARKED ON

FLOOR

X

COLOSSEUM GARAGE

 

Nice touch!

Nero’s: Two Thumbs Down!

Maybe it’s because I had just seen Spartacus a few days earlier on TCM, but the first thing I did after finishing dinner at Nero’s last month was make a fist and point my thumb downward.  After a three-year absence (I’d had a succession of less-than-desirable experiences there, including a disastrous Seven Stars “Celebratory Dinner”), I returned reluctantly, but expecting some improvements.  Rebranded Nero’s Tuscan Steakhouse (which seems to mean that you add some cheap white bean side dishes to entrees), dinner was “OK” but nothing extraordinary.  “Steak-ed out” following dinner the previous evening at the fabulous new Vic & Anthony’s over at the Golden Nugget, my guest and I wanted something a little lighter.  I thought I found it in the swordfish special ($42), and my friend had the pressed chicken.  Both were perfectly cooked:  The fish was not overly done and had the requisite grill marks; the chicken was crispy on the outside, moist on the inside.  However, both entrees were just bland, both in taste and presentation. My fish came with a few stalks of broccoli raab, some potato puree and a big glob of what I would best describe as fig chutney.  Now, I love figs, but this stuff would have been more appropriate slathered on toast at breakfast.  It was cloyingly sweet, and there was so much of it, it dominated the plate – and not in a good way.  And, what about that special treatment for Seven Stars cardholders?  Nothing – not even the chocolate-covered strawberries which the table next to us received.  (Even Reflections over at Harrah’s Resort was giving complimentary mimosas at breakfast – and, not only to Seven Stars cardholders, but to Diamond, as well.)  In summary, Nero’s is just a little “tired” and could use a makeover.  With its dark paneling and subdued lighting, what once seemed clubby and elegant, now just seems dated and claustrophobic.  When Caesars closed Primavera, it should have shuttered Nero’s as well, and made the entire floor the Atlantic Grill.  I haven’t tried it, but I plan to write a full report next month.

Harrah’s Resort

Dos Caminos

Be sure to bring your flashlight if you dine at Dos Caminos.  While I enjoyed my dinner there last month, it was almost impossible to read the menu due to the low light level.  Even the servers used flashlights to confirm who-ordered-what before bringing it to the table.  The food was delicious, but don’t expect Taco Bell – or that fast food chain’s low prices.  Three tacos (made with high-quality and perfectly grilled beef – not ground beef with “fillers”) will set you back about $17, as will a modest-sized serving of chicken enchiladas.  Two entrees also included a coffee-cup sized bowl of rice and another of saucy beans, i.e., one bowl of each to share.  And, yes, the food’s a bit on the spicy side – not overwhelming, but be forewarned.  Back to the pricing:  The least expensive bottle of red wine hovers in the mid-$30 range.  Also, unlike most Mexican restaurants, there are no baskets of complimentary tortilla chips and salsa.  As a matter of fact, be prepared for the “upsell” as your server enthuses over your choice of several handmade guacamoles – all at an extra charge, of course.  In a world of casino dining that seems to focus on steakhouses and Italian eateries, it’s nice to have the option of “Modern Mexican”.  I just hope there is more demand – and Harrah’s does more to promote it.  Unless you know those restaurants upstairs exist, it’s easier to grab a quick meal at Bob’s Bar & Burger (as awful as their burgers are) and Reflections, or something more substantial at McCormick & Schmick’s.  Despite what the ad for Dos Camino touts, it was a Friday night around 11 p.m. and I didn’t see anyone “shaking their maracas to the hottest DJs on the Shore”.  The music was a little on the loud side, but the place was practically empty.

General

Seven Stars Countdown

Following up on an item from last month, for the benefit of those Diamond cardholders who aspire to Seven Stars status – and those former Seven Stars cardholders who may be returning to the fold this year – let’s track how long it takes.  As I wrote in August, I know someone who topped 100,000 tier points July 29.  Here’s a chronology of “events” leading to receiving the actual card – just a week later!:

  • July 29 – Player earns 100,000+ tier points.
  • August 1 (or could have been July 31) – Both Total Rewards Web site and myTR app show not only up-to-date tier score, but indicate player’s “Current Tier” as Seven Stars.
  • August 4 – Player receives Total Rewards statement via e-mail which also indicates Seven Stars status.  Local host at Harrah’s Chester prints new cards.  Player takes cards to Atlantic City to add photograph.
  • August 5 – Player receives e-mail confirmation from Total Rewards.
  • August 12 – Player receives official Seven Stars welcome package and booklet

Not bad, considering some folks have complained that it took weeks – which is what this player was told.

Extra Credit

Many restaurants in Caesars casinos around the country participate in Open Table (http://www.OpenTable.com).  It’s a quick and easy way to make a dining reservation and you can earn Dining Reward Points for OpenTable Dining Cheques which can be used at any participating OpenTable restaurant.  Most restaurants earn you 100 points per reservation, but many offer “specials” that earn 1,000 points for dining on a certain day and at a select time.  You need a minimum of 2,000 points to redeem a Dining Cheque, issued in three denominations, with the following point values:

United States:
2,000 OpenTable Points = $20 OpenTable Dining Cheque
5,000 OpenTable Points = $50 OpenTable Dining Cheque
10,000 OpenTable Points = $100 OpenTable Dining Cheque

Canada
Redeem 2,000 points and get a $26 OpenTable Dining Cheque
Redeem 5,000 points and get a $65 OpenTable Dining Cheque
Redeem 10,000 points and get a $130 OpenTable Dining Cheque

United Kingdom
Redeem 2,000 points and get a £15 OpenTable Dining Cheque
Redeem 5,000 points and get a £37.50 OpenTable Dining Cheque
Redeem 10,000 points and get a £75 OpenTable Dining Cheque

Ignorance Is Not Always Bliss

I met a very charming couple from Pennsylvania at the Caesars Seven Stars Lounge.  They had been Seven Stars cardholders for more than three years and never knew about the Seven Stars Lounge at Harrah’s Resort – despite the fact that they stayed and played there almost exclusively (often in the shadow of the lounge at Diamond Cove).  As we talked longer, it was clear that – other than the “basics” – they knew very little about all the benefits they were due.  Part of the problem, we surmised, is that their host is a “freelancer” (based in Pennsylvania) who represents a number of casinos and probably isn’t aware herself.  The couple also confided that her service has deteriorated over the years, but they’re embarrassed to complain and feel awkward expressing their frustration because they’ve become so “close” to her.  Lesson #1 folks, if your host isn’t doing his/her job, ask for someone else.  Directly and indirectly, you’re paying this host’s salary.  If you owned a business, you’d fire an employee who wasn’t performing; it’s the same with your host.

Tipping Tips

On the Seven Stars Insider Web site, I note that the staff at the Seven Stars Lounge at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City treats its customers very well, and that customers should do likewise, i.e., be sure to leave a gratuity.  From what I – and several others – have observed, too many people are simply walking out of the Diamond and Seven Stars Lounges and not leaving tips (or modest ones, at best).  For years I have been advocating that guests should receive an itemized “bill” with all their drinks and food.  It would be stamped with a big “Complimentary” but also, in large letters, it would say, “Gratuity Not Included”.  People don’t realize the value of what they are receiving, for one thing, and others are just plain cheap.  They figure they dropped a bundle in the casino and are “owed” all this free food and drink (and, apparently, service).  Caesars could do its wait staff in these lounges and clubs a great service by taking my advice and presenting “checks” to everyone before they leave.  Not only might it increase gratuities for the servers, but it would educate players what they’re getting in return for their play on the casino floor.

‘Bait and Switch’?

Speaking of new cardholders, since it appears that a number of players are just starting to qualify for Seven Stars for the first time, they may be disappointed to learn that the gifts listed in the descriptive copy on the Web site – “We’ve chosen a wide range of items that will apply to even the most discriminate of tastes.  From a Garmin Nuvi to a set of Reed & Barton wine glasses, no object will disappoint.” – are not even being offered.  The only “choices” – if you can call them that – available this year are one of two digital cameras, a 3D Blu-Ray player, an Apple 8GB iPod Nano or a Kindle.  Nice gifts, but if you’re a “techie” you probably already have any of these items you’d be interested in.  You’ve either purchased them, or gotten them through some other casino giveaway.  Hopefully, next year, there will be more to select from.

Time For More Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation Lessons?

A sharp-eyed newcomer to Seven Stars found yet another error in the fancy book everyone gets:  On page 45, the “Unforgettable Trip to Chicago. . .must be taken in it’s [sic] entirety during one trip.”  Then there’s the Contact page on the Total Rewards Web site.  One of the FAQs is “How do I get in touch with Caesars’s [sic]?”  Perhaps the writer wasn’t sure which form to you, so he/she used several to cover all bases.

General Manager’s Clubs

Seven Stars cardholders (and Diamond cardholders with 30,000 or more tier points) have a nice benefit in the General Manager’s Clubs at several casinos in the Midwest.  Each Club is a little different in what it offers, according to those who have visited.  For instance, while the Diamond Lounge in Kansas City charges for alcoholic beverages, the GM Club doesn’t.  There is more limited food service than in the Diamond Lounge, but the quality is higher, e.g., prime rib, shrimp.  There also are iPads to use, a massage chair, Wii and other “toys” (as someone described them).  At the Horseshoe in Council Bluffs the food offerings are a little more extensive, but not by much, report others.  In addition, the GM Clubs hold special events and promotions.  Some of the GM Clubs, in Joliet, for instance, are “virtual”, i.e., there is no physical GM Club, but perhaps just a kiosk in the Diamond Lounge to swipe your player’s card for some special drawing or event.  After an overnight stay in Joliet a couple months ago, I have been bombarded by special offers, free play, dinners, etc., all part of my membership in the GM Club.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read In The Papers (or Magazines)

The editors of Total Rewards Magazine need a geography lesson.  Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City is not located on the Boardwalk, and the Atlantic Grill is open at Caesars (which is on the Boardwalk), not Harrah’s.  According to the Fall 2011 edition, “Harrah’s [Resort] already had a baker’s dozen of delectable restaurants, but four new eateries have made this casino the culinary king of the Boardwalk. . . .Atlantic Grill, run by Food Network veteran chef Anthony Amoroso, offers organic freshwater and seafood delights along with spectacular views of the ocean.”

Updates

  • Caesars Atlantic City – Just when I thought it safe to enter my room and not slip on menus from local restaurants, there it was again!  A.C. Pizza Palace II is back!  (At least the elevator that wasn’t recognizing key cards is working again!  As a matter of fact, a couple weekends ago, you didn’t even need to insert your key; just push a button and up you went.)
  • Harrah’s Chester – I guess we’re all going to have gamble a little more there.  A much-needed paint job in the self-parking garage started, but it seems to have stalled at the first level.  I’d be happy to pitch in a few bucks; it would be cheaper than recovering from several near collisions in the garage due to the poor signage and worn-off markings on the garage floor.
  • Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City – They actually reprinted the Straight No Chaser posters with the misspelling of Harrah’s; however, someone forgot to replace the one out front at the Brigantine entrance.

Let’s Try This Again. . .

More than a year ago I made a couple suggestions which, I think, are worth restating:

  • Toll-Free “Hotline”- Major airlines and hotels have them for their “elite” customers, why can’t Caesars have a dedicated Seven Stars toll-free number where cardholders can call to get answers to their questions?  Too many times, you ask someone a question and he/either doesn’t know, or gives you the wrong answer.  One definitive source would make life a lot easier.
  • Advisory Board – Several years ago I was honored to be part of an advisory board for Starwood Hotels & Resorts.  There were 30 us serving staggered three-year terms, i.e., there were 10 new members joining the board each year, as 10 others “retired”.  All of us booked a considerable number of hotel room nights each year and planned a wide variety of events including annual conventions, incentive trips, etc.  We met over weekends three times a year at various properties around the country.  Couldn’t Caesars benefit from the ideas and thoughts of its “best” customers?

Question Of The Month

My husband and I have to be in Los Angeles the weekend before Thanksgiving.  We thought it would be great if we took a nonstop flight from there to Philadelphia (there are no nonstops from our home airport near San Diego), spend a few nights in Atlantic City, take the train (at our expense) to a nearby town in New Jersey to spend Thanksgiving weekend with our kids, then fly back to San Diego from Philadelphia.  My host tells me my annual Seven Stars trip has to be a round-trip ticket from my home airport to the casino’s local airport.  That just doesn’t seem right.  Any suggestions which might be beneficial to me?  My understanding is that you have a $600 per person coach airfare credit, and you can use it practically any way you want.  Your request seems extremely logical, and should not be a problem.  Give your host this example:  My “home casino city” is Atlantic City/Philadelphia.  I spend spring, summer and fall there.  However, in the winter, I travel to my second home in Florida.  I decide to take my Seven Stars trip to Las Vegas in mid-April, and return not to Miami, but Philadelphia.  Do you think Caesars is going to make me travel back to Philadelphia (at my own expense) just to start the trip from my “home” city?  Or make me fly back to Miami, when it’s more convenient for me to return to Philadelphia?  If your host won’t book it, speak to her supervisor – usually the casino’s director of marketing.  Your host is ill-informed and not very accommodating.  I’d also ask for a new host.

Great Race Giveaway

I’m not sure who came up with this promo, but someone should have thought it through a little better.  I know too many people who are sending their Total Rewards cards to their friends around the country and asking them to swipe in at their nearest Caesars casino and play the requisite one tier point.  [Of course, I’m not suggesting you do this!]  Considering how cautious Caesars and many other casinos are when it comes to requiring identification for most transactions, I would have thought that this would have been the first requirement, i.e., physically presenting your card with ID at a Total Rewards Center.  Too late now!

Darryl D. McEwen, Publisher

Seven Stars Insider

Seven Stars Insider – April Edition

Here’s the latest edition of Seven Stars Insider.  Wow, there is more good info than usual.  I will break it out later, but wanted to get this up ASAP.  This is an easy read and an excellent resource for Caesars players – especially in Atlantic City this month.  Head over to Seven Stars Insider to sign up for the newsletter.  There is lots of new and useful information in this edition (some of which I’m going to reference in future posts), so read on for all the goods.

Seven Stars Insider – April 2011

NOTE: While this newsletter was originally designed exclusively for Seven Stars members, there is useful information for anyone who has a Total Rewards® player’s card and/or plays/stays at a Caesars property.  Please feel free to pass this on to your friends.  Back issues of the Seven Stars Insider newsletter are available online here.

Second Seven Stars Club Set For Atlantic City
The site of the former Bacchanal dining experience at Caesars will become Atlantic City’s second Seven Stars Club.  Management hopes to have it open in time for the June Signature Event (see below).

June Signature Event
The next Signature Event will take place in Atlantic City June 23-26.  Lionel Richie will be the featured entertainment and “Straight, No Chaser” – last summer’s resident entertainment at Harrah’s Resort – also will appear.  [“Straight, No Chaser” will officially open its summer 2011 season on June 27 at Harrah’s Resort.]  Additional Signature Events are scheduled for August 26-29 at Lake Tahoe, and October 6-9 and 13-16 in New Orleans.  The second weekend in New Orleans coincides with the annual Crescent City Blues and Barbecue Weekend.

Surveying Useless Surveys
When is Caesars going to stop sending those ridiculous surveys to its customers?  I was in Caesars Atlantic City briefly one Monday morning to use some expiring free play, and three days later a survey “about my visit” popped into my e-mail.  For one thing, much of the information asked in the survey – and previous similar surveys – is already known to Caesars, e.g., what I play (slots or table games), slot machine denomination, etc.  But what was really crazy were the questions regarding my overnight stay.  While I clearly stated that I stayed at another property (and even identified it!), subsequent questions asked about how I made my reservation, the cleanliness of the room, etc. – as if I had stayed at Caesars!  I don’t mind surveys, but these are truly meaningless and I refuse to bother with them in the future until someone takes a good hard look at their content.  [At least they dropped the question I used to hate most: “Is this a casino you feel ‘lucky’ in?”  What was the point?]

Reservations About Caesars Reservation System
Message boards were buzzing last month when someone posted her [not so great] experience with Caesars telephone reservation system.  Lots of people agreed with her, but, oddly, no one suggested the simplest way to make a reservation – the Caesars Web site.  You get an immediate response and you can print your confirmation details in the event of an error once you go to check-in.

Use Hosts As Ambassadors, Not Secretaries
Speaking of making reservations, last month I was approached by a host at a non-Caesars casino, but one where I have played since it opened.  [I have what is basically equivalent to a Caesars Diamond card.]  This casino has an excellent Web site and it’s very easy to make hotel reservations – and, if it’s available, even request a suite (knowing that this can’t actually be confirmed until check-in, but, 75 percent of the time, I’ve gotten the upgrade I requested).  The host cited all sorts of “advantages” to using his services, e.g., comp rooms, late check-outs, restaurant reservations, etc.  Frankly, I’ve never had a problem getting a comp – and usually upgraded – room (and, if I did, I just went elsewhere), nor have I ever been denied a late check-out just by calling the front desk, and I’ve never had a problem getting a restaurant reservation.  When are casinos going to wise-up and stop wasting hosts’ time by making them nothing more than glorified secretaries?  Rather than making hotel and restaurant reservations, these ladies and gentlemen should be spending their time checking up on their guests, getting to know them better, and finding out how their customers can help get more of their friends into the casinos, etc.  Oh, and report back to management all the “negatives” they’re hearing!  I can’t tell you how many “front line” employees – especially bartenders, restaurant servers and player’s club staffers – have told me that management seems to totally ignore their reports of customer dissatisfaction.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Use The Men’s Room
A second robbery in as many months has occurred in the men’s room at Bally’s Atlantic City.  New Jersey State Police are investigating the robbery and assault of an 86-year-old man on the morning of March 6.  The victim – a World War II veteran of Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army and the Battle of the Bulge – suffered bruises, but refused medical attention.  Maybe there’s a reason it’s called Wild Wild West?

Smoking Lawsuit
The mother of a former employee at Harrah’s New Orleans has filed a lawsuit seeking class-action status and accuses the casino of failing to protect its employees from generous levels of secondhand smoke.  Her son died of cancer last year, according to published reports.

Caesars To Open Hotels Without Casinos
Look for Caesars hotels in “underserved” Asian markets – India, China and southeastern parts of the continent, but don’t expect to gamble there.  You might even see a Flamingo in Europe.  It’s a plan similar to one already instituted by MGM Resorts International.

Caesars Palace Plans Hotel-Within-A-Hotel
Caesars Palace has turned to Nobu Hospitality to create a boutique hotel within the hotel.  The year-long transformation will turn the 180-room Centurion Tower into the Nobu Hotel Las Vegas.  The renovation will also include development of a Nobu-themed restaurant and lounge facility at the base of the hotel tower, encompassing 9,500 square feet near Caesars Appian Way retail area.  Caesars Palace will operate the hotel and employ the staff for Nobu Tower, which will include a separate check-in area and small lobby.

Mixed Messages?
First I get a mailing from Caesars Palace which touts:  “Reel Rewards is the most convenient free slot play around.  There’s no PIN to remember, or complicated download sequence – simply insert your Total Rewards card and Reel Rewards Express Play Coupon, and play away!”

Then a week later, I get another mailing from Caesars:  “At some locations, and coming to many more, Total Rewards members can download Free Slot Play right at the slot machine!  No more coupons to keep track of – just start playing your favorite machine and offers will be delivered by our Total Touch technology.”

So, which is it?  Coupons or downloading play at the machine?  I’ll opt for the download any day.  I don’t know anyone who is thrilled with Caesars system of issuing Express Play Coupons, both for some of its promotions and “Gaming Offers” [what used to be called Cashback, and actually was money returned to you in the form of real cash].  Unless you’re redeeming a coupon you received in the mail and, depending on whether it’s promotional free play or gaming offers earned from prior play, you need to go to a Promotional Kiosk (if it’s some sort of “promotion” – but not always) or to a regular “Rewards Kiosk” if you want to check your gaming offers – except that not all promotional offers are limited to the Promotional Kiosk, e.g., the Lucky Clover game at Caesars Atlantic City last month.  [Are you following me?]  With some promotions, first you have to swipe your card at the second floor Promotional Kiosk, make a selection, print your coupon, and then take your coupon to the Main Cashier – which at Caesars in Atlantic City is on the first floor  (unless it’s a weekend when the second floor cashier might be open).  The cashier then will issue you Express Play Coupons in the denominations of your choice.  (However, be very careful and check the expiration dates – sometimes they’ll be good for five or six days, sometimes, they expire that same day.)  At Bally’s next door you don’t even have a choice when it comes to downloading your free play, i.e., “Gaming Offers”.  As soon as you swipe your card, you get a screen which tells you how much free play you’ve earned, and you can’t go any further into the system without hitting the icon and printing a coupon – which, again, you have to take to the Main Cashier (and, if you print your coupon at a kiosk in the section of Wild Wild West closest to Caesars, it’s a bit of a walk to the Main Cashier).  What if you have $100 in free play, but don’t have time to play it, or don’t want to play all of it that day?  Or what if you got coupons in the mail and left them home?  At least on this issue, Trump and Borgata have it right.  No coupons are needed; everything is downloadable at any machine.

Las Vegas Bar and Restaurant News
– Chef Michel Richard will bring Central 24/7 to Caesars Palace in late summer.
– An enhanced version Burger King’s famous brand, a Whopper Bar will soon be open for 24-hours-day at the Rio.  Offering customers 30 different hamburger toppings and Whopper concepts not found at traditional Burger Kings, the Whopper Bar also allows customers to order various beers with their meal.  Among the 30 toppings include A1 steak sauce, pepper bacon, guacamole and crispy onions.  The restaurant also will offer several specialty hamburgers, including The Angry Whopper, which includes spicy jalapeños and pepper jack cheese; the California Whopper, with guacamole, bacon and Swiss cheese; and the BK Black & Bleu Steakhouse, with bleu cheese and blackened Cajun sauce.  In addition to hamburgers, the Whopper Bar will serve breakfast from 2 to 11 a.m.

Atlantic City Restaurant News
Caffe Tazza (not Tozza, as reported in the Press of Atlantic City) has opened in the lobby at Caesars.  Offerings include pastries, breakfast fare, gelato, wraps, sandwiches and salads.  Similar to the Gelato Bar in the Metropolitan over at the Borgata, Caffe Tazza, though, is strictly “take-out” since there is no seating available.
Primavera in Caesars has closed to make way for the new Atlantic Grill Seafood.   I always enjoyed Primavera, but, as I wrote more than a year ago, the days of tuxedoed waiters, white glove service, crystal chandeliers, hand-painted murals, etc., are gone – especially in casinos. Arrivederci, Primavera!
Nero’s Sunday brunch has been relocated to Mia in Caesars lobby.
– First it was the Harbor Club/Diamond Club, then last summer it was transformed into D’Zio and now this mezzanine-level space at Harrah’s Resort will become Dos Caminos, featuring “modern Mexican cuisine”.  Look for an opening Memorial Day weekend.
The Deli at Harrah’s Resort has closed and will become Bill’s Bar & Burger by the end of June.  Hopefully, it will be better organized than the Deli and keep more consistent hours.

Loveman’s Compensation Tops $18 Million
Caesars Entertainment Corp. Chief Executive Officer Gary Loveman earned more than $18.2 million in total compensation in 2010, of which almost $12.4 million was listed as option awards.  According to the company’s annual report filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Loveman earned a salary of $1.9 million in 2010, nonequity incentive plan compensation of $2.7 million and other compensation of more than $1.268 million.  Loveman earned total compensation of more than $5.9 million in 2009 and more than $39.6 million in 2008, much of which was tied to $36.4 million in option awards following the formerly public company’s buyout by two private equity firms.  According to the filing, Loveman is required to use Caesars aircraft for personal and business travel due to security reasons.

Smoking Mad!
I ran across this on one of the message boards I subscribe to.  Makes a lot of sense:  Harrah’s AC held a sweepstakes on March 18 and again on March 25. It was called “Diamond Cove Hot Seat Sweepstakes”. To be eligible, you had to be a Diamond cardholder and be playing in the Diamond Cove room between 6 p.m. and midnight using your player’s card. Every 15 minutes one active player in the Diamond Cove would win $500. Since the Diamond Cove is a smoking-permitted room, and due to the drawing, the room was even more smoky than normal. Non-smokers who do not want to be exposed to the high levels of secondhand smoke could not participate in these sweepstakes. It may not have been intentional, but Harrah’s AC is discriminating against non-smokers. I am sure that smokers would be unhappy if a casino ran a promotion that prohibited them from participating.

$1,000 Hand Pays
As reported last month, many Caesars casinos are hand-paying jackpots at $1,000, rather than $1,200.  No W2-Gs are issued, but, as many have complained, it’s annoying and inconvenient to have to sit and wait for your cash.  Two other points I hadn’t considered have surfaced over the last month: tipping and security.  Though by no means an obligation, most people are probably going to give the slot attendant some sort of gratuity, basically leaving it up customers to help compensate Caesars employees.  Far more serious is the tip-off to potential muggers who now know someone has a wad of cash in his pocket (or her purse).

Security Concerns At Boardwalk Casinos
I’ve written before about folks sleeping at slot machines – particularly at Caesars, Bally’s and Showboat (and, to be fair, the other Boardwalk casinos).  The number of “questionable types” roaming these casinos –even during the day – actually discourages business and drives some people to play exclusively at the Marina District casinos.  Trip Advisor, though, has had some particularly harsh comments about lack of security at Caesars and Showboat.  You can read them for yourself here and here. [For that second link, you’ll have to scroll down a bit to get to the security portion.]

Kansas City Harrah’s
Lest you think it’s only Atlantic City that has security problems, check this out:  According to a Web posting, a man had a seizure and fell off his chair in Harrah’s Kansas City.  According to the report (see link below), there were no employees around so a customer went running to the bar yelling, “Help, help, we need a medic. A man is having a seizure.” The report claims that the bartender didn’t even look up.  After another round of yelling (and no response), the customer called 911.  Fortunately, the man having the seizure is OK.  Here’s the complete story.

Gain An Extra Hour: Stay At Caesars In Atlantic City
Stepping back in time has new meaning at Caesars in Atlantic City.  Apparently, no one bothered to change all the room clocks when we went to Daylight Saving Time last month.  I’m sure guests would be happy to advance their room clocks if it didn’t take a degree from MIT to accomplish this.  For now, maybe a Housekeeping supervisor should add this to his/her list of things to check when inspecting rooms.  [Start with Room 4303 in the Centurion Tower.]

6ix: A ‘Garbage Dump’?
I’ve never been a fan of the “casual dining” outlets in Bally’s Atlantic City (6ix: A Bistro, Pickles and especially the Virginia City Buffet).  However, after receiving several coupons for free food and beverage, I decided to have lunch at 6ix one day last month.  I was seated at a booth with a view of at least six or more uncleaned tables with dirty plates and leftover food piled up.  (See photo above.)  There were discarded – and presumably used – paper napkins on the floor under my table, and the whole place seemed woefully understaffed.  Considering there was an entire section in the rear of the restaurant that appeared relatively neat and clean (and only partially occupied by other diners), I don’t know why I was seated in the midst of all this filth.  Rather than request another table, the reporter in me decided to stick around to see how long it would take to get things back in shape.  By the time I finished my tuna sandwich, but not my tepid and greasy french fries, the area was once again ready for customers.  The only bright spot was my charming and accommodating server Abu.  When Bally’s closed its previously sad coffee shop, Animations, I had high hopes for this new venture.  However, the whole place is poorly designed.  Customers and employees are constantly dodging tray stands – usually topped with trays, which are topped with dirty dishes, and back-ups at the cashier are legendary.  Plus, why locate the cashier where paying customers are forced to line up directly in the path of servers bringing food from the kitchen?  And then there is that great sign at the entrance: “Please Wait For Hostess To Be Seated”.  [I’ve waited and waited, but she never sits down.J]

New Orleans Partners
There seems to be lots of buzz lately about which restaurants in New Orleans are 1:1 and which are 2:1 – also, which ones are even included in the program.  Here is the link that shows you the partner restaurants. Since these policies change frequently, I would call Harrah’s New Orleans (1-800-Harrahs) and ask for the VIP Guest Desk which is where you would go to get your comp vouchers for the off-site restaurants.  (Even Ruth’s Chris in the hotel lobby is 2:1.)

Atlantic City GM Recognized By Magazine
Senior Vice President and General Manager of Caesars Atlantic City and Harrah’s Resort Jay Snowden has been named by Atlantic City Weekly as one its “Top 40 Under 40”.  His bio pointed out that he has 13 years of industry experience, including six in the Atlantic City market.  “Looking at 2011 as a pivotal year for the A.C. market, Jay plans to continue to stay involved in the city’s revitalization efforts and build upon the current success and momentum in the areas of entertainment, citywide events and nightlife,” according to the article. “In addition, Jay plans to introduce some new, well-known restaurant names/brands, provide innovative gaming experiences, and enhance hotel accommodations at both properties.”

Great Gift Wrap Up Bonus
Head to Las Vegas April 15-17 if you want to rack up some bonus points for the 2011 year-end Great Gift Wrap Up.

Comments, Complaints and Other Observations
Asking an open-ended question last month really unleashed the floodgates.  In descending order, the biggest complaints were perceptions that Caesars has downgraded the Seven Stars program by reducing the number of annual gift choices and Signature Experiences, understaffing (from housekeepers and restaurant servers to security guards, slot attendants and cashiers), and poor housekeeping.  More specifically, players would like longer and later hours at the Las Vegas casinos’ Diamond Lounges, as well as the reopening of the Seven Stars Club at Caesars Palace (or the opening of a Seven Stars Club somewhere in Las Vegas).  Two players wished Caesars would just add $500 in comps to their account each year rather than force them to “blow” 500 bucks on a one-time dinner.

[A Not So] Happy Birthday To You!
One Seven Stars cardholder, used to getting a generous [cash] birthday gift each year, received a mere $50 in free play this year.  Upon questioning this change in policy, according to the e-mail she received, the amount was based on her play during the previous three months.  This “what have you done for me lately” philosophy doesn’t seem fair.  Once they’ve achieved Seven Stars (100,000 tier points), many folks scale back their play toward the end of the year.  If you’re unlucky enough to have a birthday toward the end of the calendar year or the beginning of the calendar year, you’re going to get less than you probably deserve if your overall annual play was accounted for.  Has anyone else found their birthday “gift” to have been cutback?  Send me an e-mail to sevenstarsinsider@gmail.com and I’ll share your thoughts – anonymously, of course.

Darryl D. McEwen, Publisher
Seven Stars Insider