Seven Stars Insider – December Edition

Here’s the latest edition of Seven Stars Insider.  This is an easy read and an excellent resource for Caesars Total Rewards players.  Head over to Seven Stars Insider to sign up for the newsletter.  There is a lot of information in this edition and I will pull out some nuggets to look at closer later next week. In fact, I’ve already pulled one major nugget. Can you find it?. Read on for all the goods.

Seven Stars Insider – December 2011

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 www.sevenstarsinsider.com.

Harrah’s Joliet (Illinois)

Updates and Renovations
Thanks to a reader who plays at Harrah’s Joliet, here are some updates:
The existing Diamond Lounge has closed, but a temporary location has been set-up.  Mosaic will soon close to become the site of the new lounge.
The buffet and Stage 151 also have closed, and with the addition of the former Diamond Lounge, this area will become a new Paula Deen buffet and restaurant.  Target date for opening is March 2012.
Utilizing space formerly occupied by high-limit slots, a poker room was added earlier this year, and in October a new high-limit slots room opened in space on the main casino floor.
The former general manager of the Chicago Chop House has joined Harrah’s Joliet as food and beverage manager.

Baltimore,  Maryland

Decision Expected Next Month
Caesars Entertainment Corp. last month applied for the license to run a casino proposed for Baltimore.  Caesars submitted a bid for a 3,750-machine casino on Russell Street. The location drew another bidder, Baltimore City Casino LLC, but the company did not submit the required $22.5 million initial license fee and is likely to be disqualified, State Slots Commission Chairman Donald C. Fry said.

Las Vegas

Making the Great Gift Wrap Up Even Greater
It’s time again for “phase 2” of the annual Las Vegas Great Gift Wrap Up, December 1 – 5 at Caesars Palace.  The most frequent question I get is, “Do I have to be staying at a Caesars property to participate?”  The answer is, “no”.  If you’ve earned the points, all you have to do is be there physically to cash them in.  However, a little homework is in order before you get to Vegas.  First, check your point balance at www.greatgiftwrapup.com .  Then, decide if you want to use your points for free play ($100 for 30,000 points), gift cards or specific products.  In some cases, it may be more convenient to “purchase” gift cards, and buy the products locally or online (taking advantage of sales and other discounts), rather than waiting for the items to be delivered.  (Don’t forget to factor in state and local taxes, and delivery charges.)  Whatever you do, take the time to compare items with their retail prices (check out the manufacturer’s Web site or go to a price comparison site like www.pricegrabber.com ).  Then, divide the number of required points by the purchase price to see which offer the best values.  For example, a $100 gift card “costs” 35,000 points, or 350 points per dollar.  A 12-cup Cuisinart food processor retails (on the Cuisinart Web site) for $249 and requires 62,700 points or 252 points per dollar; however, by doing a little online pricing, I found it as low as $151.95 (or 413 points per dollar).  Also, as with everything, “prices” have gone up.  That $10 Shell card you got last year for 3,100 points is this year 3,500.

Flamingo

Carlos’n Charlie’s
The newest outpost of this Mexican cantina opens this month.  Founded in Acapulco in 1970, the restaurant chain has seven restaurants in Mexico and two others in the United States (Austin, Tex., and West Palm Beach, Fla.).

Atlantic City

Caesars Giveth and Taketh Away
Next time you gloat over the fact that you didn’t pay that $13 in “fees” on your comp room at Bally’s, Caesars, Harrah’s or Showboat, know that your comp dollar account has been depleted by said $13 per night.  I always assumed the $13 was “forgiven” – much like the taxes on comped food and beverage in casino restaurants; however, after a recent two-night stay at Harrah’s I noticed my comp dollars had been reduced, even though I had no food and beverage or other charges.  When I requested a “transaction” report – which you only can see briefly while standing at the Total Rewards desk, but not keep to study – the manager, Linda, pointed out several $5 and $3 charges against my account (adding up to $13 per night).  Considering that every other casino in town only charges guests the required $5 in fees (see below), Caesars takes an additional $8 and then charges it against your comps.  To me, it’s like a “resort fee” that many Las Vegas casinos charge.  Ironically, the fact that Caesars properties in Las Vegas don’t charge a resort fee is a major theme of its advertising campaign out there.  As I’ve written before, I’m surprised that the Borgata, Trump, Golden Nugget, Resorts and others in Atlantic City don’t use this $8 per night fee as an element of their promotional campaigns – especially since, if you try to book a room in Atlantic City using the My TR app on your iPhone, the rate even states, “No Resort Fees!”

According to Publication ANJ-17 from the New Jersey Division of Taxation, casino hotels are required to collect a $2 per night “tourism promotion fee” which they remit back to the state.  In addition, the state imposes a $3 per night fee on complimentary rooms in casino hotels.  At Bally’s/Wild Wild West/Claridge, Caesars, Harrah’s and Showboat, though, the nightly fees total $13 – the highest in Atlantic City.

Other than the Tropicana – which charges $10 per night, all other Atlantic City casino hotels charge guests just the $5 per night required by law.  Trump Plaza waives the fee for its Signature cardholders (and doesn’t charge their comp accounts), but not Taj Mahal.  And, unless your play is at a certain level, Caesars won’t allow just anyone to pay those fees with their comp dollars. 

 So, why the difference in fees charged at Caesars properties?  When I inquired last year, [then Harrah’s Entertainment] spokesperson Ed Tagliaferri responded, “The other $8 are specific Harrah’s Entertainment fees and are charged to cover the cost of doing business and transacting.”  Maybe Caesars should check with the other casinos in town to see what efficiencies they’ve put into place to avoid having to charge their customers this extra $8.

Copycat Promotions
With Borgata giving three times comp dollars every Thursday in December, and the Golden Nugget giving same-day triple cashback – real cash! – look for the Caesars casinos to offer similar promotions this month.

Caesars, Union Avoid Strike
Union workers at Caesars four casinos approved a new three-year contract November 1.  The pact covers about 5,000 employees.

Pier Restaurants Accepting Comps 1:1
Through December 24, Buddakan, The Continental, Souzai, Phillips Seafood Express and Phillips Seafood are joining Morton’s The Steakhouse by accepting comps on a 1:1 basis.

Cut That Out!
Resorts is having a little fun at the expense of Caesars and its Express Play Coupons.  A billboard on the way into town asks, “Tired of clipping coupons?” – a direct hit at the four Caesars properties in town  that don’t upload free play to player’s cards, but require coupons you get in the mail and bring from home, or exchange from vouchers dispensed at the casinos’ kiosks.  For a company so highly computerized it just doesn’t make sense that Caesars puts players through all the machinations of this outdated system – plus it has to be expensive to print all those special bar codes, perforate them, and drop them in the mail.  And, if you mistakenly leave your coupons at home, as they say in New Jersey, “Forgetaboutit!”

Bally’s

Fired Up
An Atlantic City man was charged with arson after he allegedly set two small fires inside Bally’s two days before Thanksgiving.  Fire crews responded about 7:15 p.m. to a small fire in a second floor mop closet at the hotel. That fire was put out prior to their arrival, but crews were directed to a second fire on an upper level of the building.  The casino’s surveillance department spotted the suspect on camera and security found the man inside the bus waiting area.

Legends Holiday Show
Atlantic City just can’t seem to get enough of Legends In Concert.  After returning to Harrah’s Resort following a successful summer engagement, the show is back to its original location, Bally’s Palace Theater, through January 1.

Caesars

A Very Special Diamond ‘Club’
Congratulations to Caesars for joining the Borgata’s Water Club in earning AAA’s Four Diamond rating.  It’s the first Four Diamond rating in the history of Atlantic City for a center Boardwalk casino resort, according to Caesars.  Less than four percent of AAA-approved facilities in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean received this rating.

A Little Discretion, Please
We all know that “high rollers” get special treatment, but the Caesars employee picking up Pier Shopping Vouchers for customers at last month’s event in the Mars Room could have been a little more discrete.  While there were only a few of us in line, everyone noticed the transactions going on between her and one of the event staffers, and wondered who was getting the special treatment.  It’s all well and good to treat your best customers with a little extra service, but, next time, don’t do it in front of others who play by the rules.

Make More Tables For Room
I was lucky enough to snare the last table in the Seven Stars Lounge shortly after it opened on “Black Friday”.  Perhaps if someone from Caesars management team had sat there he/she could have heard all the dissatisfaction with the lack of tables in the lounge.  Most who arrived after I did headed to the bar until it filled up, but, in some cases, age or disability prevented them from hopping up on a bar stool.  One trio stood transfixed, staring into the room for about five minutes, as if some magical spell was going to create more tables and chairs.  Another couple kept watching my guests and me, waiting for us to finish lunch so they could grab our table as soon as we stood up.  When is someone going to admit he/she made a mistake, and add more tables?  Just get rid of those oversized sofas and put in some small tables for two or four.  You’ll make a lot of people very happy.

Boardwalk Brrrr Garden
Colder weather has forced the Boardwalk Beer Garden to close for the season.  It will reopen in May.

21 To Open
As one venue closes, another opens.  On New Year’s Eve, look for the debut of 21 Bar @ Dusk.  The new bar will offer something for everyone, according to go Dusk Management Group, which also operates Disk and the aforementioned Boardwalk Beer Garden.

Harrah’s Resort

From Eye Candy To Eyesore
The colorful leaves of fall, as well as the snowflakes and holiday decorations of winter seem to have taken a backseat to gaudy advertisements for Harrah’s restaurants, The Pool, celebrity entertainers and special events.  I’m talking about the “light show” on the exterior of the Waterfront Tower.  What used to be a visually striking addition to the skyline has deteriorated into nothing but an ugly high-tech billboard.  The worst is when there is a “photo” of someone.  The quality is terrible, and many times, it’s difficult to figure out who’s being illustrated.

Crumb-y Waterfront Buffet
I don’t think anyone would mind waiting a few extra minutes to be seated at a clean table – not just the tabletop, but also the area beneath the table.  I ate twice at the Waterfront Buffet last month and, both times, as I pulled out my chair, I couldn’t help but notice that the carpeting underneath my table was littered with soiled paper napkins, empty sugar packets, and bread crumbs and other partially eaten food that the previous diners had dropped.  Considering that, in my opinion, as well as several others who’ve written, the quality of the food there has deteriorated since it first opened, this is not a good way to start off a meal.

Feeding Frenzy
It can’t be easy feeding 1,000 people all at once – but it’s done all the time.  I’ve had wonderful meals at large banquets from the Waldorf in New York to the Holiday Inn in Toledo.  So why can’t Harrah’s get it right?  After at least three years of avoiding these group dinners, I attended a 60th birthday celebration for Dominic Tedeschi (more on that later), but walked out shortly after the entrée was served.  Seated at a crowded table of 12 (that more comfortably would have seated 10), I could forgive the underdressed salad (and the fact that our server was so busy delivering cocktails I couldn’t get his attention to bring more dressing), but I wish I could have filmed the looks on everyone’s faces at my table when our server delivered the main course.  First, people stared, trying to figure out what it was.  Then, like little kids, they pushed around the food on their plates, hoping, I guess, that it would magically turn appetizing.  The dinner plate (a mass of dark brown, purple and green – brightened only by two perfectly cooked bright pink shrimp sprinkled with lump crabmeat) was the most unappetizing presentation I’ve ever seen.  The steamed cauliflower was tasteless and appeared to have no seasoning, the filet had been cooked to within an inch of its life, and was covered with a tasteless brown mushroom sauce, and the fingerling potatoes were OK, but they just added another “brown element” to an already depressing looking plate.  Hopefully, the dessert was better.  Don’t the banquet chefs at Harrah’s know there’s a Viking Cooking School downstairs?  Maybe they should sign up for some lessons, or ask the chefs over at Bally’s for some pointers.
But, back to Dominic.  I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but no one at my table even knew who he was.  They freely admitted they were there for the free food and drinks, and a chance to win some cash.  Earlier in the week I tried to cancel once I received the written invitation and realized it was a dinner for someone I didn’t know, but my host insisted I would have a good time.  “Open bar, gourmet dinner, cash prizes!  What’s not to like?” she said, pleading with me to attend.  Turns out she resigned the day before the dinner, so I didn’t feel so guilty walking out.  (Maybe she knew in advance how bad the food would be.)  It’s a shame, too, because the room looked lovely; there were beautiful overlays on the tables, matching chair covers, exquisite floral arrangements, and even a decent musical group that – for once – wasn’t too loud.  Maybe things will improve before Dominic’s 65th.

Super Fresh
If you liked your meal at Luke Palladino a couple months ago, don’t look to reorder some of your favorites.  Because Palladino uses only the freshest seasonal ingredients, the appetizers and entrées I enjoyed in June were missing last month to make way for new ones.  Before it’s too late, try the autumn salad, the agnolotti stuffed with ricotta and foie gras, or the ravioli stuffed with ground veal.

Showboat

Knocking The Foundation [Room] Out From Under Another Benefit
Used to be if you wanted to have a drink or dinner at the Foundation Room, you had to be a member – or flash your Seven Stars card.  Now it’s open to the public.

Calendar Girls
The Borgata’s been doing it for years with its “Babes” calendar, so it’s no surprise that a Caesars property has jumped on the bandwagon with a sexy calendar of its own featuring the “Bombshells” party-pit girls from its popular Backstage.

General

Feedback On Feedback
While it’s commendable that Caesars wants feedback on many of our dining experiences, it needs to provide customers with more than a short survey.  How about a pencil or pen?  Too many times I’ve had a great meal or a great server, but no way to complete the survey at my table because I didn’t have a pen or pencil, and couldn’t track anyone down to borrow one.  Same holds true when a server brings the check.  Please bring a pen along so I can sign and leave, and you can get back to your other guests.

MGM-Caesars Merger?
My e-mail receipt from a late-October stay at Caesars Palace came from “MGM Caesars”:
Could this be a hint of what’s to come?

Personal Birthday Wishes
We all know how many customers our hosts have and how busy they are.  While he’s not employed by Caesars, I just want to recognize the fact that Alan Korman, Executive Director of National Marketing at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City, actually took time to pick up the phone to call and wish me a Happy Birthday last month.  I know Alan reads this newsletter, so I wanted to publicly acknowledge this.  I’m certainly not a big player at GN, but I got to know Alan when the GN was the Trump Marina.  He’s always been the consummate professional, and extremely responsive whenever I’ve had the need to contact him.  Other than a generic e-mail from Total Rewards and a hand-signed card from my host at Chester (who I’ve never even met), that was the only “personal” contact I had from anyone at Caesars.  Perhaps front desk clerks also should be a little more mindful of their guests’ birthdates.  Since they’re already checking IDs, you’d think they might notice when a guest is checking in on his/her birthday.  It’s these little touches that can make the difference in customer service.

Survey: Signature Experiences
Those readers who made it to Level I were disappointed in the offerings both this year and last.  Some ideas they suggest for next year: deep sea fishing in Atlantic City, day at the Biltmore or white water rafting (Cherokee), meet and greet with performers (Las Vegas).

New Year’s Resolutions

My suggestions for Caesars Entertainment:
Keep the Diamond Lounges in Las Vegas open later than 9 p.m. – especially on Fridays and Saturdays.  (Lounges in cities much smaller – and less “24-hours” than Vegas – stay open until midnight or later.)
Vary the food offerings in the Vegas Diamond Lounges.  (The hummus and pita wedges, chicken wings and egg rolls are getting a little “tired”.  I’m not saying you have to serve a complete meal – as in Atlantic City – just offer some different options.)

Remove the televisions from Seven Stars and Diamond Lounges – or at least turn them off with the exception of the Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup, and, maybe for the sports-impaired, awards shows like the CMAs or Oscars.  Alternatively, switch the channels to CNN Headline News, or something similar – this is what the airlines do.  [Many of us are tired of the “sports bar” atmosphere that pervades too many of these lounges, as well as the loud and obnoxious “arm chair coaches” who insist on shouting at the screen as though they were actually a) at the game and b) know better than professional coaches.]
“Formally” allow Seven Stars cardholders to bring three guests to the Vegas Diamond Lounges.  (Nearly every other Caesars casino allows this. . .and why shouldn’t Seven Stars cardholders get a benefit greater than every Diamond cardholder?)

Instead of forcing players to host an annual $500 “celebration dinner”, just add to all Seven Stars cardholders’ accounts the equivalent in comp dollars that can be used anytime and in any combination.
Allow all players to see their Total Rewards accounts in “real time” – just like banks and airline frequent flier programs allow them to see “deposits” and “withdrawals”, give players online access so they can verify points they earned, as well as spent, following every trip.

Adjust the value of Great Gift Wrap Up points and, similar to MGM’s Holiday Gift Shoppe points, make each earned Base Reward Credit equal one Great Gift Wrap Up point.

Let players – who wish to – make their own reservations and arrangements, whether it’s for a trip from Atlantic City to Las Vegas or their annual Seven Stars trip.  (If you have more than one host, each of them wants to get credit for scheduling these trips.  This makes it uncomfortable for players who want to maintain a good working relationship with these hosts, but find it awkward to ask one host over another when it comes to these trips.  Don’t make those of us with multiple hosts “play favorites”.  Plus, for players used to making their own travel arrangements, it’s much quicker and easier, eliminates possible errors when working through a third-party, and you get an answer immediately.  I recently booked a stay at an MGM property in Las Vegas by phone.  It took less than five minutes and I had an e-mail confirmation before I hung up.)

Give Seven Stars cardholders (and a guest) complimentary admission to Qua at Caesars in Atlantic City.  (The much larger original Qua at Caesars Palace has offered this perk since it opened.)
To those eligible, offer an alternative to the quarterly golf game at the Atlantic City Country Club.  (Not everyone plays golf, so perhaps the powers-that-be could come up with something of equal value for non-golfers.  If the idea is to get folks out to the club to check it out, how about a lunch or dinner – with transportation, so no one has to drive after a couple cocktails?)
Offer more alternatives for the annual gift – even bonus free play or comp dollars.  (For 2011-2012 the paucity of “choices”, as well as the selections themselves, were the talk of many Seven Stars cardholders.)
Reopen a Seven Stars Lounge somewhere in Las Vegas.  (If Hammond, Ind., and Cherokee, N.C., can have Seven Stars Lounges, why not Las Vegas?)
Either require participating casinos to keep their “pages” up-to-date or drop them from the My TR app.  Other than getting your up-to-the-minute tier score or comp dollars, or directions to a casino (which you can get through other means), the app is pretty useless.  You can’t even get accurate rate information.  For example, I requested a reservation at Bally’s Atlantic City for arrival January 12, 2012, departing the next day.  I got rates starting at $55 up through $155 per night.  However, going through totalrewards.com , that same room was complimentary.

What other “resolutions” would you suggest Caesars make?  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 Las Vegas Blog

Seven Stars Insider – October Edition

Here’s the latest edition of Seven Stars Insider.  This is an easy read and an excellent resource for Harrah’s players.  Head over to Seven Stars Insider to sign up for the newsletter.  There is lots of information in this edition, as usual, so read on for all the goods.

Harrah’s Ak-Chin (Phoenix)

Free Food and Drinks
Seven Stars cardholders get two free buffets every day, as well as additional complimentary cocktails and appetizers in the Diamond Lounge. There is no Seven Stars Lounge, but the Diamond Lounge opens at 2:30 p.m. daily. Sunday through Thursday, the lounge is open until 9 p.m., on Fridays and Saturdays it remains open until 11. Seven Stars cardholders may bring up to three guests and get up to eight free drinks and two appetizers daily; Diamond cardholders may bring just one guest and get four drinks and one appetizer daily. According to Ak-Chin’s Web site, the appetizers are large enough for two to share.

Harrah’s New Orleans

Signature Event Web Site
With the first weekend event beginning October 6, someone should check out the website . It’s nearly impossible to read. The color needs to be darker. It’s the same with the Seven Stars Signature Experiences online booklet:

Tunica

Buffet of Buffets Concept Expands
Joining Las Vegas and Atlantic City, the Buffet of Buffets in Tunica includes the Paula Deen Buffet at Harrah’s, the Village Square Buffet at the Horseshoe and the Big Kitchen Buffet at the Roadhouse. I’ve gained five pounds just writing this paragraph!
Lake Tahoe

Signature Event Gets Rave
I’m always pleased to publish positive feedback, so I was happy to receive this e-mail from a couple who attended the Seven Stars Signature Event in Lake Tahoe: “This was our first Seven Stars Event and it was thoroughly enjoyable. Everybody bent over backward to see to our needs. Even when there was some confusion (poor signage, conflicting directions, lack of sufficient limos) upon arrival at the Reno airport, it was more than made up for by the hospitality of the hosts and the beverages and snacks on the bus to Lake Tahoe. We stayed at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe and the room was very good, the hotel clean, and the service superb. Meals were superior and the lounge provided an out of the way escape from the hustle and bustle of the casino. We took the cruise on the lake and it was a delightful afternoon. All in all, this experience provided incentive for us to maintain our Seven Stars status. Kudos to the Harrah’s/Harvey’s staffs at Lake Tahoe for a great job.”

Las Vegas

Linq To Link Imperial Palace and Flamingo
Work has begun on The Linq, a $550 million outdoor retail, dining and entertainment district patterned after The Grove in Los Angeles and anchored by the world’s tallest observation wheel. In addition, the Imperial Palace will be rethemed and renovated with a new facade, porte cochere, and hotel reception area. The casino also will be renamed; Caesars is currently leasing that name, and the lease expires next year. The project will be built along a private street that separates the Flamingo and Imperial Palace starting at the Strip and heading back to Audrie Street and Ida Avenue, which will be converted from public to private streets. The Linq’s centerpiece is the 550-foot observation wheel, dubbed the Las Vegas High Roller. The structure is nine feet taller than the Singapore Flyer and 107 feet taller than the London Eye. With 28 enclosed transparent sphere cabins that hold up to 40 passengers each, the wheel can transport an estimated 2,240 passenger per hour. It will take 30 minutes to make one revolution on the wheel. Caesars executives say they anticipate charging less than $20 per person to ride the observation wheel, and the first riders are expected to board sometime in 2013. In addition, the Linq will have 30 to 40 retail, dining and entertainment attractions in a 200,000 square foot open-air marketplace. About 70 percent of the mix will be restaurants and bars. As part of the project, the Flamingo will receive a new pedestrian entrance that connects the casino with The Linq and the current O’Shea’s will be demolished, with a new location to be rebuilt about 150 feet to the east within the rebranded Imperial Palace.

Fast Cash Math Error
Maybe I’m the one who should go back to school! At least for some math lessons. Last month I noted that Fast Cash tickets are now valid for 180 days – “two months longer than before”. Make that five months. Previously, tickets expired after 30 days; you now have six months. Sorry for the confusion!

What’s Next? Unlimited Purchases In Caesars Gift Shops?
After binging at the buffets and being entertained by your fill of shows, now you can party like a reality star. Skip those long lines with the new All Night Pass that gets you into Pure Nightclub at Caesars Palace, Chateau Nightclub at Paris, Gallery Nightclub and Pussycat Dolls Burlesque Saloon at Planet Hollywood, Crown Nightclub and VooDoo Rooftop Nightclub at Rio, and Carnaval Court at Harrah’s. Price is $44.99 for Total Rewards cardholders ($49.99 without the card). Blackout dates apply and there are other restrictions – like being young, thin, gorgeous and well dressed (just kidding about those, but there are “other restrictions”).

Caesars Palace

Video Poker vs. Penny Slots
I’m not a video poker player, but one reader reports that the casino seems to have replaced a number of $1-$2-$5 VP machines with penny slots. The 20-year Caesars Palace veteran writes that, if the trend continues, he’ll take his Seven Stars card – and his play – elsewhere.

Flamingo

Buffett of Buffetts: Slot Machines In Paradise (or is that, ‘Pair Of Dice’?)
The new “Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Casino” inside the Flamingo is scheduled to be open by the time you see this. You can read all about it, and view some artist renderings. Grand opening events (in the form of street parties) will be held October 15 and 22 – coincidentally, the same dates Buffett is performing at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. (By the way, this cleverly disguised “Pulse of Las Vegas Blog” is produced by Caesars Entertainment. At first glance, you’d think it was written by some opinionated self-appointed “hack” – like me! – but it’s actually a great promotional tool for the Caesars properties in Las Vegas.)

Atlantic City

Hide and Go Shrimp (and other rumors)
In any environment where stakeholders aren’t kept up-to-date, rumors become rampant. [If either of these rumors turns out to be true, you heard it here first (or second).]

For example:

· Shrimp cocktail is going to disappear from the menu at the Diamond Lounges – at least during the week and continuing through Memorial Day weekend. Considering that those shrimp are the centerpiece of the promotional campaign justifying the 10 comp dollar per person charge for certain players, it would seem like an unwise decision.
· The charge for Diamond Lounge admission is going to increase to 15 comp dollars per person. Doubtful. That said, in my opinion, the food quality in the lounges continues to deteriorate – or, at the very least, is inconsistent. Yes, there are more entrée choices, but nothing very interesting or well prepared. A lunch last month at Caesars was practically inedible. Grilled chicken breasts were overcooked and dry, “pizza” was topped with an overwhelmingly strong barbecue sauce instead of tomatoes, and an interesting individual serving of eggplant parmesan would have been fine if it had been hot. Then, a week or so later, they were carving the juiciest, most tender turkey breast I’ve ever had. Go figure! [By the way, my offer to host any Caesars executive for a free meal at the Borgata’s Amphora Lounge still stands. Now that’s a player’s lounge that knows how to treat its customers!]

TR Insider Insight
Caesars seems to be suffering from a multiple-personality disorder. . .and it’s passing it on to some of its customers. I guess it’s not enough that I am a Seven Stars cardholder and – after one overnight visit to the casino – a member of the Harrah’s Joliet General Manager’s Club. According to an invitation I received, I now have “The Exclusive Access Of A TR Insider”. To maintain this status, all I have to do is earn a minimum of 7,500 Base Reward Credits® every quarter. How am I going to benefit from this? “From October to December [I’ll] have access to special events at Caesars, Harrah’s Resort, Showboat and Bally’s Atlantic City. [Caesars has] created private sweepstakes, unique parties, select promotions and tournaments for our TR Insiders.” Gosh, sort of sounds like what I’m getting with my Seven Stars card. In all seriousness, this TR Insider is just another variation of the General Manager Clubs I wrote about last month. It’s a way for Caesars to recognize those players who earn more than the 11,000 tier points required for Diamond, but not enough for Seven Stars – yet, apparently, Seven Stars cardholders are included in the fun. To get an initial invitation, players had to have earned 7,500 tier points from April 1 through June 30. But, back to that invitation, why did everyone receive it just about a week prior to the Welcome Reception? Even several hosts I spoke with weren’t aware of this program until they received an e-mail around September 10 – again, just a week before the inaugural event on September 17. And, while it’s pretty obvious that the “TR” refers to Total Rewards, a Google search on “TR Insider” brings up articles on insider trading within Tootsie Roll Industries. [TR is the New York Stock Exchange trading symbol for Tootsie Roll Industries.] And, finally, there’s that pesky grammar problem Caesars has. It reared its ugly head in the invitation’s message from Regional President Don Marrandino: “As a member of our brand new TR INSIDER loyalty club, I personally invite you to indulge in the many exciting and exclusive events we have planned for you.” I think he meant to say something like, “Welcome to our brand new TR INSIDER loyalty club. I personally invite you to indulge in the many exciting and exclusive events we have planned for you.” [It’s not Mr. Marrandino who’s a member of the club.] It’s a common error, but I expect better from Caesars.

So, how was the Welcoming Reception? Those who attended the 5 p.m. dinner reported extraordinarily long lines to register, to get a cocktail and even to enter the ballrooms. [The event was so well attended, it had to be moved from its original location in Bally’s Traymore Ballroom to separate concurrent dinners in the Ocean and Grand Ballrooms.] I inadvertently avoided the long registration line by meeting some friends who attended the early dinner. Registration remained open after the 5 o’clock dinner commenced, and continued through the start of the second, 8 p.m., dinner. I also avoided the long lines at the bars during the cocktail hour by having drinks in the nearby Diamond Lounge – at least it offered a place to sit down, and some pretzels and shrimp to nibble on. And, while a lot of folks were not happy with fish as one of the entrées, I thought the sea bass and its accompanying petite filet mignon were perfectly cooked. As a matter of fact, the staff at Bally’s needs to be commended for serving nearly 3,000 people in two back-to-back seatings. What the folks at Caesars missed, though, was the opportunity to fully explain the benefits of this new loyalty program. Guests to whom I spoke did not seem impressed with what they would get for their play; many of them said they weren’t really sure why they were there because they rarely earn more tier points than the basic 11, 000 to qualify for Diamond. It will be interesting to see what this first quarter offers us new TR Insiders. Also, don’t be surprised if this isn’t the first step to qualifying (and requalifying) on a semi-annual basis, i.e., every six months, for tier status. Caesars executives have discussed this in the past; Golden Nugget and Resorts already operate on this system.

Diamond Lounge Passes
There was lots of head-scratching last month when many Seven Stars and high-level Diamond cardholders received coupons for free admission to the Diamond Lounges at any of the Atlantic City casinos. Since they receive free admission by virtue of their level of play, why waste money printing and mailing the coupons? Many of those who don’t qualify for free admission were surprised to learn that the coupon was good for just one person, and not the cardholder and a guest. All in all, a little confusing.

Buffet Of Buffets Policy Change
You may not have noticed the small print addition to the signs, but you now can use comp dollars to pay for the Buffet of Buffets. Previously, this was an all-cash deal.

Mail Pattern Boldness
It makes no sense: Early in September I received my booklet of October offers from Bally’s, but on September 14 I received an offer for a giveaway three days later at Caesars on the 17th. It turned out that I already would be there because of the TR Insider dinner (see above), but it seems like Caesars is cutting it close with their mailings. Considering the huge attendance at the TR Insider dinner, apparently, short notice is not a problem for lots of people. A week later, though, I noticed an invitation on my Total Rewards Web site for a Boardwalk Empire dinner (see below). That invitation never arrived in the mail. Lesson: Check the Web site periodically.

Free Parking – ID May Be Required
The Seven Stars/Diamond Express lanes seem to be closed more frequently at Caesars self-parking lots. As a matter of fact, be prepared (but not always!) to show ID when you exit. I’ve also heard reports about ID checks at Harrah’s valet. In fairness to Caesars, my guess is that too many people are “sharing” their player’s cards, or players (and employees) trying to save a few bucks are savvy enough to pick-up discarded cards in the casino, realizing the monetary value of the complimentary parking. ID is required for practically every other transaction involving your player’s card, so why not parking? Caesars, just be consistent, so we all can be prepared. For us guys, it can take a while to unbuckle our seatbelts, fish out our wallets and take out our driver’s licenses – further slowing the exit process. (Borgata and Taj Mahal often require ID, too, but, like Caesars, they are not consistent.)

Police Patrolling Parking Garages
Police are now patrolling casino parking garages after a carjacking last month left a man dead and a woman injured. The announcement was made shortly before the last of the three suspects in the carjacking at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort’s parking garage made his first appearance in court. The attack was the second at the Taj Mahal garage in 16 months. It brought the issue of casino parking garage safety to the forefront.

Bally’s

Photo-Op-Oly
Despite all the warning signs, lots of children (and adults!) are climbing all over the giant Monopoly game pieces at the Boardwalk entrance to Bally’s. If this display really does pose a danger, then Bally’s needs to put some sort of fence around it or post a security guard out there to monitor it. All the disclaimers in the world aren’t going to stop some angry parents from filing a lawsuit when their kid falls and breaks an arm.

Nanking Opens Seventh Location
Formerly Red Pearl (and formerly Mr. Ming’s), Nanking is now open and offers a unique fusion of Indian, Thai and Chinese cuisines. Another “non-chain” chain, Nanking also has locations in Jersey City, as well as Times Square and Long Island.

Caesars

Sound Decisions Mar Otherwise Flawless Evening
For a party celebrating the premier of the second season of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the Palladium Ballroom could not have looked lovelier – hundreds, no make that thousands, of red carnations punctuated the room in arrangements high and low, and in “kissing balls” suspended from elaborate candelabra. Complementing the elegant florals were rich red and gold fabric panels suspended around the perimeter, as well as other large set pieces – all contributing to the look of a 1920s supper club. The menu, while simple, included “classics” like Waldorf salad, and filet mignon “Oscar” (crabmeat, asparagus and hollandaise sauce). The chocolate dessert was so rich, all I could handle was a couple bites. But the music! Does Caesars employee health plan not cover hearing tests? Since everyone else at my table was too embarrassed to say anything, I spoke to no less than three people – including the woman who supposedly was in charge of the event. I even followed her as she talked to the sound engineer, but, still, the music was deafening. You couldn’t hold a conversation with the person sitting next to you, let alone anyone else at your table. Even the bartenders were complaining because they couldn’t hear anyone’s order. And why a band – excellent as they were – playing all contemporary music? How much more appropriate it would have been to feature music from the period. Ironically, as I was leaving the casino, I spotted that perfect band, playing to passers-by in Caesars lobby. Sadly, no one could have cared less.

Wipe Out
Someone is spending way too much time watching TV. When I went to check-out of my room last month, I noticed that there were no numbers on the remote:

Chew The Fat – Or The Nonfat – With A Chef
It would have been nice had someone told us in advance, but from 6 to 7 p.m. on Friday nights the Seven Stars Lounge has been featuring – and will continue to feature for the first two Fridays this month – celebrity chefs mixing and mingling with customers, as well as preparing special dishes. From 6 to 11, the kitchen also serves menu items selected by the chef du jour. On October 7, you can meet Chris Scarduzio (of his namesake restaurant at Showboat, as well as Mia at Caesars and Table 31 in Philadelphia); October 14, Chef Jerry [Longo] from Café Longo in Providence, R.I., will appear. There’s a large sign around the corner from the Diamond Lounge near the circular elevator leading to the top floor, but, unless you happened to be walking that way, you’d never know it was there.
And, Speaking Of The Seven Stars Lounge. . .

I’m happy to report that things have improved immensely at the Seven Stars Lounge. Maybe it was because it was Friday night, maybe it was because of the aforementioned celebrity chef feature, but the place had a certain vibe it had been missing. My server Chris was as professional as anyone working at a first-class gourmet restaurant and, I understand you can finally get a bowl of mixed nuts at the bar! The seating situation is still the same, and I didn’t get to check if the bartenders are now serving food. And, yes, and there are still those tiny portions, but, folks, these Seven Stars Lounges were never meant to be a substitute for a “real dinner”. If you want a more substantial meal, head down to the Diamond Lounge or go to a restaurant.

‘R’ You Seeing What I’m Seeing?
Either they changed the name of the Centurion Tower, or someone in Caesars sign department doesn’t know how to spell. (This is a two-sided sign, and it’s the same on the other side.)

Up, Up and Aware – Not!
The last weekend in September only three of the six elevators in the Centurion Tower required a room key to access a guestroom floor. I’m still not convinced that requiring a room key does anything to improve security – especially since, as long as one person inserts his/her key, everyone else can punch away at the floor buttons. It’s especially annoying if you have a bunch of packages in your arms and can’t get to your key – and that’s always when you’re the only one in the elevator!

Harrah’s Resort

No Longer Seeing Reflections
By the end of the year, the BR Guest Hospitality folks will gobble up yet another dining area in a Caesars-owned casino. Promising a quick turnaround during the month of December, Sammy D’s – I hope I got that correct – will open in the space currently occupied by Reflections. Watch for more details.
Harrah’s Chester (Pennsylvania)

‘Royalty’ For Loyalty
A mailing announcing this month’s “King and Queen of Chester” promotion begins with, “Here Ye, Here Ye”. I think the writer meant, “Hear Ye, Hear Ye”. Also, despite the concluding well wishes for “Maidens”, I assume the promotion is open to married ladies, as well.

Bring Your Coupons!
You no longer can use the excuse that your free play coupons got lost in the mail, your dog ate them, or you forgot to bring them. To its credit, Harrah’s won’t issue replacements. Apparently, too many people were taking advantage of the previous system (including a former employee – see below), frequently causing long lines at the Total Rewards desk.

Watch Your Coupons!
An employee allegedly rewarded himself with more than $20,000 in free play coupons, according to Pennsylvania State Police. The suspect was caught stealing $4,320 in coupons, and later admitted to stealing about $16,000 more since February, according to a state police press release. The incident occurred one Saturday last month about 1 a.m. and was captured on surveillance video. The suspect reportedly told authorities he gave the coupons to another, unidentified person. He was arrested and charged with theft and related offenses. An investigation by Trooper Christian Picard is continuing.

Here Yesterday, Gone Today
The complimentary appetizer for Seven Stars cardholders and their guest(s) is no longer being served at Temptations Buffet; however, certain eligible purchases at Club Cappuccino entitle cardholders to a complimentary non-alcoholic beverage. Also, End Zone is currently offering Seven Stars and Diamond cardholders a chance to play “Plinko”. You may get $1, $5 or $10 off your check – then, again, you may get nothing, but it’s a fun way to begin your meal.

General
That’s Harrah’s – With Two Rs
Browsing through the Total Rewards online catalog, I discovered this little blunder:

Maybe they could use that extra ‘R’ from the misspelled Centurion Tower sign at Caesars in Atlantic City.

Hats Off. . .
It’s happening everywhere, but I am tired of seeing gentlemen (and I use that term very loosely) wearing hats and baseball caps indoors – particularly in restaurants. Caesars could do all of us a big favor by posting signs at the entrances to its restaurants, buffets, and Diamond and Seven Stars Lounges telling men that hats must be removed before entering. And, while they’re at it, ban cellphone use – or at least ask that they be set on “vibrate”; then require guests to take their calls outside. It’s unlikely that this will happen, but we can hope.

Playing A Round
The complimentary quarterly rounds of golf at the Atlantic City Country Club are only for Seven Stars cardholders whose “home casino” is located in Atlantic City or Harrah’s Chester. Those Seven Stars cardholders from outside that area who might be planning a trip to Atlantic City should contact a host, though. Especially if it’s off-season, a complimentary golf outing may be arranged. And, unlike the monthly spa credit at the Grand in Biloxi, Miss., the quarterly spa credit in Atlantic City is available only to “locals”.

David Norton Update
According to LinkedIn.com , David Norton, former senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Caesars Entertainment, is now managing director of David Norton Consulting in Las Vegas. The company is “[e]ngaging with several world class clients on marketing activities including loyalty, CRM, technology, org design and performance management, sales teams, Branding and digital and emerging channels.” CRM is “customer relationship management”; “org design” refers, I assume, to organizations; but “Branding” has nothing to do with cattle.

Harrah’s Message Board
Not sure how many of you are aware of this message board:

harrahscasinos@yahoogroups.com. (ED: This is not a URL)

Several months ago I signed up just to monitor what folks are saying and to pick up a tip or two. Last month I responded to the group when someone asked details about cruise certificates he wanted to “purchase” with Reward Credits from the Total Rewards Catalog. The poster said he couldn’t get the details he required either by asking his host, the Total Rewards Center at his home casino or casino marketing. Here’s an excerpt:

Maybe I am not aggressive enough, but I have asked more than one host at more than one property. They refer me to Total Rewards who then refers me to casino marketing who then refers me to either NCL or back to the host. At the end of day no one seems to be able to tell me anything and I am tired of going in circles. I am not sure how I can force my host to investigate. The one host who offered something up framed it in “my understanding is” which does not help at all. I’ve lost a decent chunk of change to [Caesars] earning my Rewards Credits. It is really frustrating that it is so difficult to find out what I am actually purchasing with those credits. Computers lack a lot of the specs I am interested in. I have no idea what I get with the cruise certificates and what the restrictions are. Please, find a way to provide more information about the items in the catalog. At least having an Internet portal with more information would be very helpful.

While I didn’t mean to be rude, I politely suggested that these message boards [or this newsletter, or the Seven Stars Insider Web site, for that matter] are not the place to get “official” answers to questions about Total Rewards, Rewards Credit purchases, rules for the Great Race, etc. I further suggested that players need to tell their hosts that “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer. “Rather than use hosts as glorified secretaries to book your hotel and dining reservations,” I wrote, “let them do the legwork and research, then get you an answer in writing.” Once again, as I’ve written in the past, Caesars needs a dedicated toll-free phone line for its Seven Stars (and Diamond) cardholders.

Survey: Old vs New Slots?
Slot players, are you “addicted” to one or two machines, or do you get bored after a while and search out the latest additions to the casino floor? I had an interesting discussion on this topic recently, and thought I would informally poll readers. Send me an e-mail (sevenstarsinsider@gmail.com ) and I’ll share your thoughts – anonymously, of course.

Darryl D. McEwen, Publisher
Seven Stars Insider

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