Las Vegas Is The Most Affordable Vacation In America

Aria Marquee At Night
Aria Marquee At Night

Last week Trip Advisor released their TripIndex list of the most affordable places to vacation in America and Las Vegas came in as the cheapest. How ’bout that?!

Among TripIndex Cities, Honolulu rings up the biggest tab as the most expensive U.S. destination with a TripIndex cost of $504.94, while Las Vegas offers the most affordable stay at $272.94.

Typically I find lists like this to be a waste for customers as they’re generated to sell something or gain traffic but Trip Advisor has been around long enough not to make me laugh at their lists. That’s not to say Trip Advisor isn’t using TripIndex to gain traffic but it’s generally the place everyone I know looks for travel reviews. Once you scrape through the 90% of reviews that are fake or people with an axe to grind there is useful information.

Prices for luxury hotels on the Vegas Strip and resort fees take the attention away from how affordable Vegas can still be for people if that’s what they want. I don’t always want a vacation on a budget but my hotel room at The D for my summer vacation is only $50 on a Saturday (My $40 room was pretty sweet). I’ll be using my fancy Platinum Total Rewards status to get free rooms at Flamingo for the rest of my time away. This will allow me to blow more money on steak and gambling. You can’t hate that!

Mid-range hotels in places like New York City, San Francisco and Hawaii will often cost a couple hundred dollars per night while the average daily cost for a room in Vegas is just over $100. Not too shabby.

The TripIndex list also has Miami and New Orleans on the cheapest places to vacation. I’m really not a fan of anywhere in Florida for vacation but I looooooove New Orleans and will always recommend that a place to visit. Beside great food, drink and culture they have casinos. Harrah’s is walking distance to just about every tourist area as well as Mother’s where you will get one of the best Po’ Boys in the city.

Seven Stars Insider April Edition

Cat Deeley at Escape to Total Rewards
Cat Deeley

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

Happy New Year!

I know this is April, but for Total Rewards it’s a brand new year of benefits.  The next 12 months will go fast, so consider making your plans early for the annual trip, oh, excuse me, “Retreat” (see more on this below) and celebration dinner (or dinners – yes, you’ll get a second valued at $100 once you earn 40,000 tier credits this year).  While you’re at it, go ahead and select your annual gift.

Benefits?

Spending 125 comp dollars for $1 of free play is great if you use your Reward Credits that way, but some of the other benefits being touted are a little pathetic:

  • In order to offer complimentary early check-in (which was never a problem as long as a room was clean), Caesars instituted a charge for everyone but its best players.  That’s like adding an extra charge for daily housekeeping, but telling Seven Stars and Diamond cardholders they get it for free.
  • Advance notice and the ability to purchase tickets for certain concerts and shows?  Just about any casino, stadium, theater, arena or similar venue offers that – all you have to do is give them your email.

Signature Events

While it’s a nice change from the past, the first word that came to mind as I was reading the list of options was “leftovers”.  Jazz Fest, the 4th of July Celebration and a Forum Shops shopping spree were – and still are – among the Signature Experiences Caesars offers.  Plus, a lot of Seven Stars cardholders can probably get their hands on complimentary tickets to the Vegas Uncork’d event or Shania Twain without “wasting” their Signature Event.  And getting complimentary rooms shouldn’t be a problem.  In addition. . .

  •  Anyone who wants to go to Jazz Fest will hopefully be within driving distance.  With such short notice, airfares – which already are inflated during this time – are through the roof.
  • The Fashion Weekend is over Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and the first of the High Holy Days.  Rosh Hashanah begins at sunset Wednesday, September 4, and ends at nightfall Friday, September 6.
  • I can’t blame Caesars for this, but it seems a little insensitive of the Miss America Organization to schedule this year’s pageant over Yom Kippur, considered by many as the holiest day of the year.  Yom Kippur begins at sunset Friday, September 13, and ends at nightfall Saturday, September 14.  Friday is the first of two rehearsal days and Saturday is the “Show Us Your Shoes Parade” (not “Parade of Shoes” as Caesars calls it) on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

By the way, you won’t find the Signature Events on the Total Rewards Web site yet, but you can access them by clicking here. 

Retreating From A ‘Getaway’

One change from last year’s Seven Stars program is that the “Annual Getaway To Any TR Resort or Casino” has been renamed “Annual Retreat To Any TR Resort or Casino”.  Did anyone bother to look up the definition of the word “retreat”?  Among them are “a movement away from danger or a confrontation, back along the original route”, “a withdrawal from a position or point of view to one intended to lessen conflict”, “a period of quiet rest and contemplation in a secluded place”, and “a quiet secluded place where people go for rest and privacy”.  Not sure any of those accurately describes a trip to a casino.  Or is Caesars suggesting we retreat from its casinos and play/stay elsewhere?  In any event, it’s an unfortunate choice of words.

The Fine Print

Among the “Rules & Regulations” – printed in a typeface about half the size of the rest of the book, is “Movie benefit is available at participating Total Rewards casinos only.  Please check with your host or Total Rewards for more details.”  This is the first and only reference I could find to movies.  Seasoned Seven Stars cardholders will be familiar with this, but those new to the program may be scratching their heads.  Related to this, there is no mention of complimentary Internet access or boarding pass printing – benefits which Seven Stars cardholders have come to expect.  Some properties, but not all, also provide complimentary local and toll-free calls.  Word to the wise: If any of these benefits/services is important to you, ask at the front desk when you check-in.

A Little More Notice, Please

In addition to learning about the Jazz Fest Signature Event about a month before it begins, my invitation to a Seven Stars Renewal Event at Harrah’s Philadelphia arrived a little more than two weeks prior to the dinner. (The return address was Total Rewards in Las Vegas, but it’s not unusual to get invitations from Harrah’s Philadelphia as little as two or three days before an event.  Kind of makes you feel like not enough people responded and you were an after-thought to help fill the room.)  In Atlantic City, many Platinum cardholders got a similar two-week notice for a coupon book giveaway.  We all know that these events are planned far in advance.  At a minimum, Caesars should consider a “Save The Date” email.  Contrary to what it may appear, some of us do have “a life” that includes weekend activities other than gambling.

Left Hand, Meet Right Hand – Part I

I probably received more than 30 emails from readers who called last month to book one of the 2013 Signature Events, only to get what was essentially a verbal “deer in the headlights” reaction at the other end of the telephone.  Here’s a good example:

“I called the toll-free number and the operator didn’t seem to know anything about these.  She asked me for an offer code (I assume she means on an invitation she thought I received in the mail) which I do not have.”

When I called to inquire about the cruise, I was put on hold for about seven minutes, only to be told that no one knew anything about it, that “it hasn’t been loaded into our system yet”, and “a host or someone from Marketing will get in touch with you.”  (Someone did call me back four days later.)

Left Hand, Meet Right Hand – Part II

In addition to the emails from players, I received several more from Caesars employees – especially those who work at properties where the Seven Stars Signature Events are being held.  None of them was aware of any of these and added that, more often or not, they learn about what’s going on in the company from my newsletters and emails.  What was it I wrote about last month?  Communication, communication, communication.

In Memoriam

Since it’s the beginning of a new year for Total Rewards, like the Oscars, the Grammys and other awards programs, it’s time to look back on some of the things we’ve lost over the past 12 or so months.  (I’m sure you can think of more!)

  •          The Range at Harrah’s Las Vegas (now a Ruth’s Chris Steak House)
  •          BarleyQue at Harrah’s Philadelphia (now Philly Tap and Tavern)
  •          Don Marrandino (formerly Eastern Division president of Caesars Entertainment)
  •          Canal Street Bread & Sandwich Co. (now Earl of Sandwich) and the Mansion Café (now banquet and meeting space) at Showboat Atlantic City
  •          Food and beverage outlets that accept comps on a 1:1 basis (too many to mention)
  •          Show in the Sky and Lucky Strike Bowling Lanes at Rio
  •          Café Cappuccino (now Café Tazza – where comps are accepted, but at 2:1) and Temptations at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City
  •          The Imperial Palace (now The Quad)
  •          Human Nature at the Imperial Palace (now at the Venetian)
  •          Being able to purchase the Press of Atlantic City at any Atlantic City casino gift shop
  •          The Virginia City Buffet at Wild Wild West in Atlantic City
  •          PNC ATMs in all Atlantic City casinos
  •          Bradley Ogden’s (now Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill) and Nero’s Steakhouse (now The Old Homestead) at Caesars Palace
  •          The President’s Lounge at the Summit at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe
  •          Complimentary early check-in (all Caesars casino hotels)
  •          An extra hour (from 11 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays) at the four Diamond Lounges in Atlantic City
  •          Shrimp served Sundays through Thursdays in Atlantic City Diamond Lounges
  •          Monday and Tuesday opening of Bally’s Atlantic City’s Diamond Lounge
  •          Thursday opening of Harrah’s Resorts Atlantic City Seven Stars Lounge
  •          The TR Insider program
  •          Complimentary soft drink refills at 6ix a Bistro (Bally’s Atlantic City)
  •          “No Resort Fees” at select Caesars Nevada casino hotels.
  •          Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon (to become next year the Gansevoort Las Vegas)
  •          The Bank of America Total Rewards Visa credit card (now issued by Comenity Bank)
  •          Most of the Wild Wild West at Bally’s in Atlantic City

Ak Chin

Drinks On The House

A reader reports that Seven Stars cardholders may now get coupons for free drinks to be used while actively playing in the casino.

 

Harrah’s New Orleans

Diamond Lounge Returns To Original Location

It was nice while it lasted.  The way-too-small Diamond Lounge at Harrah’s has returned to its original location in the High Limits area.  The move to what was formerly Bambu restaurant was only temporary due to the anticipated larger crowds in town for Super Bowl and Mardi Gras.  During Jazz Fest, which begins later this month and continues through the first weekend in May, a special Seven Stars Hospitality Lounge will be set-up.

Las Vegas

Gansevoort Las Vegas (formerly Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon)

Movin’ On Up

The Las Vegas Strip will join the Caribbean resort islands of the Turks and Caicos, as well as Park Avenue in New York and that city’s Meatpacking District when a $185 million redevelopment will transform Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon into the Gandesvoort Las Vegas.  Expected to open in early 2014, the hotel will have 188 “Parisian apartment-style rooms” – including 19 suites.  The building is being remodeled to include a new lobby area, a redesigned lobby bar, ultra-lounge, retail outlets and a 40,000 square-foot casino.  A restaurant overlooking the Strip also will be developed, as well as Drai’s Beach Club and Nightclub, a 65,000 square-foot indoor-outdoor nightclub and rooftop pool area overlooking the Strip.

Atlantic City

No Sale

The Pier Shops at Caesars thought they found a buyer in Michael Kohan, a New York real estate investor who specializes in taking over distressed shopping centers.  However, the deal fell through, according to an internal memo from mall General Manager Harry Geety.  Kohan said he wanted to keep the mall’s upscale appearance, but would add more lower-priced stores to make shopping more affordable for Atlantic City tourists.  According to an article in the Press of Atlantic City, Kohan said he remains “ready, willing and able” to close a deal.  But Geety’s memo indicates that the mall has ended negotiations.

The Unfairness Doctrine

It seems a little unfair considering it happened in Las Vegas – and in 2007, but New Jersey has fined Caesars Entertainment $225,000 for a drugs, sex and gambling scandal at Caesars Palace and Rio.  The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement claims that the company’s alleged misconduct in Las Vegas had the potential to harm the reputation of the casino industry across the country.  The case involved a Nebraska businessman who gambled away millions of dollars and was indicted by a grand jury for failing to pay $14.7 million in gambling debts.  The charges were later dropped in a settlement with Caesars.  The high-roller then filed a civil lawsuit alleging that Caesars allowed him to gamble even though it knew he was incapacitated by drugs and alcohol, further alleging that Caesars Entertainment personnel plied him with alcohol and repeatedly gave him pain killers without a doctor’s diagnosis or a prescription.

Throwing The Book At Them. . .If They Can Be There To Catch It

Those annual coupon booklets, so popular with new and renewing Diamond cardholders, are being given out this year April 19 and 20 (April 12 and 13 for Platinum cardholders).  Several Diamond and Platinum cardholders have contacted me to express their disappointment because they’ve already made plans and can’t change them – one couple has booked a cruise through an offer from Caesars.  I agree. . .it doesn’t seem fair.  You spend all year earning this benefit, then Caesars gives you a few weeks’ notice and eight hours over two days to claim it.  (Also, the Friday giveaway times are 2 to 6 p.m. – difficult for most “working people” who have a 9-5 job Monday through Friday.)  In my opinion, it’s one of the best Diamond and Platinum card benefits.  I wish there was something similar for Seven Stars cardholders.

R.I.P. TR Insiders

The final Insiders event took place March 15 to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.  Aside from the deafening music – when is Caesars going to wise-up and turn down the volume at its events? – the staff at Showboat got it right. The promised cocktails and hors d’ouevres turned out to be a complete dinner buffet that was frequently refreshed and looked extremely appetizing.  (Because I expected only cocktails, I made other dinner plans, so I didn’t get to sample anything.)  And there was plenty of seating.  I was a little put-off by the “little person” dressed as a leprechaun who greeted guests at the door, but if he didn’t object, why should I?

Is Anyone Out There Listening?

A reader got a “Host Survey” from Caesars Atlantic City casinos only to be surprised when the questions centered on a host he never knew he had.  He made it clear he was pretty unhappy that this person had never contacted him, and expected someone from the casino would have responded to his concerns.  He’s still waiting. Another reader sent me an email describing a similar experience.  Kind of makes you wonder if anyone ever reads these surveys.

Ban The Scan

Depending on the day of the week and where you park, Seven Stars and Diamond cardholders may no longer be able to scan their valet parking tickets to retrieve their vehicles.  The scanner was working at Harrah’s on a Monday morning, but the cashiers at Caesars and Showboat told me that so many players were giving their Total Rewards cards to friends that cashiers were told to check IDs and manually process the tickets.  While it really doesn’t delay things that much, it was a nice convenience.  Be prepared to show ID at the self-parking garages too – again, these generally are spot checks, but it’s happening more and more often.

Diamond Lounge Hours

Don’t count on the Total Rewards Web site for accurate information on the hours for the Diamond Lounges in Atlantic City.  The actual hours are

Sunday: Noon to 8 p.m.

Monday – Thursday: 2 to 8 p.m. (Bally’s is closed Mondays and Tuesdays)

Friday: 2 to 11 p.m.

Saturday: Noon to 11 p.m.

Last admittance is a half hour before posted closing; last call is approximately 20 minutes before posted closing. Food service on Fridays and Saturdays ends at 10 p.m.

Disappearing Act

Magician Steve Wyrick may be making things disappear over at the Golden Nugget, but I’m pretty sure he had nothing to do with the fact that the local Press of Atlantic City newspaper has disappeared from the shelves of Caesars four casino gift shops, and you no longer can pick up a complimentary copy of the weekly At The Shore– also published by the Press.  [Full disclosure: I write a biweekly column for At The Shore.]  According to one employee who wished to remain anonymous, this is “retaliation” for the unflattering article the Press published last month about Bally’s (see below).  How childish and unprofessional!  Didn’t anyone consider how this might inconvenience hotel guests who would enjoy reading the morning paper over breakfast?  Caesars also has cancelled its advertising in the daily newspaper.  Caesars pulled a similar stunt at its Las Vegas hotels a few years ago when the Review-Journal published something it didn’t like.  The ban lasted about a year, as I recall.

Bally’s

‘Casual Dining’

While the list of “casual dining” outlets on the back of a promotional mailing from Bally’s lists Nanking, Primo Pizza, Harry’s Oyster Bar, Noodle Village, Wild Wings, Johnny Rockets, Corner Café and Sack O’ Subs, don’t try to use the coupons in that same mailing at any of those places.

 The coupons say “Select Caesars, Harrah’s Resort, Showboat or Bally’s casual dining outlets”.  For the record, the coupons are good at the following places:

Bally’s – Preview and 6ix a Bistro

Caesars – Café Roma and Kwi

Harrah’s – Sammy D’s, Bill’s Bar and Burger, and Waterfront Buffet

Showboat – Crossroads and French Quarter Buffet 

According to Mary at Harrah’s Room Service, the coupons also are good for Room Service at any of the four properties.  As always, check to be sure the listed outlets or Room Service will accept the coupons before placing your order.

Not Much Ballyhoo Over Bally’s

Bally’s doesn’t fare so well in an article published last month in the Press of Atlantic City.  “It’s an eyesore.  It’s a shame,” the article quotes a Maryland tourist.  The article relates how Caesars Entertainment began sealing off parts of the Wild Wild West last year to replace some of the casino space with new retail and entertainment attractions.  To date nothing has been built, and Caesars says it has no updates to announce on any redevelopment.  I receive several emails every month about conditions at Bally’s, and I experienced the less-than-standard accommodations myself earlier this year.  Though The Reserve and Arturo’s still are among my favorite Atlantic City casino restaurants, I won’t be back for any more overnight stays.

Just Change SAMM To BALL

This summer it will just be Bally’s Beach Bar, not Sammy’s – as in Sammy Hagar.  Hagar and Caesars could not reach an agreement over the Hurricane Sandy-damaged bar.

Crummy Deal At Sammy D’s

At breakfast, Seven Stars cardholders get a complimentary half of one of those wonderful “Extra Crummy Coffee Cakes” Sammy D’s serves – a whole one if you have a party of four.  If your server doesn’t offer it, be sure to ask.  Another tip, if you order the Complete Continental, select the muffin or bagel, since the coffee cake comes free.

Bill’s Bar, Burger. . .& Breakfast

Bill’s Bar & Burger is now serving breakfast on Saturdays from 8:30 to 11 a.m.  For those staying in the Atrium Suites and the Harbour Tower, it’s a long walk to Sammy D’s.  Plus, during construction of Sammy D’s, Bill’s proved it could serve a mean breakfast.  (By the way, maybe it was “new restaurant” jitters, but the hamburgers at Bill’s have improved immensely since the place opened.)

Going, Going, Gone

For the third time now, my host has left and no one bothered to alert her customers.  Because I was suspicious that two emails were returned with the message, “Your message can’t be delivered because delivery to this address is restricted”, I picked up the phone and Harrah’s operator gave me the news.  In the past, emails went through as if the person were still working there, so at least there’s some improvement in the system.  But, how difficult is it to send a quick email advising customers their host has left, that someone new will be assigned shortly, and here is an interim contact until that happens?  This happened at Caesars a few years ago, as well, and probably at Bally’s and Showboat too.

Showboat 

Welcome Back, Carl!

Popular Diamond Lounge bartender Carl is back after an extended medical leave.

Rocket Fuel

Johnny Rockets has the best deal in town for casino breakfasts: $6.59 three-ingredient omelets (including bagel, English muffin or toast and potatoes), three pancakes and breakfast meat for $5.99, four strips of bacon for $2.49, and $5.99 for two eggs any style, bagel, English muffin or toast, and potatoes and breakfast meat.  Compare that to prices across the way at Crossroads where you’ll pay $13 for that same omelet, $6 for a side of bacon, and $10 for three pancakes (with no breakfast meat).  Plus, if you’re lucky you might snare one of the tables up front that looks out over the beach and the ocean.  Johnny Rockets accepts comps on a 1:1 basis, but unlike other casino outlets, the sales tax will not be waived.  It’s still a bargain.  [NOTE: Johnny Rockets at Bally’s accepts comps, but at a 2:1 ratio, but the basic pricing is the same.]

Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati

Pitching Horseshoe

Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati has opened.  The $450 million casino features 2,000 slot machines, 87 gambling tables and a 31-table World Series of Poker Room.  The complex has six sit-down restaurants with a seventh on the way.  Click this link for a variety of local articles relating to the casino.  In addition, here’s the link to a video about the casino.

Thistledown Racino 

Racino To Open

Located in the Cleveland suburb of North Randall, Thistledown – which originally opened in 1925 – is one of seven horse-racing tracks in Ohio, and the second to open as a “racino”.  It’s expected to open this month as a new Total Rewards casino – minus any name (Caesars, Harrah’s, Horseshoe) that would indicate so.  Rock Ohio Gaming, a joint venture between Rock Gaming and Caesars Entertainment (which also operates the Horseshoe Cleveland) spent $88 million on renovations and additions.  The racino is limited to video lottery terminals (1,145 of them), which to the average gambler look and play like slots.

Harrah’s Philadelphia

General 

Wheel Of Misfortune

If you’re a “Wheel of Fortune” fan, wouldn’t it be fun to attend a live taping in New York City?  Certain Total Rewards players got that opportunity last month, but, according to one person who accepted the offer, it wasn’t exactly what she expected.   “We stood on the ‘VIP’ line for over an hour with our heavy coats, not being able to leave to get food because there were no concessions open, and no ‘re-entry’ allowed anyway.  Our seats were so bad, we couldn’t even see the board. . .we were too far to the left.  We walked out before the second show taped (forfeiting the ‘gift’ which we heard was a sparkly Wheel pen) and just felt foolish for believing (or hoping) that Caesars might actually offer something special!  All in all, between transportation to and from Madison Square Garden, and two drinks and two mini-sliders at a nearby pub, I spent $90 to take advantage of this silly free offer.  I don’t know why Caesars runs such dumb promotions that only aggravate me more than make me feel appreciated being a ‘valued customer’.”

Total Rewards Web Site 6.2

I’ve lost track of the number of times the Total Rewards Web site has been revamped.  While there’s much to like about the latest version – particularly the consistent look of each casino’s individual Web page, isn’t it time to retire that lame Jimmy Kimmel video?  For one thing, it’s out of date – at the end it says to play the “Escape To Total Rewards Game” which ended last year.  For another, it’s just a stupid premise, having Kimmel inside a prison talking about Total Rewards benefits to a bunch of inmates – not to mention the unsafe driving practices at the beginning where Kimmel takes his hands off the wheel to thumb through cards in his wallet.

Question Of The Month

If a player new to Total Rewards (or even a current Seven Stars cardholder) reaches 150,000 tier points any time before December 31, 2013, will he/she get all the benefits of Diamond Aspiration Level 1 ($100 celebration dinner), as well as 2 and 3 (trip with $750 airfare and four nights’ accommodations, a Diamond companion card, etc.), AND the two retreats, the Seven Stars companion card, etc., etc., that he/she gets as a Seven Stars cardholder?  Excellent question. . .I didn’t know, so I went right to the “top” at Total Rewards for an answer: All players will achieve a Diamond Aspiration and/or Seven Stars Signature Experience as they pass each tier threshold.  In the example below, players will receive all Diamond Aspirations and the Level I Seven Stars Signature Experience, in addition to the Diamond and Seven Stars benefits that come along with tier status. Privileges associated with Aspirations and Experiences are made available to players as they achieve the tier threshold, as outlined below:

  • At 15,000 tier credits, players receive the $100 celebration dinner.
  • At 40,000 tier credits, players receive the complimentary stay.
  • At 80,000 tier credits, players receive a trip with $750 in airfare credit, a Diamond companion card, early check-in/late-check out, etc.
  • At 150,000 tier credits, players have reached Seven Stars Signature Experience Level I, which provides access to a trip, including a $1,200 airfare credit.  Since these players have also achieved Seven Stars status, they also get the “retreat” benefit.  That gives Seven Stars players two trips.
  • If players are already Seven Stars cardholders, but did not achieve the 150,000 tier credits this year, they would still receive the retreat benefit, but would not receive the additional trip.
  • Once players achieve 150,000 tier credits, they would also receive a Seven Stars Companion card, but this companion would be the same companion they’ve selected as their Diamond Companion.

Survey Says. . .

Last month I asked a question regarding the contents of this newsletter: “Should I stick to the facts, and stop editorializing?”  Thanks for the vote of confidence.  Everyone who wrote me – and there were many more than usually respond to these mini-surveys – said to keep calling it as I see it.  Typical of the emails I received: “Don’t question what you are doing or saying, and continue as always!  You are our voice and doing a terrific job of speaking!”

This Month’s Survey

I realize this particular example applies only to those of us whose “dominant casino” is in Atlantic City, but I just learned from another player that I could use my quarterly $100 spa credit to purchase items like shampoo, hand creams, or anything sold in the retail section of the four casino spas.  You just ask your host for a “shopping certificate” instead of a regular spa credit.  How about you?  Do you have an “inside tip” like this that you’d be willing to share with others?  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: Hawt Celebs

Tweet me @eastcoastgamblr

Seven Stars Insider – February Edition

Katrina Bowden Total Rewards Concert
Katrina Bowden

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

Harrah’s Rincon (San Diego)
Meet and Greet
I’ll be at Harrah’s February 6-10 for my annual Seven Stars trip.  If any of you are going to be there during that time and would like to get together, send me an email and we’ll figure out a time to meet.
Spa Discounts
While doing some research for my trip I discovered that Seven Stars cardholders get a 25 percent discount on spa services.  (Diamond cardholders get 20 percent; Platinum, 15 percent; and Gold, 10 percent.)
Harrah’s New Orleans
Spoken Like A True Politician
While I always encourage readers to use the “Contact Us” feature on the Total Rewards Web site, it’s responses like this that discourage people from writing.  Here’s an actual question submitted to Total Rewards and the response.  (I’ve deleted the name of the Harrah’s employee who wrote the response.)

I have friends who just returned from NOLA on their annual 7* trip. They were offered a complimentary carriage ride/tour that I understood was no longer offered as a property-specific 7* benefit.  Has this changed, or was this just an extra annual trip benefit?

Thank you for contacting Caesars Entertainment.  The complimentary carriage ride is still offered at our property, if you receive that offer.  They would have to email us if they have any questions about the offer.  Let the good times roll!!!

Uh, let me repeat, 1) has the policy regarding the carriage ride/tour changed? and 2) is this just an extra annual trip benefit?  Neither question was answered.
Las Vegas
MGM Offers Free Wi-Fi
MGM Resorts International will be offering free Wi-Fi at eight of its resorts.  There will be no fee or password required to access the wireless local area network via smart phones, laptops and tablets.  Installation has been completed at the Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and Mirage.  Excalibur, Luxor, Monte Carlo and New York-New York will be completed by the end of the year.  The system will make each resort a wireless hotspot with access available in the casino, at the pool, in the lobby and in restaurants.  In addition, MGM Grand expects to have free Wi-Fi in all of its rooms by next month.
Entertainment/Dining Updates*
  • ·         “Recycled Percussion” opened last month at The Quad.  They perform at 7 every night but Friday in The Showroom.
  • ·         Donny and Marie extended their contract through 2013 and will begin their new season February 12. They perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays in the Flamingo Showroom.
  • ·         American Idol winner Taylor Hicks moved next door from Bally’s to Napoleon’s at Paris.  He performs every night but Sunday and Wednesday at 8.
  • ·         Carnaval Court at Harrah’s is closed for renovations.  It is expected to reopen March 1.
  • ·         Celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay has opened his second and third restaurants in Las Vegas.  Already ensconced in Planet Hollywood, Gordon Ramsay Steak is now joined by BurGR.  (Get it?  GR – Gordon Ramsay.)  Over at Caesars Palace is Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill.
  • ·         With the February 4 opening of Nobu Restaurant and Lounge at Caesars Palace, Hyakumi now serves only lunch.
  • ·         Ruth’s Chris Steak House has opened in the location formerly occupied by The Range at Harrah’s.
  • ·         Chairman’s Club (Atlantic Club) – Exclusive to Ultra cardholders (the Atlantic Club’s highest tier, probably closest to Total Rewards Diamond in terms of play required), the lounge is located inside what was once one of Atlantic City’s best “fine dining” restaurants, Peregrine’s, and formerly a player’s lounge both for Ultra and Elite cardholders.  Admission was free for Ultra cardholders and up to three guests, and 10 comp dollars each for Elite cardholders and one guest.  I had lunch there once, and it was pretty dismal – the décor, the food and the “clientele”.  Consequently, I had high hopes when I learned the lounge was being temporarily closed to reopen in late December, exclusive to Ultra cardholders with, according to COO Michael Frawley, “an all-new menu brimming with upscale choices like sliced filet mignon, lobster ravioli, New Zealand lamb chops, crabmeat stuffed shrimp and pistachio-crusted Chilean sea bass.”  Admission still remains free, but there is now a limit of one guest, and the hours have been substantially reduced (noon to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and noon to 8 p.m. on Sundays).  Eager to try the new menu, I went for lunch last month.  Disappointing is probably not strong enough to describe my impression.  First, nothing had been done to refresh or enhance the décor.  The room is dark and filled with tightly spaced cheap-looking tables.  There are two mini-“buffets”.  One had two hot entrees – swordfish in a tomato sauce with black olives, and sliced sirloin with a mushroom sauce. The swordfish was pretty good, but the sirloin was as tough as shoe leather – totally inedible.  (What happened to the filet mignon?)  The rest of the menu consisted of chicken salad, shrimp salad, some cheese, crackers and bread, and sliced roasted red peppers.  In addition, there were some fruit salads, cookies and mini-desserts.  And the guests?  At the risk of sounding snobby and judgmental, I swear if you ran into many of these people on the street, you’d think they were homeless and about to ask you for a handout.   They were poorly dressed, and devouring food like there was no tomorrow.  Some piled plates – which were the size of saucers – with so much food, I thought it would fall on the floor; others were filling shopping bags with cookies, crackers and cheese.
  • ·         Paramount and Epic Clubs (Resorts) – While they share the same check-in area, these two lounges are totally separate.  Paramount is Resorts highest level player’s card – again, probably closer to Diamond in terms of play; Epic is Resorts mid-level card.  The new clubs occupy the area formerly home to Resorts “high limit slots” called Hollywood Hills, and they are both stunning.  Even though there are no windows, they are brightly lit – but not too bright – and beautifully furnished.  The Paramount Club is smaller, but both offer you a choice of table or bar seating.  There is a charge of 12 comp dollars per person for admission, and each cardholder may bring one guest.  The biggest difference between the two clubs is the menu.  Both serve buffet-style, but the food in the Paramount Club is definitely higher quality, e.g., crab cakes, sliced-to-order prime rib.  At the Epic Club one Sunday night, the menu included sliced to order roast beef (not prime rib), fried flounder, tortellini, chicken wings, hot dogs, chili, soft pretzels with mustard, tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole, sliced fresh fruit, and assorted mini-desserts.  [What I particularly appreciated was the fact that you could have cocktails at the bar and the bartender served pretzels (plus the “snack food” at the buffet).  With all the cutbacks, you can’t even get a peanut at any of the Diamond Lounges.]  Also, even Resorts “lower level” club had “top shelf” liquors (Johnny Walker Black, Maker’s Mark, etc.), and drinks were served from the bottle, not a “gun”.  The Paramount Club is open only on Fridays (from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.) and Saturdays (from 2 p.m. to 1 a.m.); Epic is open Monday through Thursday from 1 to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from noon until 1 a.m., and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m.
*performance dates and times subject to change or cancellation
Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon
You Won’t Be Able To Drop Your Bills At Bill’s Anymore
On February 4, Bill’s will officially close its doors for renovations.  Look for a reopening date – with a new name – next year.
Caesars Palace
Honey, Nobu!
The former Centurion Tower officially opens February 4 as Nobu Hotel – a hotel within a hotel at Caesars Palace.  Guest perks will include complimentary VIP access to Pure Nightclub and the Qua Baths and Spa fitness center, as well as private pool access.  Other exclusive benefits include priority reservations at the hotel’s Nobu Restaurant and Lounge, as well as the services of a private Nobu concierge and a signature Nobu green tea welcome gift.  In February and March, nightly rates start at $249, plus applicable taxes and fees.
The Quad
It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like. . .
Renovations and enhancements to the former Imperial Palace are starting to be unveiled.  First, there’s the spiffy new porte-cochere, as well as a fancy new bathroom across from Fat Tuesday.  They’ve still got a long way to go, in my opinion.
Lake Tahoe
Harrah’s
President’s Lounge Closes
“The President’s Lounge at the Summit” on the 16th floor of Harrah’s has closed.
Atlantic City
Don, But Not Forgotten
I was as shocked as anyone to learn last month that Don Marrandino was no longer working for Caesars Entertainment.  For those of us who are “regulars” in Atlantic City, particularly at Caesars, Don was like the mayor of our small town and we were the residents.  Don was generally at every casino event, always accessible, often stopped just to chat and see how we were doing, responded to emails and returned phone calls, and, basically, was an excellent representative of Caesars Entertainment in Atlantic City.  Certainly, he had his critics – we all do, but Don will be missed by many of us.
Where Are Those Scrubbing Bubbles When You Need Them?
Until they start getting better maintenance, stay away from the men’s rooms back by the Credit Office at Bally’s and near the Poker Room at Harrah’s.
Sticker Shock
I wish Caesars would take a cue from Revel and start enforcing parking regulations in their self-park garages in Atlantic City.  All too frequently I see vehicles that make their own parking spaces where none exists, cars taking up more than one space, and huge trucks and vans parked in spaces clearly marked “Small Car Parking Only”. Do that at Revel and you get a fluorescent orange sticker – which is solidly “glued” to your driver’s side window.  Not only are your violations checked off, e.g., parked in two spaces, parked in Motorcycle Only parking, parked in a handicapped zone without proper documentation, etc., but your license plate number is recorded and next violation your vehicle is towed.  Good for them!
Lounging Around
Two new player’s lounges have opened in Atlantic City, one has been “re-booted” and another is scheduled to open shortly – none, though, is located inside a Caesars-owned casino.  Here’s a peek inside of three of the lounges (the new Pearl Lounge at Revel is still under construction):
The best player’s lounge in town remains Borgata’s Amphora Lounge.  It’s open to all Black Label cardholders and one guest for 10 comp dollars each; Titanium cardholders go to the head of the line and are not charged. Every evening there is always chilled shrimp and prime rib, as well as at least four or five creative hot entrees, two soups, several interesting side dishes (vegetables and starches), and a beautiful display of desserts.  Caesars Diamond Lounges, Trump’s Chairman’s Clubs and Golden Nugget’s Chairman’s Club are widely inconsistent, and don’t even come close in a head-to-head comparison.  I haven’t been to Tropicana’s player’s lounge in years, so I can’t really comment on food, service or atmosphere there.
Bally’s
Diamond Lounge Closing
Until further notice, the Diamond Lounge is no longer open Mondays and Tuesdays.  Your closest option is next door at Caesars.
Caesars
Seven Stars Lounge Has New Menu
The Seven Stars Lounge introduced a new menu last month.  The only thing I tried was the tuna tacos, and they were delicious.
A Whole New Meaning To ‘Hours Subject To Change’
Apparently, someone doesn’t know the difference between a.m. and p.m. Here’s a screen shot of the Boardwalk Buffet Web site:
It may not make any difference.  The buffet is about to close for renovations after the Presidents Day Weekend.
Gone Fishing
The Atlantic Grill will be closed on Fridays during February.
Steaking Its Reputation
As my mother used to say, “Things happen for a reason.”  While I think she had something a bit more spiritual in mind, I thought of that when I found myself at Caesars on a Thursday night last month and the only “fine dining” restaurant open was Morton’s Steakhouse.  I had been wanting to try Morton’s for years and – now that the restaurant is accepting comp dollars on a 1:1 basis through March 31 (call first to verify this because policies often change) – I had my chance.  It was one of the best steak dinners I have ever had in Atlantic City.  The service was friendly and exceptionally efficient, without the pretentiousness I’ve frequently experienced at Harrah’s Steakhouse and other restaurants in town.  I’ll be back.
Harrah’s Resort
Seven Stars Lounge Thursday Closing
With the exception of Valentine’s Day (February 14), until further notice, the Seven Stars Lounge remains closed on Thursdays.  The Caesars Seven Stars Lounge is open from 5 to 9 p.m. on Thursdays.  Last admittance is 8:30; last call is 8:40.

‘Convenience’ Fees

How nice that Dos Caminos and McCormick & Schmick’s accept comps 2:1 “for your convenience”.  At least they post this information on their menus.  Last time I checked, Nanking at Bally’s still keeps you in the dark about its 2:1 comp policy.
Insider Out
Let’s see, after I earned 10,000+ tier credits during October, November and December last year, my “reward” this month for becoming a TR Insider is the chance to win my share of $25,000 in slot play. . .by playing even more – and, then only at Harrah’s!  [On February 22 – a Friday (which is a workday for most people, so it might even be difficult for a lot of folks to get to Atlantic City much before 6 or 7), Insiders will earn one drawing entry for every 50 tier credits earned between 6 a.m. and 7:45 p.m.  Then at 8 p.m. there will be drawings for free slot play.  Oh, and read the fine print, winnings not claimed by midnight will be forfeited.]  There were no events in January (or, for that matter, in October or December last year for those who earned TR Insider status for the quarter ending September 2012), and this is how you recognize my “exclusive” status?  I don’t think so.  The Insider program lost steam over the summer, and never recovered.  It was another example of layer after layer of complicated promotions that really produced no benefits for the players. . .only the casinos.
Harrah’s Philadelphia
Sounds A Little Flaky
I didn’t get to try one, but the latest menu at BarleyQue features “Homemade Buttermilk Buscuits”.

Caesars Windsor (Ontario)

Play For Pay
We’ve all come to expect to receive gifts at casinos, but now Caesars Windsor is requiring “rated play” (one tier credit) on the day of the giveaway – granted, a small amount.  [Seven Stars cardholders are excluded from this requirement.]  In Atlantic City, Golden Nugget, Trump Plaza and Taj Mahal, Resorts, and the Atlantic Club (formerly Hilton) all do this – but at much greater levels, and I recall the Total Rewards casinos doing it once or twice. . .and I hate it!  You’ve either earned access to the gift or not.  What irritates me is that you could have earned 2,000 tier points the day before, but the next day before you return home, if you want the gift, you’ve got to play even more.  Either give the gift based on previous play, or don’t offer it at all.
General
Last-Minute Reminders
If you haven’t already done so, don’t forget to select your annual gift, and schedule your annual trip and dinner. Remember, that annual trip must be completed by March 31, and requires a minimum of 30 days advance notice to your host.  You cannot book the trip – or your annual dinner – yourself; these must be booked by a host.  Also, if you achieved Seven Stars status for the first time during 2012, you’re still eligible for these benefits, and you’ll receive them once again beginning April 1 through March 31, 2014.
Question Of The Month
I finally achieved Seven Stars at the end of 2012.  I play mostly at Harrah’s Philadelphia.  I’ve been disappointed not to stay in suites when I visit Atlantic City, and having my requests to obtain multiple rooms denied.  I thought this would be easier once I had a Seven Stars card.  What’s the deal?  Everything is based on play (“What have you done for me lately?”).  Just because you have a Seven Stars card, all you’re guaranteed are the “basics” (trip, dinner, gift, etc.).  Everything else (giveaways, free play, party invitations, room upgrades, multiple rooms, etc.) is based on your play at that particular casino.  I’ve said this before, but “high Diamonds” get better treatment at their “home” casinos than a Seven Stars cardholder who has never played there, or played very little.
‘Big Game’ Sunday
Since, legally, you can’t use “S—- B—” (it’s trademarked), several casinos are having viewing parties under various names.  If you weren’t invited to a party – or choose not to attend, check with your local Seven Stars or Diamond Lounge to see if it might be open later than regular hours.  Several lounges that normally close earlier may remain open through the game.
Presidents Day Weekend
Be sure to check with your local Seven Stars or Diamond Lounge to see if they will be open extended hours for this three-day weekend.
Secure Emails
Learn from my mistake.  When sending my host details for my annual trip I included a credit card number in the attachment.  Who knew that Caesars email system could “read” the contents of an attachment (a .pdf)?  Because “Harrahs [sic] Entertainment will no longer accept this data sent in normal email,” my email was not delivered and plans for my trip were delayed.
Putting Seven Stars On The Map
Who knew?  There is a Seven Stars, N.J., right off Route 9.
Advantage Players
If anyone ever wanted a reason why Caesars increased the tier score for Seven Stars – and instituted those bonus tier credits – read the following story about my encounter with “Oliver” (not his real name).  I was playing at Harrah’s Philadelphia one evening and I noticed that the gentleman sitting next to me was a Seven Stars cardholder.  We both were playing the same type of penny machine, but I was playing the $2 max and he was playing the 40-cent minimum.  I jokingly said, “It must take a lot of 40-cent bets to get Seven Stars.”  He took it from there.  “Oh, I’m retired,” he said.  “My wife died a few years ago and I live nearby and, so I come over every day about 3, have a couple free beers in the casino, go upstairs to the Diamond Lounge, have my supper, play a little more and have another beer before going home.  Sometimes I take my buddies up there since we can go to the head of the line with my card.” About then a server brought him another beer.  Noticing he didn’t tip, I said, “Isn’t that a little risky not giving her a tip?  You’re going to get a bad reputation around here.”  “Are you kidding?” he retorted.  “I never tip.  Let some other jackasses tip.  She does OK without my money.”  “What about upstairs in the Diamond Lounge?” I pursued.  “No way, Harrah’s gives those girls enough money,” he countered.  “I’ve already ‘paid’ for those free meals and I’m not about to spend a nickel more.”  When I asked him about earning the additional 50,000 tier credits it would take to renew his Seven Stars card during 2013, he said he didn’t know anything about that, but that he just barely made 100,000 in 2012.  While I certainly wouldn’t want to make a steady daily diet of the crappy food they serve in Harrah’s Diamond Lounge, I guess if I were in my late 70s/early 80s, lived nearby, and had limited income, it’s not a bad life.
Fueling Controversy
Some Total Rewards cardholders in Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas may have received an email about Energy Plus, and the opportunity to earn bonus Rewards Credits.  Should you choose to do this, you might want to check out the company’s Web site –http://www.energypluscompany.com/index.php – to see if other “rewards” (like airline miles, retail gift cards, cash, etc.) might be a better deal.  However, before you do that, you may want to read some of the online “reviews” of Energy Plus.  Check out www.complaintsboard.comwww.electricrates.com orwww.consumeraffairs.com/homeowners/energy-plus-company.html.  Here’s a sampling of some of the comments:

“Like everyone else, I fell for the bait – 2 months reasonable cost, then absolutely outrageous overcharging.”

“It’s short and simple.  My electric bill went from $150/$170 monthly to $300/$350 monthly.  When I signed up with them, I was promised the same rates, or even lower than Con Edison would provide me, plus miles credited to my SkyMiles account every month.  That is simply not true!  I must say they were very polite when I called to cancel my account. . . .”

“It was offered through United Airlines and with a sweet looking promo.  I fell for it.  Huge mistake. They charge three times the market price and hope you won’t notice.”

“Energy Plus will raise your rates almost 80% right after first bill.  This is what they did to me.  They prey on us not checking our bills right away.  They rely on loopholes in the industry.”

Why is Caesars Entertainment even getting involved with an energy company?  Why not work on getting the “new” Total Rewards program in order before venturing into this sort of thing?
Price Line
First there was Overstock.com.  Perhaps Total Rewards should call its merchandise catalog Overpriced.com. Hopefully, those of you redeeming your comp dollars are also doing the math.  I just took a couple sample items and found that – using 1,000 RCs = $10 – prices were 20 to 40 percent higher than I could buy the products online or at a local retail store.  (Gift cards demand a 100 percent premium, i.e., a $25 gift card will cost $50 worth of RCs.)  Also, be sure to check the details of the products you’re ordering.  Get a model number, for instance.  One item I ordered at last year’s gift giveaway in Atlantic City turned out to be a refurbished product no longer available for purchase or service.
Cruising Along With MGM
MGM Resorts International’s M life is now offering an annual complimentary cruise to its top-tier players.  Noir cardholders (the highest level) get a seven-night Caribbean cruise in a balcony stateroom; Platinum cardholders get a three-, four- or five-night Bahamas or Caribbean cruise in an oceanview stateroom.  Additional benefits include onboard drink vouchers, departure lounge access, priority onboard check-in, onboard welcome amenity, and complimentary onboard specialty dinner.
Survey Says. . .
Last month I asked, “What do you think about the increases in tier credits to achieve or maintain Platinum, Diamond and Seven Stars?”  I received the largest response ever, with additional feedback about other changes to the program.  I’ll try to summarize as best I can the overall mood of players, with the addition of some personal comments:
The initial reaction regarding the bonus tier credits and the higher tier scores was not very positive – at least from Seven Stars cardholders.  However, as folks started to work the numbers they began to see some real plusses. One problem, though, especially, for those who might play at multiple casinos in one “day” (such as can be the case in Tunica, Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, or in Atlantic City and nearby Harrah’s Philadelphia) is that the system frequently does not register play fast enough, or even accurately.  For example, in the Eastern Division, the tier score you see at the kiosks is different from what you see on the Total Rewards Web site; is different from the score on the Total Touch screens at Harrah’s Resort and Bally’s in Atlantic City, and Harrah’s Philadelphia; is different from the information you get from the Total Rewards Desk (which on weeknights in Atlantic City closes at 9); and is different from the score on the read-outs on slot machines that are not part of the Total Touch system (Caesars and Showboat).  You get the picture.  At Harrah’s Philadelphia one night, once I reached 1,000 tier credits, the counter went to 1 and, no matter how much more I played, it never increased.  I actually saw a woman with a hand-held calculator sitting on her lap.  I’ve gotten to the point that I write down my tier score before playing so I can keep track on my own.  (I’m not the only one doing it, and I’d recommend you do likewise.  Some people even take a picture of their final tier score before leaving the casino.)  Caesars has taken the “fun” out of playing since no one wants to be so close to a bonus and not reach that milestone.  For Caesars, it’s win-win.  They get more play out of someone trying to reach that next tier level, yet they don’t have to pay up with bonus credits if someone just misses a level.  In terms of the increased tier levels, nearly every Seven Stars cardholder agreed that Caesars had been “giving away” Diamond and Platinum, and the majority wished that Caesars had increased the required points even more.  The biggest complaint, though, was not hearing about these changes earlier – and hearing it from a source other than Caesars.  There were lots of rumors floating around toward the end of 2012 – and lots of misinformation and/or incomplete information (most of it coming from hosts and other Caesars employees who were in on the discussions and plans, and then blabbed to their buddies).  Folks are still waiting for more details about the new benefits at the various levels – effective April 1, e.g., the $100 Appreciation Dinner for Diamond cardholders, the Diamond Companion Card, the Preferred Reward Credits-to-free play exchange ratio (1.25:1 for Seven Stars, 1.75:1 for Diamond), the annual getaways for Diamond and Seven Stars cardholders, etc.  If there’s any word – OK, two words – I hear more about Total Rewards is that it’s “overly complicated”.  While none of the other casino loyalty programs is as large as TR, most are pretty simple and straight-forward.  I think people would prefer a more generous comp dollar and/or free play component to TR rather than all these trips, Signature Events, dinners, gifts, bonus tier credits, etc.  “The last thing I need is more Omaha steaks – I already have a freezer full of them, courtesy of the casinos.”  That’s how one person put it.  Another frequent complaint was about the $500 folio credit for the annual trip.  “I’m not a big fancy eater when I go to a casino, but I do like shows, massages, facials, etc.  This money should be available for tickets and spa treatments too.”  I believe it used to be that way, and some casinos are pretty liberal about how you spend that money – especially those that don’t allow you to use the money for alcoholic beverages.  Others have no interest in traveling outside their home area, and don’t use the annual trip (or the cruise).   There also needs to be more consistency.  As of last month, at least in New Orleans, instead of a $500 folio credit, one player’s TR account was credited with the equivalent of $500 to be used any time – even after he returned from his trip.  I’m afraid we’re going to be stuck with this new program for some time to come, but let’s hope that next time Caesars puts a little more effort into consulting with its customers.  Caesars is never going to please everyone, but with so many common threads among the feedback after announcing the initial phase of the program, if Caesars did talk with its players, it’s apparent they may have been listening to the wrong people.
This Month’s Survey
Now that you know more about the “new” Total Rewards, will you be
  • playing more to reach the next “milestone” (Gold to Platinum, Platinum to Diamond I, Diamond I to Diamond II, Diamond II to Diamond III, Diamond III to Seven Stars)?
  • playing more, but just to maintain your current tier?
  • playing at your current level and “letting the chips fall where they may”?
  • switching to another casino’s player loyalty program?

Send me an e-mail (sevenstarsinsider@gmail.com) and I’ll share your thoughts – anonymously, of course.

 Photo – Fabzz

Seven Stars Insider – April Edition

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

Happy New Year!
I know this is April, but for Total Rewards it’s a brand new year of benefits. The next 12 months will go fast, so consider making your plans early for the annual trip and celebration dinner. While you’re at it, go ahead and select your annual gift – you’ll notice that the selection is much greater this year. However, who decided to arbitrarily categorize the gifts as “For Her” and “For Him”? Aren’t we well past the days when kitchen appliances are considered “feminine” and sports equipment and electronics are dubbed “masculine”?

Harrah’s New Orleans

Diamond LoungeChanges
A reader who just returned from New Orleans reports that there have been changes – for the better! – at the Diamond Lounge. The buffet has been replaced with a long couch, chair and coffee table, and there is now a printed menu. Choices included shrimp and prosciutto bruschetta, a red bean onion dip, alligator, crawfish and andouille sausage, international cheeses and prosciutto, mini muffaletta sandwiches, and fresh fruit with berries. In addition there are a few desserts. She also tried the new restaurant, Manning’s, across the street from the Grand Isle. Two standouts on the menu, she said, were the Gris Gris Duck Wings and the chicken and andouille sausage gumbo. Service was excellent, she added. Manning’s accepts Quick Rewards on a 1:1 basis, or you can charge meals to your room and settle the bill with your Total Rewards credits upon check-out.

Harrah’s St. Louis

Level II Experience Report
I thought you might enjoy this report from Seven Stars cardholder Tom Valledolmo. Overall, he and his wife had a very positive experience which he details in this report downloadable from his Web site: http://www.tomthebombpicks.com/uploads/St._Louis_Harrah_s_Trip_Report_3-27-12.pdf.

Lake Tahoe

Updates At Harrah’s and Harvey’s
Seven Stars cardholders who frequent Lake Tahoe were kind enough to send me these updates:
Harrah’s no longer has the Summit Restaurant on the 16th floor. There is now “The President’s Lounge at the Summit” – open to Diamond and Seven Stars cardholders from 4 to 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. There are two levels of seating with beautiful views of the lake. Between 4 and 6, there is a carving station (usually roast beef and ham), with breads, chips, soup, etc.; the Diamond Lounge off the casino floor serves only finger foods from 4 to 6. Also, unlike the Diamond Lounge, which is self-service, there are several servers to take drink orders.
Harvey’s Diamond Lounge is more seasonal. Open on Thursday or Friday through Sunday from 4 to 9 p.m., the Lounge serves food from 4 to 6 p.m. There is a little better selection than Harrah’s Diamond Lounge – usually hot dogs and sandwich type food.
There are a couple new food outlets at Harvey’s: Straw Hat Pizza (with free WiFi) has pizza, burgers and salads, and opens at 11 a.m. Sierra Deli also opens at 11. Both accept Total Rewards credits, but at a 2:1 ratio.
Free lift tickets for Seven Stars cardholders are no longer monthly, but are now limited to four per season.

Las Vegas

No More ‘Two For The Show’
Those free and discounted show tickets for Diamond, Platinum and Seven Stars cardholders are no longer available. Apparently this is just another “enhancement” to the “new” Total Rewards.

Caesars Palace

Seven Stars Registration ‘Down-Sized’
Like the lounge it shares with Diamond cardholders, the formerly exclusive Seven Stars Registration is now a Seven Stars/Diamond Registration. Inside there is a small office with two desks and a sign that says, “Seven Stars”. When it’s not busy, and there’s no need for a dedicated check-in area, that office is empty. The former Diamond Registration is now registration for guests booked in the Augustus or Octavius Towers. Hopefully, guests who don’t have Seven Stars or Diamond cards are alerted to this in advance – both to avoid frequent long lines at the main registration area and also to take advantage of the close-by valet parking (see below).

Octavius Tower Now Open
Though I was originally booked in the Augustus Tower for my annual Seven Stars trip last month, I asked for a room in the new Octavius Tower that opened in January. [According to promotional copy provided by Caesars (which I didn’t see until my return), the Tower is a “668-room exhibition in excess. Let us apologize in advance for ruining other hotels for you. Each and every room brings new definitions to the words extravagance and comfort. It is modern beauty, timeless luxury and boastful amenity all rolled into one. Rooms also feature. . .your very own iPad® or iPod Touch® application which allows you to communicate with hotel services.”] In hindsight, I should have stuck with my original reservation. Probably because it faced the Garden of the Gods pool complex, the room was very dark and seemed smaller than rooms I’ve had in the Augustus which looked out over the Bellagio fountains and Paris’ Eiffel Tower. Also, it would have been nice if someone had told me about those apps. And, while staying in any of Caesars’ towers requires a considerable bit of walking from check-in – even using the dedicated Seven Stars/Diamond registration in the Augustus Tower, it’s a hike to get back to the Octavius Tower. If you’re driving, and know in advance you’ll be staying in the Octavius (or Augustus) Tower, be sure to take advantage of the special VIP Valet on Flamingo Road. Those who need an early morning cup of coffee to get them started will have to pre-order the night before from Room Service. Unlike the Augustus Tower, there are no coffeemakers in the rooms and, while there is complimentary coffee at the Seven Stars/Diamond Registration (along with free newspapers), I’m not sure it’s worth the walk. The other alternative is to take the interior walkway that skirts the pool area and grab a light breakfast at Rao’s or Payard Patisserie & Bistro. Finally (as always seems to be my “luck”), I had a room with a broken toilet seat which was never repaired during my entire four-night stay, despite a call to Guest Services shortly after I checked in; in addition, the stopper was broken in one of the bathroom sinks. Also, I don’t think anyone has ever dusted the tops of the wall-mounted room number blocks or cleaned the vents in the bathrooms. Both were covered with dust. High marks, though, go to the bright lighting in the bathroom. As to all those other “luxuries” in the promos, it all seemed pretty standard to me. If you find yourself booked into the Octavius Tower I would ask for a low floor overlooking the pool area, or a high floor overlooking the Bellagio. Better yet, stick with the Augustus Tower, and leave the Octavius for those conventioneers who will have closer access to the meeting space.

Lost: Lost and Found
It took nearly three weeks and four phone calls, but I finally got back the electric toothbrush I inadvertently left behind in my room. I realized my goof about halfway back to the airport, and called Seven Stars registration once I cleared Security – about an hour after I had checked out. Within a few minutes, the clerk confirmed with Housekeeping that the toothbrush was there, and he transferred me to Lost and Found to make arrangements for its return – at no charge, he said, because I was a Seven Stars cardholder. No one answered the call, so I left the detailed message a recording requested. More calls, and more voicemails, and still no returned messages (or my toothbrush). Reluctant to get him involved – after all, it was my own stupidity that created this situation, I e-mailed my host with all the details and asked him to forward it to the appropriate department head. Less than 24 hours later, an administrative assistant to the Vice President of Security called me, apologizing for the lack of response and promising me the toothbrush would be shipped overnight. When I sent a thank you note to my host confirming that all was in order, he replied that – while not making excuses – Lost and Found is “swamped” with inquiries. Isn’t this a sign that some additional staffing might be necessary? I know every company is trying to save money by operating as lean and efficiently as possible, but when customer service suffers, it might be time to reassess those cutbacks.

O’Shea’s

Slán leat, O’Shea’s [Good Bye, O’Shea’s]
O’Shea’s will close next month and be demolished as part of the $550 million Project Linq development. Space currently occupied by O’Shea’s will become part of the reconfigured Imperial Palace, which will be given a new name and theme. As previously announced, Project Linq is an outdoor retail, dining and entertainment district to 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. The two streets will be converted from public to private streets. The centerpiece of Project Linq is a 550-foot-tall observation wheel. It’s expected to open next year.

Atlantic City

Insider Outsider
Even though I qualified as a TR Insider for the first quarter of 2012, I seemed to be the only one among a group of friends who wasn’t invited to a number of monthly Friday evening cocktail parties at Bally’s, Caesars and Harrah’s. Last month, since I was staying at Bally’s the evening of one of the parties – billed as “Cocktails and Conversation” – even though I wasn’t invited, I walked up to the registration table, gave the clerk my Seven Stars card and waited to see what would happen. After all, there was a big sign out front of the Blue Martini Bar indicating there was a TR Insider Party, I was an “Insider”, so how could they turn me away? Well, their computer was down so she just handed me a wristband and told me to come in and enjoy myself. I had only about 15 minutes before I was meeting friends at the Caesars Seven Stars Lounge, but I counted approximately 50 people at the party, and there was an open bar, some lovely passed hors d’ouevres, a carving station and some pasta on a small buffet. A week later I knew there was a similar party at Harrah’s. Again, since I was staying there (and, at the base of the escalator leading up to the ballroom, there was a similar sign about a TR Insider Party), I tried the same trick. No dice. “You’re not invited,” I was politely informed, and none of the three women was going to let me in. I explained that I had friends inside who were expecting me and that I had not been invited to any of these Friday night parties in January, February or March. The woman in charge of the event checked my record, verified that I was, indeed, an Insider, but couldn’t explain why I wasn’t getting the invitations. She agreed to do some research into why I wasn’t receiving them, finally (and reluctantly), giving me a wristband. Was it worth all the trouble? Not really. Sure, there were open bars, pasta and garlic bread, General Tso’s Chicken and fried rice, and a dessert station, but I could get all the free food and drink I wanted in the Seven Stars Lounge downstairs. What I did get was – I think – an explanation of what this whole TR Insiders thing is (at least in Atlantic City). If you qualify, you should be invited to a monthly cocktail reception at your “dominant casino” (the one you play at most frequently); in addition, there is a quarterly party at each of the four Caesars-owned casinos. During the first quarter of 2012, Caesars and Bally’s hosted slot and blackjack tournaments, there was a Carnival-themed party (as in those pre-Lenten festivals held in Rio and New Orleans) at Showboat, and an Olympics-themed party at Harrah’s. No word yet on what’s in store for April, May and June.

Light [No] Show
A news release touting its participation in Earth Hour – a “symbolic act [that] represents Caesars Entertainment’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint on a global scale” – promised that all of its casinos would turn off exterior lighting Saturday evening. Showboat shut off its giant red marquees, but lights remained on at Caesars and Bally’s. I was inside Harrah’s so I don’t know whether its lights were on or off.

Don’t Expect A Revel-ution
Despite lots of threats from players – many who are dissatisfied Seven Stars cardholders, unless Revel makes changes to its player’s card program, I don’t expect much in the way of defection. Already, folks are grumbling over the fact that – like Wynn in Las Vegas – there will be only one level of player’s card. In other words, nothing like Caesars Gold, Platinum, Diamond and Seven Stars cards or Borgata’s Red Label, Black Label and Titanium cards. [“Everyone will be treated like a VIP,” said one Revel executive.] Also, Revel will have no dedicated player’s lounge like Caesars Diamond and Seven Stars Lounges, Trump’s and Golden Nugget’s Chairman’s Clubs, or Borgata’s Amphora Lounge and Society Club. Revel’s officials claim a lounge is unnecessary because of the casino’s generous comp policy, and the fact that all food and beverage outlets, the spa, etc., will be on a 1:1 basis, i.e., one comp dollar equals US$1. However, unless players are treated to some upfront “signing bonuses” or hosts divvy out lots of “discretionary comps”, I don’t see many players bellying up to the bar for premium cocktails and paying cash for them, let alone using their comp dollars. However, time will tell. After all, MGM’s casinos in Las Vegas don’t have anything like Caesars Diamond Lounges and it doesn’t seem to be hurting their business.

So, What’s It Like?
I had a tour of the Revel March 30, and it’s spectacular. The views alone from the large expanses of glass overlooking the ocean are worth the trip, as is the “sky garden” and just about every aspect of the hotel, casino, spa, restaurants and night club. Your Seven Stars (or Borgata Titanium) card will get you a host immediately and expedited service when it comes to signing up for a Revel player’s card, but that’s about it. There isn’t even a brochure detailing any benefits from the player’s card – which has no name, just “Revel” printed in black on a plain white card. I put more than $1,000 through a variety of slots at levels ranging from a penny to $1. After an hour of play, I walked away with $7 in “Resort Credits” [comp dollars] – not even enough to buy a decent drink at one of the bars.

‘Welcome Celebration’
The annual Seven Stars “Welcome Celebration” has been scheduled for April 27 and 28 – ironically, the same weekend as the Golden Nugget’s Grand Opening. Friday night each of the four Caesars casinos will give its Seven Stars cardholders a seven times Tier Credit multiplier, but the big event of the weekend is a 90-minute cocktail “soiree” Saturday. Invited guests also will receive a “commemorative bottle” of Belvedere® vodka. (A competing casino down the street gave out bottles of Belvedere a couple months ago as one of their standard weekly gifts – no major play required.) At each soiree, seven two-year leases on a 2012 Cadillac® CTS – along with additional cash prizes – will be given away. Aside from the tax implications – and, if I won, not even factoring in how much more I would spend on gas (I drive a Kia), my insurance would increase, and I’d be scared to death I’d cause some damage or exceed the maximum annual mileage. If Caesars is so committed to the environment (see above), why not give leases on a Prius or a Volt?

Diamond (and Platinum) Books Are A Player’s Best Friend
One of the more popular benefits for players in Atlantic City, these valuable coupon books will be distributed to Diamond cardholders on April 14 and 15 between noon and 6 p.m. Platinum cardholders can pick up their books from April 2 to 6; however, many of my Jewish friends – especially those who work fulltime and are unable to travel to Atlantic City during the week – feel that Caesars has been a bit insensitive to the fact that Passover begins at sunset on April 6, so they are unable to take advantage of a benefit they’ve earned. Since most Platinum cardholders probably don’t have a host, I would hope that Caesars makes some sort of special accommodation for those unable to pick up their books during the designated distribution dates.

ACES Not So Wild
The non-stop train service between Manhattan and Atlantic City – ACES (Atlantic City Express Service) – is no longer. Several factors led to the decision.

Marketing Test
I didn’t hear it personally – because I wasn’t invited, but at least three readers who attended a reception at One Atlantic told me that someone from Marketing said Caesars was purposely reducing offers to a “test group” of players to see if they would still come to Atlantic City and play. I think I must be part of the group because my “offers” have been reduced to practically nothing. And, yes, it’s affecting my play at Caesars casinos. But does it take a fancy marketing study to prove that?

Resorting To Additional Fees
How can Caesars casino hotels continue to say on their Web sites that they don’t have Resort Fees (see below) when – other than the Tropicana – they are the only hotels to charge more than the mandatory $5 per room night New Jersey State Occupancy Fee?

Call it what you will, but Caesars, Bally’s, Showboat and Harrah’s all are charging guests an additional $8 per room night (a $5 “Room Assessment Fee” and a $3 “Comp Room Fee”) — see below.

At least in Las Vegas when a hotel charges a Resort Fee it generally includes free Internet service, a free daily newspaper and even admission to the hotel’s fitness center. (And those staying in comped rooms generally have the resort fee waived, so it’s not an issue.) In Atlantic City Caesars is giving its guests nothing in return for this $8 additional charge – whether it’s paid in cash or taken out of comp dollars.

Bally’s

Clue®-less
Originally scheduled to promote the new Clue® slot machine (which still isn’t in operation yet at Bally’s or Caesars), the Murder Mystery Dinner Theater last month probably sounded like a good idea on paper. The Traymore Ballroom was cleverly decorated to evoke the interior of an English manor house; however, after about 20 minutes, the “theater” part just didn’t seem like it was going anywhere. Guests at our table were starting to talk among themselves, as were others in the room, so it was difficult to hear. Though we ate the salad (which was very good!), my friends and I left after about 20 minutes and ended up at The Reserve for an excellent dinner. “All’s Well That Ends Well!” Also, if Bally’s is going to use tickets under saucers to distribute a giveaway, make sure everyone understands that coffee cups are placed to the right of a diner. The man next to me grabbed the ticket under my coffee cup and claimed a Clue® board game for himself. It wasn’t worth arguing over, but had there been a more substantial prize, I might have become more contentious. In the future, Bally’s should consider a better system.

Wild Wild Guess
Just based on what I – and others – have been told by several Bally’s employees, look for a Dave & Buster’s, some retail shops, and maybe some additional food and beverage outlets to replace the slot machines currently “quarantined” behind temporary walls in the Wild Wild West.

Legends – Worth A Look
Though I’m not generally a fan of “tribute” shows, I must admit I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of both the performances and the production at Legends last month. The line-up of acts may change this month and next, but the cast I saw did an outstanding job, and the back-up dancers/singers deserve special credit for their enormous contribution. When they weren’t onstage dancing and singing their hearts out, they were backstage changing into yet another costume. Considering – other than comedy clubs at Tropicana and Borgata – there are so few shows during the week in Atlantic City, this is definitely one to check out.

Caesars

Friday Afternoon Meltdown
Be glad if you weren’t playing at Caesars the last Friday in March. Around 2 p.m. a “system” went down. Video poker and slot machines would not accept Fast Cash Tickets or Express Pay Coupons, and anyone cashing out from a machine had to wait for a hand pay – whether they were owed $500 or 15 cents. The lines at the main cashier were so long, I thought they were selling Mega Millions lottery tickets.

Harrah’s Resort

Difficult High Heels To Fill
While we’re happy about her promotion, we’ll miss Seven Stars Lounge Supervisor Alisa Hammill. During her years working in the lounge, she made it a point to get to know her customers, and treated everyone with dignity and respect. When the lounge was particularly busy, it was never beneath her to clean a table, take a cocktail order or deliver a plate of food. She also inspired great teamwork among her staff. Fortunately, she’ll remain at Harrah’s in another capacity, so let’s hope she won’t be a stranger.

Tipping Point
Unbelievable! That’s the only way I can describe my shock when a fellow Seven Stars cardholder grabbed a $5 tip from the bar at the lounge on a recent Friday night. The couple next to her had left and, when she thought I wasn’t looking, she took the bill and threw it in her purse. I told her what I saw, but she denied it. In an attempt to give her a chance to redeem herself, when Lou, the bartender, came to take my drink order, I said, “This nice lady was kind enough to take your tip so no one would steal it.” She just stared blankly ahead. A few minutes later she walked out, leaving her uneaten lobster roll and bowl of soup.

Sign Of The Times
Have you seen the sign on the casino floor promoting the American Idol slot machine? “The Vote’s Are In. This game is a winner!” Obviously, whoever designed – and approved – this never won any awards for punctuation. (The plural of the word “vote” does not require an apostrophe.)

Harrah’s Chester (Pennsylvania)

Name That Town
Could there be a name change in Harrah’s future? Will it be renamed Harrah’s Philadelphia? Makes a lot of sense. Harrah’s is practically ”a stone’s throw” from Philadelphia International Airport, and the Philly city limits are only about 15 minutes away. Most people don’t have a clue where Chester is, or, worse, think that Chester is the name of the man who owns the casino.

Declaring Bank-ruptcy
The “Bank” feature which is part of Total Touch® is nice, but downloaded free play expires with no warning. I had $155 in free play which I forfeited by forgetting to play it. I wouldn’t even have known, except for the fact that Pennsylvania requires its casinos to send reports to players detailing the amount of “slot cash” they offered, how much was played and how much expired. Even worse happened to a friend of mine. Saving up free play for an afternoon in the High Limits Slots, he hit the wrong button and mistakenly downloaded $500 while playing a penny slot in the C-Bar. Related to this is the fact that you can download only one of two smaller amounts or the entire balance of your bank. The system needs more options, or the ability to allow the player to choose a specific amount by punching numbers into a keyboard.

Caffe Napoli To Open This Month
Located on the former site of Café Cappuccio, the new Caffe Napoli is expected to open April 6. One employee described it as something similar to Sbarro’s, i.e., there will be seating to enjoy your food, but no servers.

The End Of End Zone
End Zone is closing to reinvent itself as a microbrew/barbeque pub. Renovations are expected to be completed – and a grand reopening is scheduled – next month. In the meantime, The Cove will be open extended hours Tuesday through Saturday and is introducing a new spring menu. (Don’t forget to update your Web site, Harrah’s It still has outdated information, not only about the Cove, but other details.)

General

The ‘New’ Total Rewards
While it’s evident a lot of time and money went into the new look of Total Rewards, the focus seems more on obtaining new cardholders than rewarding and retaining current cardholders. Sure, there a few new “benefits” – advance ticket sales for some events, discounted pricing at participating casino restaurants and buffets, the ability to transfer Reward Credits to another account-holder, and exchanging Rewards Credits for slot play (at a 2:1 ratio); however, I haven’t spoken to anyone who finds these that valuable. Many long-time Caesars players felt “blind-sided” when they heard about the four concerts that kicked off the brand re-launch March 1, wondering why more players weren’t invited to attend, why there wasn’t more advance notice, and the most vocal wondered what in the world P. Diddy, Cee Lo Green, Lil Wayne and others had to do with their favorite casino’s player loyalty program. Those who were aware of the concerts and tried to watch them online were frequently greeted by the equivalent of those “stand-by” signs reminiscent of the early days of television. At other times, portions of a concert were repeated, perhaps while “technical difficulties” were being corrected. “Commercials” for Total Rewards were greeted by cyber-boos in the form of negative tweets and Facebook postings (“This is the [sic] wurst!”) running continuously on the right side of the screen. As a matter of fact, about the only things positive being broadcast were obviously “planted” tweets from Caesars employees (“Heard about the new Escape To Total Rewards game? Can’t wait to play!”), or fan shout-outs to Mariah Carey and some of the other performers (“We luv u Mimi!”).

Atlantic City Signature Event
Add June 15-17 to your calendar if you plan to attend the first 2012 Signature Event in Atlantic City. There’s been no official announcement, but, assuming he wasn’t trying to throw me off, a Caesars executive let the dates slip during an informal conversation in the Seven Stars Lounge at Harrah’s Resort. Why keep the dates a secret? People like to make plans, and June 15 is only 2½ months away.

Signature Experiences: Deadline Extended (continued)
When someone tried to book her Level II experience for a date after March 31, she learned that some of the contracts with outside vendors expired March 31, and no replacement options were offered. In other words, it wasn’t going to be the experience she expected, so she opted for something else. If you’re going to take advantage of this extension, be sure to check in advance that you’ll get everything promised – or at least the equivalent.

Movie Mania
If you’re a fan of the free in-room movie benefit, when you check-in be sure to ask at the front desk what the policy is. Some casino hotels now limit the movies to one or two per day, and, in some cases, the limitation is per stay.

Play To Stay
When one player questioned why the Level I Tunica Basketball Experience no longer included a $1,500 airfare credit, and was reduced from four to two tickets, four to two rooms and one dinner for two (from four), he was told that too many players were coming to Tunica and not playing, or not playing enough. Excuse me, but aren’t these trips supposed to be a reward for past play? Plus, from my experience in Tunica too many machines wouldn’t accept my Total Rewards card, were out of order or were being reserved for other players. Also, unless you’re going to return to one of these casinos, what’s the point in playing a lot? As a result of that trip to Tunica I’m now getting invited to slot tournaments and other events, plus I am receiving free slot play offers, as well as food and beverage credits that I’ll never use – offers, I might add, that are more generous than the ones I receive from my “local” casinos in Atlantic City. Why would I travel 1,000 miles for $50 off my meal at Binion’s and $100 in free slot play? Similarly, why would I drive 90 miles [to Atlantic City] for $10 in free slot play and a $20 food credit (that’s good only Monday through Thursday)? I’m not even going to drive 15 minutes to Chester for a lousy $5 in slot play. I’d rather receive nothing than be insulted by these piddly “incentives” to play. It’s costing Caesars more to print and mail these silly offers than they’re worth.

Pick One: $500 Hotel Credit or 50,000 Reward Credits
When scheduling your annual trip, check to be sure if your $500 is in the form of a credit against your hotel room folio or whether 50,000 Reward Credits are going to be added to your Total Rewards account. If it’s a $500 credit on your hotel folio, you’ll need to use it before you check-out or you lose any remaining balance. Those who get the 50,000 RCs can use them anytime and anywhere – even after they return home. How about a little consistency, folks?

Mirror, Mirror
If you’ve already received one of the new Seven Stars cards, keep it somewhere safe. It may become a collector’s item. While replacement cards are on the way, the current cards are hard to read, the type (your name and TR number) scratches off easily, and – if you’re in the sun or under a bright light – you’re liable to temporarily blind someone. I actually saw a woman in Las Vegas using the card to check her make-up.

English Grammar 101
Apparently the copywriters at Total Rewards don’t have access to a basic grammar-checking program. I see this same type of error time after time in correspondence, promotional mailings and e-mails. “Total Rewards” is not the “valued Total Rewards Member”. Try this instead: “Total Rewards is pleased to provide you – our valued member – with this E-Statement. . . .” Also, in one 21-word sentence, “Total Rewards” is repeated three times. We get it. . .we get it!

A similar example arrived in the mail about a week later [emphasis added]: “As someone who knows about all the great luxury, amenities and beauty of our Las Vegas Total Rewards resorts, we don’t have to tell you that this is the perfect time of year to start planning your next Las Vegas getaway.” Huh? Try this instead: “For someone who knows about all the great luxury, amenities and beauty of our Las Vegas Total Rewards resorts, this is the perfect time of year to start planning your next Las Vegas getaway.”

Seven Stars-Specific Benefits
Notice anything missing from the Seven Stars benefits section of the Total Rewards Web site? Casino-specific benefits like the “Day at the Races” at Harrah’s Chester are currently being “vetted” by the TR execs in Las Vegas. Once the process is complete, the list will be posted again. Already dropped, according to the VIP Desk at Harrah’s New Orleans, are the Mardi Gras World tour, the carriage ride through the French Quarter and the paddleboat ride. Once each year cardholders visiting New Orleans were able to choose one of these as a special Seven Stars benefit. Between the loss of free show tickets in Las Vegas (see above) and this, it’s not looking good for the other benefits.

My TR: Not App-licable
With the additional layers of security required to log-on to the Total Rewards site, signing on to the My TR mobile app on my iPhone® is still not possible. The program needs a different “keyboard” that allows for upper case letters, as well as separate keys for letters and numbers. Supposedly, this was fixed a couple weeks ago, but it still doesn’t work.

A Not-So-Happy Birthday Offer
I was hoping it would change, but some with birthdays in the first quarter of 2012 are still getting the “earn up to 5,000 tier points in one day and we’ll match it” offer. At least in Atlantic City, every other non-Total Rewards casino offers free play, comp dollars or an actual gift. If you’ve already singled us out for some sort of birthday recognition, then don’t expect us to invest more money in slot machines or table games in order to get something in return.

Survey Results: The ‘New’ Total Rewards
So, what are players saying about the “rebranding” and new look of the Total Rewards program, as well as some of the enhancements, e.g., reduced prices at some food outlets, first choice to purchase tickets for concerts and shows? Unfortunately, complimentary responses are rare (it’s always more fun to trash something). I’d like to assume that someone has positive things to say about the new program, but I can’t prove it by the e-mails I received:
“Why spend all this money on new [player’s] cards? Diamond cards no longer look like Diamond cards and the Seven Stars cards are horrible. The cards all look alike, and they’re downright ugly!”
“They need to do more to reward their top players. They took away 12 trips from Level I last year. We did not even try to reach it. What’s the use?”
“Do they really think I am going to fly across country for $65 of free play in Lake Tahoe? Why do they send these ridiculous offers? It’s an insult. Surely, with Caesars sophisticated computer system, it should be able to better target players and offer more meaningful incentives.”
“If Caesars wants their continued support, Caesars needs to be talking to its players to see what they want. I don’t know anyone who wants to transfer their Reward Credits to someone else, or buy concert tickets in advance.”

Speaking of the new cards, I actually know people who are retaining their 2011-12 Seven Stars cards because they’re more distinctive and better differentiate them from Diamond and other lower-level cardholders.

Photo: Pulse of Las Vegas Blog

Seven Stars Insider – January 2012 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.  As always there is a lot of information in this edition. Read on for all the goods.

Harrah’s New Orleans

Heading Santa’s Naughty List
I’m a big fan of Harrah’s New Orleans, and have never experienced anything but first class service and a good time.  I always describe the hotel as being more like a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons – though I wish they had included a spa in their initial plans.  However, based on the volume of e-mails I received during 2011, New Orleans got the most complaints about everything from missing comp dollars, screwed up hotel and dinner reservations, and uncaring and inefficient hosts.  Admittedly, it’s been awhile since I’ve been down there, but I hope they can get their act together.  It may just be a vocal minority that’s having these bad experiences, but word is spreading throughout lots of message boards on the Internet, as well.  There’s often a fine line between perception and reality and, like a woman scorned, an unhappy gambler – especially if he/she is losing – can be your worst nightmare.

Las Vegas

Caesars Palace

See Celine For A Good Cause
If you haven’t seen Celine Dion’s new show in the Colosseum, you can help raise money to fund research for and increase awareness of sickle cell anemia by attending a special performance at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, January 15.  Ticketholders also get to attend an exclusive reception at PURE Nightclub, sponsored by Southern Wine & Spirits.

Merry Excess-mas
In case you missed it, Christmas Eve/Christmas dinner at Guy Savoy last year was a mere $358 per person (not including beverages, taxes and gratuity).  The menu included:

Oysters in Ice Gelée
Langoustine and Fennel
“Colors of Caviar”
Roasted John Dory in Sage and Tarragon Crust
Artichoke and Black Truffle Soup, Toasted Mushroom Brioche, and Black Truffle Butter
Poussin “en Cocotte” and Albufera Jus
Brie Black Truffle
Champagne Dessert
Chocolate

For further decadence at Caesars – available year-round, go to Casa Fuente and try the “Forbidden Collection” of cigars costing up to $150 each, along with some rare scotch at $1,100 a shot.

Atlantic City

Eyes Wide Shut
I’m not sure whether Caesars employees have a vision problem or just don’t like confrontation.  Why is it, then, that even the most casual visitor to Atlantic City spots vagrants sitting at slot machines sound asleep?  One Saturday evening last month, a man with a large thick beard, wearing several layers of clothing – identity protected by a thick hooded parka, tucked a huge backpack between his legs, and napped for nearly an hour right outside the Diamond Lounge at Caesars.  The same man was spotted in a different section of the second floor casino the day before.  Many players – particularly women – simply refuse to play at the Boardwalk casinos just because they don’t feel safe.  “Sleepers” aren’t exclusive to the Boardwalk, though.  Over at Harrah’s, a woman was sleeping at a table in front of Club Cappuccino as two security guards chatted away in front of her, seemingly oblivious to the situation.  While there’s no reason to believe these nappers are doing anything but catching 40 winks in the warmth of the casino, nevertheless, no other business would be as tolerant.

Easy Revenue Source For AC
If the city police better patrolled Arkansas Avenue between Wild Wild West and Caesars they could write a bunch of tickets for illegally parked cars.  On several occasions during the New Year’s weekend, friends picked me up from the first floor exit of the Centurion Tower at Caesars; I was amazed at the number of cars that were parked there – most of them minus the driver and/or any passengers.  While, theoretically, the three sets of doors to Caesars on Arkansas only can be opened from the inside, folks seem to have no problem prying them open from the outside.  It’s not such a big deal with the two sets of doors leading into the casino, but the fact that individuals are entering the door leading into the first floor of the Centurion Tower makes me a little nervous.

Controversial Decision Paying Off
It didn’t sit well with a lot of Diamond cardholders, but Caesars decision to require a minimum of 25,000 tier points to enter the four Atlantic City Diamond Lounges at no charge is apparently paying off.  While I’ve seen no official statistics, based on conversations with certain casino executives, as well as talking with a number of players, a lot of people went out of their way to reach that 25,000 point threshold by the end of 2011.

Home For The Holidays
Many “regular” players skipped their trips to Atlantic City last month when they learned that the Diamond (and the Seven Stars Lounge at Harrah’s), as well as several buffets, restaurants and other venues were closing for several days – and, in some cases, weeks – at a time.  Others were downright angry – some, just perplexed – when they got to one of the lounges, only to find it was closed.  At least Harrah’s offered the option of a Waterfront Buffet to eligible cardholders.  This year, Caesars management, please decide further in advance if – and when – you are going to close lounges, buffets, restaurants, The Pool at Harrah’s and other venues.  Then, let everyone know!  (I’ll even help you spread the word – plus, I’ll be reminding you in November to start thinking about this.)

Airshow Moves To Friday
The 10th Annual Atlantic City Airshow will be held August 17 – a Friday, rather than the traditional midweek timeframe.  Headlining the show once again will be the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Army Golden Knights.

Bally’s

Seven Stars 101
The VIP Registration staff and Total Rewards crew need a crash course in Seven Stars cardholder benefits – specifically, the Companion card.  My “companion” tried to check in at Bally’s VIP last month, and was condescendingly told to check-in at the “regular” registration desk.  When I stopped in later to find out why, I was told that, “of course, we would extend that courtesy to a Seven Stars Companion cardholder.”  Apparently, Chris who was working there that afternoon didn’t know this.  Furthermore, when I inquired at Total Rewards, the gentleman at the Seven Stars section said he didn’t know and, when he checked with his manager, told me that his manager didn’t know either.  Shouldn’t there be a list of basic benefits handy at each Total Rewards desk and each VIP Registration?

Send Me No Flowers
Apparently, the New Year’s Eve dinner at Bally’s was another outstanding example of the fine work done by the hotel’s food and beverage department.  I heard many wonderful compliments about the food, service, music and ambience – both at dinner and the Sunday brunch.  However, some miscommunication – later apologized for – caused a bit of a scene at the conclusion of the dinner.  When some guests tried to leave with flowers from the centerpieces, many were chased by security guards who told them the flowers couldn’t leave the ballroom because they were needed for the brunch.  Frankly, I always find it appalling how some people walk off with table decorations – many times before the event even concludes.  Sometimes guests even “fight” for the flowers!  [The worst I’ve seen was at Caesars New Year’s Eve when a woman pulled out a pair of manicure scissors and began cutting off the strands of “crystals” from the decorations suspended over some of the tables.]

Caesars

Welcoming 2012 In High Style
Caesars hosted an absolutely flawless New Year’s celebration this year:  simple, but elegant and understated invitations. . .tasteful and creative hors d’oeuvres (steak tartare in mini-parmesan tuille cups, slices of rare ahi tuna on tiny pancakes, grilled baby lamb chops, etc.). . .stunning décor in the Palladium Ballroom that elicited audible gasps as the doors were dramatically opened.  All this was complemented by an imaginative dinner menu featuring a salad with the largest shrimp I’ve ever seen, followed by a dual entrée of roasted mero (a delicious white fish that was so moist it literally cut like butter) and lobster-crusted filet.  Dessert, below, was an edible miniature “snowman” encased in half a “snow globe” (made of sugar), perched atop vanilla sponge cake filled with Meyer lemon mousse and covered in vanilla butter cream, sitting in a pool of light blue “ice”.  It looked beautiful, and tasted even better.  The versatile musicians backing up four equally versatile singers provided continuous entertainment and dance music, breaking only for two professional dance exhibitions right out of those opening numbers on Dancing With The Stars.  Brunch the next day was just as outstanding.  Congratulations – and thank you! – to all involved.

Morton’s Steakhouse Chain Sold
After Landry’s Inc. bought Trump Marina, it had one of its chain restaurants – the Rainforest Café – already ensconced in Trump Plaza, as well as McCormick & Schmick’s at Harrah’s Resort.  Now Morton’s Steakhouse in Caesars is in the same situation.  Last month, Houston billionaire Tilman Fertitta bought Morton’s Restaurant Group Inc. in a $117 million deal.

Harrah’s Resort

Breakfast Of Champions
Kudos to the staff at the Diamond Lounge for their excellent breakfast buffets late last month.  Anticipating larger crowds due to the holidays – and with the closing of Reflections to make way for Sammy D’s (see below) – management opened the Diamond Lounge for breakfast on a temporary basis.

Room Maintenance
Hopefully, it was an isolated case, but one of the electrical outlets in my room last month had a cracked coverplate, above, exposing potentially dangerous wiring to a curious child or even a careless adult.  A similar cracked plate partially covered another outlet in the hallway near the elevator.  When I reported this at check-out, the clerk said the room should not even have been assigned.  But, how would anyone know?  Housekeepers don’t seem to report these maintenance issues, and, apparently, housekeeping supervisors don’t notice them either.  It’s up to us, as guests, to notify the front desk when we spot these problems, but no one seems to take the initiative.  Next time there’s a burned out light bulb, a frayed lamp plug, etc., please call it to someone’s attention.

No Parking
The special reserved parking section for Seven Stars cardholders is currently open to anyone.  It appears that perhaps a frustrated driver just plowed through the second card-controlled gate.  I’m not sure why that warranted that the first gate should remain permanently open.

Sammy D’s
Scheduled to open last month, Sammy D’s – located in the area formerly housing Reflections – is now supposed to open this month.  Bill’s Bar & Burger, which has been serving breakfast during the transition, will discontinue that service once Sammy’s opens.  Ironically, breakfast at Bill’s was the best meal of the day.

Red Door: Improvement Still Needed
Not long after it opened, I visited the Red Door and wrote, “This fabled Elizabeth Arden institution is a disappointing experience for men.  The facilities need much stronger supervision, and the front desk personnel need more training.”  I’m happy to report that my experience last month found these problems corrected.  However, several things have not changed:  the men’s “grooming area” still has only two sinks, and the lighting is so bad, it’s like shaving in the dark.  (“Assuming it was a man,” I wrote earlier, “whoever designed the lighting should be forced to shave there for a month.”)  The spa also has the “wimpiest” Jacuzzis (in terms of jet strength), so it’s not the most satisfying way to relax.

Bet $20, Win $1 Million
An unidentified woman won $1 million on a $20 bet last month while playing poker.  The jackpot is the second of its kind for “Three Card Poker 6 Card Bonus” which began play at Caesars Entertainment casinos in September.  The woman said she had played the game only twice before and was at the table for about two hours. The winning hand was a royal flush in diamonds.  In October, an unidentified man won $1 million on a $19 bet in the game and last month a Virginia man won $100,000.

Harrah’s Chester (Pennsylvania)

Happy Fifth Anniversary!
Hard to believe, but January 22 marks the fifth anniversary of the opening of Harrah’s Chester.

There Has To Be An Easier Way. . .
Maybe it’s just me, but Chester’s “Beat the Freeze” is second only in confusion and complication to Bally’s “Beat the Heat” promotion in Atlantic City this past summer.  Here are the official rules – misspellings and missing words included:  “Guests can win free slot play on days in December in which the temperature is forecasted to be below 28 degrees Fahrenheit.  The weekly forecast will be displayed in the casino atrium (the forecast used will be NBC Channel 10) and will update each day at 10am.  When a day is forecasted to be below the 28 degrees threshold we will communicate that day as a ‘Beat the Freeze’ day.  The day prior we will promote the ‘Beat The Freeze Day’ through Facebook, Twitter, e-blasts and outdoor signage (Billboard).  Guests are then invited [to] come to the casino, swipe there [sic] card at the promotional kiosks on the 2nd floor starting at 10am to have a chance to receive 5 dollars slot play for every degree below 28 degrees.  500 guests will randomly receive the slot cash prize!”  December’s unseasonably warm weather probably saved the casino a lot of free slot play, but you have until January 15 to get in on the fun.  Checking the official NBC 10 forecast through January 8, though, only January 2, 3 and 4 are forecast to have temperatures less than 28 degrees.

General

Skating With The Stars
I hope you got to see Caesars Tribute II on NBC January 1.  It was an excellent show and gave Caesars some very positive publicity.  Taped at Boardwalk Hall in early December, the show was a tribute to Peggy Fleming, and featured some of the top female skaters from the United States, Canada, France and Japan.

Regrets, He’s Had A Few
In August 2010 Caesars Chairman Gary Loveman called his decision to reject an opportunity to acquire the Macao gaming subconcession controlled by Wynn Resorts Ltd. a “big mistake”.  “I was wrong.  I was really wrong,” Loveman told Bloomberg Businessweek.  Determined not to be left behind again, Caesars is focusing on U.S. expansion, according to Howard Stutz’s “Inside Gaming” column in the December 4 Las Vegas Review-Journal.  “Through a joint venture, the company will operate two of the four casinos opening [this] year in Ohio.  Caesars is the leading bidder for a downtown Baltimore casino project and is expected to earn the license for a casino in the Boston area.”  Further, Stutz writes, “The company is looking at Miami, the next potential casino expansion market.”

Reminders
Seven Stars cardholders, don’t forget you have only until March 31 to complete your annual celebration dinner and trip, order your gift, and, if applicable, complete your Signature Experience.  Trips require a 30-day advance notice, so make your plans by the end of February.

Tier Levels: It’s Not Just Gold, Platinum, Diamond and Seven Stars Anymore
My guess is that, similar to direct mail promotions and even certain products, Caesars is testing several ways to bridge the gap between Diamond and Seven Stars.  As I’ve written before, several Midwest casinos, as well as the Grand in Biloxi, have General Managers Clubs (some actually have separate physical locations for the clubs; others are just “virtual” and offer special quarterly or monthly benefits); about 15 months ago Rincon (and perhaps others) introduced Diamond Select and Diamond Signature cards, below; and the Atlantic City casinos have their “TR Insider” program which begins its second quarter this month.

Survey Says: New Year’s Resolutions
Among the additions to my list, suggested by readers:
Allow Companion cardholders (who do not qualify through their play) to bring one guest into Diamond and Seven Stars Lounges.

Offer free slot play as an alternative to the annual gift.
Be more sensitive to singles, as well as those widowed or divorced; too many events are so couple-oriented that those traveling by themselves feel uncomfortable or less welcome.
Allow Total Rewards credits (comp dollars) to be used toward airfare, rental cars and other travel – similar to Mohegan Sun’s player’s card program.

Survey: New Year’s Eve
I attended the parties at Caesars in Atlantic City, and I heard lots of nice comments about Bally’s parties in Atlantic City, but what about the rest of the country (and Caesars Windsor in Canada)?  How were those celebrations?  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 – November 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 this week or next. Read on for all the goods.

Seven Stars Insider – November 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 at www.sevenstarsinsider.com.

Horseshoe Indiana

Bridge Falling, So Are Revenues
Revenue dropped 11 percent and admissions dropped 20 percent in September due to the closure of the Sherman Minton Bridge.  The bridge, closed September 9 after cracks in the steel supports were discovered, carries Kentucky patrons across the Ohio River to the casino 10 miles away.

Harrah’s New Orleans

Signature Event Gets Raves
From a couple who both are Seven Stars cardholders:  “We’ve been to several of these in the past – in New Orleans, Atlantic City and Las Vegas – but the folks in the Big Easy continue to do it right and make it a fun-filled weekend for everyone concerned.  In a word, this one was spectacular.  It began with a gathering at the valet area where the hurricane cocktails flowed freely and Harrah’s representatives handed out white handkerchiefs/bibs to everyone in preparation for that evening’s dinner.  At 7, a jazz band led the parade of guests to the Crazy Lobster restaurant on the shores of the Mississippi for a twilight dinner consisting mainly of freshly cooked lobsters.  As a local band played, guests were invited to have a caricature done, have their palms read or pose with a small alligator while a photographer recorded the big moment for them.  The next day, former NFL quarterback Archie Manning, father of Super Bowl champions Peyton and Eli, made an appearance in the Masquerade area on the casino floor, chatting with guests, signing autographs and taking pictures with them.  The former Saints QB was very accommodating and gracious and made sure he greeted every guest personally even though he ran over the time he was supposed to be there.  Like at the Crazy Lobster the night before, photos were printed immediately and given to guests in a binder.  That night, chef John Besh, whose Steakhouse is the main restaurant in the casino, put on a cooking demonstration in the theater while members of the audience ate the dishes he was preparing.  The crab-filled shells appetizer, short ribs and dessert were delicious.  Those events were a lot of fun and efficiently run, but the icing on the cake came the next night.  Just as the sun was setting, guests were loaded onto a parade of Mardi Gras floats, given light-up beads to wear around their necks and handed Mardi Gras masks to wear.  On the floats were bags of beads to throw to revelers on the street as the floats made their way down Canal Street en route to Bourbon Street.   The people on the street had no idea what all the fuss was about, and why this celebration was taking place in the middle of October, but they certainly got into it.  Once at our destination, Harrah’s reps led us to two restaurants that had been closed down especially for our private parties.  There was a buffet-style dinner provided that featured local food choices such as catfish and jambalaya, but the coup de grace was more bead-throwing from the balconies atop the restaurants to the sometimes rowdy and raucous crowds below.  After all the revelry had come to an end, shuttle buses brought us back to the casino or the hotel for a much-deserved rest.  Sunday at 9 a.m., coffee and beignets were served in the theater.  In summary, I can’t say enough about how smoothly this whole weekend was handled and how much fun we and our guests had taking part in all the activities.  It was the second time we’ve attended a Seven Stars Signature Event in New Orleans, but it won’t be the last.  The main thing New Orleans has going for it is that the events it schedules are unique and reflect the character of the city.  Other venues like Las Vegas and Atlantic City put on parties and shows, but we can go to a party or see a show any time, at any Caesars property.  But how many times do we get an opportunity to ride on a Mardi Gras float?  Or meet an NFL quarterback?  Or have our palm read?  Or pose with an alligator?  Different and unique.  So, kudos to the staff at Harrah’s New Orleans.  You got it right.”

And from another guest:  “The beignets and coffee session was done just as well as the other sessions. There was a four-piece band plus singer.  At one point, the singer led a dozen people around the room in a conga line.  Servers were dressed in outfits similar to Cafe Du Monde uniforms, including white aprons and caps. There were plenty of servers and also a cocktail server who brought out bloody marys or anything else we wanted, very quickly.  The beignets were excellent and fruit salad was also available.”

Suffolk Downs (Massachusetts)

Gambling Law In Conference Committee
The Massachusetts Senate, 24-14, approved casino gambling October 13.  The plan would authorize three “resort” casinos and one slots-only gambling parlor.  The House passed a similar version of the bill in September.  Now the measure is before a joint House-Senate conference committee where lawmakers will reconcile the differences that now exist in the two versions.  Once a final proposal has been ironed out, the legislation will head to Governor Deval Patrick’s desk for his signature.  Patrick has indicated initial support for the plan.

Las Vegas

Great Gift Wrap Up Mix-Ups
This year’s Great Gift Wrap Up will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. November 10-14 at the Flamingo and December 1-5 at Caesars Palace.  If you feel there’s been some sort of mistake in your points, ask to have someone review your account.  Apparently, for at least the last two years, there have been dedicated representatives who will work with you.  Be sure to bring any documentation, if you have it.

Bill’s  Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon

Get A Free Diamond – Card, That Is
Though owned by Caesars Entertainment, Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon, next to the Flamingo and across from Caesars Palace, has its own player’s club.  Normally it would take 11,000 tier credits – earned in a calendar year just like Total Rewards – to get a Bill’s Diamond card; however, Bill’s will automatically upgrade any Seven Stars (or Diamond) cardholder.  The card will be good through March 31, 2012.  Comp dollars, though, can be used interchangeably among all the Caesars Total Rewards properties in Las Vegas.  The catch is that you must exchange your Bill’s comp dollars for a voucher which is good for 24 hours.  Don’t take more than you can use because any unused credits will not be returned to your account.  Conversely, you can use your Total Rewards comp dollars at Bill’s much like Quick Rewards.  No voucher required.

Signing Bonuses
Currently, when you sign up for a player’s card there is a promotion that also gives you five free comp dollars and, after you earn two more, you get a free T-shirt.  You also get a book of coupons good at the 10 Caesars-owned properties in Las Vegas, as well as for some other tours and attractions.  Most of the coupons require some sort of purchase – buy one/get one or “X” percent off your purchase – but one coupon gives you four free balcony tickets to Nathan Burton’s show at the Flamingo.  My favorite is the “free coffee table book” at Michael Godard Art Gallery & Store.  The only requirement is that you must make a $995 or greater purchase of “fine art” at the store.

Free Show Tickets
Another benefit to having the Bill’s Diamond card is that you can get two additional free show tickets every month.  (Check with the player’s card desk to see which shows are available.  Last month they were offering comedians George Wallace and Vinnie Favorito, magician Nathan Burton, Legends in Concert, Human Nature and Frank Marino’s Divas.)  In other words, with a Seven Stars/Diamond card and a Bill’s Diamond card you can double the number of tickets you’re eligible for each month.

Great Gift Wrap Up
Play at Bill’s qualifies for Great Gift Wrap Up points.

Caesars Palace

And The Walls Came Tumbling Down
In an inspired architectural touch, the former Augustus Café has been transformed into Central – full name Central by Michel Richard (shortened to Central Michel Richard at the entrance, and on the menu and cocktail napkins).  [And it’s pronounced “sen-tral”, not “sen-tral”.]  Central’s bar spills into the lobby, and the open floor plan allows lots of natural light to stream in from windows hardly noticeable in the room’s previous incarnation.  See photo below:

[Note the whimsical “stacked plates” artwork as you walk in, as well as the hanging “plates” suspended throughout the room.]  A James Beard Award winner, Richard was one of my favorite chefs during the years I lived in Washington, D.C., when I often dined at Citronelle at the Latham Hotel.  At Central, Richard has created a menu that’s accessible, but filled with French bistro flourishes.  A perfectly cooked pan seared salmon filet came with succotash – but not your grandmother’s corn-and-lima bean concoction.  Freshly sautéed corn kernels and baby limas rub elbows with tiny diced red pepper, onions and fresh herbs.  If fish isn’t your thing, try the crusty filet, moist and medium rare, served with haricots verts.  For dessert try Michel’s Napoleon (big enough to share) or the crème brulee.  At dinner, if you’re lucky enough, ask for one of the best servers I’ve encountered, Laurent.  His French accent will only add to the ambience.  And, unlike the Washington, D.C., branch, Central in Las Vegas is open 24 hours.  However, service at breakfast can be maddening slow – the kitchen seems to be overwhelmed by the crowds, but it’s worth the wait.  My spinach, wild mushroom and Swiss cheese omelet was wonderful, but the menu needs to spell out what’s included with the breakfast entrees.  A gentleman sitting next to me at the bar sent back a practically uneaten order of breakfast potatoes, perhaps not realizing that hash browns (and an English muffin) came with all omelets.  Bargain hunters should try the $17 breakfast that includes three eggs, pancakes, sausage, bacon, ham and potatoes.  Similar to what was served at the Augustus Café, it’s easily enough to share.  Add two $3 cups of coffee, and maybe a glass of OJ, and two people can eat for around $25 – a real deal at high-end casino restaurants these days.

Size Does Matter
Now I know why it’s called Serendipity 3. . .the entrées are large enough for three to share.  I had brunch there last month and was shocked to see how large the portions were.  I saw one $20 sandwich that looked to be almost two feet long.  I barely made it through half of my quiche and salad.  The place is popular, though.  Thanks to my Seven Stars card I was seated in less than five minutes, but others – depending on the size of their parties – were being told of waits as “short” as 45 minutes to as long as 80 minutes.

Information Worth Recycling
Caesars Palace recycles 640,000 gallons of waste vegetable cooking oil a year.

Out With The Old, In With The Old [Homestead]
Opening next month on the site of Neros will be a second branch of the venerable New York steakhouse, Old Homestead.  The other is in Atlantic City, not at a Caesars property, but at the Borgata.

Flamingo

The Show Must Go On
To her credit, Marie Osmond finished her brother’s and her show October 26, then went straight to the emergency room at a local hospital.  “So the allergies went into a bronchitis,” she tweeted early the next morning, adding that it affected her high notes.  Always the trouper, she was back on stage that night.

The Cheapest Free Ticket In Town
Does anyone actually pay to see Nathan Burton at the Flamingo?  A ticket to Divas includes up to four free balcony tickets, and there is a coupon in the Total Vegas booklet given to all new Total Rewards members which also gives four free balcony tickets.

Harrah’s

Who’s, I Mean Whose, Line Is It Anyway?
I never have to worry about finding a misspelling or punctuation error for this newsletter’s monthly feature when it comes to the crack proofreaders who work for Caesars.  A New Year’s Eve invitation from Harrah’s in Las Vegas features this boo-boo:

Jumping The Line
Perhaps taking a cue from the airlines with their à la carte pricing, Harrah’s is now offering “express seating” at its Flavors Buffet.  Those without a Platinum, Diamond or Seven Stars card can pay $5 per person per entry to bypass the line.  Earlier this year Harrah’s experimented with – and subsequently abandoned – an optional additional charge for “premium” liquors and wines served on the casino floor.  [Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon (see above) is now pitching the same drink offer.]

Imperial Palace

Divas Las Vegas
For a different sort of “peepshow” (see below), check out Frank Marino’s Divas in the Imperial Theater.  Marino was out – no pun intended – the night I saw the show.  Despite what you might think of the genre, the cast of the show works harder than practically any other show on the Strip – especially the six “boys” who serve as back-up dancers to many of the divas’ solo numbers.  Kudos, too, to the costume and wig designers (and “manufacturers”).  Some of the divas are more iconic than others, but it depends on your generation.  I found it easier to relate to a Dolly Parton, a Liza Minnelli, a Cher or a Bette Midler, but, then, I’ve never seen Rihanna in concert.  The music – all soundtracks of the original singers – is overamplified and I could do without all the prerecorded applause, but the show is very entertaining and something you probably won’t see in Topeka – though Atlantic City has its own impersonator show over at Resorts.  And there’s definitely more skin showing than Peepshow – all of the male variety, with much of it masquerading as “female”.  The biggest question is how the Cher impersonator slips into that skin-tight costume and where does he. . .oh, never mind!

The Most Expensive ‘Free’ Ticket In Town
A ticket to Divas also includes up to four “free” tickets to Name That Tune which plays during some afternoons (and one evening) in the same theater.  However, read the fine print, and there is an additional $15.71 “box office fee”.  It’s not clear if that’s per ticket, or for the entire order.

Planet Hollywood

A Peak At Peepshow
Hey, it’s been running for more than two years, so who am I to judge, but I just don’t understand the success of Peepshow.  [It’s certainly a step-up from the old burlesque show in Toledo, Ohio, that my fraternity brothers and I sneaked into back in the 60s – not that we were underage, we just didn’t want anyone to know we were that desperate for cheesy entertainment.]  Peepshow currently features former Hugh Hefner girlfriend Holly Madison; she’s certainly attractive enough, but her acting, dancing and singing talents leave much to be desired.  In fairness, I don’t think those were the “talents” that got her the job.  Much of the singing – mostly by others – was unintelligible, the “choreography” pretty pedestrian and the music too loud; again, I don’t think that’s what audiences are going for – at least the guys.  But, hey, the tickets were free and I felt a certain obligation to check it out.  Has anybody else seen the show?  Comments?

Atlantic City

Caesars, Union Hope To Avoid Strike
Local 54 of UNITE-HERE union has reached a tentative contract agreement with the four casinos owned by Caesars Entertainment Corp.  Terms of the three-year agreement with will not be publicly released until after the union members vote on it November 1.  If approved, the agreement ensures there will be no strike at Bally’s, Caesars, Harrah’s Resort or Showboat.

Pier Shops Purchased At Auction
Lenders paid $25 million – plus $1 – to purchase the Pier Shops.  Look for more mid-price stores to replace – or at least co-exist – with the mall’s current high-end tenants such as Louis Vuitton.

Now You See Them, Now You Don’t
Following a carjacking in September that left a man dead and a woman injured, but only nine days after law officials introduced the plan, Atlantic City’s Mayor prohibited police from patrolling casino parking garages.  He said that the city government’s responsibility is to its residents “first and foremost.”  To maintain their confidence, public-safety agencies must stay visible and respond quickly, he added.  Shortly, thereafter, police went back on patrol in casino parking garages, against the wishes of some members of local law enforcement and against the orders of the mayor, but based on a decision by the
Atlantic County Prosecutor, and with the support of New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie.

Match Game
Caesars Entertainment matched a $5,000 donation to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.  The original contribution was from employees – called the HERO team – who conducted various fund-raising activities.  HERO stands for Helpful Employees Reaching Out.

Comps Declining or Increasing In Atlantic City?  It’s All In The Numbers
If you think your comps are declining, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement has the statistics to prove it – though the “real story” is that they’re not.  Confused?  Read on.  Figures show that the 11 Atlantic City casino hotels spent about $1.3 billion for comps in 2010, down from $1.4 billion in 2009 and $1.5 billion in 2008.  Now comes word that Atlantic City’s casinos are becoming more generous with their giveaways as gaming competition has grown in Pennsylvania and other surrounding states.  But back to that “’real story”: Comp spending as a percentage of gross gaming revenue has increased, meaning that the casinos are actually giving more.  Measured as a percentage of total casino revenue (gaming and nongaming sources), the rate of comps in Atlantic City rose from almost 26 percent in 2006 to 27 percent in the first six months of 2011.  Gaming analysts, though, argue that, while the upward trend in comps may be good for customers, it’s bad for the casinos and their bottom line.

Caesars

CSI: Atlantic City
Police and emergency medical personnel responded early last month to reports that a person had jumped from Caesars.  Police closed part of the street with yellow police tape by 10 p.m.  In the enclosed area there was what appeared to be a body covered with white sheets.  It was wrapped in blue tarp and removed from the scene on a gurney at about 10:30 p.m.  Atlantic City firefighters arrived five minutes later and cleaned the area with bleach and water.  In order to pass through the area, pedestrians walking along South Arkansas Avenue were instructed either to turn around or walk through the Caesars parking garage.

Homeless Shelter
With the weather getting colder in the East, the homeless once again are beginning to take refuge inside Atlantic City’s casinos.  A popular haven is the large area inside the exit/entrance around the corner from the Racebook/Keno area on the first floor.  Despite the fact that the doors on Arkansas Avenue are locked from the inside, it doesn’t take a cat burglar to figure out the way in – or you just wait patiently until a customer or employee exits.  Perhaps Security could patrol this area on a regular basis.  One afternoon last month I spotted a guy sprawled out on the floor against the back wall, but I couldn’t find anyone to do anything about it.

Morton’s Steakhouse Offers Early Holiday Gift
If you’ve been wanting to try Morton’s, but were put off by the 2:1 comp dollar policy, give it a try between now and December 24 when comps will be accepted on a 1:1 basis.

Harrah’s Resort

 Water and Blackjack Combo Gives ‘Card Sharks’ A New Meaning
Harrah’s Resort has added two blackjack tables inside its dome-covered pool and entertainment complex, becoming the second Atlantic City casino to expand gambling into traditionally nongaming areas.  Days after Tropicana Casino and Resort won state regulatory approval to put slot machines and electronic table games inside The Quarter shopping center, Harrah’s filed paperwork with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement to transform The Pool complex into a gambling attraction.  Don Marrandino, Caesars Eastern Division president, said, “There are at least five casinos in Vegas that have blackjack by the pool.  I think we should take learnings from there and use it here to make things more unique.”  He added, “Stay tuned.  We’ve got a few things up our sleeve.”

Harrah’s Chester (Pennsylvania)

A Not-So Welcome Reception
Patrons entering the building from the first floor garage or front door valet are too frequently greeted with the site of men and women sleeping, reading and eating, often with their – sometimes shoeless – feet propped up on tables.  There’s nothing wrong with having a place for folks to wait for a bus, or for non-gamblers to read a book while their spouses hit the slots, but these people are taking advantage of the situation.  Security needs to patrol the area more frequently, and some “No Loitering”, “No Sleeping” and “Keep Your Shoes On” signs need to be posted.

Getting To Chester Without Going Through Chester
Driving to Harrah’s from the south via I-95 just got a little easier.  You now can take Exit 4 (Commodore Barry Bridge/New Jersey to East 322 and 291).  Don’t go across the bridge – that will drop you off in New Jersey, but take the first exit (Chester Waterfront PA291) and turn right at the bottom of the ramp on Second Street (PA291).  (A sign will direct you to Eddystone.)  Harrah’s should petition for a sign to direct folks to the casino.  It’s a little confusing if you don’t know that the casino is just before Eddystone.

General

How The Grinch Stole Birthdays
Oh, for the days when you got a chocolate cake delivered to your house, or some free play, or maybe even some comp dollars.  As many of you know, the birthday gift du jour is now bonus Base Rewards Credits – I got offered up to 5,000.  Wow, 50 comp dollars – assuming I want to invest up to $25,000 in slot play on one day during the last three months of the year.  As I wrote before, this is like having your best friend tell you to go out and buy a birthday present at your own expense, but he/she will gift wrap it for you for free.  And, considering these are Base Reward Credits (that count toward your tier status), those who have birthdays earlier in the year really get the most value.  By October (or even July), if you’ve already achieved Seven Stars status, it really doesn’t do you much good – unless you’re going for one of the Signature Experiences.  Even then, by October, November or December, many players already have surpassed the 125,000 mark.  Caesars, please rethink this birthday “gift” next year.  Considering how generous competing casinos are with everything from cash and comp dollars to free play and “real” presents, this is pretty pathetic.  You want to recognize my birthday by asking me to invest more money on the off-chance I am going to win, just so I can get a few points and comp dollars?  I don’t think so.  [By comparison, Dover Downs in Delaware – where I play a fraction of what I play at Caesars casinos – gave me $200 in free play, good the entire month of November.  And the best gift?  Good all during November, Aria in Las Vegas – where I’ve never even played! – is giving me three nights in a corner suite, $700 in free play, and a $450 food and beverage credit.]

Seven Stars Discount Discontinued
The 15 percent Seven Stars discount on gift cards sold through the Total Rewards Catalog has been discontinued, effective last month.

Great Race Credits
Looks like Caesars was right on schedule.  Messages boards are buzzing and e-mails are being exchanged about the Rewards Credits everyone earned with the Great Race promotion.  Caesars said the bonus credits would be added by October 31, and they were!

Survey: Old vs. New Slots?
Once again, it’s a draw.  Slot players were almost evenly divided as to whether they stick with the same machines, or tire of the old and search out the new.

Survey: 125K+ Players
Looking over the choices for 2011-12 Signature Experiences, there doesn’t seem to be much logic in what they include for the amount of play required.  If you could design some new Experiences for 2012-13, what would you suggest?  Which of the current experiences would you eliminate?  How about an à la carte option that would allow you to assemble your own personal experience?  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

Photo: Pulse of Las Vegas Blog

Seven Stars Insider – August Edition

Here’s the latest edition of Seven Stars Insider.  As always there is a lot of good information. 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.

Seven Stars Insider – August 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.

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

Lake Tahoe

Signature Event
Lots of folks are not happy that the official invitations didn’t arrive in the mail until just about a month before the Event, set for August 18-21.  (Some people got theirs via e-mail and were directed to make arrangements through their local host.)  In addition, several people reported difficulties in getting through on the toll-free number to make their reservations.  Others received an invitation which included a hotel stay, not at Lake Tahoe, but in Reno (with transportation provided daily between the two venues)!  That’s at least an hour away.  Kind of like inviting someone to the Event in Atlantic City, but putting them up outside Philadelphia.

According to the web site, “Let Harrah’s and Harveys [sic] Lake Tahoe entertain you for four days amidst the picturesque setting of the Sierra Nevada.  With so many spectacular outdoor activities to choose from, we’ve designed a personal Tahoe Adventure just for you!  Also, look forward to enjoying great music under the stars at our Harveys Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena, featuring Grammy® and Academy of Country Music Awards winner Miranda Lambert on August 19.  The fun does not stop there, with a Seven Stars only Millionaire Maker Slot Qualifier and many more exciting offers to come!”

Considering it’s just a little more than two weeks before the event, why does the Web site still say, “Check back soon for updates” when the site hasn’t been updated in months?  If no one is going to maintain and update these Web sites, why even bother?  [And why list the three Events in an order different from how they are scheduled?  Ever since I found the site, in my mind, I thought the Lake Tahoe Event was going to be in October.]

Las Vegas

Harrah’s

The More Things Change. . .
Those of you who were frequenting Las Vegas back in 2007 may remember when the Diamond Lounges were serving “real” food.  Here’s a link someone sent me to a blog that wrote about it (and included photos):

New Orleans

October Signature Event
To be offered on two separate weekends, October 6-9 or 13-16 (that second weekend coincides with the Crescent City Blues and Barbecue Festival), the final 2011 Signature Event will be held in New Orleans.  Already announced are an open-air dinner at the Crazy Lobster Restaurant on the pier near the river, a boat ride on the Mississippi, a cooking demonstration and dinner in the theater featuring chef John Besh, and a ride on a Mardi Gras float from Harrah’s hotel to Bourbon Street where participants will disembark and be entertained on two terraces overlooking the street.  Of course, again, nothing about this is listed on the Web site.

Harrah’s Cherokee  (North Carolina)

Seven Stars Lounge
I stand corrected!  Last month I wrote that the only Seven Stars Lounges were located at Caesars and Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City, and at the Horseshoe in Hammond, Ind.  In addition, there is a Seven Stars Lounge just off the Fresh Market Square Buffet at Harrah’s Cherokee.  Several years ago when I visited Cherokee’s Diamond Lounge (now also called the VIP Lounge or Seven Sisters Lounge) there was a separate Seven Stars section that offered a special menu from which you could order a selection of sandwiches prepared to order.  If anyone wants to send me information about the Seven Stars Lounge, I will be happy to publish it.

Harrah’s Chester  (Pennsylvania)

Getting It Right
As opposed to the modest offerings at Caesars July 4th fireworks viewing party in Atlantic City (see below), Harrah’s Chester did it right a few weeks later with a champagne barbeque on the terrace of its racetrack grandstand.  Beautiful white floral arrangements graced all the tables, while a Jimmy Buffet-style band entertained.  The menu consisted of mini-Kobe beef hot dogs, “All-American Sliders” (mini-hamburgers), corn on the cob, delicious barbequed chicken (which had been marinated in Coke and bourbon – yum!), fingerling potato salad and an ice cream sundae bar – along with a full bar featuring top-shelf brands (not just champagne).  And to the credit of an “on the ball” food and beverage staffer, when I requested a non-alcoholic beer (which I didn’t realize wasn’t being offered), he practically flew back inside and brought an ice-cold Sharp’s to my table.  Talk about great customer service!  I’m just sorry I didn’t get his name.

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby
After four – often less-than-satisfying, but always improving – Sunday brunches at the Cove, I’m happy to report that on the fifth they finally got it right.  Like stars aligning in the heavens, service and food really came together July 31.  Management had added more employees, and the wait staff seemed more comfortable in their roles – which in the evening are considerably different from when they serve diners ordering from a menu, rather than selecting their own food from a buffet.  It’s not perfect, but expect even more improvements in the weeks to come.  If you tried the Cove’s Sunday brunch in the past and walked away disappointed, give it another shot – I think you’ll like what you find.  [One small quibble: How about some variations on the menu?  While I’d hate to see that wonderful cucumber, tomato and mozzarella salad disappear, perhaps the chefs have some other interesting combinations they’d like to showcase.  Same with the chicken breasts and risotto, and the crab-stuffed fish with polenta.  If you’re going to try to cultivate a “regular” crowd, my guess is that folks are getting tired of the same entrees week after week.]
Atlantic City

Bally’s

Half The Credit For The Same Play
It’s clearly marked, but those 98% pay “Wild Party” slots near the escalators on Bally’s main casino floor earn only half the number of tier credits as all other machines.  For example, instead of $5 of play earning one tier credit, it takes $10 – similar to how video poker players earn TR credits.  The real beneficiaries are those who don’t have a player’s card and, theoretically, will get more return on their “investments”.

Caesars

Seven Stars Lounge
A good description of the new lounge can be found at this link:

I’m not sure how long it will be available online, but it’s from The Press of Atlantic City’s weekly At The Shore.  It’s unfortunate there were no comments solicited from Seven Stars cardholders who have visited the lounge.  The feedback I’m getting is less than positive (on the décor, the food and the service), but folks are willing to give management and the kitchen some time to get their act together.  The problem is that Alisa Hammill and her team at Harrah’s Resort have set the bar so high – and, let’s face it, there is a “comfort factor” over there since it’s been open for so long.

Menu Mystery
While I’m always grateful to be included in some of the nice parties hosted by Caesars, I was a little surprised by the food offerings at the private viewing party for the July 4th fireworks.  While the invitation promised “our favorite 4th of July food,” what was served were hot dogs, mini hoagies, funnel cakes, and a few other items (which I can’t recall because I was so disappointed with what I saw).  I have no problem with hot dogs and hoagies, but I’d like something to go along with it, e.g., potato salad, cole slaw, or even some potato chips. I ended up next door at Trump Plaza eating a hamburger with some french fries, and then returned for the fireworks. (I also took in my own cocktail because I’m suspicious of invitations that promise “signature cocktails”. Too many times that means some fruity drink made with vodka or rum – and no other options. Turns out there was a full bar, but I wasn’t about to take a chance.)  And, finally, who sat in that special roped-off section?  It seemed a little odd to give special treatment to such a small select group of people.

Harrah’s Resort

Off The Hook: Now You See It, Now You Don’t
One month, five stays in five different rooms in the Waterfront Tower, and in three of the bathrooms there were no towel holders.  Is someone stealing them?  Have they been declared some sort of hazard, and management removed them?  What’s up?  Unless you know what’s supposed to be there, it just appears that part of a towel bar might be missing.  (Maybe, because it was July, the towel holders were on vacation somewhere with the notepads and pens, as well as the coffee packets and laundry bags that used to be in the rooms too.)

It’s Called A Pep Rally, Not A Dinner
The invitation promised a “chance to sit down to an invitation-only dinner with your fellow VIPs and all your favorite TV chefs.”  What it turned out to be was 1,199 other guests and I – and no TV chefs I could spot – crowded around tables of 12 (that would have more comfortably seated 10).  Taking our seats around 10 p.m., we were faced with an underdressed and lifeless “salad” of mixed greens, “hiding” a thick slice of under-ripe, pale and tasteless tomato.  Adding insult to injury, as my father used to say, nearly 45 minutes later (about 40 minutes after everyone had finished his/her salad), out came chef Robert Irvine in his trademark tight T-shirt and tattered jeans.  He insisted that everyone stand up, wave their arms, and “hoop ‘n’ holler” – even to the point of barging into the audience to embarrass anyone who wasn’t intimidated by his threats to keep up this madness (and hold dinner until everyone cooperated).  Even though I had a front row seat to his much-anticipated cooking demonstration, I’d had enough and walked out.  (It also didn’t help that one of the servers assigned to our table had overwhelming body odor!)  According to some who remained, dinner was finally served around 11:15, but the menu, preparation and presentation were nothing extraordinary.  Me?  I had dinner at Dos Caminos – more on that next month.

Table For Two At Luke Palladino – Oceanview, Please
Browsing once again through the [still out-dated] in-room guest guide, John D. Smith –  in his “A Few Words From The General Manager” – writes, “You’ll enjoy a dining experience where the delicious cuisine and attentive service are only surpassed by breathtaking ocean views.”  Huh?  What ocean views?  Perhaps Mr. Smith needs to spend a little time walking around his hotel to familiarize himself with the restaurants.  I’m not aware of any restaurants at Harrah’s Resort with ocean views.  Last time I checked, Harrah’s was located in the Marina District, not on the Boardwalk.  [And, by the way, it’s McCormick & Schmick’s, not McCormick & Schmicks – there goes that aversion to apostrophes again!  And it’s: “surpassed only” not “only surpassed”.]

Gone, But Not Forgotten
Though he resigned in April, former Senior Vice President and General Manager Jay Snowden is still “signing” letters.  I received one July 23 thanking me for playing at Harrah’s Resort and informing me that I had earned slot dollars on a prior visit.

General
Seven Stars Countdown
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.  I know someone who topped 100,000 tier points July 29.  On July 30 he contacted his host, but she insisted she wasn’t aware of this since “her system” takes 24 to 48 hours to register tier points.  (Odd, because this player’s My TR iPhone app – see more on this below – was up-to-date, as were the computers at Total Rewards, the Rewards Kiosks and the readouts on the slot machines)  I’ll keep you posted each step of the way to detail what happens when, and how long it takes to actually receive the coveted blue card.

Clubs or Lounges?  Seven Stars or Seven Star?
OK, this is not a big deal, but why the inconsistency?  Most of the literature calls them Diamond and Seven Stars Lounges, but the names posted outside many of the facilities call them Clubs.  Ditto with Seven Star and Seven Stars.  Which is it?  [The cards say Seven Stars Club.]

Total Touch – Totally Frustrating
Speaking of consistency, there seems to be none when it comes to everyone’s encounters with Total Touch.  In terms of beverage service, it’s been “hit or miss” or me – but my only experiences are at Bally’s in Atlantic City or Harrah’s Chester in Pennsylvania.  Either the drink arrives within five minutes or not at all.  However, for a company that is doing everything it can to promote itself as “green” why does it mail so much paper and make it so cumbersome to download free slot play?  Here are step-by-step examples of what it takes at Bally’s vs. practically every other non-Caesars casino:

Bally’s
Other Casinos
1.      Computer assigns amount of promotional free play.
1.      Computer assigns amount of promotional free play.
2.      Computer assigns random 3-digit code.
2.      Casino alerts customer via e-mail.
3.      Casino prints special coupon with code.
3.      Customer goes to casino, inserts player’s card into slot machine.
4.      Casino mails coupon to customer.
4.      Customer enters 4-digit PIN.
5.      Customer must remember to bring coupon (or memorize/write down the code and have it when he/she arrives at casino
5.      Customer touches appropriate button on keypad, e.g., 1 to download free play, 2 to check comps, 3 to check tier score, etc.
6.      Customer inserts player’s card into slot machine
6.      Customer selects amount of free play to download.
7.      Customer touches “Use Offer” button.
7.      Play is downloaded.
8.      Customer enters 4-digit PIN.

9.      At prompt, customer enters 3-digit code.

10.  Play is downloaded.

And, this is if the system is working properly.  I had to go to three different machines before I could find one that would accept my offer last month.  Plus, it takes an annoyingly long time for the system to register your card.  You could get hypnotized sitting there watching those silly little “balls” banging against themselves while the screen reads “One Moment Please” – which, of course, frustrates me because it should read, “One Moment, Please”.

Aside from fewer steps – and the fact that the Bally’s system involves printing and mailing unnecessary coupons (why not just e-mail the 3-digit code and the dates/times the free play is valid?), the customer has to remember to bring the coupon – or at least write down the code or commit it to memory.  But what if you’ve been traveling and not checked your mail?  Under other casinos’ systems, all you need to do is insert your player’s card into any slot machine, log-on with your PIN, and check to see if you have any free play.  Hopefully, Total Touch is set-up to offer a similar system in the future.

Nothing Express About Express Play
As has been pointed out before, at those casinos without Total Touch, there are similar multi-step procedures – unless the casino has mailed you a coupon you can take directly to a slot machine.  Otherwise you have to:
1.      Find a kiosk (which could be a “Promotional Kiosk” or a “Total Rewards Kiosk” – read the fine print on your offer).
2.      Swipe your player’s card.
3.      Enter your PIN.
4.      Download a voucher.
5.      Go to a cashier and exchange the voucher for “generic” Express Play coupons.
6.      Take the coupons to a slot machine to redeem your free play.

Making it even more complicated is the fact that many of the generic Express Play coupons expire the day you receive them, or within five or six days; others are good for up to a month, and still others, up to a year.  Again, if Caesars is serious about reducing waste, print more coupons with longer validation periods.

Time For Some Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation Lessons?
Maybe Caesars should consider sending its copywriters back to school for some refresher courses.

Last month Caesars in Atlantic City sent invitations offering complimentary “accomodations” during the Food & Wine Festival, and Harrah’s Chester still can’t seem to figure out whether to use “its” or “it’s” in promotional copy or in signage.

Now comes an invitation from Harrah’s Joliet that says: “CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR GM CLUB MEMBERSHIP AND ENJOY IT’S MANY BENEFITS.”

[It’s actually easy to remember which word to use:  If you can substitute “is” for the “’s” and the sentence makes sense, you’ve used the proper word.  In the example above, it’s clearly wrong because it would read:  “Congratulations on your GM Club membership and enjoy it is many benefits.”]

Of course, what can you expect from such an “apostrophe-conflicted” company?  Why are there never any apostrophes in Caesars?  Or Harveys at Lake Tahoe (which sometimes in copy uses an apostrophe, but not in the official logo)?  Then there’s that poster for Straight, No Chaser (see below) in the elevator at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City on which Harrah’s is spelled both with – and without – an apostrophe.

A mailing from Las Vegas for a “Bring A Friend Cruise Giveaway” asks you to “bring a friend along [and] they (emphasis added) will also receive a complimentary three-night stay. . . .”  Further in the copy it states, “. . .have your friend sign up to become a member of Total Rewards and they (emphasis added) will be entered into a drawing. . . .”  The word “they” requires a plural reference, e.g., “friends”.  To be perfectly – and politically – correct, the copy should read, “he or she” or “he/she”.  (Also, the word “along” is superfluous.)

Unless the rules are different in Canada, someone needs to correct the copy below.  The “valued guest” referred to in this VIP offers mailing is the player to whom it was addressed; “we” is Caesars Windsor.  Last time I checked, those references needed to “agree”.  Try, “As a valued guest, you are being rewarded with something everybody can use. . . .” – except, that is, if you only ride public transportation, or pedal a bicycle!

And, I missed one big blunder until just last month. . .

The Seven Stars book detailing all the benefits (and which is available online) spells “accommodations” wrong:

At least they used the correct “complimentary”!

My TR
I finally downloaded this app to my iPhone. . .what a disappointment!  About the only thing it’s good for is checking your current tier score and available comp dollars.  It also might be useful if you’re traveling and need directions to the nearest Caesars casino.  Other than that, the individual casino listings are pretty lame and don’t really give you much information.  And, when they do, it’s generally overblown hype that reads like something written by a first-year copywriting student at the local community college.  Worse, it’s woefully out-of-date, or, in some cases totally undecipherable.  Here’s an example from the Harrah’s Chester site:

Gaming
Our renowned casino now features table games!  [Yes, since July 2010 – see below.]

Live Table Games
Scheduled to open July 18*, Harrah’s Chester will be home to the largest table games offering in Pennsylvania and Delaware. . .as well as a 25 table Poker Room.  [That was July 18, 2010!  And there is no indication what that asterisk refers to.]

Slots
Now open!  [Yes, since the casino opened, duh.]

Racing
The 2008 season features 140 live days from April 20 through December 18.  [Isn’t this 2011?]

Events/Entertainment
The highlight of the culinary options at Harrah’s Chester is , with stunning views of the racetrack and the river.  The $34.99 Cove features a Prix Fixe.  for more details.  Other dining alternatives include. .and is open daily, offering all your favorite concession food in the simulcast and racing area.  [What?!?  Doesn’t anyone read these things before they’re posted?]

Harveys [sic] Lake Tahoe’s site doesn’t fare much better:

Spend the night in one of our spectacular restaurants.  [Why, are there no hotel rooms available?]  When it comes to fun and excitement, Harvey’s Lake Tahoe is the place to be! to watch our exciting Food and Wine Festival video.  [Again, does no one review these postings?]

I didn’t check every casino’s site, but these two were among the worst I reviewed.

Annual Getaway Grief
If Caesars really wants to promote its Total Rewards Visa card, why not just download the $1,200 annual getaway travel credit on a pre-paid card?  Or just ask travellers to submit their ticket at the destination and get a reimbursement – similar to what’s done in any number of offers Caesars sends out from its various casinos?   In other words, let Seven Stars cardholders have the option of making their own travel arrangements.  That way, someone who may have a fear of a flying could drive, and use the funds for fuel and tolls, or take a train or bus.  It also would be quicker and simpler for travelers who prefer specific airlines, want to use miles to upgrade, etc.  Hosts have enough to do without serving as go-betweens arranging travel for these annual trips.  In the past, I’ve found it to be nothing but a hassle – and I’ve even written some tips which are posted on the Seven Stars Insider Web site.

Time For A Total Total Rewards Makeover?
If the volume of e-mail I received is any indication, this is a real “hot button” for players.  With a majority of Seven Stars (and “high Diamond”) cardholders as subscribers, it makes sense that the overwhelming number of respondents agreed with my suggestions.  However, even some Diamond cardholders admitted they were getting a pretty good deal, especially compared to how they’re treated at other casinos with the same amount of play.  The problem, as many pointed out, is that Caesars would need to announce changes to be effective more than a year from now, or simply “grandfather” certain players under the current system for a limited period of time.  [What do you do, some wrote, with a person who has already earned 11,000 tier points since April 1 and expects Diamond status through March 31, 2013?  Not much, other than restrict benefits, e.g., charge 10 comp dollars for entry into the Atlantic City Diamond Lounges (and maybe all Diamond Lounges throughout the country?).]  It’s an interesting dilemma. . .continue to alienate your best players, or risk offending, i.e., losing, some of your lower-level players?  I guess we just have to leave it up to the CET execs making the big bucks.

Children At Casino-Sponsored Events
There’s an old expression, “I just love having children for dinner – preferably roasted rare, and paired with a nice cabernet.”  Seriously, I have nothing against children, but what were they doing both at the July 4th fireworks-viewing party at Caesars and the celebrity chef dinner at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City last month?  Even the disclaimer on the back of the chef dinner’s invitation it states, “Must be 21 or older. . .to participate in any Caesars Entertainment promotion.”

Number One Complaint?  Housekeeping
Of all the e-mails I receive each month, the number one complaint is about housekeeping – from the cleanliness of the rooms and hallways to the lack of amenities, e.g., notepads, ice bucket inserts (plastic bags), drinking glasses, “Do Not Disturb” signs, pens, coffee, laundry bags, etc.  In fairness, these are the same complaints nagging non-casino hotels, as well.  Despite “green initiatives” that save some time by not making housekeepers change sheets on a daily basis, corporate cutbacks have forced housekeepers to clean more rooms, and time constraints cause less attention to detail.  While I agree with these complaints – and have lodged them myself, I also am tired of seeing dirty Room Service trays sitting in hallways for hours at a time, scratched up furniture and other painted surfaces, ripped sheets, and stained and soiled bedding “accessories” – I don’t know what you call those long pieces of fabric that cover the duvet.  Last month during several stays at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City, on one visit there was only a single glass in the bathroom, on others, coffee packets were not replaced (or weren’t in the room to begin with), there were no pads or pens, the “Do Not Disturb” sign was missing (causing an unwanted early wake-up call by a housekeeper), there were no laundry bags,  no plastic bag liners for the ice bucket, the bottom sheet on my bed was ripped to shreds on the side, and then there was that aforementioned piece of soiled and stained green fabric adorning the foot of my bed.  I’m no germaphobe, but even I couldn’t throw it off onto the floor fast enough.  This is not what I would call an example of the “world-class accommodations” Senior Vice President & General Manager John D. Smith touts in his “A Few Words From The General Manager”.  Also irritating is having to plug in the lamps on either side of the bed.  In a proposal to potential investors several months ago, Caesars actually bragged about how much time housekeepers saved by not plugging in lamps they had unplugged in order to operate their vacuums!  So, how do you feel?  Send me an e-mail (sevenstarsinsider@gmail.com) and I’ll share your thoughts – anonymously, of course.

Darryl D. McEwen, Publisher
Seven Stars Insider

Seven Stars Insider is affiliated in any way with Caesars Entertainment or Total Rewards®.

Seven Stars Newsletter – May 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.

Seven Stars Insider – May 2011 [Also featuring information/commentary on MGM’s M life and Trump’s Signature Card]

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.

Las Vegas

Gratuity Tip
Those of you participating in the Mother’s Day Spa Giveaway May 6-8 in Las Vegas should note that gratuities are included “compliments of Caesars Entertainment”.  I’m not suggesting you leave nothing additional – or that you should, but, considering that most of these packages (such as some of the Signature Experiences) do not include gratuities, I just wanted to be sure you were aware of this.

Show Recommendation
Start with any Cirque du Soleil show on the Strip, eliminate the theme (water, circus, Elvis, the Beatles, magic, etc.), drop the “filler” (the clowns and other esoteric diversions) and put it on a typical old-fashioned casino showroom stage – one that doesn’t rise and fall or twist and turn.  What you get is Matsuri at the Imperial Palace – a nonstop 70 minutes of acrobatics, tumbling. juggling, dance and other displays of athletic prowess.  It’s not without production values; there are hundreds of light and sound cues, as well as ever-changing colorful animated projections.  And who knew jump ropes, hula hoops, batons and yoyos could serve as the basis for so many acts?  The relatively small cast is also one of the hardest working in Las Vegas.  Plus, it’s perfect for all ages.  Shows are Saturdays through Wednesdays at 4 p.m., though the 8 p.m. starting time on Fridays will still get the kids in bed by 9:30.  If you don’t qualify for free tickets, discount options abound, so even the cost of admission is family-friendly.  Matsuri is one of the best kept secrets and most under-rated shows in Las Vegas.  Do yourself a favor and enjoy it while it lasts.  (Maybe the powers-that-be would see fit to bring it to Atlantic City for a run?)

Burger Bar A Whopping Success
According to Gaming Wire, the Whopper Bar which opened at the Rio last month is an “unqualified success”.  The Whopper Bar concept blends the traditional Burger King menu with an upscale hamburger bar.  Customers choose from among 30 toppings and sauces.

Free Dessert At Serendipity 3
With purchase of an entrée or sandwich, Seven Stars cardholders can get a free cheesecake bites dessert at Serendipity 3 on the Strip in front of Caesars Palace.  [Formerly, the “freebie” was its famous frozen hot chocolate.]  Act quickly, though, because the last time I reported about a free food offer for Seven Stars cardholders, management eliminated the perk quicker than $100 disappears in a $5 slot machine.

Cascata Golf Course Sold?
According to several employees familiar with the deal, but who would speak only off-the-record, Cascata Golf Course is in the process of being sold.  One person said the sale shouldn’t make any difference for those players who like to golf there; another said he wasn’t sure what the new owners’ plan will be.  Stay tuned.

Single Discrimination?
It happened to me on my last trip – and I know it’s happened to others because you’ve e-mailed me.  I was staying at Caesars Palace – by myself – and decided to take advantage of the free show ticket offer for Seven Stars and Diamond cardholders.  Since eligible players get two complimentary tickets once each month, I figured I could get one ticket to two different shows.  No!  That’s what Manny at Total Rewards told me.  He also said that others have asked, so that’s why he was aware of the policy.  Short of finding another single to share two pairs of tickets, you’re stuck seeing just one show, with the other ticket going to waste.

Harrah’s Charging For Drinks On The Casino Floor
Well, sort of. . . .  I haven’t seen it anywhere else, but if you want an “ultra premium” cocktail (Belvedere, Grey Goose, Patron, Bombay Sapphire, 10 Cane, Glenfiddich, Gentleman Jack or Maker’s Mark) you can pay $3 to your server.  (14 Hands wine – cabernet, chardonnay and merlot – costs $5 a glass.)  Apparently, even flashing a Seven Stars card won’t exempt you from the charge.  (Several years ago this worked at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City and I was able to get premium drinks on the floor – and even “doubles”, but I don’t know if that policy still exists.)  Frankly, if someone would assure me that those “ultra premium” liquors are coming directly from the bottle (and not one of those “guns”), I’d probably spring for the extra three bucks, but I don’t play at Harrah’s anyway.

False Advertising At Harrah’s Café
I wish I’d had my camera, because here’s one for Consumer Reports’ inside back cover.  There are posters throughout Harrah’s promoting “Italian Night” at its Café.  The signs say:

3 Courses for $14.99*
Soup/Salad, Pasta/Pizza
*dessert available for $3.99

Huh?  By my calculation, it looks like we’re talking two courses for $14.99 and three courses for $18.98.

Diamond Lounge Guest Limits/Rankings
During my trip last month, if there was one single complaint I heard from Seven Stars cardholders, it was the “one guest limit” at the Diamond Lounges.  Noting that this is the same limit as Diamond cardholders, Seven Stars cardholders feel they deserve a little more.  (Interestingly, they also pointed out that they rarely bring anyone other than their spouse or partner, but it’s just the idea that they can’t bring in a second or third guest.)  So, Caesars management, listen to your customers.  It’s Marketing 101, won’t cost you any money and, apparently, has great importance to your top customers.  As it is, if the lounge isn’t that busy, a good door “guardian” will allow the extra guest(s), but why not make it official and end the complaints?

Speaking of Las Vegas Diamond Lounges, someone asked me to “rank” them, so, at the risk of going out on a limb – it won’t be the first time – here is my personal opinion (on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the top score):

Ambience Bar Seating Food* Service
Harrah’s 5/Yes/5/5
Caesars Palace 4/Yes/5/5
Paris 5/Yes/5/4
Flamingo 2/No/5/5
Rio 3/No/4/3
Planet Hollywood 3/No/3/3
*all menus are basically the same; scoring is based on variety, quality, quantity and presentation

My visit to Planet Hollywood’s lounge last month was a disaster.  It was a Wednesday night around 7 and the place was practically empty.  I waited nearly 10 minutes before anyone stopped by to take my drink order.  Then, I didn’t get exactly what I ordered, but the drink was so tiny, I finished it rather quickly, and, again, 10 minutes passed, and no one returned to ask if I wanted a refill.  I rarely “stiff” servers, but, in this case, I just walked out, and had a better (and bigger!) drink on the floor over at the Bellagio.  (In fairness, www.casinocenter.com called the club “the best on the Strip” – noting “the small number of players” in the club.)  I’ve stopped going to the Rio lounge for the same reason – poor service.  Things may have changed there, but I haven’t returned in several years.  The Flamingo Lounge is way too small for a casino that large.  Located in a former Chinese restaurant, the lounge has limited seating which often forces you to share tables.  Eliminate all those clunky leather easy chairs, and they’d be able to increase seating.  Also, don’t expect too much from the bar.  Drinks are made by the same bartender who works at the burger joint next door and he/she can’t seem to make anything more complex than a vodka and tonic.  That said, considering the limitations on the menu, Flamingo ranks right up there with Caesars, Harrah’s and Paris in terms of offering a varied selection of crudités, dips and other snacks.  Frankly, all the lounges in Vegas have turned into nothing more than private sports bars.  There are too many televisions, and too much tolerance by the staff of loud and obnoxious behavior.  The night I was there, though, Ray at Harrah’s deserves credit for tactfully and politely quieting down a slightly inebriated customer and making him drink a bottle of water before granting him a refill.

New Orleans

Signature Event: Choose Your Weekend
Since there is a choice of two weekends for the New Orleans Signature Event later this year, if you have a preference, book early to be sure you get the weekend you want.

Atlantic City

Bye, Bye, Jay!
Jay Snowden, formerly senior vice president and general manager of both Harrah’s  Resort and Caesars, resigned last month and in October will become senior vice president of regional operations at Penn National Gaming near Harrisburg, Pa.  He will remain a Margate, N.J., resident.  Read the news release here.

June Signature Event Details
Details are now online, but, as reported earlier the Signature event in Atlantic City June 23-26 will feature a welcome party at the The Pool at Harrah’s Resort, Saturday night concerts by Lionel Richie at Caesars or “Straight, No Chaser” at Harrah’s, the House of Blues Gospel Brunch at Showboat on Sunday morning, 7X multiplier during the weekend, slot and blackjack tournaments, and an Apple Gift card promotion ($25 card for every 1,500 base rewards credits earned).
You Say ‘Mammels’; I Say ‘Mammals’

Not to diminish Caesars generosity, but a sign, reproduced below, informing guests that all coins from its second floor fountain were donated last month to the Marine Mammals Stranding Center, misspelled “mammals”.  It would have been nice if someone had proofread it.

Table Games Supervisors Laid Off
An undisclosed number of table games supervisors at the four Caesars-owned casinos have been laid off in the first round of personnel cuts related to New Jersey’s deregulation of the gaming industry.  New Jersey has adopted a less expensive and looser system of casino regulations similar to the Las Vegas model.  No word on whether the other seven Atlantic City casinos will follow suit.

Pier Shops Foreclosure Sale To Be Scheduled
Bank of America has been granted final court approval to foreclose on The Pier Shops at Caesars after the mall owner, Taubman Centers Inc., defaulted on the mortgage.  The next step is for Bank of America to schedule a foreclosure sale.

Showboat Parking Lot Theft
Police are searching for a man who stole two cartons of cigarettes from a vehicle at the Showboat casino April 10.  According to the Atlantic City Police Department, the man – identified either as white or Hispanic – is approximately 50 years old and was wearing a grey hooded sweatshirt and beige pants.  The victim was a 73-year-old Cherry Hill, N.J., woman who told police her car was broken into at the casino’s self-parking lot at 8:15 p.m.  The cigarettes were stolen from the back seat and trunk.

Vrrroooom For Improvement At Caesars Parking Garage
As I’ve written before, the self-parking garage at Caesars is an accident scene waiting to happen.  (Who knows?  There may already have been several.)  Drivers race through the levels as though it’s a NASCAR track, many not realizing that they’re driving on a two-way stretch.  The signage is pathetic and it’s rare to see any security patrolling the lot.  As if the speeding problem is not enough, no one seems to be policing the cars and trucks parked in “Small Cars Only” or “Compact Cars Only” spaces, or the yellow-lined no-parking areas near the entrances to the casino.  Between the pedestrians who tend to walk down the middle of the road, as well as the rear ends of trucks and SUVs that stick out into the roadway, parking is always a challenge.  Stick with valet – just make sure you know which location your car will be returned: “H” means the front entrance (“Porte Cochere”) where you dropped it off; all others (marked “C”) are delivered to the second level of the Temple parking garage across the skybridge from the Valet office.  In any event, you first need to swipe your parking ticket outside the Valet office next to the Bell Desk on the second floor just past the front desk.

Beer Garden Opens At Caesars
The owners of Dusk have opened the Boardwalk Beer Garden in the space formerly occupied by Planet Hollywood (and most recently, Dawn).  The beer garden has a wood bar inside, plus tables that can seat about 80.  When the weather is nice – as it was last weekend, the action moves outdoors, where picnic tables and other seating with umbrellas lines Caesars frontage and offers seating for about 200.

Don’t Get Cornered In Caesars Corner Rooms
After overnighting in one, I have serious reservations about again staying in one of those corner rooms in the Centurion Tower (XX18 and XX20, with “XX” standing for the floor number, e.g., 2018 and 2020).  They’re the ones which require entry through an unlocked door off the hallway.  Who knows if someone is waiting inside since the fire department won’t allow the door to be locked?  And don’t be fooled by the false security of needing to insert your room key in the elevator.  Since I tried it once when I was staying in the Ocean Tower, as long as one person enters the elevator and inserts his/her key card, everyone else can just “piggy-back” on this swipe and get to any floor.  [The same works for the Ocean Tower and most hotel elevators that require key cards, so it’s not just Caesars.]  I’m sure that’s how those pizza menus found their way inside that anteroom leading to my room and other next to it.  If the fire department won’t allow the doors to be locked, then they should be removed for everyone’s safety.

Think ‘Twice’ Before Using Comp Dollars
It’s a disturbing trend that just continues with the opening of the new Caffe Tazza at Caesars.  Yes, it accepts Total Rewards credits – but on a 2:1 basis.  That means your $2.50 cup of coffee will cost you five comp dollars.  While most casino-owned restaurants, as well as many shops and spas, accept comps on a 1:1 basis, i.e., one comp dollar equals US$1, others accept them on a 2:1 basis.  Unfortunately, this comp policy is not always clearly indicated, so there is a bit of “sticker shock” when that $150 dinner at The Pier ends up costing 300 hard-earned comp dollars.  While there has been a lot of discussion about restaurants in New Orleans, I’m most familiar with Atlantic City, so here is a list of restaurants, shops and other places that accept casino comp dollars, but at a 2:1 ratio:

·         Bally’s/Wild Wild West – Johnny Rockets, Ben & Jerry’s, M Star Mart, Macy’s gift cards, tobacco products at casino-owned retail stores.
·         Caesars – Morton’s The Steakhouse, Dusk (and, presumably, its new Beer Garden – see below), the aforementioned Caffe Tazza, tobacco products at casino-owned retail stores.  (For Pier Shops’ restaurants that accept comp dollars, see below.)
·         Harrah’s Resort – McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant, Viking Cooking School, tobacco products at casino-owned retail stores.
·         Showboat – Johnny Rockets, tobacco products at casino-owned retail stores.

(Interestingly, the Johnny Rockets and other outlets at the Food Court in the Flamingo Las Vegas accept comp dollars on a 1:1 basis.)

In addition, the following restaurants at the Pier Shops accept Total Rewards® comp dollars:  Phillips Seafood, Sonsie, Game On!, The Trinity and Souzai.  (Check at a Caesars casino kiosk first, sometimes these restaurants offer specials, accepting comps on a 1:1 basis.)  You also can purchase gift cards – accepted at all Pier Shops outlets – on a 2:1 basis.

Smoking Ban Goes Unenforced
If you don’t smoke, head over to Bally’s because it’s the only one of four Caesars-owned casinos where The Press of Atlantic City didn’t observe anyone smoking in non-smoking sections.  The Borgata and Hilton got a similar clean bill of health, based on the newspaper’s observation of floor activity last month.  City officials claim they don’t have the staff to enforce Atlantic City’s partial smoking ban, and casino managers say they’re complying to the best of their ability.

Seven Stars Renewal Dinners
Depending on whom you talk to – and where you went – the April 16 dinners were either awful or fabulous.  The Caesars dinner got a “thumbs down” and the Bally’s dinner was a “thumbs up”.  No word on similar events at Harrah’s or Showboat.  Anyone have thoughts to share?  Are these dinners held just in Atlantic City or do other casinos around the country hold them?

Le Ombré
Le Ombré – with its combination of acrobatics, contemporary dance and other theatrics – is returning to Harrah’s Resort this month, beginning May 21 and continuing until June 1.  I highly recommend you attend.

Caesars Evacuated; Prompts Safety, Security Concerns
A short in the alarm system when Caesars computer room flooded due to torrential downpours set off an evacuation alarm around 11:30 p.m. April 16.  “At first, everyone ignored the sirens,” according to someone who was there.  “[T]hey have gone off several times and are usually announced as false alarms, or they just stop.  This time an announcement followed that everyone should evacuate, due to an emergency in the building.  After arriving outside, I texted my husband to see where he was, and he replied ‘in the room’.  When I called, he hadn’t heard any alarms or announcements.  Only when he went to the stairwell and opened the door, could he hear the alarms somewhat faintly.  With the elevators off, he walked down 11 flights.  On the way, he met an elderly, very heavy woman, who was barely moving.  (She had also received a phone call from family.)  After being sent back into the building, we were evacuated again.”

“Why no alarms in the rooms?” she asked.  “Why no Security to clear the floors?  I’m sure that many people prefer the higher floors for the view, but those not capable of walking the stairs may want to think twice about this.  Had it been a real emergency, many people just wouldn’t be able to make the climb.  Perhaps the folks doing room assignments should consider steering the infirm to lower floors for their own safety.”

Here’s a link to a YouTube video.

Caesars Forfeits Some Winnings
Caesars was among four casinos the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement ordered to forfeit a total of $12,204 that they won from people who were not legally permitted to gamble.  The action also was taken against Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Resorts Casino Hotel and Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.  The casinos had won the money from people who were either under the legal gambling age of 21 or had placed themselves on a “self-exclusion” list that bars them from entering Atlantic City’s gaming halls.

About Other ‘Premium’ Player’s Cards

Since many of you also have “premium” cards from other casinos’ player’s clubs, if news warrants, periodically, I’ll publish information (and my thoughts!) about programs such as MGM’s M life and Trump Entertainment’s Signature Card.

M life – I must admit that I was a bit surprised to be upgraded to this program’s top Platinum card.  The lower tiers, in ascending order, are Sapphire, Pearl and Gold.  (I understand there is a little-publicized higher-level Noir card, as well.)  My first experience with M life took place at the Bellagio last month during a three-night visit prior to my stay at Caesars Palace.  Expecting to find different check-in lines at the front desk – similar to Caesars Platinum, Diamond and Seven Stars – I was surprised to see nothing of the kind.  Ditto at the Player’s Club (where there always are long lines).  Café Bellagio (adjacent to the Conservatory) and the Buffet have separate lines for M life cardholders, but there is no priority line for Platinum (or any level) cardholders.  Presumably, anyone with even the most basic player’s club card could use this line, but there was rarely anyone taking advantage of this option.  Instead, even at non-peak dining hours, many times lines at the Buffet were out the door into the casino and back almost to the lobby leading to the guest rooms.  Same at the Café.  Either no one knows about the separate line, or all these people are in the casino without player’s cards.  Even a request for late check-out was not honored, and don’t even think of looking for a lounge similar to Caesars Diamond Lounges.  While M life touts its Express Comps program, it’s not exactly groundbreaking.  Caesars/Harrah’s has been doing this for years.  What I do like about the new program is its transparency, but, again Caesars/Harrah’s Total Rewards program always has let you know where you stand tier-wise and how many comp dollars you’ve earned.  Previously, when staying at an MGM property, I always hated the “confrontation” with a host to determine what was going to be comped “based on my play that trip”.

UPDATE – I just received a promotional mailing from the Bellagio.  There is some interesting and – again – somewhat disturbing small print regarding M life:

·         Enjoy three complimentary nights in a luxurious Room
·         $150 in FREEPLAY®
·         Earn Express Comps™ as you play
·         Play the same way you did last time and you’ll earn $300* in Express Comps

*This offer is not a promise of complimentaries and is meant only as illustration.  Express Comps will be. . .used with your permission to fulfill components of this offer.

What?  Does this mean the Bellagio is going to use my Express Comps to pay for those three “complimentary nights in a luxurious Room”?  Or to pay for that $150 in FREEPLAY®?  At least when a Caesars property sends you an offer for a free room, some free play, and maybe some food and beverage comps, your Rewards Credits remain untouched.

Trump Signature – Trump Entertainment Resorts’ new management team shot itself in the foot last month when it sent an e-mail (reproduced below) to certain current and wannabe Signature cardholders.  The “bombshell” was the line, “You must maintain Signature level play throughout the year to retain status.”  A request to Trump’s new owner asking for clarification so far has gone unanswered, and two long-time hosts were unaware of the e-mail.  This is like Caesars sending an e-mail to Seven Stars cardholders telling them they must maintain “Seven Stars play” (without defining what “Seven Stars play” is) throughout the year to retain status.  Can you imagine what an uproar that would cause?  First, you spend a year earning enough tier points to qualify for Seven Stars (or Signature), then you’re told it will be taken away if your play throughout the year is not sufficient.  There are precious few benefits to the Signature card anyway – compared with Caesars Seven Stars card – and soon only two casinos to use them in.  Already, many long-time Trump players are jumping ship and playing at Resorts, and they and others are eagerly waiting for the rebranding of the Marina as the Golden Nugget, and the opening next year of Revel.  Trump’s executives need to up the ante if they’re going to retain their top players.

General

Using Your Annual Trip For Signature Events
Those who don’t want to spend their own money to travel to Signature Events should consider making the event their annual trip.  Just be sure to make your plans early enough.

[A Not So] Happy Birthday To You!
One Seven Stars cardholder, used to getting a generous [cash] birthday gift each year, complained that she received a mere $50 in free play this year.  Based on responses to last month’s question, this is pretty typical, though many reported they got an offer that essentially doubled whatever Rewards Credits they earned on a given day.  That’s like a friend asking you to go out and buy your own birthday present, but he/she will gift wrap it for you – using your own gift wrapping paper.

Discretionary Comps vs. Total Rewards Credits
I wasn’t gambling at Harrah’s (now Caesars) when its Total Rewards program came into being, but my understanding was that Total Rewards Credits (RCs) were supposed to replace the discretionary comps given out by hosts to their best players.  In other words, in the “old days” if you wanted to have a nice meal in the casino’s “gourmet restaurant” or even two admissions to the buffet, you’d have to contact a host who would review your play and issue or deny your comps.  Total Rewards was supposed to take this decision-making out of the hands of hosts and let players earn comps, much the same way they earn frequent flyer miles.  Everyone would be treated equally and you always would know where you stood in terms of perks available to you.  Apparently, if I can believe what I hear from a lot of people, that’s not the case – especially outside the major markets (Atlantic City, Las Vegas) and in casinos in the Midwest.  Either they don’t keep track of their RCs and don’t realize their meals are being taken out of their accounts, or they’re getting twice the benefits the rest of us are.  Message boards are full of stories from folks who stop in St. Louis (or Council Bluffs or Joliet), get a comp suite, dinners at the steakhouse, breakfast buffets, and more, all without losing any of their earned RCs.  My understanding was that discretionary comps come into play only when a player exhausts all of his/her RCs and a host can comp a meal based on that person’s play.  So what about it?  Do you get meals and others things comped without dipping into your RC account?  Send me an e-mail (sevenstarsinsider@gmail.com) and I’ll share your thoughts – anonymously, of course.

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