Seven Stars Insider – December Edition

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

Seven Stars Insider – December 2011

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

Harrah’s Joliet (Illinois)

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

Baltimore,  Maryland

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

Las Vegas

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

Flamingo

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

Atlantic City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bally’s

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

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

Caesars

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

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

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

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

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

Harrah’s Resort

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

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

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

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

Showboat

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

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

General

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

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

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

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

New Year’s Resolutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

What other “resolutions” would you suggest Caesars make?  Send me an e-mail (sevenstarsinsider@gmail.com) and I’ll share your thoughts – anonymously, of course.

Darryl D. McEwen, Publisher
Seven Stars Insider

Photo: Pulse of Las Vegas Blog

Seven Stars Insider – 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 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 – June

Here is the Seven Stars Insider newsletter for June.  Go to Seven Stars Insider to sign up for the newsletter.  Enjoy the Insider.  Congrats on the column with the Examiner!

Examine My New Column
For those of you who play regularly in Atlantic City, or have an interest in the casino and gaming scene there, check out my columns at examiner.com .  While much of the information will be “old hat” to “regulars”, hopefully you’ll find something of interest.  Click here to go directly to my portion of the site.  To be alerted when a new article appears, click the “Subscribe” button to the right of my picture and name.

Atlantic City Crime Alert
“It started off innocently enough when the guy at the slot machine next to me asked where to insert his cash ticket,” a player reports.  “But this minor distraction gave him just enough time to try to stick his left hand into my right pants pocket and take my cash.  Fortunately, realizing what was happening, I grabbed his wrist and he ran away – without any of my money.”  Incidents like this probably happen at other AC casinos, as well as at casinos across the country, but this occurred at Caesars around 10 p.m. on a weeknight.  Apparently there also were a number of individuals sleeping at machines scattered around the second floor of the casino.  “What made it worse,” my correspondent writes, “is that the two Caesars employees I spoke to seemed more interested in their personal conversation than walking around to wake up and usher out these vagrants.”  [I witnessed a number of “slot sleepers” at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City about a year ago, and had a similar experience trying to get Harrah’s employees to take any action.]  “What aggravated the situation even more was that the next morning around 7:30, as I was walking to check-out, there still were people sleeping at the machines.  Meanwhile a whole ‘parade’ of business-suited male employees walked by oblivious to the situation.”

No Rain On This Parade
Showboat in Atlantic City has resumed its four-day-a-week schedule of free indoor parades.  Wednesday through Sunday, you can see the parade at 3:30, 6 and 8 p.m.  While entertaining, the concept is a bit ill-conceived, especially when crowds gather for the first “stop” across from the registration desk.  On busy weekends, security guards are necessary to herd the audiences away from the lines of people trying to check-in.  And, with folks in wheelchairs and children on top of their fathers’ shoulders, it’s often difficult to see the acts.  Still, you have to give Showboat credit for trying something different – and most of the performers are very talented.

Atlantic City Cashback Update
Harrah’s may be rethinking its decision to mail those Reel Rewards coupons in lieu of cashback from your play in Atlantic City; however, no official statement has been issued, and folks working the Caesars Total Rewards desk claimed to know nothing.  However, floating around the Internet is the following plan, but it cannot be confirmed:  While you still won’t get cold hard cash, you’ll be able to retrieve a coupon through the kiosks.  Print the voucher – minimum $5, in increments of $5 – and take it to the cashier to exchange for a Reel Rewards coupon.  In the future, the only thing you’ll get in the mail is a postcard telling you how much you’ve earned.  And, if you still haven’t redeemed any cashback balances prior to April 6, you won’t get the cash, just vouchers for Reel Rewards coupons available through the kiosks.  All existing cashback offers that were sent through the mail as Reel Rewards coupons will continue to be valid through their expiration date.

1:1 Comps At Pier Shops Restaurants
From June 20 – 30 you can redeem your Total Rewards credits on a 1:1 basis at the Pier Shops’ Phillips Seafood, Sonsie, Game On!, The Trinity and Souzai.  While these restaurants always have accepted Reward Credits, it was on a 2:1 basis.  In other words, your $100 dinner would cost you $200 in comps.

Claridge, Wild Wild West Getting ‘Facelifts’
The 29-story circa-1929 Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City will undergo a major renovation, thanks to a $20 million investment by Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. and another $3.6 million, courtesy of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA).  Describing it as a “modern cool” design, Harrah’s will be replacing furniture, bathroom fixtures, carpeting and bedding.  The CRDA money will be used for exterior work.  Meanwhile, down the street, another $1.5 million is being invested to completely overhaul the gaming floor at Wild Wild West.  The Wild Wild West project is expected to be complete