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.
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.
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.
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.).
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll share your thoughts – anonymously, of course.
Darryl D. McEwen, Publisher
Seven Stars Insider