EDGe Vegas Gamble Seven Stars Insider – November Edition

Seven Stars Insider – November Edition

Here’s the latest edition of Seven Stars Insider.  This is an easy read and an excellent resource for Harrah’s players.  Head over to Seven Stars Insider to sign up for the newsletter.  There is lots of new and useful information in this edition (some of which I’m going to reference in future posts), so read on for all the goods.

Seven Stars Insider – November 2010

Question Of the Month
My companion cardholder has misplaced her card.  It was issued in Las Vegas.  I’m based in California, but she is a Diamond cardholder who lives near, and plays in, Atlantic City.  How does she go about getting a replacement card?  Do I have to be present?  This shouldn’t be a problem and, no, you don’t have to be there.  Her record should indicate that she is your companion cardholder (and vice versa).  Don’t go to Total Rewards, though, for the reissue.  She will need to go to VIP check-in at one of the Harrah’s properties in Atlantic City.  If they give her a hard time, she should ask for a host on duty – assuming she doesn’t have her own.  He or she should be able to straighten this out.

Read the Fine Print I
You’ve really got to read the fine print when trying to redeem offers from Harrah’s.  Planning to use your 30 percent Seven Stars discount on an NCL cruise to Hawaii?  Forget it.  Check the bottom of the Web site (www.harrahs.com/NCL) and note in tiny letters: “Total Rewards Tier Discount is not valid for Hawaii cruises.”

Read the Fine Print II
Do you ever just pick up the phone to book an offer you received in the mail?  If it’s from Caesars Palace and involves a room reservation, you might want to think twice.  According to one offer I received, “[a] $10 surcharge may apply to reservations booked through our call center”.  Unlike the NCL Web page, however, there was no asterisk (*) directing me to this disclaimer.  It was in much smaller type than the offer and totally disassociated from the offer itself.  Other offers may carry this same fee, so read everything very carefully.  Oh, by the way, when’s the last time Hilton (or Marriott or Hyatt, etc.) charged you a fee to book a room at their hotels?  In this economy, most are grateful for your business.

Donny and Marie Heading To Broadway
Don’t plan to see Donny and Marie at the Flamingo in Las Vegas next month if you’ve scheduled a trip between December 9 and 19.  They’ll be playing Broadway at the Marriott Marquis Theater.  Currently, at least on the Flamingo Web site, no tickets are being sold past November 27.

Caesars Palace Updates
·         Texting Options – Check-out by sending a text message.  At the end of your stay, send a text message with your name and room number.  In return you’ll get an e-mail confirming all the details.  Another feature, “Text To Request,” allows you to request extra towels, housekeeping service, etc.
·         munchbar Happy Hours – My new favorite casual dining spot has dropped the entrée I enjoyed most (and wrote about in the September newsletter), the grilled tuna.  However, they now have a Happy Hour (4 to 7 p.m.) and Reverse Happy Hour (9 p.m. to midnight).  Draft beer and all appetizers are half-price.  The pizzadilla [$6.50] is a good choice if you’re by yourself, but don’t even think about ordering the nachos [also $6.50] unless there are two (or more!) of you – it’s gigantic (but delicious).  A Miller Lite cost $3, so, for less than $10, you can have an inexpensive – if not particularly nutritious – early evening or late night snack.
·         In-Room Coffeemakers – The Augustus and Palace Towers are testing in-room Keurig coffeemakers.  These single-serve systems are great, but they’re not cheap – $12 for a four-pack of individual “K-cups” (available through the minibar).  Consider bringing your own cups from home (they retail for approximately 50¢ each) – or, if you’re staying in the Augustus Tower, just take the elevator down to Seven Stars Registration after 8 a.m. and serve yourself from their complimentary coffee service.  You also can pick up a free copy of USA Today.
·         Total Connect – After you check-in be sure to see the concierge to get a Total Connect sticker for your room key card.  Throughout your stay you can check for special offers by swiping the TC sticker on specially designated signs throughout the casino.  After about 24 hours, all I had was $5 off a Café Lago buffet and a free dessert with the purchase of two entrées at the Augustus Café.
·         Seven Stars/Diamond Registration – If you arrive on Sunday through Thursday after 10 p.m., the Seven Stars and Diamond Registration desks will probably be closed.  If there is a huge line at the “regular” registration desk, look for the small “Diamond Registration” sign at the far left of the front desk, next to the concierge.

Resort Fee-asco
Harrah’s makes a big deal about the fact that it doesn’t charge resort fees as some casinos do in Las Vegas.  However, since many readers of this newsletter are not Seven Stars cardholders and don’t get the benefit of complimentary Internet, fitness center admission, etc., that resort fee may not be such a bad deal.  And most players on a comped room package at these non-Harrah’s hotels receive the resort fee’s amenities without being charged.  For example, I recently stayed at Mandalay Bay.  While I didn’t have to pay it, but received all its benefits, the hotel’s daily $15 fee (plus tax) included vouchers for two drinks at most of its bars, free USA Today, unlimited access to its Cardio Center, complimentary Internet access (itself a $14.99 value), and unlimited local and toll-free calls.  A non-Seven Stars guest at a Harrah’s hotel who opts for in-room Internet access and buys a daily paper could spend that amount, if not more.

‘Straight No Chaser’
The a cappella group that played Harrah’s Resorts in Atlantic City this summer will be performing one night only at Paris in Las Vegas November 7.

‘The Empire’ Strikes Out
It’s unfortunate to see the management of Caesars seemingly go the same route as its Atlantic City “cousins” – Bally’s, Harrah’s and Showboat.  While on three of my last few visits I had spacious corner rooms with beautiful ocean views, I couldn’t help but notice how “beat up” the furniture – especially the vanity in the bathroom – is getting.  Any Home Depot sells furniture finish touch-up pens, but some of this damage is too far gone to be salvaged that way.  Aside from the scratched-up furniture, Room 3118 had the wires and “guts” of the wall-mounted television dangling out from below the screen, the lighted make-up mirror in the bathroom was coming off its wall mount, the tissue dispenser cover was absent, and there were rust stains on the wallpaper where the fire sprinkler had obviously leaked.  In addition, the insides of the elevators are badly marked with scratches, the wallpaper and carpeting in some of the hallways need a good cleaning, and the baseboards need some touching up.  And the tops of the illuminated plexiglass boxes framing the room numbers look like they haven’t been dusted since they were installed.  The whole place could use a retired military officer to come in for a good close inspection.

‘The Empire’ Strikes Out – Again!
In all my years of playing and staying at Caesars – unquestionably my Harrah’s casino of choice in Atlantic City – I’ve never encountered a rude employee.  That winning streak ended the morning of October 16.  As I was exiting the Colosseum self-park, I gave my player’s card to the attendant, but he told me that it had “expired”.  Granted, it did have a 3/10 “expiration date” but I asked him to swipe the card and he would see that it was still valid.  After all, I had been accumulating points with that card and using it for purchases during my stay.  He would hear nothing of it.  Fortunately, another passenger had a “valid” card, and we were able to leave without paying.  I specifically took note the following four times I exited the same garage, and none of the other attendants even looked at the card – they just swiped it and off I went.

‘The Empire’ Strikes Out – Again and Again!
Regular readers know I’m not a big fan of buffets, but I decided to try Caesars’ La Piazza buffet now that Café Roma has instituted its rather unfortunate new breakfast menu.  [That’s another whole story which I won’t go into.]  Anyway, I expected to start with some nice fresh fruit – maybe some chunks of melon, a few grapes, a couple orange segments – but all they had were bowls of whole apples and oranges.  [When is the last time you actually saw someone at a buffet cutting up an apple or peeling an orange?  Most of them were disappearing in the bags of other customers as “take out”.]  Fine, maybe I’ll have some cereal.  Well, unless you like oatmeal, forget it.  No little boxes of raisin bran, no dispensers with corn flakes, nothing!  There weren’t even any bananas had I wanted to slice one on my cereal.  OK, maybe an omelette.  Considering it was taking about 10 minutes from the time folks got in line until the time they returned with their cooked eggs, I decided to have a waffle.  Whoops, no waffles.  Alright, a bagel and some cream cheese.  Nope, “we don’t have those,” I’m told by the manager.  [What, am I no longer in New Jersey?]  When I tried to toast some bread, after two times through the toaster, it looked about as dark as I am at the end of the summer – meaning, not much.  Guess I should have gone to Roma for one of those chili-filled omelettes.

Congratulations, Mr. Norton!
Harrah’s Entertainment’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, David Norton, has been named Target Marketing magazine’s 2010 Direct Marketer of the Year.  It’s interesting to note that, while not identified by name, Seven Stars – “the fourth tier to the [Total R]ewards program,” as described in the seven-page article – supposedly “caters to the 0.15 percent of customers who contribute 12 percent of Harrah’s revenue.”  The article, in the October issue, is available online by clicking here.

Magician Murray Temporarily Replaces Nathan Burton
Through November 5, America’s Got Talent semi-finalist Murray is substituting for Nathan Burton at the Flamingo.  Fans of the show may recall he dazzled the judges – but, apparently, not the home viewers/voters – by making a 1918 steam train locomotive disappear, producing a Ferrari onstage and transforming his assistant into a 450-pound tiger.

A Not So ‘Happy Birthday’ Present
Saying it plans to appeal, Harrah’s is facing a potential $8 million fine over a birthday promotion if offered to certain Atlantic City players.  In 2003 one player tried to claim her $15 about 30 minutes into her birthday.  While, apparently, the offer said nothing about this, it was not available until the Total Rewards Center opened at 8 a.m. – 7½ hours later.  Instead of waiting around, the player filed a class action suit.  You may have been one of the 350,000 people who received notices about this; 80,000 who redeemed their vouchers may be entitled to a $100 cash payment.

CSI: Atlantic City?
A 49-year-old man, identified only as “an investigator with the New York State Office of the Inspector General”, was found dead inside a parked car on the ninth level of the Caesars Atlantic City parking garage.  The shooting, an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, was reported about 2 a.m. on October 19, according to Atlantic City police.  Two days earlier a man from Staten Island jumped to his death from the eighth level of the Trump Marina Hotel Casino parking garage and on October 23 a woman’s body was found at the Farley Marina, owned by the state, but operated by Trump Marina.

Harrah’s Introduces Total Touch
While at this time, it’s available only at nine Harrah’s casinos, Total Touch is a new interactive system that will allow you to order beverages, redeem free slot play, receive real-time offers based on your slot play, and check your Total Rewards account balances – all from the convenience of your favorite slot machine.  Total Touch is currently online at Harrah’s Ak-Chin, Harrah’s Council Bluffs, Harrah’s Rincon, Harrah’s Tunica, Horseshoe Council Bluffs, Horseshoe Hammond, Horseshoe Southern Indiana, Horseshoe Tunica and Tunica Roadhouse.

An Unlimited ‘Buffet’ of Shows
Following in the footsteps of its “Buffet of Buffets”, Harrah’s in Las Vegas is now offering an All Stage Pass.  [Or All-Stage, depending on where you read about it – Harrah’s isn’t particularly consistent.]  You get 48 hours of unlimited shows for $99, plus taxes and fees (++).  For those without a Total Rewards card the price is $20++ more.  The catch is that this pass is available only at the Planet Hollywood box office (across from the Heart Bar), and the clock starts ticking at time of purchase.  Also, there’s no guarantee you’ll get to see the shows you want, since you can pick up your tickets no more than two hours before curtain.  While not every show offers performances every day, here are your options (regular retail prices are shown in parentheses, but do not include taxes and fees):
▪    Matt Goss, 10 p.m. ($40)
▪    Jubilee!, 7:30 p.m. & 10:30 p.m. ($52.50)
▪    George Wallace, 10 p.m. ($49.95)
▪    Rita Rudner, 8:30 p.m. ($54)
▪    Chippendales, 8 p.m. ($39.95)
▪    Anthony Cools, 9 p.m. ($53.75)
▪    Dirk Arthur, 7 p.m. & 9 p.m. ($22.95)
▪    Nathan Burton, 4 p.m. ($34)
▪    Legends in Concert, 7:30 p.m. & 10 p.m. ($49.95)
▪    Divas Las Vegas, 10 p.m. ($39)
▪    Mac King, 1 p.m. & 3 p.m. ($24.95)
▪    Human Nature, 7:30 p.m. ($49.95)
▪    The Price is Right, 2:30 p.m. ($54.50)
▪    Vinnie Favorito, 2:30 p.m. ($54.95)
▪    The Improv, 8:30 p.m. & 10:30 p.m. ($29.05)
▪    Matsuri, 4 p.m. ($49.99)
▪    X-Burlesque, 7:30 p.m. ($49.95)
Note that this offer does not include Donny & Marie, Penn & Teller, Cher or Barry Manilow; they will cost you $40++ additional per ticket.  Also, before committing to this, check out the half-price tickets at Tix 4 Tonight (www.tix4tonight.com) or www.halfpriceshows.com, as well as the discount coupons found in those free weekly magazines distributed widely throughout the city and in your room.  While this may sound like a good deal, to get your money’s worth, it will take a lot of pre-planning, running around from casino to casino, and standing in line.

‘I was beginning to think it was only me. . .’
Excerpts from e-mails I received in mid-October:
§         “The party scene [at Borgata] is well dressed and classy. . .nothing like the group of kids we observed at Harrah’s [Resort Atlantic City] Friday and Saturday night.  At 2:30 a.m. Saturday there were so many barefoot inebriated kids hanging out at Taste of the Shore, we couldn’t eat there.  [We] ordered room service.”
§         “I [was] sitting at a slot machine Sunday afternoon at Showboat and a woman came up behind me and started touching the screen.  She kept telling me what was about to happen.  She would not stop and when the bonus was over she asked me for $10 for cheering me on.  What the heck was that about?”

Planet Hollywood Impressions
I just returned from a business trip to Las Vegas and, while I stayed at Caesars Palace, I dropped by Planet Hollywood to check it out.  They certainly erased most memories of the former Aladdin – save for a few architectural details which they just painted solid black or white.  The décor has a very contemporary vibe.  Lunch at the Spice Market Buffet was OK.  There certainly were lots of choices at the various stations – Seafood, Mid Eastern, Asian, Salad, Soup, Mexican, American, Italian, and Dessert – but around 2 p.m. the place was pretty empty and the food looked a little “tired”.   The kung pao chicken and chicken fajitas were a bit dry, the pre-made dessert crepes were stacked pretty high and looked a little crispy on the edges and overdone, and many of the other choices appeared to have been sitting around for a while.  Service [Juan was my server] was extremely friendly, attentive and professional.  Seven Stars (and Diamond and Platinum) cardholders have a special “VIP Seating” section and can get specialty coffees and flavored teas, as well as “personalized food offerings”.  The day I was there, it was a shrimp cocktail served in a martini glass.  Frankly, the shrimp on the buffet were a little larger, but at least PH gets points for trying to make you feel special.  Bonus points, too, for the fact that you got a pen to complete the customer comment card.  No other Harrah’s I’ve been to has provided this.  I also visited the Diamond Lounge on the mezzanine level near the Wedding Chapel.  Frankly, I checked-in, wandered around and walked back out.  Formerly the VIP check-in area, it’s basically a series of adjacent rooms filled with tables.  The area furthest away from the entrance has a gigantic flat screen TV, so if you’re not into sports, stay close to the entrance.  There is a small buffet with the same food – hummus, crudités and other snacks – at the other Vegas lounges, but, like Rio and Flamingo, there is no bar.

Trump Gives $25 Food Comps While Player’s Club Is Closed
Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza gave its customers $25 in food comps each day when it closed its Chairman [sic] Club October 4 and 5.  The Chairman’s Clubs are similar to Harrah’s Diamond Clubs, but there is a 10 comp dollar per person charge for holders of its Chairman’s Card (the equivalent of a Diamond Card).  [There is no charge for its Signature cardholders – similar to Seven Stars.]  When is the last time Harrah’s ever compensated its customers if a Diamond Club was closed for a special event, due to weather, prior to the December holidays, etc.?  And this is not the first time a Trump casino has done this.

Steakhouse46 To Close
You have until November 15 to enjoy a meal at the Flamingo’s Steakhouse46 in Las Vegas.  No word on what – if anything – will replace this venerable wood-paneled classic.  Old-fashioned casino steakhouses are being replaced all over the country, so it’s really no surprise.  Today folks want a much more casual dining experience and are eating a more healthful diet.

‘What are your thoughts on the gifts given by Harrah’s casinos?’
Some of the Internet message boards have been buzzing about the appropriateness of certain gifts given by casinos – specifically, the digital picture frames given out at the fall Signature Event in Las Vegas.  Would you rather receive a gift without any sort of engraving indicating which casino it was from, or from what event it commemorated, or are you OK with having the Harrah’s logo, or Caesars Palace’s or some other casino’s emblazoned on it?  Send me an email (sevenstarsinsider@gmail.com) and I’ll share your information – anonymously, of course.

Harrah’s Going To the Dogs!
Atlantic City and other areas of the country may not be “pet-friendly”, but in Las Vegas three Harrah’s casinos are welcoming guests who travel with their dogs.  “PetStay”, available at Caesars Palace, Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino and Imperial Palace, includes several canine-friendly in-room amenities including a mat, food and water dishes, disposable waste bags, and dog treats.  There also are welcome packets that direct guests to outdoor relief areas and dog walking routes.  Here are the details:
▪    Dogs staying at any of the three hotels must weigh 50 pounds or less and be present at time of check- in.
▪    Up to two dogs per room are allowed.
▪    Dogs are permitted to walk through designated common areas while on a leash and accompanied by the owner.
Hotel room rates for owners traveling with a dog are priced at a $25 per night upgrade for designated pet-friendly hotel accommodations in the Augustus Tower at Caesars Palace; $20 per night upgrade applies to similar accommodations at Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino and Imperial Palace.

Complain. . .But Do It Calmly (and with the facts documented!)
How many times have you heard someone complain about a bad meal, disrespectful treatment by employees, etc.?  Sure, they say they’re going to write a letter (or send an e-mail), but most times they don’t.  If you’re the type who does complain in writing, keep a recent experience of a fellow-Seven Stars cardholder in mind.  After what her husband considered insulting treatment by an employee at a Total Rewards desk, he wrote a very detailed letter outlining the circumstances, quoting the employee, and got names and titles of everyone involved in the situation.  His letter was not inflammatory, but simply stated the facts.  He also took time to find out to whom it would be best to direct his letter.  Long story short, in less than 48 hours, he received a phone call and follow-up e-mail with an apology, and the offer of a complimentary dinner for two in any of the casino’s gourmet restaurants.  Considering this whole issue was over two free and relatively inexpensive buffets, it’s unfortunate it had to take this much effort.  When are businesses going to remember the old “rule” that “the customer is always right”?

P.J. Clarke’s To Open First West Coast Location
New York watering hole P.J. Clarke’s opens next month at the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.  Long a popular celebrity destination for Frank Sinatra, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and others, its bacon cheeseburger – described by Nat King Cole as “the Cadillac of burgers” – is still a menu favorite.

‘Did you attend the Signature Event in Las Vegas last month?’
Here’s a sample of some of the comments:
·         Overall it didn’t seem as nice as the Atlantic City event, or even New Orleans.  The Atlantic City event gave everyone 7X points throughout the event, and additional free Apple gift points; as a result, the AC event had people playing huge amounts, and extremely busy high-roller areas.  No such incentives were offered at this event.
·         Harrah’s doesn’t seem to know who most Seven Stars players are – take a look, and you will find most of us are over 50 years old.  If you are going to give them a big free show at the Colosseum, bring in someone they have heard of – Celine Dion, Cher or Barry Manilow.  Most people I spoke to never heard of Lady Antebellum.
·         Harrah’s wastes a lot of money on extravagant invitations – in this case, a hardback book with your name printed in it.  Nice, but why?  Also we received a bunch of confusing plastic tags to wear around our necks for each event, and an itinerary in a useless tin container.  It probably cost over a $100 a person to print this stuff.
·         In Atlantic City we got vouchers for breakfasts and lunch, 7X points, Apple cards.  In Vegas they only had the main evening events.  The Friday night event was originally announced as running from 6 to 10 p.m., but there were too many people, so they split the event into two just before the weekend.  I’d planned to meet some friends, but some of my friends ended up at the late show and some at the early event.
·         The food at the Friday night event was excellent, and the show should have been good; unfortunately putting the show into a ballroom didn’t work.  George Wallace’s voice was totally garbled and not understandable.
·         Because they divided the event into two, they didn’t give us much chance to eat before the show started, which meant people were still going around to booths and talking during the show, making it very noisy and hard to concentrate on the show.
·         I got my Seven Stars just prior to the event and kept contacting hosts for information and trying to book events.  They were totally clueless as to how the event on Friday would work, how to book the Saturday dinner, or how several friends who had booked the same meal could end up sitting together.
·         There was a drawing, but so few people got prizes, it would have been better off if they had reduced the amounts of the prizes, and let more people win.  (This is my big complaint, too, about a lot of the slot tournaments Harrah’s sponsors.)
·         Vegas is hot, even in September.  Don’t put me outside!  Please!  The food was good, but it was so hot it was hard to eat much except the cold salads and ice cream bars.  Overly loud country/western music was the entertainment.  They also shipped in one poor bison/buffalo to stand (or lie) in a pen.  Why?  The poor thing looked miserable in the heat.
·         Compared to the Atlantic City event, this one had a lot of glitz, but not a lot of substance.
·         I always get my rooms, shows, food, etc. comped anyway, so what makes the Signature Event different than any other time I go to a Harrah’s casino?  It would be a Signature Event to me had they included my flight.  Even at that, I’m sure it would have been in coach instead of the first class I’m accustomed to.
·         I didn’t attend for two reasons:  first reason is because they did not offer airfare; second reason is because it didn’t seem anywhere as good as Atlantic City was as far as comps, slot play, food credit and even entertainment.

Making the Great Gift Wrap Up Even Greater
It’s time again for the annual Las Vegas Great Gift Wrap Up, November 11-15 at the Flamingo and December 2-6 at Caesars Palace.  The most frequent question I get is, “Do I have to be staying at a Harrah’s 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 gift cards or specific products.  If you’re going with gift cards, do the math.  As the chart below indicates, for example, it’s better to buy five $10 Shell gift cards (5 @ 3,100 points = 15,500) than one $50 card (18,400).  The best “deal”, though, is a $200 Macy’s card (286 points per dollar) vs. “the worst”, a $50 Shell gift card (368 points per dollar).

Points Per $1
Pottery Barn
Home Depot
Neiman Marcus
Cheesecake Factory
Toys R Us
AMC Theaters

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.

Points Per $1
Cuisinart 14-Cup Elite Food Processor
Cuisinart 10-Cup Grind and Brew Coffeemaker
KitchenAid Stand Mixer – Silver
Dirt Devil Extreme Quick Vac
Hamilton Beach SmartToast 4 Slice Toaster
Whirlpool Front Load Dryer

*Based on manufacturer’s Web site price

Darryl D. McEwen, Publisher
Seven Stars Insider

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Las Vegas Writer, Marketer, Consultant. I love Vegas and everything about it. When in Vegas do 3 things: eat, drink & gamble.

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