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Viva Like Vegas!

Casinos across America are taking their cues from Las Vegas's destination-style resorts, to much success
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Cuba, May/June 2007

(continued from page 2)

Things have gotten so good in the Vegasizing world that even riverboats, long viewed as the epitome of low-end gaming, are getting in on the action. Ameristar Hotel Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa, has spent the last 10 years with a coveted Four Diamond rating from AAA. It keeps the designation by providing 42-inch plasma-screen TVs, high-thread-count linens and an indoor pool walled off by glass that opens when weather permits. The idea is to stand out from the two other casinos in Council Bluffs. "This past year we have maintained 38 percent of the market share," says general manager Teresa Meyer, emphasizing that the challenge is particularly acute because one of her competitors is land-based, which is generally considered more desirable by players. "Our casino has a clubby feel to it, and we've made ourselves into the area's entertainment destination."

Whether they are in Connecticut or Council Bluffs or Nevada itself, the best of the non-Vegas resorts turn their remoteness from the Strip into an advantage. At Red Rock Casino Resort Spa, in the Summerlin neighborhood of Las Vegas, this is slightly ironic. Situated just 20 minutes from the Vegas Strip, its rooms offer breathtaking Red Rock Canyon views and a location that feels surprisingly rustic. The property capitalizes on this by offering a fitness program that has guests hiking through the adjacent peaks, riding horses and kayaking on Lake Las Vegas. Though it was built by Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta (of Station Casinos fame and Las Vegas's reigning kings of local action), Red Rock aspires to be something very different from what people normally associate with the brothers (who, overall, generate 86 percent of their revenue from slot machines).

Red Rock boasts its own cool nightclub, a Strip-worthy steakhouse and a state-of-the-art sports book with the biggest game-viewing screens in town. Rooms here are large, the design is chic and Swarovski crystal seems to be everywhere. In keeping with its scale and vision, Red Rock has attracted hosts and marketing executives who are aiming to fill its seductively sleek and swingy high-roller suites—one of which contains its own DJ booth—with suitably bankrolled players. "You have casinos in Vegas catering to guys who are capable of losing millions of dollars," says Lorenzo Fertitta, vice chairman and president of Station Casinos. "We take the guy who can lose $500,000 or $1 million, and with us he is king. We provide a boutique resort experience where guests can detox during the day and retox at night."

Fittingly, with Red Rock's opening a year ago, the boom in Vegas-izing non-Vegas casinos has come full circle, landing right on the doorstep of the mighty Strip itself. Whether Red Rock will be able to consistently lure business away from its neighboring monsters of neon and gilt has yet to be fully seen, but clearly it is moving in the right direction and serves as an exemplar of the transformation taking place across America. "There is a new generation of properties coming along and capturing a significant market share," says MGM Mirage's Alan Feldman, who's clearly bullish on expansion. "They're doing it by paying attention to design and service and the delivery of experiences. Operators who don't respond will feel the pressure accordingly."

Michael Kaplan is a Cigar Aficionado contributing editor.

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