Las Vegas Hotels
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Costner, Nov/Dec 00
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When my wake-up call came, I was dreaming about the Rain Man suite. Once awake, I'm ashamed to say, my own tasteful and elegant rooms seemed something of a letdown. I said as much to Dean Harrold, Caesars president and chief operating officer, and to my surprise, he agreed. "As nice as those suites are, they're not adequate," he says. "There's a necessary decadence that those rooms are missing, and we're well aware of that."
Harrold described it as the difference between a hotel mindset and a casino mindset. Hotel companies follow a logic we're all familiar with, so they build terrific rooms and charge a lot of money for them. Casinos have a logic all their own, one that wouldn't necessarily work in any other business. Casinos build outlandish rooms, rooms that cost far more money than a hotel room would anywhere else. Then they give them away.
The suite I stayed in and about 20 others, all located at the top of the Palace Tower, were built during the mid-1990s, when ITT Sheraton owned the property. As hotel rooms, they're all exquisite. As over-the-top experiences, they don't compare to what Tom Cruise had.
"The people who stay in that kind of suite aren't paying $259 a night or $359 a night, they might be paying a million dollars a night," says Harrold, who started as a blackjack dealer at the Dunes Hotel & Country Club in 1968 at age 21 and worked his way up the industry ladder. "We have to give them a product they're not getting at home. Believe it or not, in some of these people's homes, they have waterfalls in the bathroom, they have fish swimming through the living room. We have to give them all that and more."
Harrold seemed embarrassed by the tastefulness and comfortably human scale of my rooms. "You can bet we'll be putting money into those suites," he says. "We have to. Our customers demand more." Just how good a customer do you have to be to get invited to stay at such a suite at a top Las Vegas hotel? It depends on how much you bet, what game you're playing, how long you bet for, and where you play.
Whether you win or lose is immaterial, except in extreme cases. If you're a regular customer--a whale--and you have a terrible run of luck and squander your money beyond all proportion to the law of averages, you are likely to be invited back even before you've left the premises. You'll be offered an even bigger and better suite, with more valuable meal comps and other amenities, because the last thing the casinos want is to send a heavy player home with a bad feeling about the property.
And if you win beyond all proportion more than infrequently, suffice to say that you won't be a regular customer for long. What the casinos are looking for is volume. The house has time on its side. The more you play, the better the chance that your margin of return will approach the average, which may be 5 or 6 or 10 percent in the casino's favor, depending on the place and the game. If the casino can make gaming in Las Vegas a pleasurable enough experience, the whale will keep playing. That means free drinks, free gourmet meals, free boxing tickets, free shows. And free suites--the more opulent, the better.
All the casinos use the same mathematical equation to determine what you're worth, but not all have the same margin in their product. You have to spend far more money to be considered a high roller at a high-end casino than at, say, the San Remo or the Lady Luck. "Show up at Lady Luck with $1,000 in your pocket to bet over a weekend, and you can have a limo, comped meals and the run of the place," says one casino executive. "Do the same at Bellagio, and they won't even know your name."
Paris Las Vegas, a theme park of a hotel with a half-scale Eiffel Tower designed to appeal to middle-class American tourists who might never get to see the real thing, isn't considered as upscale a property as, say, Caesars Palace or the Bellagio. But its unique faux-French ambience--even the executives of this American-owned and -run hotel greet guests with a hearty "Bonjour!"--adds a sense of novelty that appeals to certain high rollers. That's why the hotel, which is not known for posh accommodations, has a small number of upscale suites.
Danny Davis, the casino manager at Paris Las Vegas, describes a typical occupant. "A half-million-dollar credit line or above, betting 20 to 30 thousand dollars a hand. Of course, there's competition for these people with the other hotels," he says. "Sometimes we put guests in a suite not because they've earned it with us yet but because they demand it. We don't want to lose them to, say, The Venetian. These people are very, very intelligent people, and they know what's out there and what to ask for. They didn't get hold of all this money by being stupid."
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