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September 2, 2014

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What makes the perfect Las Vegas casino? World-class restaurants, no smoking, crunchy cannolis … and 3:2 blackjack payouts

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Malaysia-based Genting Group purchased the Echelon site in March and plans to revive the space with a multibillion-dollar resort. A rendering of the property is pictured.

With Resorts World Las Vegas, the Gansevoort and SLS on the way, the Strip is preparing itself for a new wave of hotel-casinos, each promising a unique Las Vegas experience to top their predecessors and draw tourists the world over.

Novelty, however, isn't enough to guarantee that a casino will thrive. Greenspun Media Group staff members from Vegas Magazine, Vegas Inc. and the Las Vegas Sun weigh in on the elements they'd like to see, as journalists and Las Vegas residents, that would make for the perfect casino:

    • The grand opening of Bagatelle on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012.

      A brand new model

      I’d like to see everything turned upside down in a new casino -- place the gaming tables and slot machines at the back and have all the attractions in the front. There would be moving walkways on one side of the entire building with entry and exit points similar to the airport for gates. There is far too much walking from point A to Z in current casinos; it sometimes feels like 20 minutes on a treadmill. The fragrance of night jasmine would take the place of cigarette smoke. Water fountains would be strategically placed throughout the casinos to quench parched throats. The two biggest complaints in casinos: a) signage and b) the long walk from parking to anywhere. There’s a need for good signage so you never have to guess where you want to go; Bagatelle is the only venue where you have parking just 30 steps away from the front door. — Robin Leach, entertainment columnist, Vegas DeLuxe/Las Vegas Sun

    • Easy access

      I’ve run out of hot new restaurants to take my friends from NYC to, so my perfect hotel-casino would have a few really great eateries that are not from The Big Apple. To get to these hot spots, I’d like to not have to walk 3 miles in my 5-inch heels from self-parking. Please make sure there is either close access from the self-park garage — or please create a valet that doesn’t fill up every day by 4 p.m. Nearby will be a few fun non-nightclub lounges with plenty of seating. The next day, I’d like to relax at the hotel’s gorgeous spa, which of course offers a major locals discount even on weekends, when I can actually go. Shows? Yes! Run the gamut from A-list spectacular to talented, old-fashioned torch singers, and I’ll be there to see a new show every night of the week. — Abby Tegnelia, editor-in-chief, Vegas Magazine

    • A fabulous headliner — and a top-notch buffet

      The perfect Las Vegas casino resort has to have the following two things: 1) A fabulous headliner show. Think Celine, Shania, Elton, "Jersey Boys," "Peepshow" or the 813th Cirque du Soleil extravaganza on the Strip. I hear Britney Spears is available. And 2) a top-notch buffet. Think Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace, Wicked Spoon at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Studio B at The M Resort and the buffets at Wynn and Bellagio. Now I'm hungry. — Don Chareunsy, senior editor for arts & entertainment, Las Vegas Sun

    • A place for kids

      I remember as a kid staying with my parents at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. It offered a kids club that provided children with supervised games, crafts, swimming and the like. Parents may have parked their kids there to get us out of their hair, but all the kids I met were, like me, enjoying our own kid vacation. I think the “perfect” resort hotel on the Strip would offer a similar kids club — and not just a games arcade that grooms children for loyalty club memberships the moment they turn 21. — Tom Gorman, executive editor, Las Vegas Sun

    • Great customer service

      First and foremost, I think customer service is key to a great resort, or any business. If I’m checking into a room and the front desk attendant doesn’t make me feel welcome, I won’t want to return. If I’m playing slots, wanting a drink and the cocktail waitress is ignoring me or making it seem like it’s a burden to get me a drink, I’ll walk out. Bartenders who ignore me? Bye. Also, I love a resort that gives me lots of options for entertainment. I like going in to gamble and drink but staying when I hear a good lounge act. Something affordable yet entertaining. If I get done bowling and want to go see a movie, I would rather be able to stay in one spot rather than go to another resort that has a theater. In all, a great resort is one that makes the customer want to stay instead of hopping over to another venue. — Jamie Gentner, copy editor, Las Vegas Sun

    • 3:2 blackjack payouts

      Nearly every casino player will repeat the common refrain that “they need to loosen up their slots.”

      While casinos have the ability to adjust their slot machine holds, the one thing that I feel casino operators really stubbed their toes on was the widespread shift of blackjack payouts from 3:2 to 6:5 on natural 21s.

      The 3:2 ($3 paid for every $2 wagered on a blackjack) was the norm for years. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a major shift to 6:5 ($6 paid for every $5 wagered). When you compare apples to apples, if you get a blackjack with a $10 bet on 3:2, you win $15, but if the table is 6:5, you get $12. That one change really irritates players. So I think the perfect casino would have 3:2 blackjack payouts. — Richard N. Velotta, senior business reporter, Las Vegas Sun/Vegas Inc.

    • Gordon Ramsay hosts Sunday brunch at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill in Caesars Palace on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013.

      Superstar chefs

      What makes the perfect Strip casino resort is an outstanding celebrity chef restaurant that actually delivers when it comes to the food. Las Vegas hasn’t become one of the Top Five culinary destinations in the world for no reason — dining is a huge reason that foodies are drawn here and willing to spend outrageous amounts on dinner. Restaurant Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace is legendary, as is Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand. Gordon Ramsay Steak at Paris and Comme Ca at The Cosmopolitan are both truly divine, and Kerry Simon’s Simon at Palms Place is pretty iconic for Las Vegas because of his brunch and fun desserts. — Emma Trotter, assistant editor, Vegas Magazine

    • Delta Spirit plays the Book & Stage as part of Sports Illustrated's "Beauties and Beats" music festival on Feb. 15, 2012.

      A great music venue

      All a casino needs is a venue like The Cosmopolitan’s Book & Stage. They’ve hosted some great acts like Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, Beach House, Mariachi El Bronx, all for free to the public and all for two to three consecutive nights. What can be more inviting than that to local music-goers? — Yasmina Chavez, photo coordinator, Las Vegas Sun

    • No smoking

      A perfect casino to me would be one that is nonsmoking. I don’t like walking out of resorts smelling like cigarette smoke and feeling like I’ve shortened my life somewhat. — Paul Takahashi, education reporter, Las Vegas Sun

    • User-friendly parking

      The perfect Las Vegas casino resort has to have a user-friendly parking garage. Casinos employ all kinds of tricks to keep people gambling — no windows or clocks, card-shuffling machines to allow more hands to be dealt, buttons on slot machines instead of levers to allow for more turns to be played. Along those lines, the perfect casino would have a parking structure that's less labrynthine than, say, The Venetian; less far-removed from the action than, say, Planet Hollywood; and offers bigger and fewer rear-view mirror-endangering stalls than, say, The Quad. Think Bellagio. — Dave Mondt, copy editor and designer, Las Vegas Sun

    • Clearer signage, crunchier cannolis

      I would like better signage on the casino floor, crunchy cannolis at the buffets and better comedy acts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten lost because signs hanging from the ceiling point vaguely in one direction or another. And, when you follow the signs, it seems like there are rarely any follow-up signs to help get you where you need to go. At buffets, the cannoli shells are usually soft and flavorless, if not downright stale. Also, I’m a big fan of stand-up comedy, but the acts on the Strip are tired and overpriced — $60 for Carrot Top or Andrew Dice Clay, $90 for David Spade or Jay Leno. The resorts need to stop bringing the same acts year after year. You couldn’t pay me to watch most of the comics on the Strip, so there’s no way I’m going to spend $100 for a show. — Eli Segall, business reporter, Las Vegas Sun/Vegas Inc.

    Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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    1. Love the "No Smoking" one. I don't think that it's economically feasible yet to have a completely non-smoking casino, but it would certainly be nice to have LARGE non-smoking sections. I know this is a hotly contested debate in Las Vegas and I certainly wouldn't advocate smoking being made illegal in casinos due to my Libertarian roots, but I still cannot stand walking in and out a a casino and smelling like an ash tray.

    2. Build this resort (with this long list of "wants") in FantasyLand.

    3. I also agree with the "NO SMOKING" suggestion! If "every" casino bans smoking then the smokers will have to either go outside or quit smoking. I know the argument that "customers like to smoke and gamble at the same time" but when their bad habit affects me and other non-smokers, they need to modify their behavior, not me!

    4. No smoking is the best suggestion. It's a tired habit, rooted in stupidity with everything we now know about the ill effects on your health. Casinos are behind the times on the smoking issue. They are beholden to their Asian whales who enjoy smoking. Plus, it's a filthy habit.

      The worst suggestion is the idea of children friendly. Take your kids to Disney, the GrandCanyon or some other family friendly destination. Nothing worse than seeing mom with the stroller sitting off the casino floor while dad gambles. Vegas is for adults, notwithstanding the cheesy arcade centers located in the bowels for their kids.

    5. Why not break the model completely. Do we need Cirque show #64543? Absinthe is proving that change is good. More "celebrity' chefs? Why? It's not like they actually are preparing the meal. The only instance where I've seen the name behind the restaurant is Rick Moonen who has been greeting guests and personally thanking them for eating at RM on multiple occasions when I've been there, it's why I am willing to go back. Throw the model out and provide a superior experience that no one else can touch. Make customer service and personal touches the focus like it used to be. Love the suggestions about more lounge style acts, less American I-dull. Vegas has become a giant ego stroke for the self proclaimed celeb / reality TV crowd. How about making the people who are coming with their hard earned dollars the focus again. Even more - how about remembering the locals, who are all jaded by the vanilla sameness and formulas, feel like they are family in this city too. Why would people bother to come here if its the same experience they can get at the Cheesecake Factory in Arkansas or Chicago. We should be setting the bar for everyone else - not following the trends.

    6. Even better - when was the last time the OWNERS of these venue's were actually out shaking hands and thanking the patrons that are making them richer? Bring back the model where the guy who's name is on the building is grateful for your dollar. Mr Wynn, been on your casino floor lately? And I'm not talking about the room full of whales. Would you go back to a nameless corporation or the guy who knew you just spent your last $5 but took the time to thank you for coming to his joint.

    7. There was a smoke-free casino in Atlantic City. They filed for bankruptcy.

    8. "There was a smoke-free casino in Atlantic City. They filed for bankruptcy."
      ----
      That's because they were the only one. They should do the same that they did for restaurants. All comply. I remember when there was this huge outcry from restaurant/ bar owners in NYC over the no smoking laws being pushed. They all claimed they'd go out of business, business would suffer, they would be laying off staff. The restaurant/bar business in NYC has never been better even with no smoking rules. Smokers are addicts. They will keep their habit outdoors if it means they can gamble. The lure of winning money will overcome the lure of nicotine for them. Just like the lure of food and drink did.

    9. Yeah, and if you build a casino with most of these things, you're gonna go broke in no time.

      Revel Casino in A.C. is a non-smoking property.... And they just went bankrupt last month. Gamblers are risk takers who do whatever they want no matter what the cost. People who don't smoke are the total opposite and can never be sustainable gamblers. Maybe in another 40 years you might have a chance at non-smoking if we're able to curtail things enough. But it's doubtful. Even then, tobacco is highly addictive. If people can't smoke it, they'll dip it. You think smoke is bad? Wait until you have to walk the minefields of tobacco spit, or have to watch the person next to you keep feeding their glass of saliva that they put down next to your machine. Welcome to Mississippi and Louisiana gaming as it already is.

      Stop trying to give people what they want. Give them what the NEED instead. People need to have good food and good values. Stay steadfast on payouts: Want to win more? Then wager more. Altering payouts is bad for everyone. Gambling isn't just about winning, it's the game itself. If all hunters wanted was deer heads, they could buy them. The hunt itself just as important to them as the trophy is. So goes it with gambling.

      Pretty much everything on this list has either been tried and failed (non-smoking, kids), or has been lost to cost cutting measures by people with degrees and no experience who wanted to look good on paper at the cost of customer satisfaction (food, amenities, Themes-and how I've ranted over that one, etc.).

      We don't need a new approach with casinos. We need to get back to doing what works.

    10. Catch22, Steve Wynn is about the only owner that does walk the floor and listen to his guests. I remember a story about Steve at the Golden Nugget in downtown. A player came up to him and asked in desperation, 'Where are the restrooms?' Steve ordered a security guard to do nothing but direct guests to the restrooms. Guest service is what Steve is about. That is why his resorts are full and he is successful. The 'luv the locals' scammers? When was the last time you saw them greeting guests? They haven't got a clue on customer service or hospitality and that is why their casinos are patronized mainly by the lowlifes that couldn't care less about anything but free alcohol and buffets.

    11. "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said 'faster horses'". - Henry Ford

      Does anyone think for a minute that the people who build these resorts leave ANYTHING to chance? The color of the carpets? The scents that are pumped in? The sounds that the slots make? The height of the ceilings? All of this is researched in detail. I know because I used to help collect, collate and analyze the research.

      If any of these wish-listers feel so strongly about what would be a Las Vegas success, perhaps they should put THEIR money where THEIR mouth is? Vegas is always looking for "investors".

    12. Ha! HA! sounds like people want the old days when the (mob) ran the show. Affordable dinner shows good comedians at a decent price and gambling with some chance on making money once in a while. The new slots seem like if you do not hit the bonus on them they 40 cent you to death on paybacks even if you are playing max bet. The table games are more expensive with less payback. People want to feel they belong here like some sort of club you pay dues to and in return you get something extra for it now all you get is extra resort fees $10.00 hamburgers. The Mob had the right business approach give something back to the customer and they will come back and spend more too bad the Mob got greedy and skimmed off the money for other things OOPS! sounds like what the Corporations are doing now lol.

    13. My ideas are as follows:
      1. Eliminate resort fees.
      2. 3:2 BJ
      3. No more "trendy" clubs for fake celebrities.
      4. Figure out a way to add staff quickly when the check-in line has 400 people in it. (maybe train some staff to multi task and work in the area most in need at the time).
      5. $35+ Buffets are OK at the nicer places, but way overpriced at many mid market properties.
      6. Ban card slappers, street artists, etc. (I know, that's a city/county issue, but the resorts should demand change).
      7. Did I mention NO RESORT FEES.

    14. Nothing will be funnier than seeing a "politically correct" mega-casino go down the tubes.

      Child Friendly? This is Vegas. They tried that "family vacation" thing a few years ago and it failed. Leave your children home or take them to Disneyland.

      No Smoking? Do some math folks. Wander by the non-smoking areas of any major casino and look around. The industry relies on keeping as many machines occupied as possible. If you really think all the casinos are suddenly going to change the model and go non-smoking, you may have been breathing the wrong kind of second-hand smoke yourself.