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September 24, 2018

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At Aria, poker ace Bobby Baldwin hits the club at Jewel

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Aaron Garcia / Hakkasan Group

Aria President Bobby Baldwin, Hakkasan Group President Nick McCabe and Infinity World Development Corp. President Bill Grounds attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Jewel on Thursday, May 19, 2016, at Aria.

Jamie Foxx Hosts Jewel Grand Opening

Jamie Foxx hosts the grand opening of Jewel on Thursday, May 19, 2016, at Aria. Launch slideshow »

Bobby Baldwin has long been a master at turning a profit at 2 p.m.

Now he’s focused on 2 a.m.

“The people who work at night are the ones I rely on, who know about nightclubs,” a grinning Baldwin said after Thursday’s ribbon cutting at Aria for Jewel, a new nightclub, hours before Jamie Foxx headlined as the star DJ on opening night. “Me, I know all about daytime.”

Baldwin leans on his company’s most veteran casino executive, Bob Mancari, and the operators at Hakkasan Group to deliver the information he needs to make the calls on nightlife.

But the man known as “The Owl,” for his wisdom and arcing countenance, is the president of the hotel where Jewel does business. He knows the numbers and trends in the casino industry. His days as an operator date more than 30 years, when he was named president of the Golden Nugget under Steve Wynn.

Baldwin has served as head of the Mirage and Bellagio and was the first president and CEO of CityCenter when the resort project opened in December 2009.

A champion poker player who won the World Series of Poker in 1978, Baldwin is famously adept at reading the cards. At Aria, he watched that hotel’s younger clientele filter from the hotel in the 18-month span covering the closing of the nightclub Haze and the opening of Jewel.

“We had no nightclub, since Haze closed, and it’s particularly important for Aria because we have a younger demographic, and a lot of our young customers leave in the evening to go to some of our competitors for nightlife,” Baldwin said. “Haze was a good nightclub. It wasn’t a great nightclub, and it got to the point where we needed to close it and create a great nightclub like Jewel.”

The casino customer has irrevocably changed over the generations, with diversity paramount to a tourist’s Las Vegas experience. Much emphasis has been placed on the decline of gaming revenues in Las Vegas hotel-casinos, but Baldwin says the new visitors are playing — they’re just not playing as long.

“Some of our biggest (gaming) customers are the type who like to go to the nightclub — they do both — but maybe they spend a couple of hours in the casino and a couple more in the nightclub,” Baldwin said. “Jewel is a smaller club, by a lot, than many of the mega-clubs in Las Vegas (about one-fifth the size of Omnia at Caesars Palace and Hakkasan at MGM Grand) and it is more accessible to our customers.

“Diversity is important because our customers do not want to be at the tables all the time. They win a little, they might want to go party for a while. They lose a little, they want to do something else. That is the entertainment climate we are in.”

Many of those customers will be wearing lanyards looped around their necks. Aria also is moving more toward a convention mecca, with the 200,000-square-foot, $154 million expansion of its convention center. This project is overtaking the vast “Zarkana” theater on the hotel’s second floor; the show closed April 30.

The process of convention preparation at Aria is underway.

“It takes two months to unload the Cirque show, then four months of demolition before we begin construction,” Baldwin said. “We are loading out the show now, and were are going to be open the first quarter of 2018.” Block that time off for another ribbon cutting at Aria.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow Kats on Instagram at Instagram.com/JohnnyKats1.

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