Monday, Nov. 10, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Todd Phillips, a pale, slender and soft-spoken man who wears glasses, doesn’t look like a much of a tough guy.
And yet his persistence in pursuing a discrimination complaint he filed against a chain of local gyms — resulting in a public hearing by the Nevada Equal Rights Commission’s board Friday and a court order forcing the gyms to comply with a ruling in Phillips’ favor — is almost sure to shake up the lucrative nightclub industry in Las Vegas casinos, while establishing Phillips as an unlikely symbol of civil rights.
With a 3-1 vote Friday, the commission ruled that a Las Vegas Athletic Club promotion offering free memberships to women is discriminatory.
Las Vegas nightclubs typically offer free admission to women while men pay steep fees to get in — a policy that has been virtually stamped out in other states because of lawsuits like Phillips’.
Yet Friday was mostly an embarrassment for the Las Vegas Athletic Club, which was asked how the promotion could be reconciled with other forms of discrimination.
Phillips questioned whether a soul food restaurant should be able to offer discounts to attract white customers. Board members piled on, asking whether it would be appropriate for the gym to offer free memberships for, say, Catholics.
When the gyms’ owner said the promotion was intended to encourage women to patronize gyms in part because men accumulate more bad debts, a deputy attorney general asked whether the company had done similar studies on black versus white customers.
At the hearing, an attorney for the Nevada Resort Association, which represents major casinos, complained that the decision would have ramifications for businesses unable to make their cases.
Too bad, the board said — casinos weren’t party to the complaint.
Rebecca Cooper has 25 years of experience as a massage therapist. But you won’t find her in a health club or chiropractor’s office.
She’s a full-time employee of El Cortez casino downtown, offering free chair massages to winners of $200-plus jackpots a step away from the blackjack pit. Those who don’t win a jackpot can pay $15 for a 10-minute massage.
The massage is one of the atypical promotions offered by El Cortez, which offers gamblers gas cards and retailer gift cards. The offers began at the Plaza casino and migrated to El Cortez.
El Cortez was formerly owned by Jackie Gaughan, who recently sold his interest in the casino after having sold the rest of his downtown casino empire in 2004.
The Plaza was one of the first casinos in Nevada to offer gamblers gift cards for gas stations and retailers in addition to run-of-the-mill hotel stays, meals and casino-branded clothes.
“Some people were taking home 60 jackets at the end of the month,” El Cortez General Manager Mike Nolan said. “That didn’t make sense.”
What also seems to make sense at El Cortez are random food giveaways, such as White Castle burgers and, more recently, strawberry pie.
Gamblers tend to have little trouble quitting when they’re ahead, but they have difficulty folding when they’re losing, a new study has found.
Stanford University marketing professor Sridhar Narayanan and University of Michigan marketing professor Puneet Manchanda studied 2,000 people who gambled at an undisclosed casino in the Southwest during 2004 and 2005 and were members of the casino’s loyalty card program.
The professors received no compensation from the casino or any outside sponsorship for the study, which is believed to be the first research of its kind to analyze individual gambling behavior for the purpose of educating policymakers and the public.
About 8 percent of the gamblers showed evidence of gambling addiction and were more inclined to gamble when offered incentives such as free drinks, meals and rooms.
For more than 95 percent of the gamblers who won on their last play, the probability of playing again decreased, researchers found. The more times gamblers lost, the more they continued to bet — as long as losses were small. Once their losses exceeded a certain amount, they stopped playing.
Manchanda has conducted other studies based on corporate data that’s usually kept confidential.
“Companies are curious about what their own data say,” he said.