Friday, Oct. 8, 2010 | 3 a.m.
Arizona Charlie’s, the locals casino on Decatur Boulevard near Charleston, has long prided itself as a place with executives who listen to their customers.
But when a large number of frequent players suggested they wanted a smoke-free room to play slot machines, General Manager Ron Lurie still had to think it over.
Nevada casinos are exempt from the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act. Evidence suggests that when smoking bans are enacted, business goes down. And Nevada’s first smoke-free casino, the Silver City on the Strip, eventually closed its doors, although no one seems to know whether that had anything to do with the smoking ban.
“We actually received quite a few comments from people, so I decided to take it to our CEO, Frank Riolo,” Lurie said. “He said, ‘If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right.’ So we put together a plan.”
Lurie knows that many casinos use high-tech ventilation systems, “smoke-eaters” and deodorizers to keep smoke at bay. But Arizona Charlie’s decided to seal off an entire room and prohibit smoking inside.
“And when we said we were going to do it right, that also meant tearing all the existing carpet, wallpaper and ceiling tiles out of the area,” Lurie said.
The company also decided to break down and clean every slot machine it was going to put in the smoke-free environment because the tobacco smell tends to attach itself to the various components.
By the time all the remodeling, cleaning and refurbishing were completed, the company had spent around $80,000.
“We knew this was kind of a risk because no one has ever done this in Nevada,” Lurie said.
The company designated an area for the 3,500-square-foot room near the Naughty Ladies Saloon that once was the site of its swimming pool.
Once the room was completed, Lurie had another challenge: making sure the area had a good mix of games.
The company used customer-tracking technology to make some of the slot machine decisions. The casino’s loyalty card tracks which cardholders are smokers — they’re given free cigarettes as part of their rewards. The company was able to see what games the nonsmokers preferred made sure the most popular games were among the 117 in the smoke-free room.
The new room opened in April, and Lurie has been watching the results. He says there has been “no decrease in revenue” — which he’ll take as a positive in today’s economy.
The other positive is that a number of customers who hadn’t darkened Arizona Charlie’s doors in a while have returned.
The smoke-free room has a nice pedestrian flow and isn’t as dense with slot machines as the smoke-filled side. The room also has two television sets, a keno board and its own ticket redemption machine so that players don’t have to wander into the main casino.
But the biggest difference is the air. There’s a noticeable difference between the smoke-filled environment and the smoke-free zone.
“There’s a very definitive smell of smoke in the rest of the casino,” said Marilyn Ilardo, a regular player at Arizona Charlie’s. “But not in here.”
In the afternoons, Arizona Charlie’s food and beverage staff pass out free cookies for players in the smoke-free area. Lurie calls it “a place of your own” in ads — and he knows part of the secret of its success will be to keep it in front of the public. The company is doing that on the marquee and on a billboard advertising the property.
Allison Newlon Moser, executive director of the American Lung Association in Nevada, is a big fan of Arizona Charlie’s taking such a huge voluntary step toward clearing the casino air.
She said 80 percent of casino customers are nonsmokers, so it makes sense to her that a property would cater to that market.
“When I congratulated Mr. Riolo on the smoke-free room at Arizona Charlie’s, he responded that he hopes this time next year that room will be for smokers and the rest of the casino will be the smoke-free area,” she said.
The association’s relationship with Arizona Charlie’s has resulted in Jimmy Walker, director of safety and security for the casino, serving on the board and leading his colleagues in a recent fundraising campaign. In addition, Arizona Charlie’s sister property, the Stratosphere, is the site for a stair-climbing event that benefits the organization.
Lurie said rival casino companies have paid a visit to Arizona Charlie’s to check out the smoke-free room. Although no one has announced any plans to replicate the concept, Lurie said he wouldn’t be surprised if another property tried it.
“I think if they listen to their customers, like we do, they’d at least give it a try,” he said.
Passenger traffic at McCarran International Airport dipped slightly in August compared with the same month a year ago.
McCarran officials reported 3.5 million passengers in August, a 0.4 percent decline from a year ago. Although Southwest, Delta and American showed traffic increases for the month, US Airways and United had declines, with US Airways traffic down 53.9 percent over last year with its massive Las Vegas capacity reduction.
Southwest, the busiest airline at McCarran, had 1.4 million passengers for the month, a 3.1 percent increase over August 2009.
International arrivals boosted McCarran numbers in August. For the month, the airport calculated 175,995 international arrivals, a 7.6 percent increase over the same month in 2009.
Canadian carriers WestJet Airlines and Air Canada contributed 80,037 passengers to the total, Great Britain’s Virgin Atlantic and British Airways added 41,990 and Mexico’s Aeromexico, Mexicana and Vivaaerobus totaled 27,407. New-to-Las Vegas carrier XL Airways-France, which started nonstop seasonal service between Paris and Las Vegas, had 4,731 passengers for the month and has had 14,632 since its May startup.
Allegiant to Bakersfield
Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air will begin offering nonstop flights between Las Vegas and Bakersfield, Calif., beginning in November.
Flights will be offered three times a week: Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays, on Allegiant’s 150-passenger MD-80 twin-engine jets.
Beginning Nov. 17, flights will leave McCarran at 5 p.m., arriving just over an hour later at Bakersfield’s Meadows Fields Airport. The return flights will leave Bakersfield at 6:45 p.m., arriving in Las Vegas at 7:50.
Fares are $39 to $49 one way, but Allegiant is introducing the route with $30 one-way tickets, which have to be purchased by Oct. 20 for travel through March 8. Those prices are without baggage and other fees.
Allegiant has flights to and from 40 destinations from Las Vegas and would be the only carrier serving Bakersfield.
In search of global shows
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has joined the International Association of Convention Centres, which should help the Las Vegas Convention Center to attract more international conventions and trade shows.
“As a leading center both domestically and around the world, we feel it is our responsibility to be a strong proponent for the convention and exhibition industry and play a lead role,” said Terry Jicinsky, the authority’s senior vice president of operations. “Participating with the AIPC and its members will put the Las Vegas Convention Center on the world stage in promoting and developing our industry.”
The association, known as AIPC under its French name, has a membership representing 166 convention centers in 53 countries, and the Las Vegas Convention Center is just the ninth member from the United States.
The association has developed industry research, published technical documents, provided training and technical development and maintained performance standards for convention centers since 1958.
The Las Vegas Convention Center already is an international player, but the authority is looking for more opportunities. Among the global shows the Convention Center hosts are the International Consumer Electronics Show in January, the Conexpo-Con/Agg construction industry show, every third year in March, and the National Association of Broadcasters Show in March or April.
The authority pays $2,300 in annual dues and next year’s conference will be an hour’s plane ride away in San Diego.