Category Archives: Gambling

Golden Gate Casino Unveils Multi-Million Dollar Expansion

Downtown’s Golden Gate has revealed an expansion that nearly doubles the size of its casino floor, including the addition of about 100 new slot machines.

Golden Gate’s expansion encompasses the space formerly occupied by the La Bayou casino and an alley. You’ll want to see our “before” photos of the construction, of course.

Golden Gate casino

Three’s nothing quite like that new slot machine smell.

The centerpiece of the multi-million dollar expansion is a 24-foot tall fountain of TVs around a spiral chandelier.

Golden Gate expansion

Universal remote, much?

The TV fountain is made all the more dramatic by 468 mirrors lining a arced wall that frames the decorative piece. Yes, we asked. And, yes, we know we have issues.

The tower of televisions sits just inside a brand new entrance to the Golden Gate.

The Golden Gate’s expansion includes a new loyalty club desk.

Golden Gate loyalty desk

The loyalty desk was previously tucked away near the hotel’s registration desk. Now, it’s front and center. By the way, 1906 is the year the hotel opened, originally as Hotel Nevada. Technically, the Miller Hotel. Long story.

The previous loyalty club desk has vanished through some kind of Las Vegas magic.

Golden Gate casino

“Las Vegas magic” is, technically, redundant.

Golden Gate’s interior design was done by Dez Motif, the architecture by Moser Architecture Studio.

The Golden Gate took the opportunity during its expansion to entirely replace and upgrade its sound system throughout the existing casino.

A good deal of the expansion won’t be readily visible to guests. On the casino’s second floor, a new beer distribution room is a sight to behold.

Golden Gate beer room

Golden Gate’s new beer chilling room distributes suds to the casino’s Prohibition Bar, as well as the casino’s outdoor bars, now with the help of gravity.

Still in the works is an upgraded outdoor bar, One Bar. When completed, the bar will be 20 feet longer. Translation: More slushy drinks for us.

Golden Gate casino

You can never have too much bar. It’s Vegas.

While the new casino area at Golden Gate made its debut on Aug. 25, 2017, the expansion’s official opening takes place Sep. 1, 2017, with the requisite hoopla.

Golden Gate has done a great job of creating a new space that feels modern (so many TVs), but which stays true to its old-school roots (dark wood and marble).

When you check it out, let us know what you think. We’ll be at the end of Prohibition Bar, not noticing the dancing dealers. At all.

Golden Gate Expansion Reveal

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Golden Gate Expansion Nears Completion, Here’s a First Peek Inside

Golden Gate’s expansion is in the home stretch, and we’ve got an exclusive look inside.

Golden Gate expansion

Dead center is where the 24-foot tower of televisions will be. No, we haven’t talked about that yet. We don’t live by society’s rules.

The expansion has been months in the making as Golden Gate has moved into the footprint of the former La Bayou casino.

The additional space will nearly double the size of Golden Gate’s casino floor, adding about 100 slot machines.

Golden Gate will close temporarily on Aug. 20, 2017 to complete the build-out, and the new space will officially debut on Aug. 25.

If you know anything about this blog, you know we’re not real big on waiting for things to “officially debut,” so we had to do a security breach, while adhering to all applicable laws, ordinances and safety regulations, of course.

Golden Gate expansion

We love that new slot machine smell.

During the closure, virtually the entire east wall of Golden Gate’s existing casino will come down to connect the new and old spaces.

A highlight of Golden Gate’s expansion will be a 24-foot tower of TVs, surrounded by hundreds of beveled mirrors.

The television “fountain” will sit inside a new entrance to the casino, with marble flooring and velvet drapes.

The opening of the new casino area and entrance will coincide with an expansion of the casino’s lucrative outdoor bar, One Bar. The bar will expand 20 feet.

Golden Gate expansion

There are fewer words in the English language we love more than “more bar.”

Another big change at Golden Gate will be the relocation of the casino’s loyalty club desk. To complete the finishing touches of the loyalty club and casino expansion, it’s rumored crews will work 108 hours straight during the casino closure to meet the Aug. 25 debut date.

We’re exhausted just typing that sentence.

Golden Gate loyalty club

This is where they’re going to keep the loyalty.

To celebrate the debut of the casino expansion, owners Derek and Greg Stevens will host a free concert by Better Than Ezra on Sep. 3 at 9:00 p.m. The concert is a late addition to the free summer concert series put on by Fremont Street Experience (where we work as our day gig in digital marketing).

Golden Gate has made the most of a fairly modest space, and the casino interior already gives off a welcoming vibe with its mix of modern and classic design elements, including dark wood accents we sort of want to rub our various body parts up against for some reason.

Golden Gate expansion

Golden Gate opened in 1906. Back in those days, slot machines paid jackpots in cobwebs.

The new space is already filling up with shiny new slot machines (no classics from the Riviera here), many of which were too tall to put in other areas of the casino due to the classic casino’s low ceilings.

Golden Gate’s expansion is a great excuse to stop by during your next visit, and make sure to check out the demolition site just across Fremont Street while you’re there.

Here’s a little-known fact related to Golden Gate: The hotel was home to the first telephone in Las Vegas (the phone number was “1”), but that’s not the little known fact. The little-known fact is about who got the second telephone in Las Vegas. Any guesses?

We’ll wait.

You’re going to love this.

Golden Gate (originally called Hotel Nevada) was owned by John F. Miller. The second telephone in Las Vegas was installed in his home, at the behest of Miller’s wife, Rosa. Who else do you think he’d call with the city’s first phone? Now you know!

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Downtown Grand Snafu Reaps Big Wins for Players

It’s a Las Vegas story almost too good to be true, but it happened, and it’s sure to become the stuff of casino legend.

Recently, an error in Downtown Grand’s loyalty club system resulted in thousands of dollars in unearned free play for customers and tens of thousands in losses for the downtown casino.

Here’s how it went down.

On Mother’s Day, May 14, 2017, guests using their player’s cards noticed something strange when they accessed their Downtown Grand Rewards loyalty club accounts.

Rather than the typical free play offered by the casino, customers realized they were being given hundreds of additional dollars in free play for no apparent reason.

Ultimately, a system glitch resulted in each slot player receiving nearly a thousand dollars in free play ($970, to be exact), irrespective of their previous level of play. Or, to put it into the parlance of casino management, “Aieeee.”

Downtown Grand $1,000 rebate

They weren’t kidding.

Word of the snafu spread quickly, with customers alerting friends and relatives by phone and text so they, too, could take advantage of the administrative fluke.

While casino free play has no cash value, players are allowed to keep winnings resulting from the use of free slot play.

Downtown Grand’s incident (most likely caused by human error, according to casino insiders) resulted in players cashing out for substantial sums as a result of the gaff.

There’s no way to know how many players took advantage of Downtown Grand’s mistake or how long the glitch was in effect before casino management rectified it, but it’s safe to say the casino took a hit for tens of thousands of dollars.

One customer inquired about the abnormally generous free play and a Downtown Grand employee claimed a similar aberration had transpired a week prior, but players had mistakenly received free play in the $100 range.

Downtown Grand

We totally got a photo release from this guy and his suspenders, so no worries.

While magical for gamblers, errors like the one at Downtown Grand can do serious damage to a casino’s bottom line. Casino computer systems are sophisticated, but remain vulnerable to human fallibility.

The good news is Downtown Grand seems to have found its footing in recent months. We’ve heard the resort’s room bookings are strong and there are plans to add more room inventory soon.

The resort has also announced it will transform a nearby parking structure into The Quad (don’t get us started about the name), an entertainment district featuring a tavern, concert venue and fitness center. Read more.

Downtown Grand The Quad

Yay, new.

Here’s a better look at the plans for The Quad at Downtown Grand.

So, here’s the question: If you realized you were getting a thousand dollars in free play you hadn’t earned, what would you do? Would you keep playing or report the error to casino officials?

Let us know. We’re a Las Vegas blog, so we won’t judge. Probably.

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SLS Las Vegas Tweaks Loyalty Club Program, Unveils Club 52

SLS Las Vegas has rebranded its player loyalty program following news the resort is being sold to Alex Meruelo and his Meruelo Group.

The casino’s new loyalty club was unveiled June 1, 2017, and is called Club 52.

While the casino hasn’t officially said what Club 52 refers to, we’ve heard the name reflects the fact the Sahara opened in 1952. SLS Las Vegas, of course, was the result of a massive renovation of that classic Las Vegas hotel-casino.

SLS Club 52

The number 52 not only represents the year Sahara opened, it’s also the number of cards in a deck. It can also represent analysis, introspection and adventure. We are not making this up.

Renaming the player’s club could very well be a hint the resort will undergo its own rebrand, potentially back to Sahara.

Which would quite possibly be the coolest thing, ever.

SLS chandelier

Vestiges of Sahara can be found throughout SLS, including this sweet chandelier made of Sahara door handles.

Fun fact: Keen-eyed reader Mike P. shared that the design flourish inside the Club 52 logo was often used in Sahara artwork and around the Sahara itself during its heyday.

Sahara Buddy Hackett

That’s some serious Vegas throwback action right there.

With the launch of Club 52 at SLS, the tiers and their associated benefits have been rejiggered.

The previous loyalty club, The Code, had tiers named Select, Premium, Elite and Legend.

Club 52 has Preferred, VIP, Elite and Legend.

The SLS Las Vegas Web site lays out the perks of the various Club 52 tiers.

Here’s a look at what play will get you what slot points and tier credits.

Code 52 tiers points

Thank you, screen grab technology, for helping us avoid having to type all this information.

There’s been quite a bit of speculation about what changes are coming to SLS Las Vegas following its sale later this year, including spectacularly insightful ideas like, “SLS needs more casino and convention customers.”

The hope is new ownership at SLS Las Vegas can help a great resort find its footing in a challenging location and keep the legacy of Sahara alive.

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Comp Drink Validation to Be Rolled Out to Thousands of Slots on Las Vegas Casinos Floors

Another tectonic shift is coming to Las Vegas casinos, and we’ve got an exclusive look at what’s in store.

Back in Sep. 2016, we first reported comp drink validation systems were being installed at all casino bars with video poker at Caesars Entertainment resorts.

The purpose of the comp drink validation systems is to ensure guests are playing enough to warrant free drinks. Getting free drinks, of course, is a longtime tradition in Las Vegas casinos.

The bartop drink validation system measures a guest’s rate of play, and shows a red light or green light to bartenders. Green light, you get your free drink. Red light, you need to either step up your play, or pay for your drink.

Caesars comped drinks

Blue means you’re gambling, green means you’re due a free drink, red means you’re SOL.

Reaction to our original story about comp validation systems was strong, made local and international news and was not especially positive.

In short order, though, just about everyone realized (including this blog) that such systems have no effect on the typical player. They merely serve to deter those who want something for nothing, and provide bartenders a tool to do what they’ve always done—provide free drinks based upon a guest’s rate and level of play.

Ardent drink validation system

These are the drink monitoring devices currently in use at casino bars with video poker machines. But wait, there’s more.

Now, the company that makes and installs the drink validation system for bartops, Las Vegas-based Ardent Progressive Systems & Games, is about to field test a variation of the system for slots across the entire casino floor.

Albert Tabola, an Account Executive with Ardent, says his company currently has developed the next generation of comp drink validation devices, and they’re poised to implement them in thousands of slot machines across casino floors throughout Las Vegas and beyond.

Here’s a first look.

Ardent comp validation system

This simple device is about to change everything.

“Gaming approval has been given, so now we’ll be able to move on to the casino floor machines,” says Tabola.

At the moment, the company has about 1,000 drink validation units on bartop video poker machines. Slots on the casino floor can number in the thousands, from about 1,000 in a smaller casino to upwards of 3,000 in a Strip resort.

The benefit to casinos is fairly obvious. Ardent says one of its casino clients has already saved $1 million in comped drink costs at a single location.

But is there a case to be made drink monitoring has benefits to customers as well?

Tabola and the casinos say “yes.”

For starters, Tabola says his company’s Comp Anywhere comp validation system “will hopefully eliminate some of the arguments and headaches the cocktail waitresses encounter.” Customers looking for freebies without playing have long been a frustration for front line casino employees.

Giving cocktail servers a tool to easily determine if a player has earned a comp could dramatically speed up drink service for gamblers. We would be a huge fan of that particular outcome.

Las Vegas cocktail waitress

Not gonna lie, we were sort of just looking for an excuse to share photos of a Las Vegas cocktail waitress.

Drink validation systems have already proven useful in deterring customers from taking up machines they’re not playing.

“If you’ve been in a casino, you know them, you’ve seen them,” says Ardent’s Tabola. “They play a penny, then sit and wait for the cocktail waitress. We’re trying to solve the operator’s problem of players trying to get something for nothing.”

While Tabola acknowledges some guests are resistant to the use of validation technology, he’s seen reactions evolve as staffers and customers become accustomed to the machines.

“The feedback from casino staff has changed dramatically since the machines were first rolled out. I remember when we first installed these, the bartenders said, ‘This is just another whip you’re cracking on me,’ but after two to three months, they’ve said, ‘This is actually really great, I love this because it lets me clear my bar out of the people that are taking up space.”

The bottom line is there are lots of places to spend time in a casino, but machines are intended for those who are gambling.

Elvis slots

If you can get used to Elvis with a fanny pack, you can adjust to comp drink validation systems on the casino floor.

So, business and philosophy aside, what rate of play does it take to keep the drinks flowing?

On the current machines, it’s about $4-5 “coin-in” per minute. That can sound daunting until you break it down.

Tabola clarifies, “That’s not as much as it sounds. If you’re playing max bet on a video poker machine, that’s $1.25 a hand. So, if you play four hands every minute, then you’re fine. Typically, they’re playing 15-20 hands a minute.”

He says, “As an example, out of every $20 you play, let’s say the ‘hold’ is 10%, so the casino gets to keep $2. Well, if it costs them .80 for a beer, for a couple of beers, that’s $1.60 out of that $2. That leaves .40 to pay for the salaries, the benefits and everything else. That’s not a lot.”

This is typically the point in our drink monitoring stories when people scream, “Everything is ruined. No more free drinks in Las Vegas!” Ironically, comp drink validation systems may just have the opposite effect.

They may actually save the tradition of free drinks in casinos.

comp validation systems

It’s worth saying again, with a calming blue graphic.

“In the end,” says Tabola, “it’s not that casinos don’t want to give comped drinks, they want to do that. This gives them a way to measure that out and get those drinks to the right people.”

He concludes, “This technology helps make it feasible for the casinos to continue to provide complimentary beverages and not see them say ‘we’re not doing this any more at all because we can’t control the costs.'”

It’s what Vegas insiders have known for some time. Las Vegas casinos are taking a long, hard look at all their loss-leaders, and everything is up for grabs, including free drinks.

Slot machines

Back in the day, comped drinks were an incentive. Now, they’re a reward.

On a related note: Our feeling for some time has been that the practice of comped drinks should end in casinos altogether. We have a fondness for a particular brand of liquor, and we can rarely, if ever, get it on the casino floor because of an insidious and widespread practice we call the liquor brand swap. Ending comped drink service would mean we could just pay for our drink at the table, and we’d get the liquor we actually ordered.

In any event, comped drink validation machines aren’t just the future, they’re here and they’re on their way to Las Vegas casino floors.

Slot machines

Most players won’t even know a drink monitoring system is in place. A light will show a cocktail waitress your rate of play from 10 feet away.

The light colors on the card-reading bezels have yet to be determined (so we may not be able to use “red light, green light” as short hand for the practice), but Tabola says once field testing is complete, installation of the devices can be done “fairly quickly.”

Ultimately, free drinks in casinos have never truly been free. They’re paid for by gambling.

Soon, casino staffers won’t have to guess if you’re playing enough to warrant a free drink, the process will be automated. And that’s the biggest change in the culture and business of Las Vegas casinos in recent memory, with the potential for an even greater financial impact than paid parking.

We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Update (5/3/17): Thanks to KTNV here in Las Vegas for a great segment inspired by our story.

Update (5/2/18): KTNV did a follow-up story as a 90-machine test starts in Laughlin.

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First Skill-Based Slot Machines in Las Vegas Debut, Here’s the Low-Down

Skill-based slot machines, the subject of much buzz and speculation over the last couple of years, have officially arrived in a Las Vegas casino.

The first skill-based slot machines in Las Vegas can now be played at Planet Hollywood, and we’ve got all the details about what casinos are hoping will help deal with “The Millennial Problem.”

Gamblit skill-based slot machines

Welcome to Las Vegas, you sexy, skill-based vixens, you.

The Millennial Problem, of course, is the belief on the part of casinos and slot machine makers that traditional slots are “losing their luster,” especially with younger customers, specifically, millennials. While the number of millennials visiting Las Vegas is going up (roughly 34 percent of the city’s 43 million visitors in 2016 were millennials, an increase of 24 percent since 2015), casinos cite a decline in slot machine play as evidence millennials raised on video games don’t find traditional slot machines compelling.

There’s some debate about whether The Millennial Problem actually exists, but damn it, casinos are out to solve it whether it exists or not. That’s where skill-based slot machines enter the picture.

Why, look, here’s one now. This is one of three skill-based slot machines at Planet Hollywood.

skill-based slot machine

If you’re a millennial, your nether region should be throbbing right about now.

Of the three games being tested on the casino floor at Planet Hollywood (the machines have to pass a field trial before regulatory approval can be granted), two are Gamblit Poker and the third is a game called Cannonbeard’s Treasure.

The first distinctive thing you notice about these skill-based games is you can’t play with yourself. Yes, we know how that sounds, we are a snark-based Las Vegas blog.

The machines can accommodate up to four players each, but not individual players.

It should be noted the machines currently won’t take loyalty club cards, in case you’re into that kind of thing.

Here’s how they work.

Gamblit Poker is a variation of (wait for it) poker. Players “grab” cards from a common pool of cards, building a hand of five cards. The player with the best hand wins the jackpot, the amount of which is determined by the machine.

Cannonbeard’s Treasure is a variation of blackjack. Players, again, grab cards from a pool of cards. The cards are added up, and the player whose card total is closest to the target number (without going over) wins the pot.

Here’s a look at how the simulated game play looks on the machines, courtesy of us risking our neck to get video of how the simulated game play looks on these machines.

A key element of skill-based machines, and what differentiates them from traditional slot machines, is customers aren’t playing against the machine (or a dealer), they’re playing against each other. The outcome is based upon skill, rather than chance alone.

Mind, meet blown.

So, let’s dig a bit deeper into the pros and cons of Gamblit Poker and Cannonbeard’s Treasure.

First, a big pro of these games is the low price to play. There’s a $2 Gamblit Poker and Cannonbeard’s Treasure is also $2. There’s also a $5 Gamblit Poker.

Second, the competitive and social aspects of skill-based games are undeniable. Traditional slot machines are solitary endeavors. With skill-based games, you can hang out with friends and do your best to relieve them of their hard-earned cash.

Observing people play skill-based slots, it’s easy to see how one’s competitive instincts can kick in, keeping players engaged and playing longer than they might otherwise.

Interactivity certainly does seem to be more appealing than staring blankly at a screen while repeatedly hitting a button.

skill-based slot machine

This is Cannonbeard’s Treasure. They had us as “each player gets not one, but two, cup holders.”

The biggest twist in this whole story, though, is millennials aren’t actually the ones playing skill-based games, at least not the ones at Planet Hollywood. Millennials are curious about the machines, but they’re hit-and-run looky-loos, rarely playing more than $20 a pop.

Truth be told, we didn’t see a ton of play on these machines at all. But when people played, they weren’t millennials. Who’s playing skill-based slots? Slot players. That’s right, older players who already enjoy slot machines. A representative of Gamblit confirmed millennials aren’t the majority of those playing skill-based slots.

That ought to give casino operators more than a few restless nights.

While play on the machines appears light, there’s obviously going to be a period when awareness of the games has to be raised. At Planet Hollywood, a small sign tells customers they can actually gamble on these tables. Most would mistake them for similar interactive, touchscreen tables like those in several Las Vegas lounges like Ignite at Monte Carlo, Encore Players Lounge at Wynn and iBar Ultra Lounge at Rio.

The new games are simply lost among the crop of current slot machines, many with massive vertical screens.

skill-based slot machines

Not gonna lie, we’re missing you a little right now, Quark’s Bar.

Those who did play the games seemed to spend a lot of time just sitting and drinking and talking. Which is great if you’re trying to increase revenue from drinks, but not so much if you’re trying to make money from gambling. At a table game, dealers and other players keep the pressure on to make more bets. The social aspect of skill-based games actually distracts from the gambling.

A critical downside to these games, though, has to do with perceived value.

As players make bets, the machine serves up the amount of the jackpot they’re trying to win. In the vast majority of cases, the jackpot is less than the players are contributing.

For example, we saw a couple sit down to play Gamblit Poker. They each bet $5, for a total contribution of $10. The jackpot was $7.50. They had fun playing, but the next pot was the same, ditto the one after that. It didn’t take the couple long to realize they were getting dinged a $2.50 “rake” with each passing hand.

The rake accumulates, similar to the jackpots in progressive machines. Part of the rake goes to the machine manufacturer, and the manufacturer has a revenue sharing agreement with the casino. We’ve yet to see any published information about the house edge for these games.

While the potential for larger jackpots is there (the max jackpot on the $5 machine is $1,200, $480 on the $2 machine), the couple cashed out and dashed. A Gamblit rep says the biggest jackpots happen several times each hour, but the perception problem means many players won’t be sticking around that long.

Presumably, though, the more play the machine gets, the more frequently the larger jackpots (considerably more than what the players are betting at any time) will hit.

There are some other peculiar aspects to these skill-based games.

For starters, we were told there will always be an attendant with the games. Why? Because they have to monitor the play to avoid collusion and bullying. We were told there’s the potential for experienced players, or teams, to take advantage of novice players. Essentially, there’s room for cheating.

A smaller annoyance, but one that’s undeniable, is the table surfaces require constant cleaning. Nobody wants to touch a screen that has hand smudges all over it, so attendants have to continually spritz and wipe the screens. High maintenance is right.

skill-based slot machines

Gamblit calls these skill-based slot machines “ModelG.” Find the ModelG spot near the Pleasure Pit, if you get our drift.

Overall, these new skill-based slot machines are a great conversation piece, and any “first” is a great PR opportunity.

It’s premature to say, though, skill-based slot machines are going to halt or reverse the decline of slot revenue trends. In fact, we’re going to venture they’ll have little or no effect on those numbers. Oh, yeah, we’re putting our naysaying right out there.

Gamblit officials have said they’re happy with the early results of their field test, but honestly, what would you expect them to say?

Here’s the bottom line, and it’s something you won’t hear often.

The fact is millennials are smarter than previous generations.

Millennials know more about gambling than their parents or grandparents ever did.

They know casinos have been gradually increasing the house edge for 20 years, and what millennials aren’t particularly interested in is being screwed. Shocker.

Millennials aren’t a thing, they’re people. People who happen to be technologically adept. People who value experiences. They’re people who know when the deck is stacked against them, and know when they’re being squeezed. They want value for their entertainment dollars, just like the rest of us.

Here’s how you solve The Millennial Problem. Lower the rake. Lower the minimums. Bring comped drinks more frequently. Let people take photos in the casino to share with friends.

The Millennial Problem isn’t a slot machine problem or a disposable income problem. It’s a perceived value problem.

And here’s hoping casinos are listening, because giving customers, young and old, better value and remarkable experiences is the solution. All due respect, Cannonbeard.

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