Postscript: Downtown Grand
I stayed at Downtown Grand recently with my wife. We were attending a family event nearby and I wanted to give it a try. This isn't a review of DTG but I have some thoughts and I think it relates to SLS because they'll have to avoid the same sorts of problems.
In short, I can't imagine staying at Downtown Grand again unless things change.
I was expecting my wife to like it. When it comes to Fremont-area casinos, the things she misses most from The Strip are 24-hour room service and a spa. Downtown Grand has neither but they do have a hokey take-out program from some of their restaurants which is more than you can say about most other non-Nugget Downtown locations. Turns out, she kinda hated it, cememted by a 2am Friday night text message saying 'This place sucks'.
So, why didn't she like it? It was a people problem. First, there weren't enough customers in the casino itself to reach any sort of critical mass - it feels really dead inside. Second, clearly related to the first point, there's not enough staff to serve the place. Cocktail service was terribly slow, I think I saw a single waitress for the whole casino floor. The center bar was completely untended at both times we tried to get a drink and Art Bar's guy was sweeping up in a corner of the lobby when I walked up. Overall, it wasn't that the employees were surly or badly behaved, there just weren't enough of them for the (meager) crowd.
Beyond service issues, I noted a myriad malfunctions and seemingly un-forced errors. The shower has this bizarre configuration with a half-glass panel covering part of it but no sliding door. That means there's a cold draft and water spills out on to the floor. Way to save $50 guys - next time, get the whole door.
Elevator stops aren't labeled (there are two distinct ground destinations), resulting in me overhearing the same confused conversation on every single trip down and many guests wandering in the wrong direction. A missed opportunity to feed people through the casino.
The new Mob Bar, located in an isolated corner of the property, has zero signage when it's actually open - the decal is on the back side of the door, hidden when operating. The bartender there told us no one ever comes in and practically begged us to come back later that night. We didn't.
Downtown Grand makes it easy for you to leave - you can text your valet ticket number and your car is waiting for you when you get there. Worked perfectly for us over the course of three pickups. Very nice.
This was mentioned at VT10 but it is absolutely true - from Fremont Street, it's entirely unclear that the place wants your business. The benefit of two giant hotel-tower billboards is erased by inept marketing materials. How about a giant arrow that says Jackpots Available Here. I've heard talk of people walking to the Mob Museum and not even realizing there's a casino inside. Downtown Grand is the nicest place nobody visits.
Perhaps both most annoying - and pathetic - is what they're doing on 3rd Street, the private lane that bisects the two hotel towers. Clearly, they are hoping they can turn it into some sort of street-fair type atmosphere. In reality, it's a disaster. On the Saturday we were there, they hosted a Hawaiian cultural celebration that brought in about 75 people who sat outside the whole time and consumed no casino amenities... Oh, but it was plenty loud in our room (afternoon nap was a no-go thanks to the super loud music). This is on top of the sad little booths for face painting and the like they setup that literally had more employees than patrons, all day long.
The guest room walls at Downtown Grand are extremely thin - beyond the music, we heard every argument our neighbors had. It really sucked. I understand that old buildings are hard to deal with but please don't make it worse with endless bass from downstairs, especially when it's not benefiting your guests.
What playbook is Downtown Grand using? It doesn't seem to be the Fremont Street edition, because that would mean joining the Fremont Street Experience. Yes, membership fees are expensive but that's the cost of doing business. You give and you get - access to successful co-marketing agreements and some say in having the crucial 3rd street plaza transformed from a business killing dead zone into something fun.
Is it the Wynn playbook? Given CEO Seth Schorr's pedigree, you could imagine that, though I think even limited exposure has shown that's folly: you can't do Strip-stuff Downtown, it doesn't work - people just go to The Strip.
Lastly, I wondered if they were maybe copying some of Station's plays - trying to attract locals to big jackpots and a free or cheap meal. One look at the billboards that dominate I-15 made that obvious - if they are going that way, they're doing a very bad job. The Downtown Grand billboards I saw were designed in such a way it was very unclear who the billboard was even advertising for. Compare this to any Station billboard where the casino name is front and center in clear type.
For what it's worth, I didn't see CEO Schorr on property all weekend. He did post some nice photos to Twitter from New York City though. I'd imagine that a new casino, successful or not, requires daily visits during the first months as the property is tuned. Looking at LinkedIn, it appears Vegas Gang's 2013 VIMFP guest Zach Conine and supposed right-hand is no longer with Fifth Street Gaming. What happened? Will Schorr be next off a sinking ship?
CIM Group spent a lot of money building a nice spot that predictably has a bunch of post-opening flaws. They're fixable but it'll take at least a few million extra bucks to straighten them out. Right now, it appears to be a classic example of a place opening the doors but not actually having enough cash to operate the right way. It's not yet fatal but they're on the precipice. Pizza Rock is still pretty epic.
Hopefully SLS won't end up in the same spot. If they can operate lean for a couple of years and still deliver what customers want, they might confound expectations. I'd love to go back to 2011 and tell myself I was way wrong. Can't wait to see it live in September.
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