Jul 26, 2015
Is Simms the Answer?
Let's face it: Downtown Grand has not been doing terribly well since they've opened. David McKee, in his Las Vegas Advisor Stiffs & Georges blog, referred to it as an, "Identity Crisis."
The Downtown Grand was previously known as the Lady Luck Casino, which closed in early 2006 for remodeling. The process was originally scheduled to take nine-twelve months, but the financing for the project collapsed and the property was purchased in early 2007 for 100 million dollars.
The new owners, CIM Group, apparently didn't see much profit potential for the property as it was not opened until late 2013, and that after much arm-wrenching by the city. During this time, the property had been referred to as a, "Blight," and a, "Carcass," by various city leaders.
The Downtown Grand completed the renovations and opened in November 2013. Realizing that the old Lady Luck had likely been long since forgotten about, one of the components of the Downtown Grand's marketing strategy was to become an Ascend Collection hotel with the Choice Hotels franchise. This strategy gave them access to the Choicehotels.com booking network and, as a result, made them the only casino hotel marketed by Choice Hotels International.
Having stayed there, I can say that the rooms are immaculate, of course, they should be given the fact that they are all newly renovated. However, as I sit here a year and a half later, I'd be hard-pressed to describe the gaming floor.
The Downtown Grand has a number of excellent dining choices, ranging in price from casual to fine dining and offers a ton of great values. The main problem with Downtown Grand, during my stay, was that there is absolutely nothing remotely memorable about the property except, "Yeah, the rooms are really nice." How do I know? Well, as the LVA Article reported, the gaming floor is being outperformed by rooms and dining!
Jim Simms is the new sheriff in Downtown as CEO of Downtown Grand Casino, and I should be somewhat familiar with seeing his work in action, as he was long-time President and General Manager of Wheeling Island Hotel, Casino, Racetrack.
Jim Simms came in and immediately recognized some problems, "The fact that we are two minutes away from Fremont is a long two minutes."
He said that there is nothing visually to pull in any of that Fremont Street traffic, and with that, I couldn't agree more. In fact, walking back from a visit to the El Cortez on the morning I checked out...of Downtown Grand...I actually had some trouble locating the property that I had just left! Honestly, the place is about as dynamic as a nickel sitting in a pile of quarters, you might spot it eventually.
When Wheeling Island was struggling, Jim Simms came up with two deals that really started to right the ship in terms of generating loyalty and getting new players to the property. The first thing that he did (and, remember, this place doesn't have Vegas level competition) is that all new players club members get $20 Free Play. The second thing he did was come up with the Hot Hotel Deals program, by which a player earning 200 points in one day ($1,000 coin-in) gets a free room Sunday-Thursday that month, and it can be earned once a week.
I think that we can probably expect better offers from Downtown Grand given the competition, as of the time of this writing, they are offering a $1,000 loss rebate for new Members. The point of the matter is that Jim Simms is a guy who can identify strengths and weaknesses in a property and actually turn weaknesses into strengths.
Why would I say that? The answer is that Jim Simms recognized that Wheeling Island had no problem filling rooms on Friday and Saturday, so even if you give rooms away during the week for what some would consider very little play, you're at least filling some rooms and those who get the rooms are going to gamble a bit.
Within a short period of time, the Island went from having ALL table games scheduled to be closed at 1:00a.m. throughout the week to basing it off of demand. It's not unusual for Blackjack to go all night long through the week, these days. Is that a huge improvement? Perhaps not huge, but any improvement is an improvement.
Furthermore, with the New Member Free Play, at one point when guests of other hotels might ask what there was to do in the area, at the end of the list there might be a muttered, "Oh yeah, there's a casino too, it's okay, I guess." Now, front desk clerks at many of the area hotels tell people that they'll get $20 Free Play if they have not had a player's club card there and at least sound a little animated about the casino.
It's true that these are small steps, but Jim Simms isn't the type of guy that thinks these things are going to correct themselves overnight.
Prior to Simms coming to Downtown Grand, one other problem they had was the price point. It was very clear that they were trying to target the Golden Nugget clientele, but they didn't have that much backing it up, least of all, the location.
As of the time of this writing, though, it looks like they are also changing that with excellent direct booking prices. They are currently offering certain nights for $27/night, (not counting the Grand Experience Fee) and if you book two nights, you get 10% off and a $25 food & beverage credit. That's essentially buy one get one, because with the restaurant options, you definitely won't mind eating there.
Golden Nugget's lowest rooms on the dead days this Summer seem to range from $49-$69 per night, and if there are any package deals offered, that is not immediately apparent from their website.
The only issue I take with Simms is that he is quoted in the Las Vegas Sun as saying, "The thing that amazes me about downtown is, we’ve all heard about downtown being the cool place to go, but the pricing structure is still stuck in the 1970s. Everybody still discounts as if we’re offering an inferior product."
Well, Jim, compared to The Strip, you kind of are. I mean, the Downtown Grand is a very nice renovated property with positively immaculate rooms, but it's not the Mandalay Bay, the Wynn, Caesar's Palace....the list goes on.
Downtown is the cool place to go BECAUSE it is not the Strip, and because the prices are not Strip prices. It's also important to note that the rates are going to be held down by the fact that there is so much competition for the hotel business Downtown and because comparable properties are offering excellent values, as well. I would suggest that, for many people, you have to convince them that Downtown is a huge value compared to the Strip just to get them to stay there.
Jim Simms succeeded at Wheeling Island Hotel, Casino, Racetrack because he figured out a way to take what he was given, (not much, except a very solid hotel product) and make the most out of it. He knew what the market was, he knew what the casino was, and he operated within the confines of what he could or could not do to great success. Downtown Grand will have a chance at long-term success if Jim Simms works within the confines of what Downtown Vegas is, because Downtown Grand is not going to be the catalyst that changes the entire rate structure Downtown or the guests that frequent it.
I typically stay on the strip but will spend 1/2 or 1 day of a trip downtown for some better gambling value. I passed through the DTG because it was on the way between the Mob Museum and wherever I happened to be going next. We noticed it was nice and new but the gambling floor kind of felt like a warehouse with minimal décor and not a good variety of games.
When looking for budget gambling I typically want PGP at $10 minimum, UTH at $5, or 0.25 9/6 JOB. If I can find any of those in a decent environment I will stop and pay for a while. Many properties downtown will give this to me, and I have even found $5 UTH at Caesars Palace on the strip, which most would consider a high end property. The DTG, on a weekday during the day, had nothing of interest to me.
The other way they could get me in the door would be to offer some sort of destination restaurant. I haven't heard any buzz about great food at DTG.
I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed breakfast at Stewart & Ogden's with rye toast and a spinach omelet. Although, I'd be neglectful not to mention that it was a $22 breakfast, and if I hadn't had a food & beverage credit with my room, there's no way I would pay that for one breakfast.
Even though I haven't seen much about it, for great food DT, I highly recommend The D Grill on the second floor of The D.
I think, "Warehouse," is the perfect word to describe the appearance and feel of the gaming floor, a word I've been missing for awhile, so thanks for that!
We spent quite a bit of time at the Downtown Grand in late June (2015) because of the Slot Rebate for new members. I liked the atmosphere, style, ambiance, AND the fact that it was not crowded. That was on a Friday afternoon and evening. I would rate the drink service as outstanding, I suspect due to the fact that the servers could make their rounds quickly.
So I can see where you are coming from with your article. No one mentioned the places to eat to us, although there was ample time at the Slot Club during our sign-up. We might have given it a try, but it didn't really occur to us, and we had had a big lunch at Red Rock in the early afternoon before we drove downtown. Now that I think about it, I don't remember what we did for dinner. (Mrs Q may remember, but she isn't home right now).
I hope we get some hotel offers, and if we do, we would definitely consider staying there for at least part of our next trip, or the one after that. I did find it interesting that during this trip to Vegas, the Horse racing game was working at the "D" on Fremont St, but it was out-of-service for multiple days at the MGM Grand.
From one of the articles you referenced:
Las Vegas Sun - Q: Itís a challenge to drive gambling downtown these days, isnít it?
CEO Jim Simms - A: Yes, and our gaming product is great, but weíre not getting the volume we want.
Well, from VPFREE2, I think this is "good" but certainly not "great", especially for downtown:
Based on participating in the slot rebate promo, I came away with the impression that the slot pay-backs had really been tightened up to prepare for the promo. I don't have any way of knowing that for sure, but if it has, I think it would be hard to attract and KEEP slot players at the Downtown Grand. Hopefully I am wrong about their slot paybacks.
Is there any way to format the post responses better ?
I tried to insert a line to break up my thoughts into small paragraphs, but they don't post that way.
Thanks for all the comments! I'll pass it along about it not adding the line breaks for the Article responses.
Honestly, those are really pretty crappy VP paytables for Downtown. There are a few casinos on the Strip or near Strip (SLS comes to mind, but there are others) that do better than that.
As far as the Tables go, I don't there's really any great draw to the gaming product once you're inside, but as Mr. Simms pointed out, right now they need to focus on GETTING people inside.
Quick drink service is obviously a huge plus, but as you mentioned, you want that to be because your staff levels are sufficient...not because you're dead on a Friday in the Summer.
AND I didn't think their parking garage was that nice. Sure, it's an old building, but at least keep the stairwells clean and nice. Convenient, yes. Nice, not so much. I am optimistic that we will get some nice room offers. We put through a lot of "coin" on the Slots even though we were doing that in conjunction with the slot loss rebate.
M146: When I posted a reply, I got a weird "Error 404" message. Which is how I ended up posting my first comment twice. I wonder if anyone else is seeing that.