Gaming Profile -- Scott Kreeger, VP/GM Santa Fe
If someone told you that they were going to have a hotel-casino in Las Vegas without a buffet, and an ice rink, chances are you'd think they were nuts. But when I brought this up to Scott Kreeger, vice president and general manager of Santa Fe Station, he just gave me that cat-that-ate-the-canary look. And for good reason.
Despite what some experts would consider a blueprint for disaster, Santa Fe has gone from a so-so property to a thriving money-maker in the almost three years that Stations bought it from it's previous owner. Interestingly enough, Kreeger, a graduate of UNLV's hotel school, was sent to the newly-owned Santa Fe Station as assistant general manager to help in the transition.
Kreeger began his hotel-casino career at The Mirage, working his way up to the position of Director of Slot Operations in marketing. He was then moved to Treasure Island where he took on the expanded role of overall marketing. "I wanted to get into local casinos," he said, "so I joined Station Casinos." Following the stint at the Santa Fe, Kreeger moved back to corporate offices where he became vice president of gaming development, creating loyalty programs and installing new slot systems at all the properties. He created programs like Extra Play Cash, Bounce Back, and its newest promotion, Jumbo Jackpot, that debuted April 1.
"I really enjoyed it, but I wanted to get back into the individual properties, so I went to Texas Station for six months as assistant GM, then got the opportunity to come back to Santa Fe as GM. It was like coming home again."
As for making changes, Kreeger says, "I don't think you can ever come into an existing facility and change it 100 percent. When it comes right down to it, the players, the culture of the casino, makes up a large percentage of what the casino really is. So you can change all of the decor and the aesthetics, but you still have the people and their culture within the casino.
"We came in and literally redid the place from a cosmetic and decor standpoint. That was first thing. But the culture of the customer remained the same -- kind of family-oriented, coming-home kind of small casino feel, which was a little bit different than the way Stations operates. At Santa Fe, that culture remains, but around a much improved product. Relationships with our players, strong team members, and comfortable environment.
Kreeger said that Santa Fe has grown with the community. "Since we took over the property we've had over $90 million in improvements, not including the parking garage. Growth at this point is very rapid. The challenge for me is to make sure that the change is not rapid. My ultimate goal for this property is to appeal to all age groups and guests and player types.
"The challenge in doing that is that on the two spectrums, they don't always see eye to eye. You have to integrate all of these amenities and expectations of each segment. We're doing that and I think we break paradigms here on a monthly basis."
The property recently added Louie Louie to its Green Room, which, says Kreeger, "has proven overwhelmingly successful and has added a demographic that wasn't really in here before. So each little step we take to speaking to a wide range of guests is a fun step and is the evolution not only of the property, but of the surrounding area.
"Right now, we've got a lot of exciting things happenings. Cabo Cantina, located next to the Memphis Championship Barbecue, opened Cinco de Mayo weekend. It seats more than 200, has a private dining room for small parties and events, and a circular bar featuring flair bartenders. We are planning another steak and seafood house that would be a bit upscale from our present steakhouse, Taos, but not at the level of Austin's at Texas Station.
The coffee shop, which now includes Capri, the former Italian restaurant, is going to be redesigned and will feature a bake shop and what Kreeger describes as an "amazing variety of items." October is the target opening date.
There's also big news for race and sports bettors. The book has been expanded and given a complete facelift, including individual TV monitors at every seat. It also features 50- and 60-inch plasma screens behind the betting windows; a new sound system; new, more comfortable seating; and an 18-seat private VIP area for race bettors. There will also be covered parking for the 18 players.
But did it make sense to take out slot machines to expand the sports book? It wouldn't seem to, but Kreeger said that the Santa Fe sports book "is through the roof and is a huge part of our overall business and revenue. I think a lot of it has to do with ease of entrance and we're finding phenomenal success, and more than anything, in our race book, so we're fast becoming the place to be if you're a horse bettor. We intend to capitalize on what has become a huge revenue center for us."
The Rewards Center space, taken over by the expanded book, was moved to the ice arena area and features a private window for President and Platinum card members, as well as special seating for them.
The bingo room is getting all new furniture, and the bowling alley is in for a facelift. A new fun area, called the Party Pit, has also been created for blackjack players. Six tables are decorated with balloons and dealers are dressed up as anybody's guess. The purpose is to create a fun atmosphere, said Kreeger.
"Next year," he said, "we would like to see an upgrade and remodel of our hotel rooms, and eventually, we do need to look at the master plan of the facility. Station Casinos has hopes that the surrounding area will support an expansion at some point of their overall gaming area.
A unique item at Santa Fe is its hockey rink. "I'm learning more and more about the hockey business," Kreeger said, "and what I've found is that the hockey business draws a lot of out-of-state visitation. For six months of the year, the ice is completely booked with leagues from all over the country and other countries. We have a very active hockey program for the community as well, so all of that is a big part of our business. Because of that, you need amenities and we'd like to have the hotel rooms to support that."
Kreeger said he would also like to see Santa Fe cater more to the golf destinations. "There are a number of golf courses within a five-mile radius that are quality courses and we should take advantage of that."
Another unique feature, or actually a non-feature, is the lack of a buffet, something almost unheard of in the industry here. "If you're going to have a buffet, you have to do it right. It's too competitive an amenity to do halfway. The physical structure of the facility doesn't afford us the opportunity to do it right. Secondly, we think we can provide our guests an individual experience that's very comparable from a price-value standpoint. That's why our cafe will have an unbelievable variety of items and large portions -- to satisfy our guests so they don't miss a buffet."
In the end, however, Kreeger admits that "we're in the slot machine business. Right now, on the weekends, I wish we had more slots. Give me that parking lot out there and another parking garage for convenient parking and I'll be set to go.
"I operate off of one group of principles at this facility. Have a clean, safe and comfortable facility and from a service standpoint, be friendly, be responsive. You hear those words a lot, and lots of people say them, but we truly feel it's out competitive advantage out here."
When asked what makes a good GM, Kreeger said: "It's really easy. You have to listen to two groups of people. Your team members and your guests. Being a GM is all about taking those two areas of feedback and deciding from a priority standpoint, which items to address first. They will tell you exactly what you need to do."
Although there are a great number of benefits in operating as a brand, Kreeger said, "there are dangers as well, and the dangers go back to not listening to your team members and your guests and making decisions in a vacuum. I've never worked for a company that understands their guests, from a senior level, better than Station casinos. The senior executives in this company understand, right down to the gut level, what it is the guest wants and what it is the team member wants.
"To say there's a big segmentation between brands and autonomous properties, it's not that big of a gap with Stations because we're all pretty much on the same page. Every one of our senior executives can walk into any of our six Station brands and our other affiliate brands, and know the names of the majority of the people and not only their names, but who they are. That's pretty amazing. It makes it easier for me because my bosses know what I'm talking about when I approach them with something."
(Shortly after this interview was conducted, Scott Kreeger took over the same duties at Station Casino's newest property, Green Valley Ranch).
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