b>June 21, 2001
Gaming Profile -- Jonathan Swain
Palace Station, the flagship property of Station Casinos, Inc. is celebrating its 25th anniversary, faced with increased competition for both the locals and tourist market. Lasvegas.com columnist Len Butcher sat down with Jonathan Swain, vice-president and general manager of Palace Station, to discuss the property's plans and posturing in the new millennium.
LB: You're coming into an old property that faces tough competition from both the Strip and local hotel/casinos. Are there changes you would like to make quickly, or do you concentrate on improving what is already in place?
JS: Our short-term goal is to look at niches in the market where we can grow revenue. You can cut expenses only so much, then you have to go out and look for new business. What we've done is to try and identify specific areas where we can go out and encapture new players who have been going to other properties.
LB: Have you had any success with that up to this point?
JS: Definitely. For instance, what we call the "Pit 8" our Asian gaming pit in the casino. We designed a gaming area specifically targeted to Asian players, with their games, with people that speak their language with the food they like, with all the accoutrements that make a pit like that successful. This was a very targeted approach to new business, rather than going out and doing more and more promotion and more and more spending on general mass marketing of Palace Station.
LB: How successful has it been and why the name Pit 8?
JS: Well, the name stems from the fact that the number 8 is a lucky number for Asians. As for how successful, we started it March 2 of this year with one game of Pai Gow and it has expanded to eight games of Pai Gow poker, one game of Pai Gow Tile, two mini-Baccarat tables and one Blackjack table. It more than doubled our projections, so it has been a very pleasant surprise for us.
LB: One problem I see for Palace Station is that you are both a tourist and locals property simply because of location, being just off the freeway, close to the Strip, but with easy access for locals. How difficult is it to plan your marketing in order to reach both groups?
JS: We have departments that are targeted toward both areas, but the benefit of being a locals property is that good quality food at inexpensive prices and loose slot machines is something that tourists are going to appreciate as well. It's more difficult being a Strip operator, where you have higher prices, tighter slot machines and trying to attract locals. It is more difficult to try to market toward two different audiences. It takes more time and you only have X amount of resources.
LB: As you know, entertainment, dining, attractions and shopping have become big drawing powers for Las Vegas properties. Any plans to add something to this mix to try and attract new customers?
JS: Well, for starters, we have just opened a comedy club called Laugh Trax, which we never had and is the only comedy club in a hotel off the Strip. Our location gives us an advantage because we can package the comedy club with our rooms to attract tourists, which adds value to our rooms. But we can also give locals an opportunity to see Strip-quality comedians at less than Strip prices, at a location that is more conveniently located. As well, the room itself, physically, is better than any comedy club room in town. So far, it's gone over very well.
LB: Was the comedy club part of your plan to find what you described earlier as niches in the market, or is it also a plan to try and attract a younger audience?
JS: The way the club is set up, Wednesday and Thursday nights, the comedy is skewed a little bit for a 50s to 60s' audience. On Friday and Saturday nights we have a younger group of comedians, with a musical host, who appeal to a younger audience. We segmented it this way to make sure we cater to our loyal 50- to 60-year-old slot customer, and at the same time, make it attractive for a younger, new customer.
LB: Any plans on the horizon that would give a new look to Palace Station?
JS: We're about to launch a new concept for one of our lounges which will be pretty unique to this market. We're keeping it under wraps but we are about halfway through four or five key projects that we think will help us differentiate ourselves. We're looking at opening the lounge on Labor Day weekend.
LB: What are some of the drawbacks in taking over a property such as this? It's old, not that large, no attractions and has competition from both the Strip and local properties?
JS: Our biggest drawback right now is construction, but we will be taking down the power poles out front and leveling Carrows restaurant which will make the front more presentable. But overall, the biggest challenge is to keep the name Palace Station fresh in the minds of the customer. You have to keep them coming back with your strengths, but also with something fresh and new. It's a little like Caesars Palace, which has that old brand name, but then places like Bellagio and Paris open and people tend to forget about it for awhile. Then they ask, "What about Caesars Palace? What have they done?" Well, they've done a lot. They've added a lot, expanded and continue to do so, and I think that's what you're going to find here. There will be expansion and bringing the property up to a level that can compete with any property in Las Vegas. It's an exciting time and the future looks bright.
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