Atlantic City has finally reopened along with some new rules and regulations. Not only have certain casinos banned smoking, and drinking for the time being, but there are also limits in elevators in order to social distance. URComped CEO, Craig Shacklett, interviews Mr. AC Casino and Seven Stars Insider, Darryl McEwen, to get insight on his experience with the reopenings as well as the scoop on the Caesars and Eldorado merger. Darryl gives his strong prediction on how the player’s club program will evolve and mentions the recent tier benefits and promotions that Caesars is doing for their members. Listen to podcast version.
Topics Discussed Include:
- Atlantic City reopening
- New State bans and regulations
- How unemployment is affecting Casino employees
- Social Distancing on the High Roller in Las Vegas
- Caesars and Eldorado Merger and Player Program
- Impression of Eldorado Properties
- Current Tier benefits and promotions
(0:00-0:24) Craig Shacklett: Hi everybody. I’m here with a very special guest and a longtime friend. Darryl McEwen, the Seven Stars Insider as well as
Mr. AC Casino, writes a weekly article for Atlantic City Weekly. Darryl, thank you so much for being here.
(0:24-0:25) Darryl McEwan: Good to see you, Craig.
(0:25-0:39) CS: We’ve got a lot to cover. Why don’t we start with one of your areas of expertise, Atlantic City. I know that they finally opened up right before the fourth of July weekend. I believe it was July second…
(0:39-0:43) DM: July second. Yes. Thursday the second. Also almost everybody opened up.
(0:43-0:46) CS: So what are you hearing? How did Atlantic City’s opening go?
(0:46-5:04) DM: Well, it’s strange because I knew we were going to be having this conversation. And I was hoping I would hear from a lot of the people who I
do hear from either by tweets or emails. And I heard very little. I heard a lot beforehand. And then the Tuesday before the casinos were going to re-open the governor sort of shocks everybody by saying, “No smoking in the casinos. No Drinking. No Indoor Dining.” And the indoor dining was also supposed to start off on the second as well. So a lot of people said, “Gee. If I can’t have a drink on the casino floor or I can’t smoke or I can’t go to a restaurant, why should I go?” I did hear that the hotels were very busy on Friday and Saturday. But based on my little day trip on Tuesday of this week. I think it was mostly vacationers, beach people. I saw families of three and four and five carting around the beach chairs, and umbrellas. And not a whole lot of activity in the casinos. But again, keep in mind, we’re talking about a Tuesday. But it is summertime. So normally I think the casinos would be busy. But the hotel room seemed to be occupied more by vacationers more so than gamblers. And the shocking thing was one of the… Shocking is a little strong. But one of the requirements now, and I’ve seen this at all the casino, the elevators can only have four people max. For those who are familiar with the layout Bally’s, Wild Wild West and Caesars are right next door to each other. There’s an escalator that takes you from Wild Wild West Casino up to the second floor casino of Caesars. And I got to the top and I walked around the corner and I saw this gigantic line. I mean there had to be thirty parties not thirty people. Thirty parties. Two, three, four. And they were lined up.
And it looked like they were lined up to go into the salon. Which I thought,”Well that’s odd. It’s not even open.” And then I realized what it was. They were lined up to get on the elevators. Because of the fact that there’s a limit of only four people. It was taking forever for people to get up to their rooms. So I can only imagine what it must have been like over the weekend when they were really busy and people were trying to get to their rooms had to wait in line. So that was a little bit of a surprise. But in terms of the actual experience, as I said, did not make it to Harrah’s but I got to Caesars and Ballys. And they basically had a security guard stationed at the entrances standing next to a big six-foot-tall sign with a list of questions, “Have you been sick during the last seven days?
Do you have a fever?” And you’re supposed to read this thing and answer “No” to every question or they won’t let you in. But no temperature checks or anything. Whereas if you go to Golden Nugget or you went through Resorts or Ocean, they had guards at the entrances and they had one of those little guns that they put up or a thermal imager, the Golden Nugget had one of those. So I was surprised that Caesars did not have the temperature checks. They were the only ones, as I said, did not get the Tropicana. And I know for a fact that Harrah’s didn’t have it either. I know because I talked to somebody who was there. Masks are required everywhere. That’s Caesars-wide, MGM-wide and New Jersey-wide casino regulation. And I assume people Borgota was the only casino that did not open at Atlantic City. They felt that they could not give their customers the full experience. And I assume they mean restaurants because the only way you can eat is just to takeout from somewhere whether it’s a casino, restaurant or bar, walk over to McDonald’s or some other outlet. And then eat in your room or sit on a park bench on the boardwalk.
5:04-5:17: CS: Yeah. It sounds like the governor of New Jersey turned into the mayor of that town from “Footloose.” Remember that movie? Where it’s bans, drinking, smoking, and dancing. Yeah. That’s quite a bunch of…
(5:17-6:17) DM: Pennsylvania has also banned smoking now. Harrah’s, Philadelphia was the first and they did it on their own. Last Friday, a matter fact, I was there. At about an hour after I left I got an email from my host there saying, “No smoking as of four o’clock.” And then I think yesterday, the governor of Pennsylvania announced, “No smoking in any of the casinos.” Because the same thing happens. People have to pull their masks down to smoke. What I witnessed when I was at Harrah’s Philadelphia twice in the last two Fridays is that people just weren’t putting them back. And I don’t think they were trying to be nasty. I think they just forgot. Inhale and then they hold it down and had a couple of puffs. I’m not a smoker so I can’t explain it. I think they just didn’t get around to putting it back. That’s no excuse. But they still do a lot of drinks on the casino floor in Philadelphia which is nice.
(6:17-6:32) CS: So Atlantic City is in a pretty difficult competitive position. And imagine if you’re a drinker. And Atlantic City, they’re not offering drinks. But Harrah’s, Philadelphia, they are. And MGM National Harbor sounds like…
(6:32-7:13) DM: MGM National Harbor is. And Horseshoe, Baltimore. From where I live I have to go through Baltimore to get to Washington. I did stop at Horseshoe, Baltimore on my way just to kind of check it out as well. And they are serving drinks. There is smoking but I think they are now also… And this is just temporary. The non-smoking in Pennsylvania and in Maryland. And I believe even the Atlantic City is just a temporary issue until things straighten out.
(7:13-7:27) CS: A question that may be dumb question but a lot of tribal casinos they serve drinks but you have to pay for them in Baltimore, Maryland. Different places. Philadelphia. Is it comped while you’re playing?
(7:27-8:31) DM: Philadelphia. Harrah’s all the drinks are complimentary. I’m not sure about all the casinos in Pennsylvania but I do know that they’re free.
But you do pay for them at the Horseshoe in Baltimore and at MGM. It’s not a huge expense. I think drinks are like four dollars or something on the casino floor. When they’re open like a Horseshoe has a lounge. VIP lounge, it’s called. They don’t call it a Laurel Lounge or Seven Stars. It’s for anybody who has twenty five thousand tier credits or more. And the drink prices are reduced. And then ironically even though the drinks are free on the floor at Harrahs Philadelphia when the Laurel Lounge is open you pay for drinks in there. But again, they’re deeply discounted. Two dollars for a glass of wine or something like that. So it could just be that they’re trying to discourage people from going in there and staying for the whole afternoon.
(8:31-8:55) CS: Go out and gamble, get your free drinks. Yeah. It sounds like you’ve actually gotten a chance to visit quite a few casinos in the Northeast. Any casino that jump out at you? Or anything you saw that was really good or really bad. give me feedback. Because I’m sure there’s some casino people that will watch this. And they love to get your perspective. Somebody who talks to a lot of gamblers, knows a lot, has a lot of opinions…
(8:55-11:32) DM: The only thing I experienced and what I saw was if you do want to have a meal or do you want to have one short they don’t seem to be geared up yet for food service. I had lunch at Golden Nugget on Tuesday. They have a really nice outdoor terrace that’s open seasonally with drinks and food and entertainment and it is called “The Deck.” They actually open before the casinos did. Because as long as you have an outdoor venue with a separate entrance, you could open. Resorts had a similar situation with their landshark bar. Friend and I walked in. There was nobody there at the little host desk. Finally, one of the servers there said “Sit anywhere you want and grab a paper menu from underneath the podium.” But then we waited it seemed forever for somebody to come over and take our order. And then I had a question because I was trying to burn some comped dollars. So I was going to take food out for dinner that night. And I had a question about the menu and she said, “Oh. You know, we just got this menu yesterday. Whatever, I’ll have to ask.” And so she brought our drinks and then she brought the lunch. But she was there so quickly and it came in a take-out box. And I thought, “Oh. I bet she misunderstood. And this is not lunch.” And so by the time I opened it up and discovered that’s how they’re serving things in styrofoam boxes. She was gone. And I said to my friend, “How much you want to bet when she comes back?” She’s gonna say, “Oh. I forgot to ask the question.” And sure enough that’s exactly what happened. So anyway, she answered the question and I placed my order. We waited a little bit longer. But it was very disorganized. And I saw the same thing at Harrah’s Philadelphia. The food was good every place I went but the service just didn’t seem to be up to par. And I’m guessing that they just were short-staffed. As much as everybody wanted to get back to work, I’m sure that there are a lot of servers. My customers who are just a little leery about going back at a COVID-19 environment. I’m not sure what the reason is. We’re talking about a week after three and a half months of being closed. You kind of cut them a little slack.
At least I did. Even me. Mr. Complainer.
(11:32-12:03) CS: What… In addition to being health conscious and being nervous about going back. I’ve talked to some casino folks that said also on top of it
there’s almost a financial disincentive because they maybe… The unemployment right now… Because there’s state unemployment and then there’s federal unemployment. On top of that a lot of people in these frontline positions are making more on unemployment than they would going back. So they don’t want to get sick and they’re making more. So why would they go back?
(12:03-13:38) DM: Yeah. I won’t say where or which store but one of the retail outlets at one of the casinos. And the guy in there said to me the exact same thing. He said, “I want to get out…” I think he said he wanted away from his wife. But he said he was making more money staying home and not putting up with the hassles of dealing with customers and all that sort of thing. Yeah. But I don’t know that that really affects servers in these people especially people who depend on tips and whatever. I don’t know how that works. Yeah. I never felt worried about health-wise because no matter which casino I went to there were people cleaning and sanitizing everywhere. They were encouraging the customers to use the hand sanitizers, to socially distance every other slot machine.
If not, every third slot machine was turned off. So I never felt uncomfortable that way. It was just unpleasant as I said earlier. Not to wine. That mask just does not… And I tried a couple different kinds. And maybe I just have too big of a head. I don’t know. That’s not the same. I don’t even care so much about the drinks. But I’m not a smoker as I said. So it’s not quite what it was. And I think, sadly, we’re stuck with this for quite a while.
(13:38-13:54) CS: Yeah. It seems that way. And another victim of it is G2E. As I’m sure you heard. You sent me an email about it. Today though. Yes. We had a great time. Gosh. Has it been three years now that you treated me to a dinner.
(13:54-14:02) DM: Yeah. That’s what we had. We had dinner with Dave Schwartz. And was that the same trip that we did the interview on “The High Roller?”
(14:02-14:15) CS: Yeah. We had an awesome interview on The High Roller which again was your treat. Thanks to your Seven Star Benefits. Thank you. We had drinks in the Seven Stars Lounge or Diamond Lounge. And then we had dinner at that Bally Steakhouse. It’s an awesome trip.
(4:15-14:29) DM: I know we did The High Roller. And there were two people who are trying to buy a ticket. And I had extra freebies or something. And I said, “Hey.” And they kind of looked at me suspiciously like, “What kind of a scam is this?”
(14:29-14:36) CS: Yeah. That’s right. That was so generous. There was a couple in line. I think they look like honeymooners or something.
(14:36-14:41) Yeah. I think the only person that’s disappointed was that person that was about to collect money. Just like, “Huh? Wait. What?”
(14:41-14:52) DM: It was expensive especially for the one that… I think it’s like almost fifty bucks for… With the drinks and for thirty minutes of going around in a circle.
(14:52-14:58) CS: I wonder what they’re doing on The High Roller with social distancing. Are they keeping it like an elevator with…
(14:58-15:22) DM: Yeah. They cut the number of people. It’s hard to believe that those cars hold forty people but they now have reduced the maximum to ten.
They’re bigger than it appears once you get on those things. So I think they’re limiting to Ten. I’m not quite sure because that was about a month. That was last month’s newsletter. So I’m already into August.
(15:22-15:30) CS: Yeah. Has this been one of the most challenging or fast-moving times for The Seven Stars Insider Newsletter trying to keep track of it’s going on?
(15:30-16:06): DM: Yeah. It’s a good thing that I’m quarantining and I’m not doing anything else. Because you got to try to keep up with everything. Things are changing, Minute-by-minute some days. Yeah. But it’s fun. I enjoy searching out this stuff and seeing something and adding it to my latest news feature on the newsletter. Yeah. It’s something that keeps me busy, keeps my mind occupied. And I can’t gamble. Like I said I can write about gambling.
(16:06-16:20) CS: Well speaking of big news coming up the Caesars-Eldorado mergers finally nearing the finish line. So what do you hearing about that?
What do you know as next or final steps to get in that building?
(16:20-20:10) DM: Well, yesterday the Nevada… There are two different works. They’re the same people. But their team, they had to have back-to-back meetings but the same people. And they approved it unanimously. And I understand they’re like but almost three hours worth of questioning at all this sort of stuff. But it was pretty much ahead of time. Everybody knew it was a done deal. So the next steps are tomorrow. The Indiana Racing Commission will vote
out. And then on Monday there’s the Indiana Horse Racing Commission and they have to also approve it. And then the following Friday, that would be the seventeenth, the last hurdle is the New Jersey Gaming Commission. I’m sure that that’s not going to be a problem. What the next step is? Honestly, Craig,
I don’t know. Once all the approvals are done, the FTC, the central governing body for the government. They approved it last week. So that’ll mean that all the approvals that they need are in place. I just don’t know what the next step is. To use your analogy when we spoke earlier. I don’t know that it’s a matter of turning over the keys or flipping a switch. There’s going to be time. I’m sure to form a new board. I’ve heard it could take almost a year just to get the players card programs all merge. Because unlike Caesars, Eldorado doesn’t have just one program. They’re all separate. There might be one or two that are connected.
But pretty much you’re going to have to merge the Eldorado programs. And then once that’s done then you just merge the two whatever is left. Yeah. That’s going to be interesting over the next year. It went pretty smoothly if you remember back when Harrah’s and Caesars merged. They did a pretty good job of doing it. What might happen… Again I can’t say who I spoke to but at least a highly-placed source. I think what might happen is what’s happening in Atlantic City with Borgata. They’re part of MGM’s M Life Program. But they really didn’t merge the two programs totally. Anybody who plays in Borgata. And if you play in another MGM property or other properties, you have two separate accounts. You have your M Life account and then you have your Borgata M Life account.
So when I want to go get my hair cut in Borgata, I have to go to the player’s desk and have them transfer the money that covered the cost from my M Life account for money that I probably earned the National Harbor in Las Vegas or somewhere else in the My Borgata account. And then I inverse vice versa if I’m a Borgata player and decide to go to Las Vegas. I’ve got to go to M Life players desk and have them transfer. And you can do all or just some of your comped dollars. It’s a pain. And I think that’s probably what might happen with Eldorado. For instance in Atlantic City it’s about Tropicana which is an Eldorado property. And you have the three Ceasars properties. So if you want to have dinner at Tropicana or go to an IMAX theater, I’m sure which you’ll probably do, and again
this is just speculation, is you’ll go to the Tropicana Top Advantage Players Desk and have them transfer money from your rewards credits from Caesars. It’s going to be awhile before it’s all smoothly transitioned.
(20:10-20:40) CS: So I have my experience with Eldorado Properties is at the original spot in Reno. I’ve been to Eldorado, Reno Silver Legacy next door which was an acquisition long ago. And I’ve always been impressed with the Eldorado Properties. At least those ones I’ve been to really well run, friendly staff, the properties were very clean. I’ve never been to the Tropicana in Atlantic City. But what’s been your impression of Trop AC? And then have you been to any other Eldorado properties?
(20:40-23:44) DM: Yeah. Trop AC is gigantic. I often describe it as a cruise ship on land. It has an IMAX theater. There must be three or four nightclubs all with different themes depending on what your age is. Thirty-some restaurants. Everything from a Mrs. Fields Cookies to a full-service Italian restaurant, Asian restaurant. And a huge casino floor. I think three or four hotel towers. Lots of retail. It’s very, very impressive. You really don’t need to go anywhere else with Tropicana. Yeah. There’d be a nice acquisition. Well, it’s something that goes for Caesars. But it’ll compliment Caesars very well. And of course that there’s been rumor for years that Ballys was probably going to be sold or at least turned into perhaps just a convention hotel and the casino part will go away just to reduce the number of properties. I haven’t seen anything lately that says that the New Jersey Gaming Regulators are going to require that in order to approve it
as they have when some other states where they felt that there were too many casinos owned by both companies in the same city. I happened to the ones in Reno. And you’re right. They’re very impressive. Lots of nice restaurants. They’re all seen with different… One’s a mining. One has that huge… That’s an Oil Derrick or something. Yeah. It’s very impressive. He’d met Circus Circus with its circus acts and things. Yeah. I think it’s going to be nice. And I will not miss Harrah’s, Reno. Talk about a place that was… I don’t think it was that clean, frankly. I was there a couple of years ago and I couldn’t even get a straight answer about… I was trying to use them Seven Stars benefits. You ask somebody from the front desk and they tell you one thing and you go to the restaurant,
“Well, can I sign this to my room and use my Seven Stars?” “No. You have to do this. You have to…” The only thing that I think everybody’s going to miss is that Steakhouse. So I’m hoping that that Steakhouse, and I think it’s just called perhaps the steakhouse, will remain as part of that mixed-use facility that they’re turning it into with apartments and retail. Because that was really classy and it’s the last place I can think of where the servers wear tuxedos and even the female wear the women’s version of tuxedos. It was just very classy. Table-side dining all that kind of stuff. You just don’t see that anymore. Unfortunately,
the clientele didn’t cooperate. When I was there a couple of years ago. All these nicely dressed servers and beautiful wood decor and chandeliers. And then
you see family come in with their shorts, strollers, and whatever. Hey. They got the money to spend got to let them in.
(23:44-24:15) CS: Yeah. It is a shame. What happened here is Reno considering it is the launching pad of the Harrah’s empire where Bill Harrah started. And back then it set itself apart by his attention to detail and his investment in making it the nicest casino in the area. And prior that time in the country and you had to see it decay and ultimately kind of shutdown is a sad ending to a beautiful story.
(24:15-24:30) DM: Yeah. I really thought that that would remain and went after the merger that they would pump a lot of money into it just because of the history that you cite. But it probably makes sense just to let it go.
(24:30-24:43) CS: Well, at least they still have I believe the second casino’s Harrah’s Lake Tahoe which is still a really nice property. I think they’ve been doing a good job investing to keep that up. I haven’t been there in a couple of years but it was really nice when I went there.
(24:43-25:03) DM:-Yeah. Harrah’s and Harvey’s are both very nice. They just did a lot of renovation at Harvey’s. And I believe they just re-opened as a matter of fact about a week or so ago. I was get them confused with the one that’s right on the lake and the one that’s across the road. They’re very nice properties. You can’t beat Lake Tahoe other than the traffic.
(25:03-26:07) CS: Yeah. What’s funny is a lot of people don’t know this. I gotta assume it’s public. But I remember when I worked there. Harvey’s is close to the lake. It’s got best views but they would always do the VIP and the big events at the Harrah’s side of the street and always that. I asked the GM at the time or the head of marketing like, “Why are we always doing it at Harrah’s?” And so the parking garage on the Harvey’s side is owned by the Park Cattle Company who owns a lot of land up there. Huge land owners. They own the land that’s under Mount Blue which used to be the Caesars. Harvey Gross who built Harvey’s didn’t have money to build the parking structure. So they said, “Alright, we’ll build it for you.” But the deal was they would get… I want to say it was like one percent of gross revenue may have been a little bit more. So basically for every dollar they make at Harvey’s they make less than they would have Harrah’s.
So they tend to try to push everything to Harrah’s. This is more profitable.
(26:07-26:09) DM: Yeah. Wow. Interesting. I didn’t know that.
(26:09-26:16) CS: Yeah. Darryl this is a lot of fun. Anything else that we didn’t cover that is top of mind for you.
(26:16-28:59) DM: No. One of the questions that I heard that I get is with the Laurel Lounges, the former Diamond Lounges, and the Seven Stars Lounges closed. Are the casinos compensating you any way? And the policy is different everywhere. In Las Vegas they give you four free drinks. And each coupon are… It’s not a coupon but it’s just put into your account, is up to a maximum of twenty dollars a drink. Which sounds like a lot. But as I think I was out in Las Vegas the weekend before everything closed. And I left on Monday the 17th. I remember that because it was St. Patrick’s Day. So Sunday night the 16th I decided I just didn’t want to be in a casino. And it was getting really slower anyway. So I did take out from Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant. I was eating in my room. But beforehand I went to that lobby bar and had a cocktail. I haven’t paid for a drink in so long that when she said, “Oh. That’ll be seventeen dollars.” I go “”seventeen dollars for a drink?”” I just so out of touch with that. So yes. If you’re anybody with twenty five thousand or more tier credits, each day gets four drink credits worth up to twenty dollars each and then a very generous ten-dollar food credit. Let’s put that deal with a home sandwich. I don’t think It’ll even buy you a bowl of soup. But that’s how Las Vegas is handling it. Philadelphia, Atlantic City, you put your player’s card on a slot machine and it downloads a thousand reward credits, which is ten dollars. Now you can’t do it each of the three properties in Atlantic City whichever one you do it first then you’ve got it.
And Harrah’s, Philadelphia does the same thing if you put your card in and you get ten dollars and reward credits. I believe Laughlin has something similar in
Harrah’s Resorts Southern California the former Rincon. They give Seven Stars. There were two free buffets every day. And of course there are no buffets anymore. So they give you a forty dollar dining credit which were going to use in any of the restaurants. But that’s just once a week not every visit. So I do have a list on the website of the Seven Stars Insider website. The ones I know. So anybody who sees this and perhaps plays at a casino that’s not on the list and can help me update that would be great.
(28:59-29:04) CS: Alright. What’s the best way to reach you if they had insider information that they want?
(29:04-29:53) DM: The best way is to do Seven Stars Insider. Seven spelled out. email@example.com or you can use my other pseudonym which is Mr. AC Casino. No periods or spaces just firstname.lastname@example.org. And those websites are also up to date as I can keep them. You can either go to the mraccasino.com which is more general. It’s mostly Atlantic City because of the name. But it covers all of the Atlantic City casinos. Whereas the Seven Stars Insider is pretty much ninety eight percent Caesars properties. But it’s not just for Seven Stars. There’s a lot of information for anybody who plays regularly at Caesars as the Caesars work hard. Thanks for the plug.
(29:53-30:15) CS: No. Of course. It is a wealth, a treasure trove of information. Because I remember when I worked at Caesars or Harrah’s way back when your website was somewhere that people, employees would go to figure out what was going on. You do an amazing job of keeping that updated. And your Twitter is a good to follow as well @7starsinsider.
(30:15-30:33) DM: Yeah. That’s the number. Seven Stars Insider with the number. Yeah. That’s fun. I enjoyed… I don’t do Facebook. Or I do have a LinkedIn account which is not that active. But I do enjoy the Twitter thing. It’s so easy. You’re limited for one thing once you can write. So that’s always a challenge.
(30:33-30:38) CS: Well Darryl, this was a pleasure as always. Thank you so much. And let’s do it again soon.
(30:38-30:45) DM: Sounds like a plan. Okay. Take care, Craig.