Downtown Grand says 'We want gamblers'

5 October 2015

The Downtown Grand Las Vegas missed the gaming resurgence that has boosted Fremont Street in the past 12 months.

Of course, the hotel-casino isn't located underneath the Fremont Street Experience canopy.

The street address is not the issue challenging the 2-year-old property, which often appears empty compared to its competition along downtown's main pedestrian drag.

Customers were making the less-than-two-minute walk from Fremont Street to the Downtown Grand property on Third Street and Ogden Avenue — but they weren't entering the casino.

"We probably weren't getting enough of the gambling business," said Downtown Grand CEO Jim Simms.

Simms, who took over the day-to-day operations of the Downtown Grand in June, said his initial effort was to focus the casino toward what the name implies. The gaming floor has been reconfigured and "re-branded" with "special attention" to the gambler.

In addition to cosmetic changes — new color schemes and employee uniforms — the player rewards system has been revamped, the table games pit area has been relocated to a more prominent spot near the property's main entrance, and electronic table games have been added.

After the first of the year, Downtown Grand hopes to become the first casino in Las Vegas to offer players a chance to gamble on skill-based slot machines.

Fifth Street Gaming Chairman Seth Schorr said the property has deals in place with Gamblit Gaming and GameCo., two new slot machine manufacturers that are developing games that combine traditional gambling with a skill-based arcade or video style component.

Schorr said Downtown Grand may offer the games on a nongambling feature until Nevada casino regulators approve the products, allowing customers to gain experience with the product. He also envisions a platform in the casino for eSports tournaments, where video game players compete in an arena-type setting for cash prizes.

The idea, Schorr said, is not to replace traditional slot machines and supplant long-standing gamblers. Schorr wants the Downtown Grand to widen its audience and attract new customers such as millennials.

Simms, 51, who joined the resort after spending much of his 20-year career in regional gaming markets, said the Downtown Grand needs to "give people compelling reasons" to visit.

"We want gambling customers," Simms said. "We're changing the business model to attract the gambling customer."

Downtown Grand, which is operated by Fifth Street Gaming, was a $100 million transformation of the Lady Luck. The original hotel-casino was closed for seven years while financing was sought to renovate and redesign the building.

The 629-room resort, which includes two towers connected by a pedestrian bridge above Third Street, has earned numerous accolades for its rooms, roof-top pool deck that overlooks downtown, and its dining, namely, the adjacent Triple George restaurant across from the casino on Third Street.

Simms, who worked for Ameristar Casinos in the Midwest and ran a West Virginia racetrack casino, said his regional gaming experience translates to the downtown market.

"We work as a team, and we've all worked in competitive markets," Simms said.

After arriving from Miami Valley Gaming in Ohio, Simms lived in the Downtown Grand hotel for two months until his family was able to move west. It gave him time to explore Fremont Street and all of downtown. He also gained an understanding of the Downtown Grand, exploring the back-of-the-house and talking with both employees and customers.

"You have to listen and understand the customer to be successful," he said.

The property already has a blackjack promotion where gamblers can win a motorcycle built by Las Vegas-based Counts Kustoms. A slot machine tournament is underway where the winner will earn $250,000. Changes will continue to come to the gambling floor. Simms said the Downtown Grand casino staff went to the Global Gaming Expo as shoppers.

Downtown Las Vegas gaming revenue is up more than 4% this year. Analysts have said much of the success belongs to Boyd Gaming Corp., which operates three casinos in downtown, the Golden Nugget - Las Vegas, and Derek Stevens's efforts with The D Las Vegas and the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino.

Simms said his goal is for the Downtown Grand to be mentioned in the same sentences as the competition. He said that will be accomplished by boosting the gaming offerings and increasing customer service programs.

He also said Downtown Grand has the amenities to attract customers off Fremont Street.

"You get all the things you see on Fremont Street from us," Simms said. "Our advantage is we're not exactly located there."

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