We might take a week off when it's all over," said Greg Shulman, VP of international marketing for Bellagio, in Las Vegas. "But then we'll start prepping for next year all over again."
The team running the off-Strip Gold Coast understands that idea. With its proximity to Las Vegas' growing Chinatown district, the 711-room hotel-casino caters to a burgeoning Asian community 12 months a year. "This has really become a key market segment for us," said Gold Coast general manager Kerrie Burke. "Chinese New Year is an important event, but it's just a small part of what we do."
The Gold Coast is bringing out all the trappings for Year of the Tiger, which starts Sunday based on the lunar calendar. Decorations colored in red, gold and other vibrant hues; silk lanterns; and tangerine trees are prominently displayed inside the West Flamingo Road casino. Actors were scheduling performances of the traditional lion dance. Kao Ling Feng, known as "the Asian Elvis," is performing at the property on Februay 28.
Gina Farr, the Gold Coast's player development manager, said the casino has embraced the various Chinese New Year traditions and has reached into the neighboring Asian community to give customers an experience similar to what might be found on the Strip.
"We have a diverse melting pot of customers," Farr said.
In Las Vegas, Chinese New Year tends to center on the Strip, where lavish parties, special restaurant menus and high-end baccarat tournaments cater to the big-spending international customers. The holiday has become a central focus for the casino industry, especially MGM Mirage, Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Resorts Ltd., which have invested heavily in casino operations in Macau. The companies use the Chinese gaming enclave as a marketing tool to entice big-spending customers to Las Vegas.
Shulman said Asian casino patrons looking for just a short getaway will travel to Macau. Las Vegas attracts longer-staying guests. "It's a different type of trip-planning for our customers," Shulman said. "Our customers will come in for 10 or 12 days and travel with their families and large groups. So we try to plan out a variety of options for both the customers and their families."
Much of Bellagio's focus is on elaborate decorations offered inside the resort's prominent conservatory and botanical gardens. Aria, CityCenter's centerpiece hotel-casino, will host a 3,000-person VIP celebration for all of MGM Mirage's casinos customers.
Las Vegas-area Chinese residents also celebrate the New Year in a similar fashion as the international customers arriving on the Strip. The Gold Coast, which was opened by Michael Gaughan in 1986, has been able to gain access into the Asian market almost by circumstance. As the Chinatown district grew south, the casino was somewhat absorbed.
Boyd Gaming Corp., which acquired the Gold Coast in 2003 when the company bought Coast Casinos, has long marketed to Hawaiian customers at its downtown resorts. Burke said tapping into the Asian market was a natural transition. "We created marketing programs and other promotions with that in mind," Burke said.
The casino has branched out into the Southern California Asian community, mainly in the Los Angeles area, to grow its Asian customer base. Burke said the Gold Coast strives for a year-round Chinese New Year celebration. Of the casino's 49 table games, 20 are devoted to Asian-style games, including baccarat, pai gow and Asia poker. Burke estimated that out of the 300-plus Gold Coast dealers, about 40 % are Asian.
Meanwhile, in Jaunary, Macau saw a 63.3% surge in gaming revenue to a record us$ 1.58 billion. "The impact will be significant," says Alex Calderone, who provides turnaround and crisis management services for the gaming sector at Conway MacKenzie. "I think we'll probably see yet another month of record-breaking gaming revenues for that market."
"Chinese New Year is a 'mass market holiday.' Thus, the time period allows more high-margin gamers to Macau than traditional VIP customers," David Bain, analyst at Sterne, Agee & Leach says. "In addition, room rates rise and occupancy is typically near 100% at most casinos."
Bain says Wynn Macau is currently sold out until at least February 22, while Sands' Venetian Macau is booked until February 20 and MGM Macau is booked until February 21.