Las Vegas Sun

August 20, 2014

A gambling world away from the Strip

Neighborhood casinos offer gaming deals, food courts and theaters

At most neighborhood casinos, families can eat their fill at a buffet and then the kids can either watch a movie or go bowling while parents gamble. Neighborhood casinos provide something for everyone, close to home, encouraging locals to avoid the Strip and downtown.

Casinos in Las Vegas weren't always designed with locals in mind. Eventually casino owners realized that a lot of people come to Las Vegas with no intention of leaving and they want to spend time at a place that feels like home rather than a tourist destination.

Former blackjack dealer Frank Fertitta Jr. opened up the Bingo Palace in 1976 off the Strip on Sahara Avenue to give locals a place to hang out after work. He soon realized that locals appreciated a place of their own and expanded on that theme. The casino was renamed Palace Station, launching Station Casinos, Inc. There are currently nine Station Casinos properties in the Las Vegas Valley and a few smaller express properties.

It wasn't long before Fertitta Jr. had competition. Samuel A. "Sam" Boyd got his start in Las Vegas as a dealer and worked his way up, eventually saving enough money to buy an interest in the Sahara Hotel. He then became general manager of downtown's the Mint. In 1979, he opened the doors of Sam's Town on Boulder Highway at Nellis Boulevard.

Sam's Town continues to be popular among residents of Sunrise Manor. Boyd Gaming, currently led by Sam's son Bill, has properties in Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Nevada. While most of Nevada casinos under the corporation are located downtown or just off the Strip, Sam's Town and Suncoast are neighborhood staples.

Station Casinos was the first to build a neighborhood casino, Sunset Station, that cost more than $200 million. The corporation highly exceeded that number with their newest property, Red Rock Resort, the most expensive neighborhood casino built to date at a cost of close to $1 billion. Red Rock Resort and Green Valley Ranch compete with the upscale casinos of the Strip but still maintain features of Station Casinos that locals have come to expect from neighborhood casinos.

One of those features is its "Boarding Pass Rewards" program that allows patrons to earn points for playing. Players insert a card into a machine's card reader which tallies points while the machine is played. These points can then be redeemed at any Station Casino, as well as the Fiesta Casinos since they were acquired by Boyd Gaming Corp.

Rewards also include free slot play and special invitations to events, tournaments and cash drawings. Casinos also give away free gifts like T-shirts, jackets and kitchen utensils to patrons. Players can work their way up to different levels, like Platinum or Presidential. The main perk is that locals feel like they are getting something back even if they aren't winning at the machines.

Sam's Town's Prime Rewards program also tallies points for players. According to the Prime Rewards website, for every $1 coin-in on slot and video machines, players earn one point. Every 600 points can be redeemed for $1 to spend at the casino's restaurants, movie theater, bowling center, bingo parlor, showroom or toward hotel accommodations. One thousand points can be redeemed for $1 cash back.

In-house movie theaters and bowling alleys are also a feature that locals have come to expect from neighborhood casinos. Michael Gaughan started that trend in 1985 when he opened the Gold Coast. Gaughan opened other Coast casinos before selling the brand to Station Casinos.

Another reason locals enjoy neighborhood casinos is simple - employment. Not only do local casinos employ thousands of residents, they treat them well. Station Casinos is ranked No. 18 on Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For 2007".

According to the list, the company has 13,957 U.S. employees. The company offers its employees full health care coverage and discounted child care around the clock. Half of the employees are minorities and almost half are women. The most common salaried job is a casino floorperson, earning an annual average of $43,427. The most common hourly job is dealing at table games, which pays a base pay of $15,000 but is supplemented by an average of $40,000 in tips. Fortune gives $55,688 as the average annual pay for table games dealers.

Today the sons of Station Casinos founder Frank Fertitta Jr., Lorenzo and Frank III, run the casino chain and plan to keep developing new casinos. Unlike Boyd Gaming, Station Casinos stays away from the Strip and focuses only on locals casinos. Both companies have cultivated a different type of casino, where locals reign supreme.

Station Casinos and Boyd Gaming aren't the only companies with local operations in town. Cannery Casino Resorts operates the Cannery on Craig Road, as well as the Rampart casino, in Summerlin, and plan to open more properties. Arizona Charlie's Decatur and Arizona Charlie's Boulder are also casinos that are popular among locals.

Residents look at neighborhood casinos as more than just places to gamble. They are the bowling alleys, movie theaters, buffets and meeting places for the Las Vegas Valley. They have live entertainment, nightclubs and bars that are continuously getting better and can compete with the Strip, all within a short distance from home.

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