Friday, August 31, 2018

Resorts World Catskills – A Casino in Trouble? – II

Last week I posted on reports that Sullivan County, New York’s Resorts World Catskills (RWC), though an unqualified success at bringing jobs to its area, was falling way short of financial projections, and was also getting subpar TripAdvisor reviews.  How did it look?  What concerns deserve management attention?  Overall, are these problems as bad as they seem? 

I visited it a week ago Saturday night.  The sign on New York Route 17, an expressway through its area, was clear, but once taking the proper exit not so much.  After one more sign pointing me to a right turn leading into a roundabout, I had to guess the correct way out.  I did, and a stoplight at Resorts World Drive, along with an arrow pointing me left, said I was on the right way.  After two miles through the countryside, isolating RWC from the rest of the county, I was there. 

Thousands of well-lit parking spaces surrounded the impressive and obviously new 18-story hotel and below casino.  I easily walked through and got in. 

My first mission was to join the Player’s Club.  That is the well-established way of getting both communications and complimentary food, beverages, lodging, cash back, and prizes for gambling there, and before even engaging a slot machine anyone should join that or the equivalent.  The line at the desk was about 15 people long, but, with four people working, moved quickly.  I wanted to see if their process was as fast as those in Las Vegas casinos, and it was – they put my driver’s license in a reader and, questions on my email and phone number and about two minutes later, I had my card, preprinted with my name and including $10 worth of free slot play. 

To redeem the latter, I wanted a $5 machine.  Not easy to find – they, with $1 machines, were in the “high limit” area, which, with two sets of directions, sent me through the gorgeously new gaming expanse, which I wandered through more after losing my two attempts.  It was fully up to modern standards – the “slots” (in quotes since you can’t play them with coins, only bills) all with video screens, the table games mostly filled with players including some betting hundreds per play, the restaurants with concentrations at $8 to $20 per meal, people everywhere, well-marked restrooms, and good directional signs.  I also went to the poker room.  No longer can the casual once-a-week-with-friends players expect to survive at casino poker – the modern version is no-limit, with the players’ skills often honed by hundreds or thousands of hours of compressed-time online experience, but, judging by the 15 tables in play, there were plenty of those even in this low-population area.  The room, though comfortable, didn’t have much special to offer its players, with comps set at a minimal $1 per hour with no higher promotional times, but attendance didn’t seem lacking.

Though the RWC facility looked vibrant and beautiful, I found a few other causes for concern.  Room rates, for now seemingly $200 per night and up, were sky-high by casino-hotel standards.  They did not have headline-name entertainment, and, overall, the non-gambling options seemed weak.  The 24-hour diner, while a real and necessary asset, charged the likes of $16 for nachos.  These may not stop those from traveling to visit once but will impede critical repeat business. 

There are still many things about RWC’s viability we don’t know.  Beyond what I saw, here are some questions for their management and ownership. 

First, what has happened with the effort to bring in high-rolling Asian customers?  They themselves could put you in the black.  Are you doing all you can there?

Second, are you marketing RWC aggressively to New York City?  There are hundreds of thousands of people, many quite wealthy now, with memories of childhood Catskills trips.  Are you considering offering them the likes of free hotel stays? 

Third, what can you do to step up your entertainment options?  Last decade, that shortage killed a billion-dollar Las Vegas casino with a storied history, the Aladdin.  I live 20 miles away, get all four local newspapers, and see stories and advertising about oodles of small local concerts elsewhere, but nothing about anything you offer. 

Fourth, are dollar slot machines, common as far back as the 1970s, really “high limit” in 2018?  Is it possible that more of them, even with the modern trend toward playing many multiples of the minimum, would help that strange per-machine shortfall?  If not, with your state-of-the-art machines getting such good reviews, just what is the slot-machine-revenue problem?

Fifth, where is your community involvement?  I expected that you would have the likes of buses to canoeing and fishing providers, not to mention partnerships with community institutions such as WJFF Radio, whose management has heard nothing from you.  You can’t go it alone here, especially when so many locals didn’t want your facility built.

Sixth, how much do you project that legalized sports betting, your Monster golf course, and your $33 million entertainment complex will help your business?  Do you seriously expect a big boost from the Kartrite indoor water park, which is well into Pennsylvania and has its own hotel?  Is it possible you need rooms to compete with Las Vegas’s $50-per-night offerings and nearby Monticello’s $60 ones?

Seventh, can you quantify how much our bad winter and early spring weather hurt your bottom line?

Eighth, is there or is there not a gap between the previous six months’ results and what you expected?

Ninth, is it just my perception, or has your communication, in general, been lacking?  With my blog and WJFF program I qualify as a journalist, and doubt I was the only one whose multiple information requests you did not respond to.

And tenth, the big question.  With casinos now in 44 states, we know they are not automatically travel destinations.  With those in the Silent Generation much larger per-capita gamblers than Boomers, and the Millennials lowest of all, is it possible that the model of people going to gamble, to the exclusion of almost everything else, for a week or weekend is becoming obsolete?  If so, how are you going to deal with that?

Overall, I don’t know how successful Resorts World Catskills will be in five or ten years.  I am inclined to be optimistic.  But it’s nothing that will be given to it.  “If you build it, they will come” may work for cornfield baseball diamonds in the movies, but it’s nothing casino resorts can expect in real life. 


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