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Las Vegas' Hotels Set to Outdo One Another
 with In-room Amenities, Latest Gadgetry
By Rod Smith, Las Vegas Review-Journal
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Sep. 12, 2005 - Las Vegas' latest hotels want to be more than in, they want to be plugged in, with the latest in-room gadgetry.

Skylofts at MGM Grand, South Coast, Palazzo and other new local hotel-casinos are all trying to sell themselves as kings of cool. And part of that means they're all set to outdo the world, and one another, with in-room, online amenities.

University of Nevada-Las Vegas history professor Hal Rothman, said the idea that gaming operators should have no amenities in their rooms that would keep people out of their casinos is ancient history.

"First and foremost, in-room entertainment does not at this point keep people away from anything else. People are accustomed to almost constant entertainment, from TV in grocery store checkout lines and in your dentist's chair to airlines that play music throughout a flight," he said. "People see constant amusement at 12 images a second as a right, as an expectation and not as an amenity. People's desire to be amused on a moment-by-moment basis is no longer seen as a threat by (casino operators)."

With more than half of Las Vegas hotel-casino revenues now coming from nongaming amenities, there's money to be had in the room and lots more to be earned with the added cachet in-room gizmos can add.

Jim Medick, chief executive officer of the MRC Group, Nevada's largest market research firm, said once in the room, the more toys the better.

"Be it the ability to hook up to high-speed internet, watch a first-run movie, catch an adult flick, or play Nintendo, the hotels are making big bucks while giving the guests exactly what they want," he said. "No matter the age, in today's market it's all about the ability to stay connected. And while hotels are losing the ability to charge for telephone calls due to mobile phones, they more than make up for it by offering in-room faxes and Game Boy rentals at the concierge."

Rather than looking at the megaresorts for clues to see where tech trends are going, however, Medick said observers should watch boutique and niche casino operators.

"The early adapters have always been the boutique hotels for two reasons. Customer requests don't have as far to travel up the corporate hierarchy and the cost of entry into new technology is not as high," he said.

MGM Mirage hit the boutique market with online amenities at the beginning of the year when it opened its 51-unit Skylofts on the top two floors of MGM Grand. Skylofts operations chief Tobias Mattstedt said the hotel's concept is to offer the Las Vegas of the future, a cosmopolitan boutique hotel within a hotel that compares with the best found in New York; Paris; Shanghai, China; or Milan, Italy.

Besides the commanding view of the Strip and the luxury guest services, Skylofts features up to 10 custom Bang & Olufsen plasma televisions per unit and Sony high-definition television audio-visual equipment.

The Skylofts' radio-controlled remote panels operate the TVs, digital video disc players, radios, compact disc players, Internet radios, drapes, and thermostat and lights. And each unit features a music library with a customized PC-based music selection, Mattstedt said.

Kevin Glass, room reservations manager for The Palms, which bills itself as offering state-of-the-art in-room technology, said gizmos are critical to marketing.

"They may not be the lure or the hook, but they help make the sale," he said. "They're what has come to be expected."

Station Casinos spokeswoman Lori Nelson said popular response is accelerating the trend toward online in-room services. She said her company's Green Valley Ranch hotel-casino, for example, has had Apple iPod music players in its larger suites for two months.

"We are exploring carrying them in all of our rooms," she said. "From a marketing perspective, we feel that our guests appreciate trendy and state-of-the-art amenities, and the iPods are just one example that shows our attention to detail and commitment to exceeding their expectations."

Continuing the tech trend, Boyd Gaming Corp.'s South Coast will have full Wi-Fi availability in its rooms and meeting areas when it opens early next year, hotel operations manager Felicia Brizuela said.

"This is what the customer is looking for while we're becoming a high-tech society," she said.

Steve Vollmer, chief technology officer at The Venetian, said the property had bragging rights to being the firstest with the mostest when it opened six years ago. But with technology changing so quickly, that's no longer the case. For example, in-room fax machines and printers were revolutionary for The Venetian when it opened, but they're standard today.

Still, Vollmer said, popular response to technological amenities has been, and continues to be, enormous. Therefore, he said, holding company Las Vegas Sands Corp. will explore every new wrinkle in the next year so its Palazzo opens in 2007 with news-making technology.

"We're a little different because of our convention business. Customers expect the technology, just like potato chips at the end of the aisle in a grocery store," Vollmer said.

In the end, Rothman said, dolling up rooms with online entertainment is one more way the Las Vegas experience is mainstreamed.

"It's harder and harder to find ways in which a visitor's experience in Las Vegas differs in any meaningful way from American norms," he said.

Boyd Gaming spokesman Rob Stillwell said the rapid growth of hotel-casinos in Las Vegas give the destination and his company a distinct advantage over competitors -- as long as they keep up with technology.

"Nowhere else is adding the number of hotel and condo units. And every new unit gives us another chance to be state-of-the-art -- and sell it -- while the rest of the country and the world age," he said.


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