November 28, 2003

Redemption Kiosks in Casinos Growing

Nice interview with casino owner in Detroit.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Greektown Casino sizzles

Gaming house hosts 12,000 people daily, operating exec says

By Becky Yerak / The Detroit News
Brandy Baker / The Detroit News

Greektown's Chief Operating Officer Sal Semola says business is hottest during the first part of the month.

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DETROIT -- The din inside Detroit's casinos has been known to grate on the nerves of gamblers with delicate eardrums, but Sal Semola has a simple explanation for the racket: the sheer volume of traffic.

"We're as busy on a weeknight as a lot of Las Vegas properties wish they were on Saturday night," said the chief operating officer of Greektown Casino, one of only four players in an oligopolistic market.

Looking at it another way, Greektown turned 3-years-old last month and already it has replaced its carpet. In Las Vegas, "we could have gotten five years out of it, easily" the Philadelphia native said.

Semola runs Greektown's day-to-day operations, and as such concerns himself with everything from new technology to flooring trudged over by 12,000 people daily. The Grosse Pointe Park resident, named "Gaming Professional of the Year for the Eastern United States" by the Casino Management Association, sat down with The Detroit News recently.

Q: Can you talk yet about any of the shops and other tenants that will be in the permanent casino, which you can start building soon now that an Indian tribe has agreed to settle a lawsuit that had been holding up construction?

A: What I can tell you is we've talked to locally, regionally and nationally recognized brands in addition to plans to have our own facilities in there. In fact, we know we're not going to be able to have everybody in there we'd like to because we've had so much interest in it.

Q: What percentage of your floor is cashless?

A: About 20 percent.

Q: What's the outlook?

A: At some point, you'll see most of the floor coinless. Look at the recent opening of Boyd Gaming's $1 billion Borgata in Atlantic City. They opened totally coinless.

Q: How many jobs have been lost as a result of your being 20 percent coinless?

A: You have less need for hard count (coins) and requisite personnel, but you need more soft count (cash) folks. We've had attrition. But we've not laid off one team member due to technology.

Q: Any operational changes under way?

A: We try to stay on top of what's happening with product, whether table games, slots or customer service enhancements, such as self-redemption kiosks (in which gamblers dump in tokens themselves and get money back.) We have a few. We're looking for more. You may see the ability of folks to get their own complimentaries.

Q: How would that work?

A: You'd insert your players card. If they had $100 in comps and wanted a comp coupon, they could get it themselves. There are more important priorities, but it's something I see us having at some juncture.

Q: What's a more pressing priority?

A: A jackpot kiosk for team members to speed up jackpot payouts. It's an issue on a Saturday night. There's more traffic on the floor, more time and motion issues.

Q: Do you foresee stable employment in the temporary casino?

A: Yes, absolutely.

Q: What's the long-term outlook for table games?

A: Table games contribute less and less. But I don't think in my lifetime you'll see a full-blown casino with no tables.

Q: Why did you close your gambling-free bar?

A: It got no traffic. We were surprised. It was a great looking outlet. But there's no gaming around it. There's no question the primary attraction is to game. Second, maybe get something to eat.

Q: How long do you plan to work for Greektown?

A: I came to open the permanent (casino). That's still my goal.

Q: You're the only casino not to disclose profits. How do your margins compare to MGM or MotorCity's?

A: I wish I was an investor here.

Q: Do you get much cashing of welfare, Social Security, payroll checks?

A: I wouldn't say a lot. We probably get more personal checks than all other checks combined. We also don't cash just any payroll check.

Q: Are you busier at the beginning of the month when people get Social Security checks?

A: No question we see a spike in the first of the month. Whether that's due to those checks or pension checks or what have you, it's no different from other markets.

Q: Why can't you bring a plastic soda bottle into the casino?

A: Liquor control regulations. It may look like Coke but could be Crown Royal. The only alcohol that can be in here is alcohol we provide.

Q: Have you taken business from Indian casinos?

A: From what I understand at Soaring Eagle -- that's the only native property directly affected by Detroit -- their business is not off. When you draw a concentric circle around Detroit and Soaring Eagle, there's still a great population on the side of their circle. But certain elements of the circle are finite. Poker's an example. When we opened a poker room, Soaring Eagle shut theirs down. I assume our room had an impact. Baccarat is another example of a finite market.

Q: Do people visit Las Vegas less because of Detroit casinos?

A: Someone said there are playhouses throughout the country but only one Broadway. If anything, gaming's proliferation has contributed to increased visits to Las Vegas.

Q: Have Detroit casinos cut into illegal betting?

A: I'm not a sociologist, but when you make something legal it takes out some demand for the illegal. When prohibition was repealed, organized crime had to find another avenue to support itself.

Q: But it sounds like most of the business is new gambling.

A: There's no question that having gaming more readily available exposed people to it, and they found it was an entertainment choice.

Posted by Craig at November 28, 2003 04:32 PM