Casino makeovers aren’t just on Strip

The Las Vegas Strip isn’t the only part of the state undergoing an image makeover.

Even properties in sleepy outposts such as Lake Tahoe and Laughlin are going upscale, aiming to attract regulars with richer tastes as well as more discriminating visitors.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, the former Caesars Tahoe changed its name to the Montbleau Resort as part of a significant overhaul of the entire property. Down in Laughlin, the former Flamingo Hilton, purchased from Harrah’s Entertainment by Carl Icahn’s company, American Casino & Entertainment Properties, will soon be reborn as the remodeled Aquarius Casino Resort.

Casinos are replacing themes appealing to middle-income Americans with more upscale brands. Some are luxe-sounding and aren’t associated with a specific product, service or place.

In Las Vegas, projects such as the Fontainebleau casino resort project across from Circus Circus and the Montreaux resort, a $ 2 billion casino resort expected to replace the aging New Frontier, have meaningful names. The Fontainebleau is named after the exclusive Miami Beach hotel owned by a development partner in the Strip property, while New Frontier owner Phil Ruffin chose as his inspiration the Swiss resort town with the famed jazz festival.

As the upscaling of Nevada’s casinos continues, names will become a more important way of reflecting the higher-end image many resorts are striving for.

Branding involves more than just slapping a nice logo on the side of the building.

It starts with an idea of who your customers are and what they want, casino marketer Jim Gentleman said.

Gentleman, senior vice president of strategy and integration with Schadler Kramer Group in Las Vegas, helped casino owners Columbia Sussex come up with the Montbleau resort name along with a host of attractions that aim to deliver on the brand.

Surveys of customers in the San Francisco Bay Area – a key target market for the Lake Tahoe region – found that visitors primarily like to ski as opposed to gamble, he said. Customers also said the property needed a facelift.

„They said they didn’t want to see a megaresort like in Las Vegas but more of a hip, boutique resort,“ Gentleman said.

The agency crafted the aptly-named Montbleau by combining the French words for mountain and blue.

Schadler Kramer Group also helped Columbia Sussex conceive the look and feel of casino staples such as a steakhouse, coffee shop and buffet as well as introduce a nightclub and ultralounge.

The Ciera steakhouse, Blu nightclub and Opal lounge are open with other amenities, including the „Unbuffet,“ to open later this summer. The lounge serves dinner such as tapas and sushi in the early evening and transforms into a lounge area later at night.

In Laughlin, the new owners of the Flamingo Laughlin started with about 200 names that where whittled down to 20, then market tested to arrive at the Aquarius brand.

The name change will top off upgrades the slot floor, high-limit pit, rooms, bars and entertainment venues.

The property also is considering introducing well-known brands to certain areas such as restaurants and entertainment areas.

The makeover is intended to reestablish the property’s preeminence as the Laughlin market leader, General Manager John Lind said. With 1,907 rooms, the Flamingo is the largest in town and will cater to the mass market while focusing on attracting the market’s limited number of high-rollers, he said.

„We believe whichever way this property goes so goes this market,“ said Lind, former president of the Laughlin Tourism Committee and a former senior vice president of the Ramada Express in Laughlin. „We’re at a point in time where we can make some great strides with this property. We’re hitting the market at the perfect time.“

Some of the upgrades are part of regular maintenance that didn’t get done under previous management that had intended to sell the property for some time, while others go above and beyond the competition and will establish the Aquarius as the poshest place in town.