Thu, 1 Mar 2001

By DAVE BERNS Gaming Wire

      Station Casinos is tapping into the local Asian market with the opening of a specialized table games pit at Palace Station that offers two baccarat, two blackjack and six pai gow poker tables.
      The locals gaming giant believes there are an estimated 105,000 Asians who live in the Las Vegas-Henderson area, with about 60 percent of that market over the age of 25.
      It's a growing niche that company executives believe has been ignored locally, with locals casinos, including their own, abdicating that segment to Strip operators, who primarily market to Asian high rollers from Southern California and overseas.
     But unlike the Strip, where Asians constitute the top end of high-roller play, Palace Station will not increase its $3,000-a-hand table games limit to lure $100,000-a-hand gamblers from the Far East.

    "As far east as we want to go is probably Henderson," said Palace Station Vice President and General Manager Jonathan Swain, who previously ran the Tropicana and Hard Rock Hotel.
    The "Pit 8" section of Palace Station - named for its location on the casinos floor as well as the luckiest number for superstitious Asians - officially opens today.
    Station Casinos, which controls more than half of the locals gaming market, generates 88 percent of its cash flow from slot play.
    And the introduction of the Asian pit is not expected to dramatically alter that mix,
although it could increase the amount of table games play at the Sahara Avenue hotel-casino.

    "All we're doing is extending our entertainment amenities we offer here at Palace Station," said Station Casinos Chief Financial Officer Glenn Christenson.
    The opening comes amid significant disruption caused by major road work to the Sahara Avenue-Interstate 15 interchange. A year-long effort that could continue for another year.
    Although Christenson declined to say how much business has been reduced by the road work, which has made Palace Station harder to access, he did say the 25-year-old property saw a 10 percent decline in business the last time it experienced major work to surrounding roads.

    Meantime, talk continues of expanding Palace Station's 1,028-room hotel, although nothing major is planned for the near-future.
    "It's something that's always in the back of our minds," Christenson said, noting that such a move could come when business conditions are "right."
    For now, Palace Station will broaden the Asian food offering of its coffee shop, as well as periodic appearances by Asian entertainers at the property's 175-seat showroom to better market its new pit.
    And despite joking about his unwillingness to reach beyond Henderson for gamblers, Swain said that Palace Station is advertising in Vietnamese and Chinese publications in Southern California to tap into that region's estimated population of 925,000 Asian-Americans.
    "I think we've ramped up both our out-of-town and locals marketing," he said. "I think we've done more in both markets, although our main focus will always be locals.
    "We don't have any intention of deviating from that."
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