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RD&E Experience defines the non-gaming paradigm

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One of the most unique conferences in the gaming industry was held last month in Las Vegas. The RD&E Experience is dedicated to the dissemination of information about non-gaming amenities in the casino resort industry. With competition encroaching in all jurisdictions and regions, casinos without other attractions will lose their edge. RD&E is designed to explain how to exploit the advantages that non-gaming amenities provide.

The RD&E Experience is produced by Global Gaming Business magazine and the Innovation Group, and was held at the Planet Hollywood casino in Las Vegas.

The conference featured stellar speakers and excellent networking opportunities. The keynote presentations were only the start. On May 1, Tom Breitling, the chairman of Ultimate Gaming, brought his wide knowledge of the gaming industry to the conference just one day after his company’s UltimatePoker.com website debuted America’s first legal online poker room. And the next day, sbe Entertainment President and founder Sam Nazarian arrived to explain how his company’s SLS Las Vegas casino resort will do things differently to gain a serious advantage on the Las Vegas Strip.

The opening general session laid the groundwork for the conference, with Innovation Group President Michael Soll leading a panel of experts that included Mark Birtha, corporate vice president and general manager, Fiesta Henderson, Station Casinos; Jason Gastwirth, senior vice president of marketing and entertainment, Caesars Entertainment; Dean Macomber, president, Macomber International; and Joe Weinberg, president of the gaming division for the Cordish Companies. The panelists discussed why non-gaming amenities will be a make-or-break proposition for casinos now feeling the heat of increased competition.

The information provided in this session was expanded upon and developed in depth the rest of the day with panels that discussed food and beverage (choosing menu items, the value of brand-name restaurants, and the latest trends in beverages), entertainment (the inherent conflicts between talent agents and entertainment directors, getting your brand on television, and booking novelty acts) and technology (non-gaming player rating systems and advances in ticketing).

At lunch, Breitling outlined his path to success, focusing on his entrepreneurialism with online booking and the purchase of the Golden Nugget Casino in Downtown Las Vegas. He explained how the industry is changing and how online gaming will play a role in all aspects of casino operation in the future.

The closing general session on May 1 focused on social networking, and brought together some of the leading managers of the tools in the industry, including Julia Carcamo, vice president of brand marketing, Isle of Capri; Justin Cohen, president, Western Division, Internet Marketing Inc.; Danielle Deremo, interactive marketing manager, Mirage Hotel and Casino; and Derek Schoen, social media and internet marketing manager at Aria Resort & Casino. It was moderated by Ryan Leeds, vice president of strategy and new development for Masterminds.

The second day kicked off with a case study of Caesars Entertainment’s Linq project, which brings together all the elements of non-gaming amenities, including a 550-foot-tall observation wheel. Moderated by David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, panelists included Linq Vice President and General Manager Jon Gray; Tariq Shaukat, executive vice president and chief marketing officer; and Greg Miller, senior vice president of development, both with Caesars Entertainment.

Miller and Shaukat explained the strategy and thinking that went into the development of the Linq, while Gray explained how that strategy will be implemented in the operations of the project, located on the east side of the Las Vegas Strip between the Flamingo and Harrah’s.

Sessions on the second day included again food and beverage (restaurant design, lounges and nightclubs, and food festivals and special events) and entertainment (negotiating contracts, golf course design and operations, and using boxing and MMA as attractions), as well as sessions on hotel operations and how to use bloggers and tweeters to your advantage.

Nazarian and GGB Publisher Roger Gros conducted a presentation at lunch that included Nazarian’s views on the Las Vegas market and how his SLS Las Vegas (the former Sahara) will take advantage of the “white space” in the marketplace. He revealed his strategies for food-and-beverage and retail, while using gaming as an amenity rather than as a focal point.

The final session of the conference featured a discussion of how tribal governments can use non-gaming amenities to ensure the continued success of their gaming operations. Moderator Katherine Spilde, chairwoman of the Sycuan Institute on Tribal Gaming at San Diego State University, directed a discussion with Sheila Morago, executive director of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association; John Palinkas, president of the Pechanga Development Commission; and Scott Sirois, a gaming consultant and former president of several tribal gaming operations, including those of the Tohono O’odham tribe of Arizona.

The information provided, however, was just part of the story of the RD&E Experience. The intimate setting allowed attendees to query the speakers, offer their opinions and network with colleagues in a way not possible at other, more complex meetings.

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