Peter Arceo is senior director of sales and marketing at Casino Arizona and Talking Stick Resort, two gaming facilities operated by the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community. Located in the resort destination of Scottsdale, Arizona, just east of Phoenix, Talking Stick has become a full-service resort that attracts gaming and non-gaming customers. Arceo has been directing a marketing program that goes far beyond gaming, with innovations such as developing a brand of bourbon for the property. He spoke with Global Gaming Business Publisher Roger Gros from his offices at Talking Stick in September.
GGB: The Phoenix area is very competitive for casinos, with more than a dozen properties around the region. What makes Talking Stick/Casino Arizona different?
ARCEO: This is indeed a very competitive area. The design of our properties allows us to take advantage of our location. We’re right off the 101, one of the major highways in the Phoenix metropolitan area. In the case of Talking Stick Resort, we have a 15-story resort tower that allows us to have signature views from our hotel rooms, our spas and restaurants, as well as a nightlife venue up on the 14th floor. Most buildings in Scottsdale are no more than five stories, so we’re able to provide a unique experience to our guests.
How does Phoenix compare to your previous experience in Las Vegas?
The casino industry itself is not much different. The difference is the number of competitors. In Las Vegas, you’re one of dozens of casinos on the Strip, as well as local casinos and smaller slot shops around town. Here in the Phoenix area, there are fewer casinos, and we all operate under the same rules, so there is a limited number of gaming positions on the floor and the same restrictions on the amount of money players can bet on the tables or the machines. So we really have to be creative in how we garner the attention of our customer base.
How important are non-gaming amenities to the continued growth of the property?
It’s extremely important. When you talk about the competitive market, we certainly compete with casinos, but with respect to the non-gaming properties, there are a lot of great options out there for the entertainment dollar of a prospective customer. So the non-gaming aspect of our business is extremely important to us, and we’re always looking for new ideas and concepts to attract a different customer who might not necessarily be here for gaming, and to provide for them a high level of experience.
Talking Stick and the tribe have done some unique things lately: established a branded whiskey, opened a state-of-the-art spring training facility that is really a multi-use facility, and established the resort as a destination. What does it mean to have tools like this?
Over the past year, all of the facilities you mentioned have been brought together to form “Talking Stick: A Cultural and Entertainment Destination.” This is a group of enterprises around Talking Stick Resort that get together to discuss how we can create more awareness that this destination is more than just the casino or the ballpark or the golf course. It really is a collection of unique assets that can provide a total entertainment experience to all our customers.
How about the pool and nightclub? Is this bringing something to the property that wasn’t there before?
We’re a little different than Las Vegas. The Vegas daylife and nightlife option is targeted toward the person who is seeking that over-the-top experience. Understanding that the market is very lucrative, we decided to appeal to them. However, our approach has been to offer a Vegas alternative. We’re not trying to be Vegas; we’re not trying to be over the top. Our experience for our guest is really one of fun without that Vegas edge. It works very well within the Scottsdale market. It’s a little bit different than other resorts, but not as edgy as Vegas.
Gaming is of course the core of both Casino Arizona and Talking Stick. You’ve established some noteworthy poker events. Explain how they work for the property.
Over the years, our poker staff, led by director Kent Odekirk, has done a great job delivering a really unique style of poker. Our signature event, the Arizona State Poker Championship, drew a record number of entries this year. This and other events allow us to promote our properties as the premier gaming destination not only in Arizona, but also in the Southwest.
The casino is very comfortable and state-of-the-art as well, with all the newest slot machines.
We try to stay on par with what everyone else is doing, and in many ways we want to get ahead of the curve. Whenever possible, we like to be first to market with the newest games and to provide our guests with that gaming experience and be able to get the fun and excitement that you expect from a new game. We live in a world with a very short attention span. We’re very cognizant of that and we listen to our customers very closely and try to provide them with as diverse a set of gaming options as possible.
The Salt River Pima Maricopa tribal leaders have always been very supportive of management. How much does their support mean to you?
This is my first experience in Indian gaming, and I have to say that the support we’ve gotten from tribal leadership is much more than I could have asked for or expected. They have been extraordinary.