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No Stopping Station

With six new locations planned over the next 10 years, Station Casinos’ Las Vegas depth creates an exciting opportunity

No Stopping Station

Some casino companies try to be everything for everybody. Be in as many jurisdictions as they can. Cross over to iGaming in a big way so they can touch their customers 24 hours a day.

Some casino companies try to do that and fail. Either they don’t understand the markets that they enter or they spread their expertise too thin so their bench gets depleted. Or they pay too much attention to the quarterly reports and lose focus on the long-term goals of the company.

Not Station Casinos, or more accurately, Red Rock Resorts, the name under which the company trades on the stock exchange. Station Casinos knows exactly what they are, exactly what they’re good at, and exactly who their customer is.

Those elements were clearly and definitively present when Station debuted the Durango Casino Resort in Las Vegas in November. The resort was the company’s first new property since it debuted its flagship Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa in 2006. Durango is part of the Station strategy to bank casino resort locations in Las Vegas, the company’s home and total focus. Scott Kreeger, the president of Red Rock Resorts, explains how and why the company has long-term plans for these sites.

“This area where Durango is located, we felt was underpenetrated,” he says. “We’ve held this land for about 20 years, and we’ve been looking at the demographics and looking at the growth out here. It’s one of the fastest growing areas of the valley. The demographics are off the charts, and there’s really no competition within a five-mile radius. So from a business perspective, it was a great opportunity for us.”

The property has opened to rave reviews from all concerned.

“From a customer feedback perspective, we’re overjoyed,” he says. “We always try to do something unique and different, property to property. We take the best parts of what we learned from the last property, and that was Red Rock, and then we kind of grow on that because we always want to keep our customers interested in what we’re doing.”

Sports Shorts

Kreeger says Station has refined its sportsbook offerings at Durango by making it much more of an experiential format.

“Sports has been a huge piece of local gaming for years, and it still continues to be, although it’s morphed over time,” he explains. “On an NFL Sunday, it used to be that before 10 o’clock you had to be there to lay down your bets. Now you can do it with your phone. So that’s changed what we’ve done. We are the market share leader in mobile sports wagers in the city, and we’re proud of that. We have an incredible team. We used to have Art Manteris, who worked for us for years, and who is a legend in sports wagering, but he trained up some young guys that are the best in the business, and they’re aggressive.

“Our race and sports book at the Durango has been a huge success, which will be the new model going forward. There’s a small over-the-counter area where you can get a ticket and bet on the games. We have many large-format screens, great seating areas, an incredible bar where you can play video poker or watch a game and have a beer, and then a really compelling food-and-beverage and entertainment component with it as well.

“At Durango we have the George bar and restaurant, which is a partnership with Jonathan Fine, who owns the Parkway Taverns in town. We wanted to get a guy that understood the tavern restaurant business to do that. He’s been a great partner. We do over 2,000 covers on a Sunday in the restaurant. So not only is it a race and sports area, but on the weekends, Fridays and Saturday nights, we put a country band out there or a different type of entertainment format. So it’s really seven days a week, and it’s been a smash hit—one of the surprises in the property.”

The food-and-beverage at Durango also signals a shift in the Station

strategy.

“What we’re finding is that the more we lean into non-gaming amenities, Las Vegas is growing up as a city,” Kreeger says. “We all used to go to the Strip when we went out to eat. But now the restaurant scene in the suburbs is quite dynamic. And we think we’re driving some of that. It used to be that you ran your own restaurants as a locals casino company. And then it used to be that you tried to convince restaurants to come out to your locations to operate.

“Now it’s become so successful and so popular that we’re talking to the country’s best restaurateurs. And Durango’s a testament to that. James Beard Award-winning chefs, restaurant companies that have over 150 units across the country, are all interested in coming to our new developments. So for us, that means they’re doing food better than we ever could. And the customers agree.”

Customer-Centric

As a company focused on solely Las Vegas locals, Station knows its customers like a book, and the success of Durango has proven that yet again. But Kreeger says that knowledge started many years ago.

“It starts from 47 years of being in the business,” he explains. “And it starts with Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta’s father creating the first off-Strip locals casino; the brothers worked in the business and grew up in the business. We have all been with Station Casinos for quite some time.

“We’re locals serving locals, so we live in these communities that we service. That goes a long way. It’s 47 years of interacting with your customers, listening to your team members and what they think is the right thing to do, and then just learning from property to property. We’re really a development company. A lot of gaming companies grow through acquisition, but we have a growth pipeline that is bricks-and-mortar development.”

Then the design side takes over.

“I can’t take a lot of credit for this because it starts with a founder’s mentality,” Kreeger says. “It starts with Frank and Lorenzo and their passion for design—an absolute passion. Secondly, we have a gentleman on our staff who’s a dear friend, and I’ve worked in the business with for 25 plus years, Albie Colotto, our director of design. Literally two days a week are dedicated purely to design and development within the company. We sit across the table from each other, we lay out plans, we go over every aspect of what we do. The design eye really comes from Frank and Lorenzo.”

Kreeger says much of the reason for customer loyalty to Station is because they have a dedicated employee base where team members are compensated at a high level.

“About five years ago, we decided to take the company in a different direction in two ways,” he explains. “At that time, Las Vegas was highly promotional—it’s like a hamster wheel. We made a conscious decision across our whole company to get out of the free toaster business. Not entirely, because every casino has its level of promotional activity, but we felt like there were better ways to spend our money.

“We felt like there were better ways to connect with our customer and create loyalty. We focused on our team members, because over time we know that our team members make that day-to-day connection with our customers. So happy team members that are passionate to be working for you that represent the company in good light equates to good customer relationships and customer satisfaction.

“We invested in health-care programs. We have free medical centers—a fourth one just open today at Palace Station—on-premise medical centers. We have two 401(k) programs. We’ve been voted three years in a row as Nevada’s top workplace company, Fortune magazine accolades. So really investing in the team members for us is a core principle.”

Kreeger believes Station’s management team is second to none. COO Bob Finch spent 40 years with Station and recently retired.

“Bob is a shining example about what we’re all about,” Kreeger says. “There was no one better than Bob who emulated the culture and the philosophies of the company. At his heart, he was purely a people manager. Bob did his best work when he was in and among the team members, when he was working on team member programs. He was in large part responsible for these last five years where we really went in and concentrated and revamped all of our team member platform. He’s going to be missed.”

But Finch’s replacement is Kord Nichols, who was elevated to COO, and Kreeger brought in Mark Tricano to become senior VP of operations to replace Nichols.

“There’s a high degree of execution in the company,” he explains. “It’s a little bit like an NFL team where we play every down. Kord is a welcome addition. Again, he is a shining example of our company, working for us for 15 years, if not more, He worked his way up. He worked at most of our properties. He went to Graton Casino (a tribal casino in northern California that Station operated). He understands and is passionate about what he does. And it’s Mark’s second time at the company as well. He’s incredibly smart, a very intuitive leader, a guy that has incredible amount of background and just started with us a couple weeks ago, and just fits like a glove.”

Station’s core customer comes to one of the properties at least four times a month, says Kreeger, so they need to feel like there’s something for them every time they come.

“The second piece is investing in our product,” he says. “So whether it’s a newly developed project like Durango, or it’s our existing properties, putting money back into our properties to make sure they’re clean, to make sure they’re safe and to make sure they’re relevant. And when I say relevant, you’ve got to create new reasons for people to continue to come.

“So we invest in new restaurant products, new amenities. We just put in all new high-limit rooms at Santa Fe, Red Rock, and Green Valley Ranch. We put in three new restaurants at Red Rock. Two new restaurants are coming online this month at Green Valley Ranch and Boulder Station. So we think that the combination of investing in your team members, investing in your facilities and your product really trumps a free toaster.”

Future Perfect

Coming out of the pandemic, Station didn’t reopen several of its casinos— Fiesta Henderson, Texas Station and Fiesta Rancho—and sold the Palms, which had never reopened, to California’s San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. Kreeger believes that was the correct decision.

“We kept the Fiesta Rancho, which is right next to Texas, and it’s doing triple the profit that it was doing at the time. And as Las Vegas grows, not only do we have large properties, but we have mid-size properties, the Wildfire casinos. They’re called small non-restricted; they range anywhere from 35 units up to about 200. So these are great little neighborhood casinos. And then we have recently started to get into the tavern business. We characterize the tavern business as really a micro market business, within a one mile or half a mile radius. We’re finding great success in growing that part of the company as well.

“Is it sad to see a property go that that I actually worked at?” he asks. “Yeah, sure. Was it a tough decision for the company? Very much so. We’re not in the business of closing assets. But when you really look at the economics around it, our core thesis is to have our properties in high-growth, high-net-worth areas around the valley, near arterials. These properties weren’t really economically viable; there was no more growth opportunity in the areas. And it became burdensome to keep those operating at profit.

“Secondly, it just happened to be that was the peak of the real estate market. So when we closed those properties over Covid, one of the interesting stats that we figured out was that about 90 percent of our customer base migrated to an adjacent Station Casinos property. So for us, it was an opportunity to consolidate. It was an opportunity to take advantage of really good real estate prices at the time. And so we really reset our whole real estate portfolio for the next 10 years.”

And during those 10 years, Kreeger says the development runway is exciting.

“Development is my passion. Since I came back to the company we’ve got the best development story in the business, bar none. We own all of our assets. We own all of our land. And this goes back to us as a company being real estate junkies a long time ago. We have no problem holding a future development site for over 20 years. We own all of the entitled gaming development sites that are left in Las Vegas.

“With six future development sites all in high-net-worth, high-growth areas of the valley, all conveniently located around the (215 Beltway), much like Durango, we think we have the best development pipeline in the gaming industry. We’re excited to take a 10-year journey into the future and develop these six sites when the time is right.”

The next step is still undecided, Kreeger says. It’s either phase 2 of the Durango resort or breaking ground on the Inspirada project in Henderson. The first phase of Inspirada will be slightly smaller than Durango with 201 rooms and 58,000 square feet of casino space.

“Every time we build a new project, we make it as relevant and as appealing as possible to the neighborhoods,” Kreeger says. “We would look at the capacity of the neighborhood and size of the project to fit with the neighborhood. That might mean that in some situations, it has a smaller set of offerings than others. But we plan all of our projects to eventually be a size and a scale of Durango or Red Rock, a large-scale regional resort destination.”

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.