If you want one area of agreement among the Nevada casino operators, one sure-fire issue is Dotty’s. All the large casino operators seem to hate them. Dotty’s is a collection of 120 taverns/casinos mostly in the Las Vegas area, but also in Northern Nevada, that have caused consternation among operators because Dotty’s customer is the middle-aged woman. The taverns are designed for women: bright, cheerful and convenient. The Nevada Resort Association convinced regulators and government agencies to change the regulations regarding taverns, but Dotty’s refuses to go away, merely adapting to the changes. COO Mike Eide, a former principal in the old VLC slot manufacturer, says Dotty’s, owned by the Estey family, simply developed a great business plan aimed at the gambler few casinos wanted. And now Dotty’s has entered the casino business, buying the Hacienda outside of Boulder City, Nevada. Eide spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros at the company’s new offices in North Las Vegas in December. To hear a podcast of this interview, visit ggbmagazine.com.
GGB: Dotty’s has become a dirty word for the big Nevada casinos. What has Dotty’s done to deserve such a fate?
Eide: All I can say is that we’ve taken care of our customers, a customer nobody else wanted. It didn’t happen overnight, but once we developed it and refined it, the market now has understood what we did, and they want them back.
And who is that customer?
We target a 35-and-older female customer. The décor, the design and the flow of the property is all built around that customer. And we have discovered that older men like to frequent the establishments also.
You design games and machines for this demographic, correct?
Yes. My background is in the gaming machine business. At VLC we designed the first multi-game video machine with embedded bill acceptors in 1988. We found that the current manufacturers weren’t serving this market anymore, so we decided to develop one. We rehired all the VLC engineers. It took four years to get to the market, but it’s been a success in Nevada and Montana, where we also operate taverns. We also lease it to other taverns and casinos. With these machines, we’re able to design games that specifically target our customers.
How long did it take to develop the process that has made Dotty’s so successful?
I don’t want to give the impression that the process is over. It’s continuing to evolve and develop over time. The Estey family and the management team we have focus entirely on our customer, and we develop the process in response to what our customer wants.
The regulations concerning taverns have changed since the NRA has objected to the way you operate. Do you feel this is unfair?
What is unfair is to retroactively change the regulations. The government has the right to change whatever they want going forward, and we as business owners can then determine whether we want to go forward. I’m a firm believer in that when you’ve been approved as many times as we have with full disclosure in what we’re doing, there should be no changes made retroactively.
Now you are entering the casino industry with the recent purchase of the Hacienda outside of Boulder City, adjacent to the Hoover Dam and the Lake Mead National Recreational Area. What are your plans there?
The owners of the property hand-selected Mr. Estey to buy the property. His experience prior to Dotty’s was in national park concessions, hotel operations and food and beverage. He’s always wanted to be in the casino business, so this is a natural evolution.
We are planning to rename the casino the Hoover Dam Lodge, and give it that kind of feel, with a big stone fireplace in the lobby. The casino will include a Dotty’s, and maybe a second one if that first one works. The rest of the casino will be a typical casino environment, with the lights and the machines that people expect. And we’ll have a Bourbon Street sports bar at the center, a new concept we’re developing.
In addition, we’ll start by refurbishing more than 60 hotel rooms with all the amenities: new king beds, flat-screen TVs, and all the amenities you’d find in a first-class hotel. In that way, we expect to raise the ADR and attract more visitors.
What is the market for that property?
We will be catering more to people coming to the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, as well as the local customers from Boulder City and Henderson. We’ll be a part of the community and will change the image of the hotel. Remember, there are 17,000 vehicles that pass by there each day. We hope that the changes we make will cause some of them to stop and check us out.
So, is this the first step into the casino industry?
We’re going to take it one step at a time. I think we have a concept that can work in the casino industry as well, but only time will tell.
How about spreading the Dotty’s concept to other states where VLTs and other slot devices are being legalized in bars and restaurants?
Mr. Estey’s daughter owns a slot route license in Illinois. We’ve licensed the Dotty’s name and idea there, as well as the state where Dotty’s originated, Oregon. We’re looking at Louisiana and Pennsylvania, where slots are ready to go.