VEGAS INC coverage
Grocery store gambling is undergoing a major overhaul in the Las Vegas Valley as Golden Gaming prepares to spend millions of dollars renovating all of the region’s supermarket casinos.
The company is upgrading 10 gaming parlors this year — a casino at a Vons at South Durango Drive and West Warm Springs Road in Las Vegas and one at East Horizon Drive and West Horizon Ridge Parkway in Henderson already are complete — and plans to revamp 70 more locations over the next two years.
Golden Gaming officials said the upgrades are a significant investment.
The newly branded “Checkout Rewards” gaming salons offer players more privacy and newer games.
Game banks at most supermarkets feature older machines, mostly video poker, in open areas.
"We want them to feel like they're not in the spotlight,” said Blake Sartini Jr., Golden Gaming’s director of route operations.
The new salons feature enclosed rooms with updated games and modern décor.
"It just feels more comfortable, more relaxed," said customer Jim Davis, a small business owner. "It's really not like being in a grocery store."
Golden Gaming operates more than 2,000 slot machines at Vons, Smith’s, Albertsons and other grocery stores statewide.
The company acquired the market share on grocery store gaming parlors last year when it took over the casinos from its biggest competitor, Affinity Gaming, which formerly was Herbst Gaming.
Golden Gaming also is the largest bar owner in the state. It owns more than 40 PT’s and Sierra Gold taverns.
Most of the company’s grocery store locations already have received new gaming software and machines. Newer video slots from WMS, Bally and Konami were added, as was updated video poker software. Some machines offer video blackjack and keno, too.
Full renovations will follow over the next several years.
"We're trying to put at least a couple of casino-type games in each store," Sartini said.
The casino at the Vons in Las Vegas, for example, includes a dollar video poker machine with a $10,000 progressive jackpot. Company officials said the amount of progressives at other locations will depend on demographics, customer demand and the denominations players favor at each store.
Players who gamble at the stores tend to live nearby and enjoy the convenience the gaming parlors provide. Many players make several trips a week to gamble for an hour or two each time. Others pop in before or after a shopping trip to play a quick $20.
"It's closer to my home than a casino," Davis said. "And casinos can get pretty noisy."
Besides the relative solitude, players say they also enjoy the smoke-free environment. While company officials initially worried the smoking ban would hurt business — the grocery stores are subject to Nevada’s Clean Air Act — it actually has helped. There aren’t many smoke-free casinos for players.
Sartini said 85 percent of people who participated in Golden Gaming focus groups said they prefer the non-smoking environment.
Golden Gaming also added for the first time a players’ rewards card that links all the grocery store casinos. Players can earn points for groceries or food and drinks at Golden Gaming’s taverns. The cards are good at 120 locations.
"The local gamers tend to be more sophisticated in their playing," said Steve Arcana, Golden Gaming’s chief operating officer. "We're trying to reward them by giving them a better experience, a more comfortable place to play and more places to use their points."
Part of upgrading players’ experience was ramping up training for casino employees.
"We never had training before," said Gulzar Wahab, who works the customer service counter in the Vons gaming room. "This helps us understand the company better and how to serve the players."