What's New in Las Vegas: From 'Avatar' Video Slots to Private Casino Rooms

2:04 PM PST 07/14/2014 by Melinda Sheckells
Courtesy of SLS Las Vegas
SLS Hotel Las Vegas

Along with the opening of SLS Las Vegas hotel and its Bazaar Casino, Sin City is upping its gaming ante.

From the six-figure-per-hand player to $5 first timer, Vegas still has plenty of ways to send you home well pampered, sensory overloaded and with a little, or a lot, less cash. The upcoming SLS Las Vegas, private gaming rooms at The Cosmopolitan and Venetian/Palazzo, the spread of online poker, new wave Blackjack and even sequined hologram dealers who give flirtatious glances — it's all part of the ways Las Vegas is upping its gaming ante.

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The Upcoming SLS Ups the Luxury Gaming Ante

When the SLS Las Vegas opens Aug. 23, it will bring with it restaurants such as Cleo and Katsuya, seven Fred Segal boutiques, a nightclub called Life and a few fresh chances to win big.

"One of the overall-arching goals is to go back to where we started with casino design. We wanted to integrate the casino into the overall high-energy experience that SBE's known for through the restaurant and nightlife venues, not to be just this big open large space that is a pass-through to get to those environments," says Rob Oseland, president and COO of SLS Las Vegas. "So we've been really strategic in terms of making sure that the size of the casino is smaller, with the intent to increase occupancy and make it feel active, exciting and busy."

And because there is nothing less fun than an empty casino — even if it was designed by Philippe Starck — Oseland says the traditional "center bar" is making a comeback. SLS Las Vegas will feature a huge "mood cloud" over its epicenter (a large over-hanging LED feature that has the capability for special programming) with close proximity to lower-price point restaurants such as Umami Burger and Beer Garden, 800 Degrees and The Griddle Cafe.

The crown jewel will be Bazaar Casino, adjacent to Jose Andres Bazaar Meat. Players will be able to order Jose's famous Gin and Tonic, all while playing their favorite casino games. "The Bazaar casino is intended to cater to the affluent gambler that wants a refined yet high-energy experience," Oseland says. Beyond the centralized gaming space there will be a high-limit room and Foxtail Lounge and Pool Club, also with tables. Once you win big, there will be seven Fred Segal boutique sprinkled around to peruse.

Oseland believes SLS Las Vegas has a winning formula — one that is a direct reflection of his pedigree. He was an integral part of Steve Wynn's teams at Bellagio, and Wynn and Encore. "That's when the paradigm shifted," he says. "We began to position ourselves as a full luxury destination resort, which meant that in addition to having a more refined hotel product that was competitive regionally, nationally and internationally, we needed to compliment it to compete with other cities with signature restaurants, brands and chefs, and also recognizable retail, and then having an entertainment component that would appeal to a new and broader audience."

Casino revenue will account for 30 percent of SLS Las Vegas' profits, Oseland says, and citywide casino diversions such as blackjack, baccarat, craps and their electronic counterparts including video slots, accounted for $9.7 billion in revenue in Clark County last year.

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Inside the Private and Not-So-Private Casino Game Rooms

Regulations prevent casinos from closing off tables to the public unless they hold a special license. So if a player can meet the table minimum, it is come one, come all. This is the case at The Cosmopolitan's Talon Club. Located on the second level of the east tower, its existence isn't publicized along with the resort's other amenities so there is a low likelihood of stumbling upon it without purpose. Inside, single and double deck blackjack and midi baccarat is offered and occasionally single-zero roulette. Qualifications to play in Talon are $300 on weekdays for blackjack and midi baccarat tables. On weekends, the minimum bets for both games start $500. Anyone may walk through the Talon Club at any time and unless a game is "reserved," all tables are open to the public. There, it's the perks that make all the difference. Butler service and table-side dining from the resort's restaurant collection, an open whisky and mixology bar and an exclusive wine collection only limited by a players credit line are some of the standout features. Private liquor lockers are given to the best customers so they can keep precious bottles on hand. Talon also has an impressive art collection featuring Takashi Murakami, John Baldessari and Julian Schnabel.

Over at Venetian/Palazzo, the invite-only Paiza Club is closed to the general public, featuring a number of private gaming salons and round-the-clock gourmet dining. Hidden away on the 50th floor, the Paiza is a space that most casino customers don't even know exists. Geared primarily toward Asian clientele, players are coveted with private check-in service, concierges and butlers and a "your wish is my command" attitude. "In the past 10 years or so, private gaming has become popular, and it's the influence of Asia," says David Schwartz, UNLV's director of the center of gaming research. "In Macau casinos, it is very common to have these VIP rooms and a lot of these gamblers are used to that so in the early 2000s Nevada changed the regulations and allowed them. But according to Nevada statues, the gaming control board has to have surveillance in there, and all sorts of other stipulations." Players in these types of clubs typically have lines of credit with the casino around $300,0000.

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Video Slots from Avatar to Unicorns

While the action that happens in the exclusive spaces might be impressive, equally important is the revenue on the casino floor drawn from video slots, where creative content has become big business for brands lucky enough to obtain licensing deals. IGT, which debuted James Cameron's Avatar Video Slots in 2013 is partnering with Italian artist Simone Legno and his popular lifestyle brand Tokidoki to introduce a machine starring his whimsical character palette of donuts and unicorns. "I always wanted to be involved in casino world. I am constantly in Las Vegas, attending many trade shows and I am always around machines, they are so cool and so fun," he says. "I always hoped to make a machines, the graphics and the animations, the machines are so colorful."

Next Wave Blackjack

In June, the Cosmo will start offering a new live table game called Free Bet Blackjack. This new form of Blackjack allows you to double down and split cards without having to place any additional bet. If the player chooses this bet option, the dealer will place a special lammer next to their original wager. If they win the hand, they will get paid out as if they had made a traditional split or double down bet without risking any additional money.

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The Spread of Online Poker

Currently there are only three U.S. States (Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey) where playing online poker for money is legal, but this could be changing rapidly, as legislation on this topic and online gaming in general is a hot button. In early 2013, Nevada became the first state to accept bets online when Ultimate Gaming launched, a partnership between Tim Poster, Tom Breitling and Station Casinos and UFC owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta. In February 2014, players in Nevada became eligible to wager against players in Delaware, which was a major stride as previously everyone had to stay within their geographic boundaries. Players in New Jersey, however, are still out of luck and cannot play on Vegas or Delaware sites.

Flirtatious Hologram Dealers

Back in March, the Cosmopolitan unveiled the world's first virtual croupiers in its new Interblock Hologram Gaming Lounge. Since it's Vegas, the artificial dealers are designed to look like showgirls in clingy sequined gowns — something CNN execs might consider next time they trot out the technology -— but the interaction with players is still pretty limited. The electronic dealers can't speak or hear, though flirtatious eye contact seems to be part of their programming. The games, notes David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, "are less intimidating for novices. And from a labor perspective, they're cheaper." Unless, of course, the holograms gain sentience and revolt.

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