LAS VEGAS (AP) - For evidence of just how important Sam Nazarian was to the creation of SLS Las Vegas, look no further than the iconic starfish-like silver sculpture that looms large at the front entrance.
It’s reportedly a caricature of Nazarian himself.
Nazarian has been the face of the property since he purchased it when it was still the Sahara in 2007. He closed the Sahara four years later, then reopened it as SLS Las Vegas following a $415 million overhaul.
But now Nazarian is leaving the vision he created in the hands of others, at least for a while. He stepped back from day-to-day operations at the resort amid dramatic hearings before Nevada gaming regulators.
It’s a big setback for Nazarian, and the latest in a series of high-profile speed bumps for the fledgling Strip resort. Since opening in August, the resort has laid off staff, lost its first president and closed its buffet.
Taken together, these incidents paint a turbulent picture for SLS’ first few months. But experts, and the resort’s new president, still see room for success.
“They’ve always had people who know the business as their top operations person,” said David Schwartz, director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research, referring to the current and former SLS presidents. “So you’ve got somebody directly in the chain of command there who definitely knows what they’re doing.”
Current president Scott Kreeger’s background includes spending more than a decade as an executive at locals gaming giant Station Casinos, which is significant in that SLS is also trying to appeal to locals.
SLS faces a challenge in trying to compete for Las Vegas locals in a crowded market, compounded by the fact that locals have been historically hesitant to frequent Strip casinos.
Still, Kreeger said he’s drawing on his experience and working on a strategy that can compete with Station and Boyd Gaming, which appeals to that market as well.
Kreeger’s most recent position is also helpful. He was most recently the chief operating officer at Revel in Atlantic City, which was one of four casinos there to close this year. So he knows how to work in a tough operating environment.
“He knows how to deal with locals, how to deal with the middle market and he comes from very, very severe distress,” said Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor. “I think they got a real good guy in there.”
Now, the question is how crippling are the problems that Kreeger inherited?
In October, SLS announced that it was laying off 2 percent of its workforce after evaluating business needs. Later that same month, the resort announced that Kreeger was replacing president and chief operating officer Rob Oseland, who left to work on another resort project. Then, in November, SLS closed its buffet.
At least some of those changes aren’t unusual for new resorts.
Curtis said it’s typical for properties to open overstaffed and then make adjustments. As for the departure of Oseland, Schwartz said that “often the person who builds the casino doesn’t end up running it for a long time.”
The closure of the SLS buffet is a different story, in Curtis’ view.
“That’s not remotely normal. A buffet is very important in the whole Vegas experience,” he said. “For a place to open and have that happen so quickly is definitely a negative sign.”
But Kreeger suggested a buffet might not be essential, at least for SLS. He said the resort was polling its customer base to “make sure that the buffet is an amenity that they care to have.”
And despite recent developments, he said observers should be optimistic about the future of the resort. He characterized the operating changes as early kinks being worked out on the way to smoother sailing.
“I’ve opened several properties in my career. There’s always this early stage of maturity you go through, and there’s changes,” Kreeger said. “I think that’s a natural process that we’re going through.”
To be sure, the SLS has faced some unique obstacles to success. It opened right before the relatively weaker winter season, and its location on the Strip’s seedier north end - up the street from the abandoned Fountainebleau project - means it doesn’t get much foot traffic.
The location factor could become less of an issue over time. Next year, a new open-air venue will open across the street in time to host the Rock in Rio music festival. Another property - Resorts World Las Vegas - is planned to open nearby in the coming years, and that should inject even more life into the area.
In the meantime, Curtis said the SLS will be on stronger footing once it really nails down its market. He said Nazarian and his company, SBE, are used to dominating the nightlife scene in their other markets.
That type of prominence isn’t coming to SLS overnight, which Curtis said has been a hindrance for a property that was built around chic nightclubs and restaurants but also marketed itself to locals.
“I think they weren’t sure what they wanted to be when they opened,” he said. Aggressively pursuing the locals market helped, he said, but “what they were forgetting, I think, is the middle market itself.”
Kreeger, for his part, already seems to know what type of customer the SLS attracts: younger people with more disposable income less attracted to the things that entertained previous generations of Las Vegas visitors (i.e., gambling). He said that the ethos of SLS is “rooted with that generation.”
Gina Field, an entertainment industry worker in her 30s, arguably fits into that category. She was already familiar with the SLS brand from its presence in Los Angeles, where she lives. She saw advertisements there for the resort and decided to give it a try when she came to the Strip not to gamble, but to run in a race.
Field, who was interviewed this week in a lounge area at SLS, said the property felt somewhat isolated, but she didn’t mind.
“If I was looking for a super upscale Vegas experience, this wouldn’t be my top choice,” she said. “But for just a fun weekend . it’s nice. I like the property.”
On New Year’s Eve, she was enjoying her second stay at the resort.
Information from: Las Vegas Sun, https://www.lasvegassun.com
Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.