Prime time exposure
Prime time exposureGolden Nugget owners Tom Breitling and Tim Poster roll the dice with FOX's new reality series 'The Casino'
Golden Nugget owners Tim Poster and Tom Breitling were adamant that they would hype their downtown Las Vegas and Laughlin properties when they purchased them from MGM Mirage one year ago. But no one at that time imagined they'd be the focus of their own television show on a major network.
After a little wheeling and dealing, however, that's exactly what happened. The Casino, a new reality television show co-produced by Mark Burnett Productions (Survivor) with Jamie Bruce (The Restaurant) and Kevin Harris (The Apprentice), is giving a national TV audience a behind-the-scenes look at Poster and Breitling's operation of the Golden Nugget. It is also serving to re-hype a classic Vegas property that has operated in the shadows of larger, flashier megaresorts for years.
"When you look back to the past, there were really two properties that stood out-Caesars Palace and the Golden Nugget. These were the predominant brands," Breitling said. "One of the things that Tim and I
really liked was the personality that those old club-like resorts had-the Sands, the Dunes ... you went in there and it was a joint, a place you felt comfortable in, that was easy to get around. That's really what the Golden Nugget still stands for today, even though we have 2,000 rooms."
Returning to the classy attitude of Vegas' past, while maintaining a modern casino is the mission Breitling and Poster have chosen for the Golden Nugget properties. It's not an easy process, and one that television audiences will get to see first-hand with The Casino.
Made for TVBreitling and Poster were taking over an already well-branded hotel casino at the same time that the gaming industry was in the midst of being exposed and hyped to national television audiences. The Travel Channel has featured dozens of Las Vegas-related shows. The Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel have devoted episodes to casino security and surveillance. Networks like MTV, VH1 and E! have ramped up coverage of events in Las Vegas. The recent renewed interest of televised poker has spawned creations like the World Poker Tour and coverage of the World Series of Poker on ESPN.
But there had yet to be a full-scale reality television show devoted entirely to the casino operations. Breitling and Poster knew that was an area they wanted to explore.
The pair helped found a small-scale, Las Vegas-based film and production company with Station Casinos President Lorenzo Fertitta and entertainment industry executive Trent Othick-Insomnia Entertainment. But to make a reality show work in the dog-eat-dog world of network television, they knew they needed someone with experience.
That someone was Burnett.
"Burnett was looking to set a non scripted show in Vegas and at the same time Tim and Tom, who saw The Restaurant, approached Burnett," said co-producer Jamie Bruce.
Burnett, Breitling and Poster sat down and crafted how the show would work-and how much of the casino The Casino would show.
"There are two worlds the show will focus on. One is the business world, which is the story of Tim and I-really being the youngest casino owners in the state-and our passion for getting into this business, our backgrounds and that process of what it's like to take over the operations of such a nostalgic and historic brand as the Golden Nugget. Then you have The Love Boat side of the casino world. That side deals with the revolving door of customers that come through and the stories each one of them have and how they interact with us," Breitling said.
Eighteen camera crews, with over 100 members shot the show's content between February and March of this year. Following the story lines was, at times, difficult in the fast-paced casino environment, Bruce said.
"The biggest challenge was to get the owners and staff of the casino to trust us and our intentions," Bruce said. "It was also a challenge to follow so many characters 24/7 in such a large place."
"We were a little nervous about how customers would react," Breitling said. "People have been coming here for over 50 years and we didn't want to drive anyone away. But we were pleasantly surprised that the cameras were actually magnetic. People wanted to know what was happening. A lot of people were pretty open to being on camera and sharing their Las Vegas experience, whether it be having a really fun time or whether it be some pretty serious gamblers. But there's always that drama element to it. When you watch The Love Boat for example, there's always the love interest, there's always the challenges of dealing with customers, there's always the challenge of what to provide customers."
Believe the hypeThough structured as prime time television entertainment, Breitling, Poster, the producers and a host of others are hoping The Casino will serve a dual purpose as well-hyping the Golden Nugget brand and downtown Las Vegas.
Breitling said he's not worried that the "behind-the-scenes" format, which has long-been steered clear of by casino executives, will give audiences any kind of negative portrayal of his property or Las Vegas.
"I think Vegas does a good job of that already," he quipped. "People are going to expect the unexpected. This is a new venture for us. When we dove into this, it wasn't just a work decision, it was a lifestyle decision for us as well. We wanted to show people with this show that Tim and I love Las Vegas and we would never do anything to shed a bad light on Las Vegas. Our goal is to continue to not only promote the city, but to promote downtown Las Vegas and its resurgence and all the great things that are happening here."
The idea, from Breitling's perspective, is to show audiences what they're missing ... that the high-energy pace of The Casino mirrors the fun they could be having in Las Vegas if they were to come here.
The show, which began airing June 14, has yet to generate Survivor-like ratings, drawing only 5.8 million viewers in its premier. Whether The Casino will be a success is up to the viewers.
"As always, it depend on the ratings," Bruce said. "One can only hope."
But Breitling and Poster aren't banking on television alone to earn them their winnings.
A different styleBreitling and Poster made their millions-$105 million to be exact-in the dot.com explosion in the mid- to late-1990s. The pair founded Travelscape.com, which wound up being so successful in the online booking realm that they were quickly bought out by giant Expedia.com.
They both could have retired, but Poster, who had grown up in Las Vegas, saw the opportunity to own a casino and relive the vibrant youth he so loved.
"Tim moved to Las Vegas when he was six years old and his family lived in the Sands Hotel & Casino for several months in 1974 before his family found a home. He had always been infatuated with classic Vegas, old Vegas, the lounge singers and such. He studied it," Breitling said. "When I moved to Vegas in 1993, Tim and I were more into the lounge singing and the classic scene than the nightclub scene. We would have rather sipped a martini and waited in line to see Frank Sinatra than go to a nightclub. That's just our style.
"In our Internet business, Travelscape.com, we followed the growth of Las Vegas throughout the 1990s and we saw it evolve into something special. It caters to everyone, from conventioneers to people just looking to escape. But what we also saw was that things were getting a little impersonal as well. There wasn't the same focus on taking care of customers and service. A lot of that got lost and we want to bring that back. The Golden Nugget has been an AAA Four Diamond property for 27 consecutive years. The product is there, the service is wonderful, we're just going to re-energize it and do things like bring back big-time entertainment in an intimate setting."
Breitling and Poster have spent the last year revamping the property to bring out its classical elegance. They've added a poker room, which was long absent from the property, as well as a new high-limit area.
"We have a modernization plan which includes some renovation of the suites, bringing in plasma televisions. We'll refresh some other areas as well. But the MGM Mirage did a fantastic job of keeping this property up to speed and they reinvested a significant amount of money and we were really fortunate for that." Breitling said.
Today, Breitling said he and Poster try and spend about 50 percent of their time on the casino floor, getting to know customers and employees alike-getting an idea of what they want out of the property.
A new marketing campaign Breitling and Poster are almost ready to unveil is also expected to raise awareness of the Golden Nugget properties.
"We wanted to launch a campaign where we can bring the Golden Nugget back to the center stage. It is one of the top brands in all of gaming. We want to reintroduce that brand to people who haven't been here in a long time," Breitling said. "It's about reintroducing as many people as possible to the brand and the experience. I can tell you that Tim and I do not slow down. We're always looking for things to make better, so you'll have to stay tuned to the future."CJ
'The Casino' premiered on world's larget LED screens
When you're premiering a national, prime time television show based on the Golden Nugget and Las Vegas, what better place to do it than under the canopy in downtown Las Vegas?
The Casino, FOX's latest reality TV series produced by Survivor creator Mark Burnett, was premiered June 14 on brand new LED screens built into the Fremont Street Experience canopy. Roughly 1,000 invited guests and onlookers took part in a series of parties prior to the airing, in which the new screens by Viva Vision were also unveiled.
The LED screens, which tower 90 feet above onlookers and stretch 1,500 feet wide, are the largest of their kind in the world. The Fremont Street Experience-funded by a collective of downtown casinos-shelled out $17 million for the canopy upgrade. The project took workers several months to install over 2 million incandescent light bulbs with some 12.5 million light-emitting diode lamps.
The upgrade was done to refresh the offerings that usually draw people to the downtown canopy.
"I think we're just barely on the cusp of finding out what kind of capabilities this gives us," Fremont Street Experience President and CEO Joe Schillaci told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "The other day, just for fun, we hooked up an Xbox video game and it looked great up on the canopy."
Before the airing of The Casino, officials with Viva Vision and the Fremont Street Experience showed off the first of several new animated attractions during the event, entitled "Area 51." The show takes onlookers through a wild ride of space battles to save Earth.
"Downtown had a tendency to get a little stale," said Golden Nugget co-owner Tim Poster. "You need to spend some capital to keep this area fresh and I think that's starting to happen.