With almost two full decades of gaming success under its belt, one could understand if the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana would be tempted to taking its foot off

The 401-room, DreamCatcher Hotelsdesigned Seven Clans hotel tower opened last year at Coushatta Casino Resort, bringing the total room count at the property to 900.
The 401-room, DreamCatcher Hotelsdesigned Seven Clans hotel tower opened last year at Coushatta Casino Resort, bringing the total room count at the property to 900.

the gas pedal in tough economic times. Instead, pretty much the opposite is happening at Coushatta Casino Resort.

After adding 401 new rooms with the opening of its Seven Clans Hotel tower last July, the resort is moving forward with a complete renovation of all of its Grand Hotel tower rooms, including a new round of suite upgrades, scheduled for completion by the second quarter of 2014, and improving its elaborate new outdoor Dream Pool. With a total room count that now stands at 900, Coushatta Casino Resort has solidified its hold on the Lake Charles market and is well-positioned to absorb the impact of Mojito Pointe, a $500 million project slated to open next year.

“Having the extra hotel capacity has helped us with retaining guests but also with extending stays,” said Conrad Granito, general manager, Coushatta Casino Resort. “We’ve seen what you expect to see when you add rooms, which is not just an uptick but also the ability to maintain our business levels.”



COMPETITIVE MARKET, STRONG ECONOMY

The Coushatta Casino Resort sits about 40 miles to the north of Lake Charles and its two riverboat casinos; L’Auberge du Lac and Isle of Capri. The market is filled out by Boyd Gaming’s Delta Downs Racetrack Casino and Hotel in Vinton. All four properties live off of the east Texas market, primarily Houston, with some customers coming from as far away as San Antonio and Austin.

“My three competitors are available to each of my guests before they even get to me,” said Granito, who estimates that the 1,000-room L’Auberge “has the lion’s share of the market,” with Coushatta coming in second, followed by Isle and Delta Downs.

The new Seven Clans Hotel, the first of Hnedak Bobo Group’s DreamCatcher Hotel concepts to open in the country, includes 18 suites, bringing the resort’s total suite count combined with the Grand Hotel to over 80. A Dream Pool with a 510-foot lazy river, two water slides, a swim-up bar and a 40-foot diameter splash area opened in September for four weeks, thanks to some unseasonable warm weather. Based on that initial run, Coushatta will be making some improvements, upgrading the swim-up bar; adding some shade, more food-and-beverage options and a new towel hut and before it reopens later this month.

The improved room product and extra inventory helps mightily with what Granito calls, “the biggest challenge that Coushatta has had since I came here in August 2008: No major upgrades or renovations since Grand Casino left in 2002.” Still, the Coushatta tribe could not have been faulted for being cautious in the midst of the worst national economy in memory. What undoubtedly made their decision easier was the continued resilience of the oil and gas-based east Texas and Louisiana economies.

“We saw a dip maybe for a month or two, whereas other jurisdictions may have seen 20 or 30 percent dips,” said Granito. “Even through the worst of 2008 to 2010, we actually saw minor uptick year-to-year.”



MORE HEADS IN BEDS
 

A well-appointed suite room at the Seven Clans Hotel, vital to Coushatta’s ongoing quest to boost visitation numbers.
A well-appointed suite room at the Seven Clans Hotel, vital to Coushatta’s ongoing quest to boost visitation numbers.

The Seven Clans Hotel represents what Granito called a major shift in room quality, setting the standard for what Coushatta will be in the future.

“It’s not a themed hotel, but it has a very clean, updated look,” he said. “Hnedak Bobo created a great environment in the lobby with a restaurant, a mini-sandwich bar, and a franchised PJ’s coffee house. The rooms themselves are not very large but they’re very comfortable, with interesting touch points between the bed and TV. We opened the new hotel to the high-end players first and they loved the suites and the finishes.”

Every single room has a rain shower head (“It’s a shower you’ll never want to leave,” the Houston Chronicle wrote last August), and Simmons BeautyRest beds with zip-off pillow tops. Next up for Coushatta is to renovate the current existing room inventory, specifically the Grand Hotel. That property has 208 rooms and with some re-configuring of suites the resort will actually pick up more rooms and go to 212. The building’s exterior will be updated to compliment the Seven Clans and all rooms are getting fully renovated down to bare studs. The Grand Hotel suites will look like those of the Seven Clans, but they will actually have some more upgrades via interior designer Montgomery Ross.

The upgraded room product and inventory has altered the business model for Coushatta, which now not only has more overnight stays, but is now in a position to charge for them. “You want heads in beds, but you have to decide between comps and paying customers,” said Granito. “We used to be geared more toward the comp player because room demand far exceeded inventory. Now with the increased inventory, we can pursue a cash customer. We’re looking at yield management much closer than we ever have and it has been beneficial to our bottom line.”
 

We used to be geared more toward the comp player because room demand far exceeded inventory. Now with the increased inventory, we can pursue a cash customer. We’re looking at yield management much closer than we ever have and it has been beneficial to our bottom line.
—Conrad Granito, GM, Coushatta Casino Resort

Conrad Granito, GM, Coushatta Casino Resort



GETTING READY FOR MOJITO

Lake Charles will absorb more gaming capacity next year with the expected opening of the $500 million, 700-room Mojito Pointe riverboat casino, which will include a golf course. The project is now owned by Pinnacle Entertainment, which picked it up as part of its acquisition of Ameristar last year.

Mojito Pointe stands right next to L’Auberge du Lac, and Pinnacle’s plan is to integrate the two projects, which is easier said than done as Ameristar designed the

Coushatta is fine tuning its Dream Pool, a river-themed water attraction with slides and a swim-up bar.
Coushatta is fine tuning its Dream Pool, a river-themed water attraction with slides and a swim-up bar.

project to compete with L’Auberge, putting the back-end of the project; parking, back-offices, and deliveries, next to L’Auberge’s pool and the high-end rooms of L’Auberge, whose entrance stands 1,800 feet from Mojito’s.

“They’re wrestling with how that synergy is going to work,” said Granito. “I think realistically the property opens in late 2014 instead of the middle of next year, but it will have an impact. Longer term, with our hotel and what we’re doing, we’re increasing our market share literally month-to-month. There will be a hit, but it will be less than if we didn’t do anything to prepare for it. Also, we all split wallet; we know that now. We have guests that are staying in my hotel and are playing down there and vice versa. I can’t convince people in East Texas not to go to the competition, but what I can do is, once you get to Lake Charles, I can convince you to give us a try.”

Tribal gaming operators in Louisiana do have one built-in advantage: Riverboats are limited to 33,000 square feet of gaming space by statute. Coushatta has 110,000 square feet of gaming space; 2,820 slots, 68 tables and a 20-plus table poker room. Tribal facilities also have the luxury of trying some things that the riverboats can’t, namely bingo and off-track betting. In the past year, Coushatta has added a 430-seat bingo hall with Vegas-style, 90-minute sessions followed by 90-minute breaks; and an OTB parlor. “Any form of gaming that’s legal in the state of Louisiana you can play under our roof; bingo, paper pull tabs, satellite horse race wagering, you can play it all,” said Granito.

On the slot floor, Granito has steadily replaced machines since 2008, with all but 10 to 15 percent of the floor fully turned over to new games. The property has endeavored to offer value for gamblers. “We know what the competition’s hold percentage is and we know what ours is,” said Granito. “I can say we’re going to be a point or two better than the competition, but what players believe is what matters. What they want an answer to more than anything is not, ‘Am I winning?’ but, ‘do I have time-on-device?’ If you can give them that it goes a long way.”

On the “what’s new” front, Granito cites Multimedia Games’ TournEvent product; “We just installed it and we love it. We’re going to be sending two players to their national tournament.” One of the property’s most successful promotions since 2007 has been an annual $250,000 cash prize giveaway to a single player each December. “When I arrived it was the second year of the promo, and I was very skeptical, but my marketing guy told me to look at the numbers and the numbers on that day are almost as good as New Year’s Eve. We do that a week before Christmas and it’s great for us.” On the analytics side, “we’re trying to take advantage of the BI tool we already have which is Tech Results Wager and adding some proprietary predict analytics within that, be it ROI on slot products or players.”

Coushatta is also keeping pace on the mobile and online fronts, using Bally Technology’s mobile app as a concierge-type service. “Usage is very high,” said Granito. The property has also partnered with IGT’s DoubleDown product and is testing Atlantis Internet Group’s tribal gaming solution, which is another online play-for-free software product.

With over 2,600 casino employees, the Coushatta tribe has become the fifth largest employer in the state of Louisiana. The casino’s biggest challenge, which will only increase with the opening of Mojito Pointe, is the considerable distance people have to drive to get to work. Employee perks include a gas station where the casino is going to start offering discounted gasoline will help reduce the appeal of a closer-to-home competitor in full-on hiring mode.