In the continuing transformation of the Las Vegas gaming and hospitality landscape, two distinct business models predominate.
Locals' casinos, typically located off-Strip in suburban locations with no more than a few hundred hotel rooms, are evolving into lifestyle centers that often incorporate bowling alleys and movie complexes.
Meanwhile, Strip megaresorts, at least until recently, had continued their forward march, adding thousands of rooms and ever more upscale dining and spa options.
But Michael Gaughan's South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa, located 10 minutes south of the major Strip action, features elements of both business types while also accommodating horses, all under the same roof.
In addition to an attractive casino/resort/lifestyle center for humans, equine guests get first-class accommodations, and they both get use of an enclosed and climate-controlled, 4,400-seat equestrian center.
When it debuted in December 2005 as South Coast, the property was the most recent addition to Coast Casinos' domain. The rebranding as South Point occurred shortly thereafter, as Gaughan, Coast Casinos' founder and CEO, took the property private in a stock swap after Coast's acquisition by Boyd Gaming.
South Point is just a short drive from Mandalay Bay, which is, in effect, the southernmost point on the developed Strip.
Gaughan is a second-generation Las Vegas hotelier; his father, Jackie, had stakes in hotels including the Flamingo, Golden Nugget and El Cortez. (See related article, "Cabana Suites injects slice of Miami into downtown Vegas.")
Like his father, Gaughan has a reputation for a hands-on, paternal approach. During my November visit, when the softening economy had already resulted in layoffs at some Strip properties, I asked Courtney Fitzgerald, public relations director for South Point, whether the resort would soon be announcing layoffs of its own.
Fitzgerald replied that "Mr. Gaughan would never lay anyone off before Christmas." As of press time, there had been no layoffs of full-time staff at South Point.
Lay of the land
The look and feel of the resort closely resembles the Suncoast Hotel and Casino, which Coast Casinos opened in 2000 on a 50-acre site near Summerlin, Nev.
Architecturally, the property evokes a Mediterranean vibe, with creamy colors adorning a Spanish-themed, mirrored-glass facade that creates an intensely strong reflection in the desert heat.
Upon entering the vast 80,000-square-foot casino, one immediately realizes that the geographical limitations of Strip resorts don't apply here.
The large sweep of South Point prompts its staff to refer to it as "the Suncoast on steroids," although a clever layout minimizes long treks between any two points.
The July 2008 opening of a new 830-room guest tower boosted the total room count to 2,163, an unusually high number for an off-Strip resort, effectively putting South Point in a niche of its own.
Although the midweek price point of the standard rooms, as low as $80 recently, might imply a budget accommodation, the rooms are sturdy and attractive while just short of luxury. Standard rooms are 500 square feet, a size that typically defines a suite at Strip properties.
The indoor South Point Equestrian Complex's design features 1,200 climate-controlled stalls. Horse show and rodeo enthusiasts fill the 4,400-seat arena in a busy calendar that includes the Arabian Breeders World Cup and events held by Championship Bull Riding Inc. (The horse center is not available for use by the general public.) The complex also converts to convention space as necessary. The resort is also positioned to accommodate sizeable groups and conventions in an additional 163,000 square feet of meetings space.
Those who fondly remember Michaels, the award-winning gourmet restaurant that typified fine dining on the Strip for years at the Barbary Coast, will take comfort in knowing that the eatery has been transported, piece by piece, to South Point.
The room is a faithful re-creation of its prior incarnation, where waiters still pamper guests with elegant service of throwback Continental cuisine. Seven other restaurants accommodate varied tastes and budgets.
The 64-lane bowling center, 16-theater movie complex and 600-seat bingo hall, although primarily designed to attract locals, also serve as built-in entertainment for tourists. An extensive and well-appointed spa, a large pool area and a 500-seat showroom complete the one-stop resort experience.
The marketing challenge facing South Point executives, however, is how to position the property to attract enough warm bodies to fill all of its 2,163 rooms and suites. Management must, and routinely does, offer the rooms at a price point at or below comparable accommodations on the Strip. Affinity groups (e.g., bowlers, horse enthusiasts, etc.) are targeted with packages specific to their interests, and convention business is also drawn.
But given the fact that South Point isn't on most travel agents' radar, the necessity of an outreach strategy is obvious. The sales and marketing team joins the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority on trips and at trade shows, while offering loyal agents complimentary, two-night resort fams during slow periods.
According to management, South Point pays commissions within 14 days and enjoys a high repeat guest rate. Major online agencies also provide a significant sales outlet for the property.
"Our staff remains committed to our relationship with our travel agents, and we are confident that the South Point is a great place for them to send their clients for a Las Vegas vacation," said Gaughan.
Notwithstanding South Point's unique resort mix, its ace in the hole is Gaughan himself. His guidance, seemingly everywhere, combines with his experience and hands-on management to shape this resort and direct its daily operations. South Point is an entrepreneurial labor of love, and that's a rare find in modern-day Las Vegas.