Casinos: Ameristar revamps, links to Las Vegas

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Ameristar Casino in East Chicago has teamed up with MGM Resorts to give Ameristar customers a chance to visit Las Vegas in discounted or complimentary rooms.

As Chicago area casinos slowly recover from the big hit they took in the recession, Ameristar Casino in East Chicago, Ind. is trying a couple of ways to differentiate itself from the competition.

One way is to team up with MGM Resorts to give Ameristar customers a chance to visit Las Vegas in discounted or complimentary rooms. The other is a $7 million hotel upgrade, with some customer service twists.

Let’s take the MGM Resorts joint venture first. Ameristar is a robust casino company with properties in Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Mississippi, Colorado and Nevada, but with no Las Vegas presence.

Now Ameristar has a vehicle to offer Las Vegas stays to its Star Awards members. The exact offer will depend on the player’s tier level based on how much he or she plays while using a Star Awards card. Hotel stays are available at any of MGM’s nine M Life properties on the Strip — Aria, Bellagio, Luxor MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, Excalibur, Monte Carlo, the Mirage and New York-New York.

Both companies benefit. MGM will get extra customers from the Chicago area, and Ameristar will get access to MGM’s list of M Life members in the region. That means a chance to market directly to local players who aren’t already Ameristar customers.

On the hotel side, Ameristar spent $7 million over a five-month period to refurbish and upgrade its rooms. It’s a top-to-bottom revamp of the hotel that runs at 94 percent occupancy of its 288 rooms. From furniture to bathroom fixtures and artwork on the walls to the new flat-screen hi-def TVs, all was designed to give a comfortable, upscale feel.

The twists? Ameristar has added a few extras to make the rooms more than comfortable places to sleep. In-room Wi-Fi, extra electrical outlets for easy charges of mobile devices and HDTV with dozens of channels represent a change from conventional wisdom. Casino operators long have been wary of giving the customer too much to do in the room, lest they cut back their time on the casino floor.

I cornered Marc Levin, the hotel’s vice president of hospitality, and asked him about the philosophy. He recalled a previous operator.

“We didn’t have Wi-Fi, and I said ‘You have to have Wi-Fi, you have to have the Internet.’ But that was the philosophy of the time. They didn’t want the guests in the rooms. But guests still want the comforts of home.”

Those little things matter as Ameristar strives to give customers a reason to drive to East Chicago to stay and play.

“You stay here, you’re going to have a great dinner at Bugatti’s (steak house), you’re going to be very comfortable in your room and you’re going to have a great gaming experience,” Levin said. “You tie all three together, it’s worth the drive.”

John Grochowski is a local free-lance writer. Look for him on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44); Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).