Hospitable Leisure

Seth Schorr, Chairman Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino, chats to Glyn Thomas

For those of our readers that may not be familiar with Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino, please can we commence this interview with a history?

The Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino was opened on 11/12/13 in Downtown Las Vegas. Built with an urban hospitality experience in mind the casino resort was developed within its own pedestrian friendly entertainment district which consists of established brands such as Triple George Grill, Pizza Rock, Hogs & Heifers, the Mob Museum and steps away from the Fremont Street Experience. The Downtown Grand has nearly 650 hotel rooms in two towers, a roof-top pool with live entertainment called Citrus and Downtown’s most exciting new restaurant opened in the fall of 2016 called Freedom Beat which offers live music nightly from some of Las Vegas’ most critically acclaimed bands. The Downtown Grand’s casino is set in a boutique environment and provides an intimate gambling experience, which many prefer to the massive casino experience that continues to grow larger in other areas of Las Vegas.

What would you say are some of the additional unique aspects about Downtown Grand that set it apart from its rivals?

In addition to the interesting concepts that I just described, the Downtown Grand sets itself apart from others by providing the best bang for your buck. That doesn’t’ mean we are the cheapest, but it means we provide the best value. This isn’t just my opinion, but the opinion of the Las Vegas Review Journal which awarded us “BEST VALUE HOTEL in LAS VEGAS” for two years in a row. Over the past two years the Downtown Grand has invested in eSports and is the first casino in the world to have a dedicated eSports lounge. Further eSports developments are in the works.

Can you briefly summarise your career to this point?

My career in the casino industry started in Laughlin, Nevada in 1991 when I had a summer job at the Golden Nugget. It was actually my first time understanding the importance of analysis to business decision making as I was tasked as a part of my job to count the number of passengers on the water taxi from Laughlin to Bullhead, Arizona to determine whether the service was worth the expense to the property.

I worked in various positions at Treasure Island, The Mirage and eventually was a Casino Executive at Bellagio in 1999. After Mirage Resorts was sold to MGM, I went to work directly for Steve Wynn as Director of Interactive Gaming where I explored the world of Online Casinos during its first iteration in the late 1990s into early 2001. For legal reasons, we put that project on hold (indefinitely it seems) and I shifted my focus to building and operating The Wynn Collection, a $500,000,000 impressionist art museum in the lobby of the Desert Inn where Wynn Las Vegas now stands.

I spent nearly two years in Macau as one of the first members of the Wynn Macau team developing the international marketing plan and helping to build the initial team and infrastructure.

In 2006 after a brief departure from the casino industry I moved back to Las Vegas where my partners and I acquired casinos in North Las Vegas. In 2010 we formed our current management company, Fifth Street Gaming to operate these casinos and manage casinos owned by others. We have operated casinos for four different ownership groups.

What are your key responsibilities as Chairman of Downtown Grand Hotel and Casino?

The Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino has become like a child to me – I actually started developing the Downtown Grand in between the birth of my two children Dax (7) and Mia (5). My job is to nurture the operation, guide the overall strategy and, of course, a main part of my focus is on the casino operation and marketing as well eSports which has become a passion of mine. We are lucky to have a very strong operating team, a stellar GM and recently brought in one of the most wonderful guys in the industry as Senior Vice President of Gaming Asset Management to assist with the continued growth at the Downtown Grand as well as other projects.

Few people in business gain the success level you have achieved prior to middle age. What is your secret?

I have no secret. I was given great opportunities at a young age (for which I have always been grateful) and took full advantage of them. I was afforded a great education by my parents which I don’t take for granted. Having had a front row seat watching Mr. Wynn and my father develop Mirage Resorts and build Wynn Resorts from scratch was an amazing part of my education that I know I am very lucky to have experienced. When I first moved to Las Vegas at the age of six I lived at the Golden Nugget for 14 months; it was at that time that my casino education began. Over the past six years I have been honing in on my leadership skills and have made many mistakes. I have been criticized (rightfully so in many cases) and had to lick my wounds and learn from my mistakes. My business partners and I are only getting started and we feel the future is very bright.

Creating an enjoyable fun and relaxed environment is an important factor in Leisure and entertainment venues. What kind of investment over the years has Downtown made into the likes of audio-visual & lighting equipment at the Casino?

Downtown Grand opened with state of the art Crestron automated systems. Since opening we have upgraded the a/v system to find the optimal music sound and balance between live entertainment and casino ambiance. You are right, creating and maintaining the right environment is critical and an ongoing focus for our company.

Do you have icons like Steve Wynn that you draw your inspiration from or do you define a route to achieving your ambitions of your own creation?

It’s been 27 years since that first summer job and I feel I now have enough data to draw my own conclusions and pave my own way. There is no question my number one role model is my father whose dedication, passion, attention to detail and ability to connect with his team like no one I have ever known has had the greatest impact on me. Certainly, Steve Wynn has had a great influence on my life as well and should inspire anyone involved in the gaming industry – he literally changed the game. Mr. Wynn gave me advice six years ago as I was beginning to develop the Downtown Grand to find a great right hand man who could execute my vision. It has taken me six years to find that guy, but I think I finally have. I have learned from many others in my life including my business partner Bruce Deifik who is a master deal-maker, Jeffrey Fine who always sees an angle in a situation that I may not see at first and is a bit more calm in his demeanour that I am, and my entire YPO forum who on a regular basis coach me.

Can you provide our readers with an insight into the organization that you and your business partner, Jeffrey Fine, own and operate: Fifth Street Gaming?

Fifth Street Gaming (FSG) was founded in 2010 and has taken many shapes over the past seven years. entertainment venues.

What kind of investment over the years has Downtown made into the likes of audio-visual & lighting equipment at the Casino?

Downtown Grand opened with state of the art Crestron automated systems. Since opening we have upgraded the a/v system to find the optimal music sound and balance between live entertainment and casino ambiance. You are right, creating and maintaining the right environment is critical and an ongoing focus for our company.

How do you divide your time between CEO of Fifth Street Gaming & Chairman Downtown Grand along with Downtown3rd?

Finding a balance for all areas of my life is a constant focus of mine and something I have started to get good at over the past few years. Time management is critical to any executive. Constantly prioritizing the tasks that are in front of me, surrounding myself by great talented people who I trust and trying to work smart – not just hard – are the tricks that I think are working in my life.

 

Can you provide our readers with an insight into the organization that you and your business partner, Jeffrey Fine, own and operate: Fifth Street Gaming?

Fifth Street Gaming (FSG) was founded in 2010 and has taken many shapes over the past seven years.Fifth Street Gaming has its roots in operating local casinos, taverns and restaurants. FSG has a sister company, LEV Restaurant Group, that operates over 50 restaurants. FSG has online experience and has created social casino games and recently has gotten heavily involved with eSports. Last week FSG had two major milestones: we were approved by the NGCB to operate Siegel Slots and Suites and hired Humerto Trueba as SVP of Gaming Asset Management. Exciting times!

How closely do you work with your marketing team on gaming promotions?

Our company is split up into (three) distinct marketing teams. One team focusses on the Downtown Grand, another on our local casinos and a third on our new management platform High Horse Hospitality that focused on unique bar and restaurant concepts such as Golden Tiki and Evel Pie. My role is to give input when asked and make observations and suggestions for improvement when appropriate based on my experience and perspective. Often times I have to let our team leaders make their own decisions and my main role is to give them the tools to succeed.

What charitable causes do you and Jeffery Support?

Jeff is incredibly generous and charitable and it is hard to keep track of all of the organizations he supports. I sit on the board of Jewish Federation, Smith Center Advisory Board, Las Vegas Natural History Museum and was appointed by Governor Sandal a few years ago to sit on the Nevada Board of History & Museums. Making charitable contributions in the form of money and time is incredibly important and one of the most fulfilling parts of my life. It is also rewarding to sit on the Executive Committee of the Downtown Las Vegas Alliance and work with the City to continue to develop downtown Las Vegas. We focus on issues like safety, cleanliness, marketing and even city-wide transportation.

What aspects of your role do you find most satisfying?

My role has become somewhat high profile and therefore gives me access to a lot of interesting Fifth Street Gaming has its roots in operating local casinos, taverns and restaurants. FSG has a sister company, LEV Restaurant Group, that operates over 50 restaurants. FSG has online experience and has created social casino games and recently has gotten heavily involved with eSports. Last week FSG had two major milestones: we were approved by the NGCB to operate Siegel Slots and Suites and hired Humerto Trueba as SVP of Gaming Asset Management. Exciting times!

You have made Las Vegas your home. What is it about the City that persuaded you to make it your home?

Las Vegas has been home base since I was six years old. So the initial idea of moving to Las Vegas was certainly not mine. However, I have moved back here on many occasions after living in many other cities including New York, LA, Santa Barbara, Philadelphia and Macau. I chose to live in Las Vegas today because it is an amazing City to raise a family. It is a convenient city to live in and conveniently located to other cities I enjoy visiting (but would not like to permanently live) such as Los Angeles and Sun Valley, Idaho. At this point, Las Vegas is a part of my identity and I am proud to call myself a Nevadan. I also believe I can make a difference in Las Vegas and Nevada in ways I could not in another City. The City and State governments are easy to work with and there is a strong public-private partnership in our community of which I enjoy being a part.

What are the key factors in your opinion that contribute most to the operations success in these competitive times that involve a whole host of entertainment and leisure alternatives?

It is almost impossible to stand out in Las Vegas with all of the choices that our amazing city offers its guests. Assuming a property can come up with at least one hook to differentiate itself, it is critical to focus on the basics of guest experience. It’s become a cliché amongst operators but at the end of the day it is the experience that we are selling and the clientele to which we are selling it become savvier every year and have a very loud voice via social media, so should you fail in providing a solid guest experience the world will know soon enough.