No Joke, No Jive: Gold Spike Now Spiffy, Not A Dive

February 9, 2009

By Ben Spillman

It’s tough to believe I’m writing this sentence: I just got back from a restaurant at the Gold Spike downtown and would advise anyone reading this to go check it out.

While most of us spent the last year trying to dodge toxic fallout from the recession, the Spike’s owners poured time and money into a nearly forgotten downtown casino.

The result: Stephen Siegel and Michael Crandall turned a smoky, seedy dive into a modern, spiffy joint — at least as far as the interior of the first floor is concerned.

The duo, who operate as the Siegel Group, took over the property in January 2008 in a $21 million deal and pledged to spend several million more on improvements.

Consider the refurbished casino a significant down payment on the promise to clean up the stretch of Ogden Avenue between Fourth Street and Las Vegas Boulevard.

And the transformation took place during one of the worst economic years in memory for Las Vegas.

“No challenge, no change,” Crandall quipped during the frantic few days before the new restaurant and expanded bar opened to the public.

There are so many changes that the old casino floor is unrecognizable, replaced by a better-lit, cleaner and more pleasant vibe.

Siegel hired United Coin to run the casino and the company brought back blackjack and a roulette table, which disappeared under previous ownership.

A slot club that ties the Gold Spike to Siegel’s other businesses — the ubiquitous Siegel Suites apartments, The Resort on Mount Charleston and the Barcelona Club — is forthcoming.

For now, it’s enough to marvel at what Siegel Group has accomplished while the economy has crumbled.

The casino floor at the Gold Spike is flooded by natural light from big new glass doorways.

The restaurant is sleek, clean and modern with a brick facade on the walls, lots of stainless steel and a diverse menu with plenty of entrees in the range of $6 to $8.

The full-service bar is huge, with plenty of flat-screen televisions and a small lounge near what will become the sports book.

Now the work is scheduled to move on to the hotel, where there are plans to update the approximately 110 rooms.

Siegel is undaunted by the recession so far, saying he is in Las Vegas for the long haul and expecting upgrades to previously neglected properties to pay off in loyalty from previously neglected customers.

If Las Vegas is serious about economic recovery, it might be wise to make more of an effort to entice the city’s core customers to consume the city’s bedrock product.

In short, what’s stopping casinos from treating table-game gamblers as well as folks who prefer to bet on a machine?

The question came up in response to a recent session of low-stakes craps and blackjack that yielded a mere 20 cents in comps at a Southern Nevada casino.

Slot club expert Jean Scott, who writes for the bargain publication Las Vegas Advisor, was kind enough to entertain the notion for the Business Press.

“You would think it would work that way but it just doesn’t,” said Scott, of the lack of integrated points systems for table and slot gamblers. “This was the reason that 20 years ago we switched from playing blackjack to (playing) the machines.”

Scott says for the most part slot players with a card are credited every time they pull the handle, even on a penny machine.

In contrast, table game play is still tracked by pit bosses who note the occasional bet and, in the swankier joints, only pay attention when the stakes are higher than what most people like to bet.

A pit boss might take the player’s card if a gambler puts it forward, but it is typically just used to put sporadic bet information directly into the system.

No one is watching and giving credit for every roll of the dice or turn of the cards — even though each one of those acts represents a decision by a customer to make another wager.

“A lot of places on the Strip, you could play $10 blackjack until you are blue in the face and you are not going to get much,” Scott said.

Las Vegas has the same slot machines as Illinois riverboats and Southern California Indian casinos.

But the craps and blackjack tables breathe life into the casino floor and make Las Vegas feel like, well, Las Vegas.

Given that the recession has folks thinking about value in a vacation experience, it might be nice if more casinos treated table game players as if they wanted them to come back.