As hotel room prices sink, quality of casino guests also takes dive

Cheap room prices at Las Vegas hotels are attracting a different clientele. Not to sound too snobbish, but a source from a locals casino said one sign is the increasing amount of room damage.

“The class of people coming to Las Vegas is a step below the people who used to come here,” he said.

How can he tell? Some of it is observation. He sees people dragging coolers through the lobby, carrying pizza boxes and McDonald’s bags to their rooms, meaning they’re not eating in the hotel’s restaurants.

“They don’t treat the rooms as gingerly,” he said, trying to be diplomatic. “They’re harder on the room than they were in the past.”

The recession officially began in December 2007, and he noticed the change early in 2008, as room rates sank. “There are more cigarette burns on the carpet, more flat screen TVs broken, more holes in the walls.” People are throwing things and breaking televisions that cost $2,000 to $3,000.

Plus, there are more cases where security responds to domestic violence in the rooms. Las Vegas police can’t confirm this because, in most cases, police aren’t called and charges aren’t filed. But anecdotally, he knows it’s happening at his resort, which he preferred not to identify in print.

Las Vegas always has been a place where resorts felt comfortable taking a loss on the room rates, knowing gambling losses will make up for it.

But when someone comes to Las Vegas, sits by the pool all day drinking beer, doesn’t gamble and then gets into a fight back in his room, you have to ask: Is this cost effective? Has the city transitioned from appealing to bargain hunters to, dare I say it, a trashier type of person?

Just cleaning a room costs between $25 to $35 a day, to pay for maids and equipment. So, when rates drop below that, and then there is damage, it doesn’t seem worth the effort of checking that customer in. Maybe filling the rooms at dramatic discounts is no longer the smartest approach.

A Strip source said when rooms drop to under $30, “Frankly, we’ll be lucky if they buy a burger from you.”

This source wasn’t seeing more room damage, but said in the summer months with more kids and crowds, there’s more wear and tear. But customers lugging ice chests through the lobby is more common.

Rooms downtown can go for as little as $19. One downtown hotel source said he is seeing “a little more abuse” of rooms. “It hasn’t been a huge issue, but it has ratcheted up to a certain extent.”

He said it helps to require credit cards for payment. That eliminates drug pushers, prostitutes and someone who just left the bus station with little money to spare.

Tonight, the Plaza downtown has a $26 room available. The Orleans, a $35 room. The Imperial Palace, $35. Palace Station, $29. All their weekend rates were higher.

It’s almost laughable to read old news stories, like one in March 2003, bemoaning that with war looming in the Middle East, the average Strip midweek room rate was down 24 percent to $104 and the average weekend rate was down 11 percent … to $249.

If only those numbers still held true.

By the end of 2007, the average daily rate was more than $132.

Fast-forward to last Fourth of July, a three-day weekend, when the average room rate was just over $94, barely higher than the most recent average rates.

This August, the average daily room rate was not quite $93, a year-to-date drop of 25 percent from last August, when it was $124. The downward trend isn’t hard to track.

There seems to be a delicate balance for room rates at modestly priced hotels. Too high and you chase away respectable customers looking for the best deal they can find. But play how-low-can-you-go and you attract some customers who cost more than they’re worth, who don’t eat, drink or gamble and may tear up the hotel rooms.

Of course, room destruction also happens in some of the high-end resorts, proving that the rich and famous can be trashy, too.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.

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