Siena struggles

The Siena’s gaming numbers in its first month were bad, but owner Barney Ng remains optimistic about this ‘locals’ casino

Owner Barney Ng, standing in the Siena’s new ballroom, says that business will go up once locals realize how wonderful the property is.

Owner Barney Ng, standing in the Siena’s new ballroom, says that business will go up once locals realize how wonderful the property is.

Photo By David Robert

If Siena owner Barney Ng is the slightest bit worried about the future of his hotel-spa-casino, he doesn’t show it. As he walks around the resort at Lake and Mill streets, he beams with pride, showing off its amenities and its specials.

He talks about how the Siena ballroom, which just opened this week, will be the nicest such facility in the Truckee Meadows, with windows all around the room that allow a view of the Truckee River. He talks about how the spa, which is scheduled to open Oct. 1, will be Northern Nevada’s first true European-style spa. He talks about how Lexie’s, the upscale restaurant that sits along the Truckee River, has been an overwhelming success, as has the Enoteca wine bar and chef’s table.

But he doesn’t talk much about how the Siena’s casino is doing, unless he is directly asked.

“We’ve been a little slow in the casino,” he says. “The problem is that locals have a misconception of what the casino is. They’ve heard that it’s an exclusive, high-end casino … we’re trying to overcome this perception.”

And that, Ng says, is the key to the $70 million resort’s success: locals. That’s right: The Siena’s target customers are currently the residents of Northern Nevada, not upscale business travelers, as many were led to believe when the property opened.

“Our biggest goal now is to put the word out that, hey, we’re open, and we welcome you,” Ng says. “We want the locals to come down.”

The naysayers
Well before the Siena’s official opening on July 31, Ng was busy rebutting a number of local casino experts and officials who—while they wished the Siena well, at least publicly—believed the Siena would have its struggles.

The biggest criticism: The property does not have enough rooms to support its casino. The Siena has 214 rooms and a gambling floor with 26 table games and 800 slot machines. That 4-to-1 ratio of slots to rooms is way off, according to some casino standards, which say the ideal ratio for a casino is closer to one room per slot machine.

It was also said that the Siena’s high prices, especially in terms of room rates and dining, would keep customers away.

While it’s still early, the naysayers are looking somewhat prophetic. According to a copy of the Wells Gaming Research report for August obtained by the RN&R, the Siena’s gambling numbers for August were dismal.

The Wells report, subscribed to by all of the area’s major casinos, counts the numbers of daily players at every casino. The report shows that the Siena averaged 145 players per count in August, ranking it 19th out of the 28 reporting casinos, coming in between the Sundowner and Gold Dust West. The Siena’s percentage of gaming capacity used was a mere 15.5 percent. Only the Diamonds Casino, Sierra 76, the Gambler and the Old Reno posted lower percentages. The largest Virginia Street casinos, as well as most of the big outlying properties (the Atlantis, Peppermill, Boomtown and John Ascuaga’s Nugget) had percentages between 26 and 33 percent.

Even more disturbing was the fact that the average number of players at the Siena declined each week in August, falling from 177 in the week ending Aug. 2 to 121 in the week ending Aug. 30. The Siena’s share of area gamblers fell from 2.39 percent in the week ending Aug. 2 to 1.69 percent the week ending Aug. 30.

But that doesn’t mean that all signs were dismal for the Siena. Ng is correct when he says that Lexie’s and the Enoteca have been well-received and generally busy, and even the harshest of critics must admit that the property is beautiful.

It just means that the most important part of the resort’s bottom line—gambling—has been well below where it needs to be.

Bring on the locals
Ng says that the Siena’s goal is to double the number of gamblers in order to bring things up to par. But in true Ng form, he is optimistic about that happening, claiming that the numbers have been getting better each week (although that statement is seemingly refuted by the Wells report).

“We’re almost a victim of our own success,” Ng says, explaining that initial marketing efforts that focused on the posh nature of the Siena may have driven customers away. He also blames word of mouth for spreading false rumors that the Siena doesn’t have any slots below the $5 bet minimum.

Ng also says that the naysayers are correct in claiming that the Siena’s number of rooms is too small to support the number of slots it has. But he says they are assuming that the Siena is targeting the out-of-town customer.

“They are absolutely correct—if we created a property that’s dependent on bringing in large groups of people, we’re not going to be successful,” he says. “We’re not looking for the tourists that all the other casinos are looking for. We’re trying to appeal to the local population.”

That means that in Ng’s mind, the Siena is competing with both the big properties and the smaller casinos, like Rail City, Baldini’s and the newly opened Tamarack Junction, for locals’ business. He feels that the customers will eventually find their way to the Siena. And come back.

Redneck Reno?
To get the locals to the Siena, Ng says management is focusing its marketing efforts on them and is making an effort to correct the misperception that the Siena offers only high-end slots, when the casino really has nickel and even penny slots in abundance. The Siena is also launching a number of new promotions at its Contrada coffee shop and in the casino itself to try to get people to check the place out.

Ng also feels that the opening of the ballroom, the addition of a buffet (in the ballroom when it’s not in use) and the scheduled Oct. 1 debut of the spa will bring people in.

“We feel that we have the best product, and if we’re allowed to match up [with the other casinos], we’ll capture a large portion of the local gamers,” Ng says. “We’re stressing to the people who work for us that we have to treat the locals better than we’d treat a visitor.”

But again, there are naysayers who say Reno locals won’t support the Siena because of its higher room rates and prices. They point to the success of less expensive properties, like Baldini’s and Rail City. Ng says he feels such statements are an insult to Reno residents. He says that Reno is ready for the high-end services that the Siena is pledging to provide.

“That’s like saying someone’s going to give up a Ferrari, when they’re driving a Hyundai, because they’re not ready,” Ng says. “It’s a lot more fun driving a Ferrari than a Hyundai.”

During his interview with the RN&R, Ng repeatedly returned to one thing: his belief that people will start frequenting the Siena after they see it and learn what it’s all about. He also says the decreasing gaming numbers across town don’t worry him that much, either.

“There’s still a base [of customers],” Ng says. “We feel that if there’s a choice, a majority of people making that choice will choose us.”

That wasn’t the case in August. Only time will tell whether Ng’s optimism pays off.