SLS Las Vegas opened at the north end of the Las Vegas Strip in August 2014. It came on strong with cool restaurants from celebrity chefs; an intimate lounge imported from L.A., with all the hipster cache and surprise guest stars that entails; three towers of luxe rooms designed by Philippe Starck; and two nightclubs, Life and Foxtail, which booked big-name DJs. It amounted to nothing less than a complete conceptual overhaul of the former Sahara hotel by one of Los Angeles’ most prominent lifestyle and entertainment companies, SBE. SLS Las Vegas had it all.
But the struggle was real. The north Strip location proved problematic; without adjacent hotels to encourage foot traffic, the new resort was, and still is, something of an island. As a casino unaffiliated with a major gaming company, the resort had a tough time with player marketing; there was no existing network of gamblers to call on. And the talent prices for EDM DJs were so high, and competition for that talent so fierce, that the nightclubs faced a steep road to profitability.
Something had to change at the property. Enter Matt Minichino.
Minichino arrived in town in early 2015 and was tasked by SLS Las Vegas President Scott Kreeger to oversee entertainment operations at the resort, including fixes for those marketing and nightlife challenges. After only a short time on the job, it became apparent to Minichino what was working and what wasn’t.
“When I got here, I identified that Life was not helping the resort the way it should be,” Minichino says. “I approached Mr. Kreeger with the idea of turning it into a live-entertainment experience for the betterment of the property—not the betterment of the venue, because Life was a pretty good nightclub. We needed more diverse entertainment.”
Minichino counted more than 100 DJ residencies in Las Vegas in 2014. In 2015, that number was cut in half, and in 2016, it’s being halved again.
“I am not here to say that the EDM bubble is bursting,” Minichino says. “There are still 5,000 people that go see the major EDM producers (at any given nightclub). We needed to be more strategic.”
Minichino and Kreeger realized that live entertainment could be the major attraction the resort needed. Inspired, SLS struck a partnership with Live Nation to transform Life into an intimate 1,800-capacity live music venue called The Foundry. The project timeline was just four weeks.
Now, four months after its February opening—and following a flurry of sold-out performances from acts such as X-Ambassadors, Kid Cudi, Santigold, Buck Cherry, Awolnation and Adam Lambert—The Foundry is an apparent success.
“The feedback that we have gotten from the fans and the talent—it couldn’t have turned out any better,” Minichino says, noting that the venue’s first eight shows drew more than 15,000 people.
“These are all bodies that would not be coming here if we didn’t have these events,” he says. “More people bring not only more drinks sold and dinner reservations made, but also energy and atmosphere. … It’s what helps drive restaurant covers, what helps drive additional people to the casino floor, which helps drive hotel rooms. For every event that’s booked, we have to understand how it’s going to impact the property.”
Throwing high-impact parties is how Minichino built his career. His nightclub industry roots are deep, starting with Pure Management Group (when their portfolio included Coyote Ugly and Pure), moving on to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, and then to Angel Management Group’s nightlife and daylife stake in Atlantic City’s billion-dollar property Revel.
Minichino met Kreeger, former president of Revel, while they were both working the Jersey shore. In 2014, Kreeger returned to Vegas to ramp up SLS, right around the time Minichino was itching to come back.
“After being in Vegas for 10-plus years, it’s a really tough market to move out of, because you get so used to everything,” Minichino says. “The opportunity to come back and work on a project where I had a chance to make a strong, positive impact was fulfilling. This has really helped me transition into the role of a senior executive who can visualize what’s best for the property, not just one venue.”
In this case, what was best for the property was the addition of one venue. The Foundry’s programming—incorporating a wide range of musical styles—has been strongly embraced by locals.
“The Foundry’s crowd is about 50/50 local to tourist,” Minichino says. “When locals are exposed to all the amenities we have to offer, they fall in love. On Friday night we had Adam Lambert; Saturday night, we had Santigold; and then on Sunday night, we did a closing party for the Academy of Country Music Festival with Dustin Lynch, Jana Kramer and Old Dominion. It was sold out every single night. I can guarantee you that nobody that came here Friday was here on Saturday. Nobody here on Saturday was here on Sunday. This is a venue that can be welcomed by any sort of music lover.”
It’s easy to welcome The Foundry into your life. It’s a terrific venue. It’s big at 20,000 square feet, but feels intimate because the stage is so large; at 25-by-65 feet, it fills almost the entire length of the room. While it’s mostly general admission, there are 12 VIP booths incorporated into the tiered, showroom-style design, and the bars are located on the sides of the stage—a godsend for any Vegas music fan who’s grimaced while quiet songs are ruined by the din of clinking bottles and people shouting out drink orders. Twenty state-of-the-art Danley Sound Labs speakers and eight amplifiers with output exceeding 100,000 watts pump out a pristine wall of sound. And there are five 75-foot LED screens providing an even closer look at the stage.
“It’s a stage that belongs in a 5,000-person room,” Minichino says. “It really does give something back to the artist. They get to really feel the emotion of their fan base.”
While showrooms in casinos are nothing new, Minichino says the loyalty that patrons have to live music is something he’s proud to be part of.
“There were people lined up at seven in the morning to see Adam Lambert,” he says. “The dedication of people wanting to see some of the live events that we’ve thrown at The Foundry is just remarkable.”