28
Mar

Riviera & North Strip’s plight in Two Way Hard Three

I’ve got a new piece up on Two Way Hard Three, about the Riviera’s recently-released annual report and what it says about the North Strip:

Riviera Holdings Corp, the company that owns the bankrupt Riviera casino hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, recently released its annual report. The company had a rough year, and a look at the financial reports from the last few years sheds some light on why the casino’s in such trouble, and why the Sahara is closing.

via Riviera financials show North Strip’s plight | Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog | from ratevegas.com.

The trend you’ll see in the chart I put together is certainly a disturbing one.

25
Mar

Pondering life after football in Vegas Seven

My final bit of writing for this week’s Vegas Seven is a Green Felt Journal column about the impact of a potential NFL work stoppage, exclusive of any lost gaming revenue. Here, I’m looking at how the locals would be impacted:

That a work stoppage will hurt the casinos of Las Vegas—particularly on the Strip—is hardly mysterious. Even though football betting doesn’t generate a ton of revenue for casinos (less than $26 million for the Strip in 2010 for both college and pro football), it’s an amenity that draws a relatively free-spending crowd. The casinos will be just as sad to see the sportsbook big screens tuned into bowling on Sunday as anyone.

via Tavern owners ponder life after football | Vegas Seven.

So this week you got about 3,000 words of mine to read in Vegas Seven, should you choose to do so. Add a few Two Way Hard Three pieces and the Las Vegas Business Press column, and that’s a respectable chunk of reading.

And I’m not taking the weekend off, so expect more next week. And the week after that. The sad thing is, if I had more time, I’d have even more to write about–there’s so much going on.

25
Mar

Vegas Mob Scrubbed Clean in Vegas Seven

A few weeks ago, I visited the Las Vegas Mob Experience at the Tropicana. I shared some of my thoughts here, and then thought about it some more. The result is a feature piece Vegas Seven magazine:

With fedora-wearing ticket-takers and an almost-Technicolor presentation, it’s clear that the Mob Experience isn’t a dry, academic colloquium on criminal justice. With costumed actors and sets straight off a Hollywood back lot, this is a haunted-house history of Las Vegas and the mob: Frightening ghosts of Mafiosi past glower at us, but there’s little danger that they’ll make us think as we pass through. It’s Fright Dome with wiseguys instead of wraiths.

So, like the billboards, the museum itself depicts the world in black and white, with blood-red added for effect. Perhaps it’s not the best approach for a city whose history is dominated by shades of gray

via Scrubbed Clean | Vegas Seven.

This was a hard essay to write. Certainly anyone trying to put together a museum or attraction about organized crime history that’s geared towards the general public has their work cut out for them. It’s a controversial area that, to put it mildly, was not well documented. It’s difficult, then, to put together something that’s as comprehensive as, say, a history of the Civil War, or even of the Union Pacific Railroad.

And I kind of had a good time interacting with the actors at the LVME. It’s just that boiling down the history of American organized crime to bootlegging and skimming from Vegas casinos doesn’t seem to do anyone justice. And claiming that “the Mob built Las Vegas” is a real disservice to all of the non-mobbed-up men and women who actually did build Las Vegas.

25
Mar

Sahara Vs. Trop in Vegas Seven

This week I’ve got three separate pieces in Vegas Seven. The first is a short news item comparing and contrasting two Strip casinos with similar origins and dissimilar fates:

The Tropicana and the Sahara are a study in contrasts despite some shared history; at opposite ends of the Strip, both holdovers from the 1950s managed to survive into the 21st century. Both drifted further and further down market as they faced larger and more luxurious competitors. And, as of today, they are facing profoundly different fates. One is closing, while the other has a new lease on life.

via A Tale of Two Casinos | Vegas Seven.

Why did they end up going in different directions? I’d say it’s equal parts decision-making and geography. Obviously, the Tropicana’s going to get much more walk-in action and attract more people who want to be around other casinos. The Sahara, as of today, is almost in a no-man’s-land. The decision making part is: the Sahara folks (SBE) wanted to go for a massive renovation project that would have aimed towards the luxury market, and missed the timing. Two years earlier, and they’d have gotten funding, no problem. The Tropicana, on the other hand, took a smaller approach, simply remodeling its rooms for the mid-market.

23
Mar

Sahara signals Strip woes in LVBP

I’ve got a new column in the Las Vegas Business Press, in which I consider the meaning of the Sahara’s impending closure.

Even in flush times, running a Las Vegas casino was never a license to print money. Casinos have changed hands, declared bankruptcy and even closed their doors. But the recently announced closing of the Sahara, a fixture on the Strip since 1952, is a worrying sign for everyone. Should no one step in to buy the casino and keep it open, it’s a sure signal that the gaming industry faces more challenges ahead.

For much of the past, when casinos found themselves mired in red ink it was usually considered an opportunity, not a calamity. Those running the casino naturally were amazed that their surefire plans to become Las Vegas moguls were fizzling, but there were always others who could see some upside. An individual property might be taking on water, but faith in the broader market was airtight.

via Las Vegas Business Press :: David G. Schwartz : No takers for Sahara means Strip is hitting its limit.

I spent some time at the Sahara on Monday, and I’ll be sad to see it go. It reminds me a lot of the casinos in Atlantic City in the 1970s and 1980s, and it’s a real contrast to the sleeker, bigger casinos that dominate the Strip. Then again, I also got nostalgic smelling the back of the house smell at the Fremont, which brought me back to my carefree days at the Taj.

23
Mar

Summary & thoughts about AB 258 on TWHT

I’ve got another post up on Two Way Hard Three, breaking down AB 258, which would legalize online poker in Nevada:

A bill currently on the floor of the Nevada legislature’s getting a lot of attention. AB 258 would legalize online poker in the state of Nevada and, with the consent of partner states, outside it as well.I thought I’d look at the text of the bill and share my thoughts.

AB 258: Legal online poker in Nevada

It’s a bill that I think has a great deal of potential for the state–I hope it gets an good hearing from the legislators.

20
Mar

Bacc and penny thoughts on TWHT

My first post at Two Way Hard Three is up–it’s a few thoughts where Nevada gaming’s headed right now (as opposed to six months ago):

Last week, one of the local dailies ran a story reporting on the latest trend: baccarat and penny slots are big revenue producers for casinos, particularly on the Las Vegas Strip.

Great story, but it’s about 6 months out of date–at least where baccarat’s concerned. And, as a look at the numbers will show, the ascendancy of the penny slot is hardly news. There’s a real story in here, but it’s not the one you read in the paper–and it’s not necessarily a good one for Nevada gaming.

Thoughts on Bacc and Pennies – Two Way Hard Three

Go ahead and read it–it’s the kind of extended analysis that I look forward to doing there.

16
Mar

Loosening Up Downtown in Vegas Seven

The new Vegas Seven is available online now, and I’ve got an interesting piece about some happenings Downtown:

The folks running downtown’s Las Vegas Club hotel-casino think the slot players are right. PlayLV, which operates the club for the multinational investment group Tamares, has embarked on an ambitious course of slot-loosening—and a pull-no-punches campaign to let downtown gamblers know about it.

via Loosening Up | Vegas Seven.

This was a lot of fun to research, mostly because I don’t usually get to talk to people with such strong differences of opinion (well, except for John Curtas and Marilyn Spiegel, maybe). The biggest obstacle that the LVC will face, I think, is getting the players to actually believe that they’ve willingly loosened their slots.

Steve Rosen’s thoughts about Downtown branding itself specifically as a value gaming destination, with loose slots above everything else, are interesting, and make some sense. A few years ago hotel and f&B values were enough to distinguish Downtown from the Strip, but today that’s no longer the case. Would giving gamblers genuinely looser slots make a difference? I think it might.

Here’s a custom piece of art the PlayLV folks sent me that didn’t make the magazine–I still think it’s pretty funny:
Vegas Club loose slot ad

“The Center of Pleasure Has Shifted,” it’s not.

11
Mar

Requiem for (a Vegas) Methuselah

It’s pretty rare for a Strip casino to get knocked out. Sure, more than a few have taken the standing eight count of bankruptcy, but usually, no matter how far in debt a casino gets, it produces enough cash flow that the lenders would rather see it open than closed.

The Sahara’s scheduled May closure, however, is as bad as it gets. Not only has the current owners’ business model gone belly-up; they can’t persuade anyone else to take the casino off their hands, make a few changes, and hopefully ride out the storm.

By a strange coincidence, I just talked about the Sahara in my GAM 495: History of Casinos class, so its history is fresh in my memory.

The property opened as the Club Bingo, a 300-seat bingo parlor, on July 24, 1947. To put it in perspective, the first Strip resort, the El Rancho Vegas, had been open six years (and was right across what was then called the “Los Angeles Highway”). Further south, the Last Frontier was just starting to assemble the Last Frontier Village, and the Flamingo was barely a half-year old. Local builder Marion Hicks was putting together the Thunderbird with a little help from “the Big Juice” Clifford Jones (then the state’s Lt. Governor) and, it was later learned, Meyer Lansky.

When the Club Bingo was remodeled, expanded, and rebranded as the Sahara in 1952, it was the first Vegas rebirth. In the past few years we’ve seen the San Remo get some plastic surgery and re-emerge as Hooters, and the Aladdin turn into Planet Hollywood. The Sahara was there first.

So the Sahara officially opened, as the Sahara, on October 7, 1952. The Desert Inn had opened a few months earlier, and Moe Dalitz and Allard Roen were just starting to kick around the idea of a golf course. Jake Freedman and Jack Entratter were watching the Sands take shape; it would open that December. People were just starting to call the stretch of road with all that construction “the Strip” instead of “Highway 91.”

And the Sahara saw booms and busts, right from the start. It did so well that it added rooms a year after its opening When several casinos declared bankruptcy in the aftermath of 1955’s over-expansive boom, the Sahara soldiered on. Not every casino made it out of that slump intact, but the Sahara did.

The 1960s might have been the golden age of the Sahara. For the price of a drink, Don Rickles would insult you in the Casbar Lounge. But the story beneath the surface was even more interesting. In 1961, Del Webb acquired the casino from Milton Prell and his partners, becoming the first publicly-traded corporation to own a Nevada casino. Because of the restrictive gaming ownership laws of the time, they had to create a series of shell operating companies, but this was a real milestone.

Architect Martin Stern, Jr., raised the Sahara’s profile with two tower expansions in the early 1960s, putting the Sahara at the cutting edge of casino resort design. He applied some of the lessons he learned there in the iconic Sands tower and the International (1969) and original MGM Grand (1973).

In its later years, the Sahara coasted along, drifting further into the value-oriented market, but filling an important niche in Las Vegas nonetheless. The casino’s closing, no matter how you try to spin it, is awful news and a real loss to the city.

3
Mar

Buffet of Buffets price hike

This is in today’s Vegas Seven. Again, since it’s a short piece, there’s no online link, but here’s the text:

Last spring, Harrah’s Entertainment (now Caesars Entertainment) rolled out an offer that, for those who like to stretch their waistband without stretching their dollars, sounded almost too good to be true: the Buffet of Buffets, an offer that let any Total Rewards member eat their fill for 24 hours at any or all of the company’s seven buffets for a mere $29.99.

Turns out, it was just slightly too good to be true: the company quickly raised the cost to $39.99. And, since last April, that’s where the price has stayed. Until now. Very quietly, Caesars has changed billboards and its website to reflect a new $44.99 price for the all-you-can-eat…and eat..and eat extravaganza.

The cost bump didn’t get quite the same media coverage as Celine Dion’s impending return to the Colosseum as Caesars Palace—in fact, there hasn’t been any buzz about this in print or online. In a town where the bargain hawks usually don’t miss a thing and even a two dollar increase in resort fees is met with public wailing and donning of sackcloth, this is as rare as a keno player catching 20 out of 20 spots. Or maybe the city’s first ultra-buffet is still such a good deal that a 12.5% increase isn’t news.
Vegas Seven–Inflation Hits Buffet Buffs

I don’t know exactly when the price went up. A few weeks ago, I noticed that the billboard near the airport connector reflected the $44.99 price. I didn’t find anything online when I looked around, not even from the usual bargain-hunting suspects.

What can I say–when something’s plastered all over a billboard, I’m a great investigative reporter.

If you want to see it in its true print context, you can check out the digital edition.