Real Estate Rebel: How the Late David Atwell Set the Standard for Megadeals on the Strip | Vegas Seven

This week’s Green Felt Journal was a difficult one for me to write. A few months back, I struck up a friendship with a long-time Las Vegan, David Atwell, who I learned was involved with some of the biggest real estate deals in the city’s history. We had conversation after conversation about the development of Las Vegas and the colorful personalities that made it happen.

In the past few weeks, as David had a few setbacks, we kept in touch, talking enthusiastically about current news in Las Vegas and some of the deals that got us to where we are. He’d urged me to write more about this aspect of history, but I really wish that I had written this article about some of the big deals of the Strip with him as a source, not as the subject:

When we look at the Strip, the builders get all the headlines. We read about the towering figures who transformed the Strip with Caesars Palace, Bellagio and CityCenter. They take an empty space—which, given our penchant for implosions, might be relatively recently empty—and create something that benefits the community.

But before those city-defining resorts were built, they had to secure the land to build upon. That’s where David Atwell came in. Atwell, who died November 25 at the age of 63, is an almost-native Las Vegan. Moving here with his family in 1955, he grew up watching the city grow up around him. Armed with a degree from UNLV, he went into real estate in the mid-1970s, soon focusing on hotel and casino transactions. Among the numerous deals that Atwell helped broker, three stand out as particularly important to both his career and the current shape of the Strip.

via Real Estate Rebel: How the Late David Atwell Set the Standard for Megadeals on the Strip | Vegas Seven.

Looking at the Strip today, you should appreciate just how big the Dunes deal was. The way history happened, Nangaku bought it in 1987, ran into trouble, and sold it to Wynn in 1992, leading to Bellagio and Monte Carlo right way, and, eventually, CityCenter.

But let’s say that David Atwell isn’t as tenacious in bankruptcy court, and someone else walks away with the Dunes.

If Steve Wynn gets it, maybe The Mirage happens differently; after all, he’d have a whole lot more land to build on at the Dunes.

If Sheldon Adelson gets it, he probably doesn’t buy the Sands in 1988, and the Venetian ends up where the Bellagio is.

Kirk Kerkorian might have turned the property into the MGM Dunes, adding a few thousand rooms and casino space to parts of the existing property, as he did with the Marina, which became part of the MGM Grand.

Hilton and Caesars…it’s hard for me to imagine what they would have done, except that maybe it would have become the site for Paris in the former case and a second Strip resort for Caesars in the second.

So if you’re a fan of the Strip as it is today, you can thank Masao and David Atwell. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to get to know a truly incredible Las Vegan.


Fantasy Land | Vegas Seven

It’s kind of meta that, in the big holiday rush last week, I didn’t share my latest in Vegas Seven, a look at the maybe fantasy called Wonderland:

In Las Vegas, you’re never quite sure what’s real, what’s fantasy and what’s just wishful speculation. And it’s never possible to tell which is which, until it’s entirely obvious.

The latest real-or-not dream might be Wonderland, a project which purports to bring the charm of winter to 18 acres on the Las Vegas Strip: a cluster of pre-fab faux storefronts decked out in twinkling lights, the sound of sleigh bells ringing, everything dusted in fake snow. Like nothing you’ve ever seen, and everything you’ve ever wanted!

via Fantasy Land | Vegas Seven.

I guess we’ll find out in a few days if this is actually happening, though the original website and media pack were entertaining in their own right.



Bible-Themed Slot Machines, Flood Not Included | Vegas Seven

This week’s Green Felt Journal considers how mobile devices, slots, and the Bible converge:

Yes, there really are Bible-themed virtual slots available on your mobile device. App-maker Top Free Games—whose library is split between gambling games like video poker and blackjack and public-domain works like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the Kama Sutra and the Holy Bible—apparently decided to distill its portfolio into Bible Slots.

via Bible-Themed Slot Machines, Flood Not Included | Vegas Seven.

This was fun to research, but difficult. I had a very hard time finding a religious leader or scholar to speak to about this, and I’d like to thank Dr. Fredrickson for taking the time to do so.


Keeping the Clubs Safe | Vegas Seven

In this week’s Green Felt Journal, I talked to security experts about how to make Las Vegas casinos and nightclubs safer:

The recent tragic shooting at Drai’s after-hours club in Bally’s casino hotel has raised questions about just how much security both casinos and nightclubs in Las Vegas should provide. Not surprisingly, there is no consensus on the answers.

via Keeping the Clubs Safe | Vegas Seven.

Talking to three experts gave me a broad sense of what’s going in the national security industry and also highlighted that there is no simple solution for this.


Forward to the Future at G2E | Vegas Seven

In this week’s Green Felt Journal, I consider the real significance of this year’s Global Gaming Expo:

The casino industry isn’t known for being introspective; the focus is usually strictly on the bottom line and the here and now. But the annual Global Gaming Expo, held late last month at the Sands Expo Center, is the gambling business’ chance to do some soul-searching. This year, that meant finally accepting that the status quo is gone.

via Forward to the Future at G2E | Vegas Seven.

Every year there are some changes, and this is what I thought stood out this year.


Grandissimo on the cover of Vegas Seven

That’s right, this week’s Vegas Seven magazine is the official Grandissimo launch issue. The book even made the cover:

There are three book-related stories in the magazine this week:

  1. A contributor’s note where I share a little background on the book
  2. An excerpt from the book called "The Rise of Caesar"
  3. An original essay, "A Kingdom of Darker Magic," exploring the theory that Jay Sarno was the Walt Disney of Las Vegas

I am thrilled to have this chance to introduce the book to people. And that cover is just beautiful. Thank you to my editor Greg Blake Miller and everyone at Seven who made this happen.


In Monte Carlo, Back to the Past | Vegas Seven

If you have heard the most recent Vegas Gang podcast, you heard my thoughts on Monte Carlo. In this week’s Green Felt Journal, I elaborate:

If you were born in a gambling city back when that meant you were a little different from everyone else, you grew up vaguely holding Monte Carlo as the platonic ideal of what a gambling town should be: refined, elegant and timeless. Actually visiting the place, though, reveals something quite different.

via In Monte Carlo, Back to the Past | Vegas Seven.

One of the points that struck me is that Monaco is proof that there is life after casino gambling, even for cities that have been historically defined by it. With a trip to Atlantic City last week, I’ve got a lot to consider when it comes to what happens after the gambling gold rush ends.

I don’t know what this signifies, but on my AC trip I saw that the storied Monaco Motel, where I once worked as a desk clerk, assistant night manager, and even occasional night manager, has been demolished. Looks like the plan is to build $1.2 million condos there.


For Linq’s Future, Image Is Everything | Vegas Seven

In this week’s Green Felt Journal, I take a closer look at how one of Linq’s new tenants fits in:

That’s where Linq comes in. As with most Caesars decisions, each element of the development has been meticulously analyzed. The observation wheel, for example, was chosen over other attractions because, in survey and focus groups, customers indicated that this was the single attraction they would walk 1,250 feet to see. Likewise, the list of tenants has been carefully calibrated by Caesars management to entice a significant number of the 20.4 million people who, according to a 2009 study, walk past the Linq’s Strip frontage each year. One of those tenants, the Polaroid Fotobar, gives us a glimpse into the kind of experiences Linq is trying to create

via For Linq’s Future, Image Is Everything | Vegas Seven.

It is a little funny to me that I finished this the day before the whole fuss over that newsletter that “warned” of a CEC bankruptcy broke, and I pretty much used everything I said in the first part of the column (about why the company needs Linq to be successful) to frame my responses.


The Book That Tried to End Las Vegas | Vegas Seven

There is no Green Felt Journal in this week’s Vegas Seven. But I did write the cover story, a historical dissection of the notorious Green Felt Jungle:

When Trident Press released The Green Felt Jungle on December 13, 1963, it promised to tell the real story of Las Vegas. Most residents winced; this could only be bad news.

For $4.95, readers could read tales of cash, crime and corruption. And sex—plenty of sex. Authors Ed Reid and Ovid Demaris meshed gossip, innuendo and rehashed reportage in a book whose premise—that the mob owned Las Vegas, body and soul—was anathema to Nevadans. Two talented writers—Reid won a Pulitzer in 1951 for his investigations into Brooklyn organized crime, and Demaris was in the midst of a string of best-sellers—were tackling the glitzy gambling oasis. It couldn’t miss.

via The Book That Tried to End Las Vegas | Vegas Seven.

I love the chance to write these in-depth feature stories for the magazine. Thanks as always to my editor, Greg Miller, who worked me through a few drafts to get the story to where it is. And Ed Walters was a fascinating interview subject–I’m looking forward to learning more about his life and times in Las Vegas.

Once Grandissimo is out, I’m going to pick my next book project. I’ve been leaning towards something contemporary, since that’s what experts say people want to read about, but the more I write historical pieces for Seven that get such a positive response, the more I’m convinced that it’s time for me to write the history of Las Vegas casinos that I’ve been talking about. I’ve gotten as far as sketching out chapter ideas, and I think that it would have a lot of material that people are interested in.

I’d really like to fill in the gaps in what most people know about Las Vegas casinos. For most, it goes cowboys–>gangsters–>corporations, without too much consideration of the interplay between those groups (and others) that created the industry we know today. Ten years ago in Suburban Xanadu, I said that there was a lot more continuity than change between the past and present of the casino business, and I think that’s true. I’d like a chance to really tell that story in a narrative, non-academic way, starting with the first gambling halls on Block 16 and ending with today. I covered much of this in Roll the Bones in summary form, but there is plenty more to say.

For now, though, I’ve got a book to publish and promote, so through October I’m 100% about Grandissimo.

And for today, you’ve got a nice little slice of 1960s Las Vegas to read about–including an appearance by Meyer Lanksy in the Fremont coffee shop. Here’s to Las Vegas history!


Crime and Perception | Vegas Seven

In today’s Green Felt Journal, I take on a subject that some in the industry don’t like discussing–whether high-profile crimes mean the Strip is less safe than it should be:

When tragedy strikes, police and tourism officials are usually quick to stress that these are random events in an otherwise safe city. They point to the fact that crime rates on the Strip have been falling lately down in 2012 and early 2013 as proof that a Vegas vacation is fundamentally safe. Is this just public relations spin, or do they have a point?

via Crime and Perception | Vegas Seven.

Some feel that the best move is to ignore crime on the Strip, and to downplay incidents that get public attention as random, unconnected acts. I disagree; I think that by being honest with visitors about crime, and by educating them about how to better protect themselves, the city will get a much better handle on its crime problem by getting out in front of it than by pretending it doesn’t exist.