Worst lead-in ever

How do you punch up a bland story about bilateral air traffic agreements? Make a reference to Chinese take-out that, to me, seems to border on the politically incorrect. From the LVRJ:

With an appetite for a different type of Chinese take-out service, the Clark County Commission will on Wednesday discuss a $360,000 consulting contract some hope will expedite the start of direct passenger flights between Las Vegas and China.

It’s not saying anything blatantly offensive or anything, but it does seem kind of inappropriate.

“A different type of Chinese take-out service”? It’s wonderful to take one of the world’s oldest civilizations, a country that has produced things like gunpowder, movable type, and probably playing cards, and reduce it to a kind of restaurant.

New thing at Newport

I think that was the name of an Archie Shepp album in the 1960s. Anyway, today I’m talking about Newport, Kentucky. Once a major stop on the national “flourishing illegal casinos and vice” circuit, the city has cleaned up its image.

The city became a vice center in the 19th century, and remained so until an anti-corruption campaign in 1961. I think I touched on this in Uneasy Convictions, because Newport was one of the top targets of Bobby Kennedy’s Justice Department. You can read all about it in Ronald Goldfarb’s Perfect Villains, Imperfect Heroes, if you are curious.

Anyway, the Cincinatti Post has a few stories about Newport today. They are:

Girls, guns and gambling

Before there was Vegas, there was Newport

Casinos didn’t go quietly into the night

Newport: Envy of the region

This is part of a series to publicize a symposium entitled “Girls, Guns and Gambling: How Ordinary Citizens Drove Vice out of Newport,” to be held at Northern Kentucky University Thursday.

This should be a fascinating evening. If I was in the Cincinatti area, I’d be there in a heartbeat.

History of the beach

Did you ever wonder when people first got the notion of spending their summertime “down the shore?” Well, Charles Leadbeater has. According to him (in Britain at least), people only started going to the beach in the 18th century.

From w w w . p r o s p e c t – m a g a z i n e . c o . u k:

The idea that going to the beach was good for you was a creation of 18th-century Britain. Entrepreneurs keen to promote an alternative to the spa hit upon the idea that immersing people in cold salty water might be healthy. One of the first recorded bathing expeditions took to the North sea at Scarborough in 1627. A century later, a string of seaside alternatives to the spas at Bath and Buxton were well established. Before that, beaches had been regarded as hostile places, at best a working space for people who made their living from the sea: fishermen, smugglers, wreckers. Swimming for pleasure, and sunbathing, were unheard of.

By the mid-19th century, the beach had become an aspirational destination, helped along by Byron and Shelley, aristocratic tourists to the Mediterranean and colonists in the south seas. By the early 20th century, despite its chilly waters, Britain had the most developed beach economy in the world. It was spurred by the rising wealth of an expanded middle class; an upper working class with more time and money than their counterparts elsewhere; urban dwellers who wanted to escape from uncomfortably polluted conditions; the early development of the railways; and the entrepreneurial verve of a local business class, responding to increasing demand. By the end of the 19th century, few places along the coast of England and Wales were more than ten miles from a resort.

It helped that nowhere in Britain or Ireland is more than 120 miles from a shoreline. Britain’s coast stretches for around 9,000 miles and includes cliffs and beaches formed from almost every major kind of rock. At low tide, this creates an open area of hundreds of thousands of hectares, which is regarded as a vast public property.

British culture was so influential in the 19th and 20th centuries that much of its beach culture travelled around the world. In Montevideo, the beach had a pier, gardens, bandstand and putting green. Many beach cultures still show traces of 19th-century Britain, from the Victorian formalism and fantasy of Brighton to the glitzy elegance of Biarritz, the populist pleasure machine at Coney Island and the hippy culture of California. At the core of each is the beach: a place where the pleasure principle is given freer rein, normal constraints on dress and behaviour are suspended and a mildly carnival-like atmosphere rules. Beaches are giant blank spaces, washed clean every day, on to which all sorts of hopes are projected.

People started going to beaches in search of better health, and while we no longer drink seawater in large quantities, as visitors to 18th-century Scarborough were encouraged to, most of us still like to think that sea air, a blast of sun and perhaps a bracing dip will make us feel better. The Romantic poets, and painters such as Turner, introduced the idea that the seashore might be the source of sublime experiences. They helped to turn the beach into an outpost for solitary self-reflection and rediscovery, a source of therapy – a theme now echoed in posters advertising beaches from Queensland to Oregon. Maintaining that sense of escape these days takes time and money. We have to pay handsomely to do without luxury.

Read the full article: Beach party

It’s interesting that something that seems so natural and timeless to many is really only a few hundred years old in most parts of the world.

Democracy by lot

In the Bible, lots were often used to make tough decisions. Joshua apportioned the land of Canaan to the Israelite tribes by lot, for example. In the Roman Empire, some official positions were filled by lot. There is something completely democratic about selecting someone for a job using nothing more than what anthropoligists call sortilege, but what most of us would call “picking a name at random.”

I’ve always thought that, given the median quality of our elected leaders, we could do worse than determining our representatives by lot. It works for jury duty, doesn’t it? We pick people at random to decide on suspects’ guilt or innocence (and possibly their life and death). Would it really be that much different to use a lottery to select an office-holder from a group of qualified candidates? Some people think not.

Anyway, China is way ahead of the curve on this one (or behind it), because in Hong Kong legislative elections, a tie isn’t broken by a runoff election, but the literal luck of the draw. Remember that this is the city that recently had a major insecting-fighting betting ring broken up. During my research for ROLL THE BONES, I have learned that cricket-fighting was actually a real sport in ancient China, and there was very heavy action on it.

Well here is the story, from yahoo.com:

It may sound more like bingo than politics, but under Hong Kong electoral rules, the tied candidates must each pick a ball at random. Whoever pulls out the highest number takes office.

The last candidate to be defeated by drawing a low number doesn’t think too much of the system, but election officials call it fair, cost-effective and in keeping with Hong Kong people’s traditional belief in fate.

The prospects of a tie in Hong Kong’s Sept. 12 legislative elections may be remote, but officials have stocked up on dozens of pingpong balls just in case, said Registration and Electoral Office spokesman Joseph Wong.

Hong Kong last saw two candidates drawing for lucky numbers in 1999, when Peter Lau and Wan Yee-chung tied in a local council race with 820 votes each in a small suburban district.

Lau drew ball No. 5. Wan beat him with No. 9 and took office.

Election Tie? Get Out Pingpong Balls

As I said, this is actually an ancient practice that is in some ways more democratic than the system of electoral democracy.

Maybe we could decide the presidency by having a raffle to pay off the budget deficit. Instead of Democrats and Republicans spending their money (and ours–remember candidates get public funds) on ads attacking each other that only make everyone look bad, why not cut out the middleman (the voter)? Just have each party buy a bunch of raffle tickets with the cash. Then, on the first Tuesday in November, have a live drawing on TV. No more hassles with voting machines, no more having to spend time worrying about political issues that could be devoted to crappy reality TV.

With the increasing prevalence of gambling and chance in Americans’ lives, don’t be totally surprised if we start inching this way. There are certainly elements in this country that would have no quarrel with a method of picking leaders that has actual biblical sanction.

Uploading an image…of what?

According to the Greymatter documentation, I can upload images directly to the blog. With blogger you could probably do this too, but I FTPed them manually.

It looks like this works.

Dave researching contemporary Vegas nightlife

Here’s the story behind the picture. Last week, I went out with some friends to a late night lounge event at Moorea Beach Club at Mandalay Bay. We were on the VIP list and everything.

So I was sitting talking with the ladies in the photo, and a girl comes up and asks if she can take our picture. We all said yes, and there it is on the web. They were visiting from Utah (the girls in the photo, not the picture-taker). As you can probably see from the body language, I didn’t know them very well, and no one was drunk enough to overcome the usual strictures against violating strangers’ personal space.

Just to give you an idea of the conversational skills of most people, I said something like, “I’ll have to link to it from my website.” Most times, when you throw something out there like that, people might say, “Really. What’s your website about?” But at that place, I just got a blank, nervous stare, as if I had said, “I like to play with doo doo.” That’s about typical of Vegas clubs, I’ve found.

Oh well, what are you going to do?

See more photos here. They compose a bizzare document of what people do at night.

Getting there slowly

Well, it looks like greymatter is installed. I’ve still got a lot of work to go in customizing it to my exacting specifications–well, making it look something like the rest of the site.

“It’s a transitional thing right now…when it grows in, it’s going to look great.”

While that’s apropos for the current state of affairs here, it is also a paraphrased (or maybe exact) quote from one of the greatest movies of the early 80s. I’m not much of an 80s nostalgia person, but this movie is absolutely badass on many levels.

If you think you know when the quote is from, comment.

Also, check out the carpet gallery.

Ho empire looks to the future

Stanley Ho enjoyed a monopoly on Macau casinos for over 40 years, but welcomed his first competitors (Las Vegas Sands International, owners of the Venetian Las Vegas, and Steve Wynn) this year. According to his daughter, Ho is hoping to rebrand his casinos and effectively compete with the newcomers. From China Daily:

In an exclusive interview with China Daily, Pansy Ho expounds the family’s strategy that involves a fundamental restructuring of its many gaming and tourism assets to focus more specifically on different segments of the market. Those assets, grouped under Hong Kong-listed Shun Tak and privately-held STDM, or Sociedade De Turismo e Diversoes De Macau, include several casinos, numerous hotels, the world’s largest ferry fleet, office and residential properties and interests in the Macao airport as well as Air Macao.

In the past, little effort was put into branding and marketing because “everybody who came to Macao knew about us”, Ho says. That’s hardly surprising as more than 80 per cent of the 10 million or so visitors to Macao each year were from Hong Kong where Ho senior and “Po King,” as his flagship casino – Lisboa – is called in Cantonese, have become household names.

But now this is all changing. The Closer Economic Participation Arrangement (CEPA) with the mainland has opened the door to Macao for a flood of tourists from the many cities and townships in neighbouring Guangdong Province. “We expect at least 6 million, or about half, of the 12 to 13 million visitors to Macao in 2005 will be from the mainland,” Ho says. “This large influx of mainland tourists is expected to fundamentally change the way business is being done in Macao,” she says.

Moreover, Ho says she expects the opening of the new US-operated casinos to attract many more visitors from the US, Europe and neighbouring countries in Asia, particularly Japan and South Korea. “Unlike the past, we are going to have tourists coming from a much greater variety of sources,” Ho says. “They also have vastly varied needs and requirements.”.

A much more aggressive marketing and branding strategy will be needed to attract the different groups of tourists coming to Macao, Ho says. STDM already owns a range of hotels from luxury resorts to budget inns and the company also has casinos that appeal specifically to big gamblers and those that cater to the casual player.

“But we believe that there is a need for us to market and brand our properties differently to tell our potential customers in various market segments of the full spectrum of our products and services,” Ho says. The opening up of the gambling industry in Macao has “created a bigger draw effect” which has helped greatly expand the business opportunities in the one-industry town, she says.

Gambling empire bets on rebranding

Macau is on pace to earn about $5 billion in gamign revenue this year, more than Atlantic City ($4.5 billion, give or take), and catching up to Las Vegas (over $6 billion). It is entirely plausible that within five years Macau will displace Las Vegas as the world’s leading casino destination, at least in terms of gross gaming revenue.
I’m off to the city that is always turned on, Atlantic City, for a few days. I will make an effort to post, but if the blog is dark on Monday and Tuesday, that’s the reason. Hopefully the jitneys are still turned on at 3:30 AM, my estimated arrival time on Absecon Island, if SEPTA and NJ Transit cooperate.

In any event, I’ll be sure to enjoy a pizza at Tony’s Baltimore Grill for you. Later.

Porn or advertising?

The Nevada Gaming Control Board still hasn’t decided whether racy Hard Rock billboard ads are legitimate advertising, pornography, or inducements to cheat. There is now a trial (!) set for November. Commissioners had already rejected a $300,000 settlement of a three-count complaint, and now the adventure continues. From the LVRJ:

Hard Rock Hotel President Kevin Kelley said for now all the billboards that caused the initial fuss have either been taken down or the wording in the advertising has been modified.

However, the billboards now around town still show models engaged in the physical activities that precipitated the uproar. But the written messages on the signs have been altered so they cannot be construed to suggest illegal activities, which the Gaming Control Board in May claimed was the real issue.

Cowan said Thursday the attorney general’s office have been making “gratifying” progress in settlement negotiations since then, but admitted it appeared impossible to resolve two issues.

The stumbling block is the extent to which gaming regulators should be involved in private sector advertising decisions, which has been the focus of public comments on the case. Civil liberties attorneys have argued against any infringement on First Amendment rights of casino operators.

Hard Rock ad issues unresolved

If you are curious, here is one of the offending ads:
temptation to cheat

If I was on the Commission, I too might decide that this issue, and material like this, must be studied with scrupulous attention to detail–particularly the female model.

It’s funny that this guy has hit blackjack, has a huge stack of chips, and is practically on top of a topless, gorgeous blonde (added bonus: biting the card, signifying an oral fixation), and he has this look on his face like he’s reading an actuarial table. Lighten up, man. At least grin a little. If I was in that situation, they’d have to surgically remove the smile from my face.

I also like the subtle messages the ad sends. Note that the determined-looking gambler is simultaneously drinking (martini glass), smoking, gambling, and rubbing up against a topless girl. I think that he hit a veritable grand slam of vices there.

That’s the great thing about how Las Vegas is promoted. In most cities, you can go to a bar and get sloshed, smoke, play at least bingo, or sit out in the sun. In Las Vegas, you can do all of them–simultaneously. This is why the people who market the city are geniuses–something for everyone.

The other funny thing is looking at this from a gaming perspective. When I was in surveillance, I had occasion to see many things transpire at the blackjack tables, but nothing like this. Of course, in New Jersey, players aren’t allowed to touch the cards, let alone bite them. Still, I can just imagine getting a call: “You might want to keep an eye on table 6, one of the players has taken off her top and sprawled herself across the layout.”

In closing, the commission’s response gives you a window into the Nevada psyche. Playing blackjack topless in a pool, smoking, and drinking is no problem at all, but the mere mention of “cheating” sends everyone into panic mode. While “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” don’t you dare try to mess with the games: they are sacred.

I still don’t understand how this thing is going to trial. It’s not like this is Inherit the Wind or something. I’m a little confused as to why this advertisement has sparked a controversy that will end up in court, but another case of casino employees rigging a game of chance (not a casino game, but a raffle drawing), ended with only a fine.

For info about the initial complaints see It’s a Hard Rock life, Hard Rock not solid, and Hard sell too edgy.

Girls’ night out!

In an effort to cater to women, the Rio is building “The Ultimate Girls’ Night Out,” an entertainment complex geared towards women seeking a fun night out.  From biz.yahoo.com:

Billed as The Ultimate Girls’ Night Out� destination, the Rio’s new complex will be the first in Las Vegas to offer such a venue. The multi-faceted entertainment experience will be a place where women of all ages may come together and celebrate occasions such as bachelorette parties, high school/college reunions, 21st birthday celebrations, office parties and just about any other instance when a “girls’ night out” is in order.

Slated for a December 2004 opening, Ultimate Girls’ Night Out� will feature a 400-seat Chippendales� Theater (50-foot-wide stage with private sky boxes) housing the Rio’s popular show, a spacious cocktail lounge, retail area and plush ladies’ room.

“Our decision to build this complex is based on research we believe indicates a demand for female-targeted entertainment in Las Vegas,” said Marilyn Winn, senior vice president and general manager for the Rio. “Chippendales� is the premier brand in women’s entertainment. We’ve seen a significant increase in show counts over the past two years, and believe the timing is right to introduce an entire entertainment experience dedicated to women.”

Architecturally, Ultimate Girls’ Night Out� will be a virtual theme park for women. Designed with a subtly feminine chic, the space itself will be a true testament to “girl power.”
“The design has been a collaborative effort,” Winn said, “relying heavily on the input of women in our organization and women closely affiliated with our Chippendales� partners. We’ve put a great deal of thought into to the shape of the structure, the fabric textures and colors, bathroom fixtures, and even the floor finishes. Every detail of this project has been developed with women in mind.”

At Ultimate Girls’ Night Out�, the women’s bathroom will be an integral attraction, complete with plush “gossip pit” and other special features not found in any ordinary “girls” room.”
“We paid particular attention to the design of this facility, knowing women want a private, comfortable place to freshen up their appearance, exchange fashion advice and tell secrets,” Winn said.

Ultimate Girls’ Night Out� will be located on the second floor, within the Masquerade Village, adjacent to the East parking garage. In addition to the theater, there will be a spacious 1,500-square-foot ultra lounge with a walk up bar offering a stylized, intimate feel. And a 2,100-square-foot retail boutique will feature a variety of items that appeal to women, such as Chippendales� merchandise, bachelorette party gear, makeup and lingerie, among others.

Rio and Chippendales to Build Entertainment Complex for Women

This seems well-intentioned, but almost a parody of fem-centric marketing.  A women’s bathroom with a gossip pit, so women can exchange fashion advice and tell secrets?  This whole thing is basically a theater, a bathroom, a bar, and a store, but with the right spin it becomes an “ultimate destination.”  Now that’s marketing.