Linq’s stirring up the Strip in Vegas Seven

When I was at the Linq-announcing press conference, I had many questions about how building this project would impact the casinos it will linq together. So I asked them. The result is this week’s Green Felt Journal in Vegas Seven:

With all due respect to artists’ renderings, the recent unveiling of plans for Caesars Entertainment’s Linq have people wondering just what the east side of the Strip will look like when the project opens in June 2013. But behind the aesthetic curiosity is another, more immediate question: How will the massive construction project affect guests and employees? Most of the initial dislocations will be behind the scenes, says Rick Mazer, president of Harrah’s Las Vegas, Flamingo, Imperial Palace, Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon and O’Sheas.

via Stirring up the Strip | Vegas Seven.

To me this is the interesting aspect of the story right now–how’s all of this construction going to work, and how will they keep negative externalities to a minimum? They seem to have a plan, and it will be interesting to see how well it goes.

I’m most curious about what’s going to happen on the Imperial Palace’s casino floor, and I’m looking forward to walking around it when it’s in the middle of being transformed, just to get that old>>>new under construction vibe.

Beer Pong Forever! in Vegas Seven

Last week when I first tweeted news that O’Sheas was being closed as part of the great Linq construction, I got a lot of questions, testimonials, and eulogies about beer pong. So I asked Rick Mazer (I’m too tired to retype his entire title, but he’s in charge of CZR’s Center Strip properties) what was happening. He said don’t, worry, beer pong’s safe, and I said, looks like I’ve got a quick, fun Vegas Seven piece:

When the details of Caesars Entertainment’s $550 million Linq were announced last week, most people were riveted by what the project promises to bring to Vegas in June 2013: 200,000 square feet of outdoor dining and shopping, a new name and appearance for the Imperial Palace, and a 550-foot sky wheel (Caesars doesn’t want us to say “Ferris,” so … OK) as an anchor.

via Beer Pong Forever! | Vegas Seven.

It just goes to show that if customers like something enough, casinos will keep on offering it. Usually.

Geek niche in the Las Vegas Business Press

This week’s Las Vegas Business Press column looks at a travel operator I met in the vendors’ room at Creation Entertainment’s Las Vegas Star Trek convention:

We all know that its getting harder and harder to bring visitors and their money to Las Vegas. But a small startup that specializes in connecting people with the means to travel with experiences that ignite their true passions might have some lessons for Sin City.

Geek Nation Tours is a child of the recession. When Hinton, Alberta, (population 10,000, about six hours by car from Calgary) travel agent Teras Cassidy was in the midst of a summer slowdown, he decided to get creative. Instead of partnering with a local radio station to promote a typical booze cruise package tour to Mexico, he decided to mix his hobby — miniature war-gaming — with his business.

via Las Vegas Business Press :: David G. Schwartz : Which niche is which? It will pay Strip to know.

I think that the folks who sell rooms in Vegas hotels should take a look at what Cassidy is doing or even partner with him to bring in some tour groups. I think that the the travel decision process is undergoing a fundamental shift analogous to what’s been happening with entertainment for the past 40 years. Once everyone tuned into Johnny Carson before going to bed. Now, there’s a plethora of network and cable TV options, to say nothing of the almost limitless choices that can be delivered via the Internet. People are able to find entertainment much more closely tailored to their individual preferences.

I see the same thing happening with travel. Already, the LVCVA is doing a good job of splitting its business travel and leisure travel marketing. But what about the many facets of leisure travel? The most obvious way to split that up is rough demographics (age? traveling with kids?) but a more nuanced–and I think soon to be more necessary way–is by interests. Increasingly, travelers are consumers of content who want to do more than just relax. Tailoring that content to meet their needs will make them that much happier and that much likelier to return.

I’ll get out of here before this turns into a column in and of itself, but suffice it say that I think the niche market goes well beyond geeks–though learning a few lessons from them is a great start.

Trekkie Nightlife in Vegas Seven

At long last, an article that I wrote during the recent Creation Entertainment Star Trek convention is out as this week’s Green Felt Journal in Vegas Seven:

The first thing you see walking into McFadden’s at the Rio is William Shatner in his full late-1960s Technicolor glory on one of the wide-screens that’s usually devoted to SportsCenter. Even with the sound off, you can tell in a second that this is the climax of “Balance of Terror,” when his Romulan nemesis tells him he has one last duty, and that in a different reality they might have been friends.

You know that everyone else here knows it, too. You’re in the right place.

via Nightlife on the Starship Enterprise | Vegas Seven.

This was a fun one to write, because I’m a Star Trek fan (this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who follows me on Twitter). The convention itself was a real experience, one that I hope to write more about.

As far as this piece goes, it was not an easy one to write. I had spent about an hour at McFadden’s trying to think of how I was going to tie this all together. Luckily, I’d been watching “Balance of Terror” on Netflicks the week before, which just happened to be playing on the TVs when I came in.

But I didn’t know how I was going to pull it all together until I saw the woman–who at first looked like a respectable middle-aged HR manager or schoolteacher, showing off her tattoo. So that became the emotional center of the story. From there it became a matter of building up to it.

I’d already written one draft when I was sitting in the vendors’ room doing a rewrite. Now my problem was finishing the piece. I wanted to tie it back to what’s happening in Vegas now, and why it’s important to cater to groups like Trekkies. But I was coming off as too preachy.

Then I saw a guy wearing a green wraparound captain’s tunic, and couldn’t help but noticing his Galaxy-class paunch stretching the fabric to the limit. Which got me thinking about William Shatner, and his SNL skit back in the 1980s when he told fans to “get a life.”

Boom. Something clicked in my brain, and it all fell into place.

So that’s how the piece came together. I hope you like it.

Cut costs or invest? in the LVBP

My Las Vegas Business Press column on the dubious benefits of cost-cutting in a hospitality company is out today:

It goes without saying that there are several ways to cut costs. Shaving off some perks — first-class travel for jet-setting execs or caviar in the employee dining room — makes eminently good sense when revenues are down. Likewise, optimizing employment levels, which often means finding ways to do more with less, can help strengthen a hospitality company’s bottom line and competitive position if it’s done sensibly.

But not all cost-cutting provides a net benefit.

via Las Vegas Business Press :: David G. Schwartz : Cut costs now or invest for the future?.

I still don’t understand why you would want to incentivize your executives to make decisions that hold costs down without regard for performance or guest satisfaction. I don’t have any problem at all with people being well compensated for their work (I know I wouldn’t turn down a bigger paycheck if someone offered it to me, and it’s hypocritical to assume that others would), but they should be rewarded for either improving results or delivering better service, not just keeping costs down.

That’s my two cents, anyway. Though if I start cutting costs, I might only give you one cent’s worth next time.

Something that never found a home

Going through my “My Documents” folder, I happened across something I wrote just after the Aria opening. It’s pointless little anecdote about my completely inconsequential run-in with Cesar Pelli.

This was back when I still had the energy to write things on spec, which is broke writer-speak for “no one’s hired me to do this, but I’m vaguely hopeful that I can sell it somewhere, so I’m going to write it anyway.” Needless to say, I never found a place for it, which happens distressingly often when you write things on spec. Knowing this, I thought it would be a great idea to write my next book without a contract in hand, which is why I’ve got a nearly-complete manuscript and no contract today.

Anyway, I thought some people might get a kick out of traveling back in time to mid-December, 2009, when the sky seemed the limit for CityCenter and I was still trying to figure out what it all meant. So without further ado, I present something that has finally found a home.

Brush with Greatness

Before I tell you what happened that afternoon in Las Vegas, I should make one thing clear: I’m supposed to know what I’m talking about. I’ve written three books about gambling history, including one that traces the evolution of casinos on the Las Vegas Strip as essentially suburban institutions. I blog on the subject just about daily, turn out a few articles each month, and spend a big part of my day just talking to people about the context of the latest casino news. If there’s one thing I should be qualified to talk about, it’s casinos.

Yet a moment at the opening of the latest Strip casino, Aria, left me at a loss for words.

Aria’s the centerpiece of CityCenter, a multi-billion dollar development that brought notable architects from around the world to Las Vegas, was a chance for me to get a personal perspective on the history I study as it unfolds. It’s like a Western historian getting the chance to tag along with Lewis and Clark.

So as I explored Aria ten hours before it opened to the public, I was mentally writing an article for a local weekly about how the resort puts a fresh spin on the casino hotel, hoping that I could avoid the term “paradigm shift,” at least for the first few paragraphs.
Pausing for a second in the main lobby, across from the Maya Lin sculpture that hovers behind the front desk, the ceiling seemed farther away than anything I’d ever seen in a casino.

Aria plays with volume, light, and space, I wrote in my mental notebook, in ways that no other Las Vegas casino has to date. It’s a decisive break from the reigning Strip design philosophy, which is to cocoon the visitor in comfort and sensation from the moment he steps inside. It’s not afraid of letting the outside in, of drawing energy from the surrounding streetscape.

We’d been told that CityCenter couldn’t be explained, just experienced. Yet it’s precisely my job to explain things like what makes the latest casino resort to open different from the dozens that have come before. And I thought was doing a bang-up job.

Then out of the corner of my eye I spotted architect Cesar Pelli, whose firm Pelli Clarke Pelli designed Aria. He was walking across the lobby in an impeccably understated suit, looking not merely distinguished and not yet venerable, but positively august. This was a man who’d command respect anywhere, let alone in the lobby of a building that his team had designed.

Pelli, the former dean of the Yale University School of Architecture, has created some of the best-known buildings in the world, including the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. He’s received more than 200 awards, including the American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal. There are few architects more accomplished.

I turned to face him. He made eye contact as he drew closer.

And I, who was in the process of writing word after grandiloquent word that put this significant addition to the Strip into its historical context? What did I say to the man who deserved to hear it?

“It’s incredible.”

I got a polite nod and a smile, a fair trade for a vague compliment.

Where was all of my measured prose about light and volume? If I didn’t want to run the risk of sounding like a pretentious jerk, why not just “I’ve been in a lot of casinos, and this doesn’t look like anything else I’ve seen? Great job!”

It’s because I realized that I, as far as Mr. Pelli could tell was just some guy in a thirty-dollar tweed jacket, wasn’t in much of a position to pass judgment on one of the world’s most eminent living architects. If I tried to explain that I had something in the way of qualifications to assess his team’s creation, I’d sound like I was more interested in impressing him than expressing gratitude. Not wanting to do either, I took the easy way out: a simple, barely articulate expression of amazement.

“Really. It’s just …incredible.”

He allowed me another smile, as if indulging a child, and left me again explaining the building to myself.

… and with its astonishing views that juxtapose taxis swirling around the central traffic circle, the freeway and streets to the west, and the Spring Mountains in the distance, Aria is the perfect distillation of the urban West. It’s an ambitious, transformational….

Indian gaming pioneers in Tribal Government Gaming

I didn’t post this here when it was first published, but this is a piece I wrote on eleven pioneers of Indian gaming for Tribal Government Gaming magazine:

Indian gaming is a relatively new phenomenon. If someone had casually mentioned driving to an Indian reservation to play blackjack in 1978, they’d have been sent to a padded room for observation. But in less than a generation, Indian casinos have become an economic force to be reckoned with-a $25 billion-a-year business, and growing. In addition, the social, political, and cultural impact of Indian gaming goes far beyond dice and slot machines. It has led to a historic reversal of United States-Indian relations. Once denied their land, forced to assimilate, and marginalized from society, American Indians have gained increasing economic and political power in the last 30 years. And casinos are a big part of the reason.

via Blazing the Trail | Tribal Government Gaming.

Interesting reading.

Best of Vegas

Today Vegas Seven‘s gigantic, double-wide “best of” issue hits news racks everywhere around Las Vegas. I contributed a few items (see if you can guess them), but I wrote more than made the final cut. So, for your reading pleasure, to spark discussion and stimulate debate, I’m sharing what I wrote here:

Best Casino Memorabilia Arbitrage Opportunity: The Sahara’s camel lamps, easily the hottest item at the liquidation sale that’s still ongoing. The few that weren’t stolen from rooms before the shutdown are retailing at $150. They’re already going for $350 on eBay. This is the casino-lovers equivalent of a Babe Ruth rookie card.

Best Anti-Dayclub Scene: The Henderson Multi-Generational Center’s Activity Pool. There’s no cabanas for rent, though they do have one thing most Strip pools don’t: a thirty-foot water slide. No bottle service either, though there is a water fountain and Frankilicious, a hot dog stand that claims to be “frankly…delicious,” and not without merit. Plenty of fun water features for the little ones and ample space to stretch out makes this is place to be for locals who struggle through summer without backyard pools.

Best Daredevil Tactic by a CEO: The Stratosphere’s Frank Riolo’s, whose leaps on the resort’s SkyJump attraction galvanized morale at a property that had been hard-hit by recessionary belt-tightening. Investing in room makeovers in early 2010 was just as gutsy, but strangely enough did not get Riolo the employee recognition (or the photo ops) that the jumps have.

Best Worst-Kept Secret in Town: The Cosmopolitan’s “secret” pizza joint, which received almost as much press as the resort’s celebrity chef eateries before it even opened. Recently, the clandestine slice-to-go place was the third most searched-for restaurant on Vegas Mate, a popular Vegas info and travel-planning iPhone app, beating out such decidedly unanonymous restaurants as Hash House a Go Go and Margaritaville. It might help that they make great pizza, served with little pretension.

If you’ve got any best-ofs, go ahead and add them in the comments below. If you have half as much fun as I did…you’ll still have fun.

Joe Magliarditi profile in Vegas Seven

In today’s Vegas Seven, you can read my brief profile of Joe Magliarditi:

In his new job as president of the Palms, Joe Magliarditi sees some obvious reminders of his earlier experiences.The Rio, where he got his start in gaming in the 1990s, was the prototypical casino with a visitors/locals marketing split. The M Resort, which he opened as chief operating officer, was designed explicitly to capture parts of both markets as well. And in his time as president of the Hard Rock—which ended abruptly when new ownership forced a regime change earlier this year—Magliarditi made a concerted effort to attract locals while trying to revive the property’s flagging finances.

via For Magliarditi, new beginning brings familiar challenges | Vegas Seven.

He seemed very committed to the property upgrades, including the revamp of the original tower room and possibly the F&B, so I’d expect to see changes soon.

Fun on TWHT

If you haven’t seen them already, I’d like to draw your attention to two recent items on Two Way Hard Three. First is my write-up of a serendipitous encounter with the Cosmopolitan street team:

Late last week, the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas unveiled its latest secret weapon–a purple truck. Since its existence was confirmed on Twitter, speculation about its true purpose has been running high. Would it dole out free indie rock and hipster glasses to the unwashed masses of Las Vegas? Would it spontaneously curate streetside happenings? Or would it actually do something useful, like provide free shuttle service? As usual with marketing promotions that want to go viral, it was shrouded in mystery.

Well, word has it they’ve been active this weekend, and I ran into the Cosmopolitan street team quite by accident this morning.

The Cosmopolitan takes it to the streets

The second is an in-depth, longer-than-an-hour interview that Hunter did with me:

If you’ve got comments, feel free to leave them here.

I’m not usually asked to talk about myself that much, so I really let loose.