In today’s Green Felt Journal in Vegas Seven, I take a look back at the career of Bill Pennington, who had a much bigger impact on Las Vegas than is generally recognized:
Last month the Nevada casino industry lost one of its pioneers when William N. “Bill” Pennington died at the age of 88. He wasn’t a household name in Las Vegas, but he had a hand in the creation of today’s Las Vegas Strip by helping transform a struggling, scandal-plagued hotel-casino into the keystone of what was, for a time, the most profitable gaming company in the world.
The very end of what I initially wrote didn’t make it in because of space constraints, but because it’s got an important quote from another Strip pioneer, I thought it was important to share. It also puts Pennington’s contributions into perspective:
And, in addition to being a business leader, Pennington never lost sight of the big picture.
“He wasn’t just a good businessman,” says longtime Circus marketing maven Mel Larson. “He was a good husband, father, and friend.”
In a time when Mob museums are memorializing the less-savory elements of our past, we shouldn’t forget real pioneers like Bill Pennington.
To me it’s a real shame that you’ve got tributes to people whose biggest claim to fame was that they had rap sheets, but no public recognition of the contributions of people like Pennington who just took risks, gave visitors what they wanted, and gave a lot of people jobs.
I’ve got a Green Felt Journal out in today’s Vegas Seven that I’d really like people to read, because I think that the topic should be a major Las Vegas public policy issue:
In the past year, a new menace has appeared on the Strip. Costumed “performers” have taken their place beside smut peddlers, nightclub promoters and timeshare hawkers as street-level nuisances that make passers-by yearn for the days when, if you wanted to have an awkward encounter in Las Vegas, you paid good money to chuckle nervously while Don Rickles insulted you.
This is a new breed. Dressed as Cookie Monster, Captain Jack Sparrow, Michael Jackson or even the Devil himself, caped and uncaped culprits have been staking a claim to Las Vegas Boulevard, creating a growing hazard.
At first, I thought the performers were, at the least a minor annoyance and at most a necessary nuisance. Some time spent walking the Strip and talking to Sergeant Jenkins convinced me otherwise: these “freaks and felons,” as the good sergeant classifies them, are a legitimate public safety threat on the Strip and Downtown. It seems like there’s an easy policy fix: either requiring them to be licensed and registered, or limiting them to certain zones, or both.
As far as I’m concerned, if the County Commission has the time to pass laws criminalizing a business that’s already been cleared by the commission and the Gaming Control Board to operate, it should have more than enough time to draft sensible regulations that will help protect both the safety of Las Vegas residents and visitors and the economic vitality of the tourist corridor.
And if they don’t want to take my word for it, let them take an hour or so to ride along with Sergeant Jenkins, or at least listen to what he says. That’s a guy who’s been in the trenches on the Strip for longer than most, and it’s a voice you’ve got to listen to.
I’ve got a news piece in today’s Vegas Seven about the paradox and problems of pitching Vegas as a party hearty/business friendly destination:
The Las Vegas tourism business is a paradox these days. On paper, things look great: So far this year, visitation numbers are up by more than 5 percent from last year, when more than 37 million visitors came to town. As far as sheer numbers go, Las Vegas is well on its way to rebounding from the recession. But tourism is not, ultimately, a numbers game: it’s a money game. And with the Vegas convention business still trying to regain its footing after the recession, the money’s not what it used to be.
I think this is a big piece of the puzzle. Obviously, there’s no easy answers, but this is something Las Vegas has to figure out if it wants to continue to be a major business travel destination in the post-AIG era.
For this week’s Green Felt Journal, I took a look at what went on behind the scenes to get Blue Ribbon Sushi open after the huge April 12 flood. Check it out in Vegas Seven:
On April 12, the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas witnessed a deluge. That evening, a cold water main broke and flooded the casino’s just-opened sports book, its ostensibly clandestine pizzeria and Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill.
Ironically, the eatery dedicated to serving fish bore the brunt of the downpour. By the time the waters of April had subsided, the damage included the restaurant’s entire hickory-plank floor, big stretches of its walls, its front sushi bar and all of its lighting.
This column didn’t just give me the chance to learn exactly what goes into a major clean-up effort; it gave me the excuse to use as many synonyms for “flood” as I could find. Seriously, though, it’s the kind of writing that I’d like to do a lot more of, since I learned a lot doing it.
If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to rebuild a restaurant in less than three weeks, read this one.
This Thursday I have a new Green Felt Journal in Vegas Seven. It’s about the implications of William Hill’s growing footprint in Nevada sports betting, which I think is noteworthy:
With all of the sound and fury stirred up by the recent “Black Friday” indictments of three online poker operators, some major news that’s bringing Nevada a bit further into the future and a bit closer to the mainstream of sports betting in the rest of the world has gone largely unheralded.Last month, William Hill, a London-based bookmaking giant that claims 25 percent of the competitive market in the British Isles announced plans to acquire both American Wagering—the owner of Leroy’s, a chain of 53 sports books, 19 betting kiosks, and a Lovelock casino—and Club Cal Neva, a betting chain with more than two dozen outlets, primarily in Northern Nevada. This week, William Hill also bought Brandywine Bookmaking, parent of Lucky’s race and sports books.
I think there’s a real battle brewing between Cantor and Lucky’s/Leroy’s/Club Cal Neva/William Hill for control of the Las Vegas sports book market.
Both companies have visions for how to increase the size of that market, but they’re a little different. Even though Leroy’s is getting its smartphone/tablet apps out first, from what I’ve seen it’s a much more traditional company in terms of approach and product than Cantor’s-Cantor’s CEO Lee Amiatis doesn’t even like the term “sports betting,” preferring “sports trading,” showing his company’s history in the financial markets.
Whoever “wins” (and I’d say there’s plenty of room in the market for both companies and approaches), the way Nevadans bet on sports is going to change over the next year.
A little while ago, I had a really interesting conversation with J Barnard, who does a whole range of things at the Casino Royale. I thought he had a really interesting story, so I decided to share, via Vegas Seven:
It’s not easy for the little guy on the Las Vegas Strip these days. Of course, the little guy’s still a casino that makes millions of dollars each year, but compared with the megaliths owned by the big boys (MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment), places such as the Casino Royale are the neighborhood corner store.
Keeping my finger on the pulse of Vegas entertainment, I decided last week to check out the official unveiling of the Blue Man Group interactive statue and write about it for Vegas Seven:
Last Wednesday, with a T-shirt slingshot and plenty of Twinkies, a new colossus had its formal debut on the Strip. In front of Fashion Show mall, a 15-foot statue of the Blue Man Group both trumpets the famous show at the Venetian and serves as a quirky attraction in its own right, allowing passers-by to see themselves on screen.
To most players, slot machines are only screen deep. The spinning reels are what’s important. But there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that makes the action possible. Without back-end systems to track play and account for payouts, those slot machines would be very expensive ornaments. Through fiber-optic cable and data drops, a series of networks connects slot machines to each other, to master systems, and even to software that lets managers analyze the casino in real time. Though invisible to the players, these systems are absolutely essential.
I actually could write a book about all of the stuff that goes on at Bally’s–I toured their facility last week and was very impressed by both the sophistication of the technology and the scale of what they’re doing.
I got an email a few weeks ago from Gena Marler, co-owner of the Vegas Box, asking me if I’d like to share news about her company on this blog. I thought it was an interesting idea, and I’m always in favor of giving start-ups some attention, so I decided to write a Green Felt Journal about it. It was published in yesterday’s Vegas Seven:
Although gaming revenues continue to sag, nongaming spending in Las Vegas is showing a slight rebound. Numbers recently released by the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority show upticks in expenditures on food and drink, transportation, shopping and entertainment for 2010. The proprietors of The Vegas Box, a start-up geared toward frequent Vegas visitors, are hoping that now might be the time to start a business that capitalizes on people’s love for Vegas—and convenience.
There was a thread on the VegasTripping board about this, too, with some skepticism. But I think it’s a service that might appeal to frequent Vegas travelers. I know when I visit relatives I like to have a stash of toiletries, etc, on hand, and I can see how it would be nice to have this when you visit Vegas, too.
So much of the Vegas casino news is dominated by the big operators that it’s nice to be able to focus on smaller-scale, but still interesting, stories.
Everyone’s been talking about the “Dotty’s issue” here in Vegas, so I thought I’d focus on an aspect that hasn’t received as much press–the moratorium that was in effect from December to April on new taverns. Here’s my Vegas Seven article:
The debate over the “Dotty’s model” of a gaming tavern—an establishment with no kitchen, no beer on tap and an emphasis on slot machines—has divided the gaming community. Is Dotty’s owner Craig Etsey a clever entrepreneur, or a slot arcade operator who should be forced out of business?
I got a little imaginative with the subheads for this one. For the second one, you’ve got imagine those crashing Townshend power chords to get the full impact.
On a serious note, I think that this one is headed to the courts. For the County Commission to put operations that have been licensed for 15 years out of business by fiat seems like the sort of thing that’s begging for judicial review.