Vegas Box in Vegas Seven

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.

via What Happens in Vegas Goes in The Vegas Box | Vegas Seven.

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.

Caught in the Crossfire in Vegas Seven

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?

via Caught in the Crossfire | Vegas Seven.

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.

Find DT’s hidden casino in Vegas Seven

Here’s a Vegas Seven story I had a lot of fun writing, about Downtown’s analog to the Cosmopolitan’s “hidden” pizzeria: a hidden casino:

By now, everyone’s heard about the Cosmopolitan’s secret pizzeria. There’s no sign, and it’s down a hallway decorated with LPs, but they do serve a tasty slice. Apparently, a lot of people have discovered something similar downtown—a “secret casino” with no hotel rooms, no entertainment, no restaurants, no loyalty program and no marketing offers.

via Open Secret | Vegas Seven.

I came up with the idea while I was interviewing people for the Loosening up Downtown story and noticed that, despite having significant barriers to entry, the Plaza’s casino was drawing players.

The Big Finish in Vegas Seven

It’s Thursday, so there’s a new Vegas Seven out. I’ve got two pieces in this one. Here’s the first, about betting on the Final Four:

March might be mad, but it’s also pretty lucrative for Las Vegas sports books. Most of the big casinos make betting on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament the centerpiece of a gambling vacation for the guys (and about 95 percent of them are guys—there’s still a heavy masculine slant to the party). The first extended weekend, in which 48 games are played over four days, is the busiest for most Nevada sports books. But Final Four weekend’s no slouch, either.

via The Big Finish | Vegas Seven.

Very frenetic stuff.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Short piece about Darryl A. Smith in Vegas Seven

Page 18 of Vegas Seven has a brief profile of our last Gaming Research Fellow, Dr. Darryl A. Smith.

Don’t tell Darryl A. Smith that Las Vegas isn’t a thought-provoking town. The Bonanza High School graduate has long been fascinated by the tensions just underneath the city’s surface. He channeled his wanderlust into academics, pursuing a degree in philosophy at the University of Nevada, Reno before getting a divinity degree from Harvard and a doctorate in religion from Princeton. His academic work focuses on ethics and language. And recently, he returned home to give a talk at UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research that illuminated some of the connections between poker tells, common-enough in Las Vegas, and several strands of philosophical thought.

Starting with quotes from Jean-Paul Sartre, Ralph Ellison, and Joseph Conrad, Smith related how writers and philosophers through the ages have described hiding things, both physical and cerebral, with excessive light, something that poker players, used to projecting strength when holding weak hands and vice versa, employ ever day. He didn’t just use literary examples, however—he pulled in the lived experience of Las Vegas’ own Westside as an example of a place darkened by surrounding light, and a neighborhood with its own “true names,” sometimes at odds with those on Mapquest.

Smith, an assistant professor of religious studies at Pomona College, drew on his own fieldwork along the alphabet streets conducted while on a resident fellowship at UNLV. And he’s proof that Las Vegas, often derided in the national media as an intellectual wasteland, is capable of producing an academic thinker capable of truly ambitious scholarly work in the same vein as the high-flown theoretical discourse echoing in the halls of the Ivy League.
Professor Smith’s talk is available via UNLV”s Gaming Podcast

Vegas Seven Digital Edition

I can’t find these short pieces on the website, so I cut-and-pasted my original Word document. You can see the article, with a pretty cool picture, in the digital edition for 3/3/11.