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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: