Hard on Hard Rock

The Hard Rock casino is at it again, and snap reporting by the LVRJ has ruined a Die Is Cast exclusive. The Hard Rock has gotten into trouble for its racy billboards in the past, and they are at it again. You can see for yourself, and read a little of the RJ’s take on the “controversy.”


felines and beavers and bunnies, oh my!
Several weeks ago, Hard Rock erected a billboard that depicts a cartoon cat, two rabbits and a wood-chewing beaver next to its hotel-casino at 4455 Paradise Road.

While the sign touts itself as “Another clean & inoffensive billboard from your friends at the Hard Rock,” others claim it’s simply a reprise of the suggestive content that led to the company’s $300,000 Gaming Control Board settlement that was rejected by the Nevada Gaming Commission and then Friday’s commission hearing.

“It’s a pussy, a beaver and some bunnies, and we all know what bunnies do,” Scott Robertson, creative director for local ad firm the Merica Agency, said Wednesday. “Because it’s not so overt, maybe people are OK with that, but given that there’s a looming controversy, it shocked me.

“To me, this is blatant thumbing their nose at the gaming commission.”

That opinion was echoed by Patti Gerace, a Walker Furniture marketer who serves as executive board member of the Las Vegas Advertising Federation. She chuckled at the sign’s use of animals and objects whose names are common euphemisms for genitalia or depict sexual activity.

“Because I know who they (Hard Rock) are and what they’ve portrayed in the past, I know what they’re trying to say,” Gerace said. “I see a beaver and some rabbits doing it. It’s not very nice. … It’s clever, it’s cute, but I still think people will find it offensive if they look at it in that way.”

Robertson compared the billboard to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s “What happens here, stays here” campaign, which hints at untoward activities but never depicts them.

“It’s up to our dirty minds to apply what we know that double meaning is,” Robertson said of the Hard Rock billboard. “The fact that it’s sort of rebelling by still being sexual, without being overtly sexual, intersects with the core values of the Hard Rock brand, which is sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.”

Experts: New billboard lampoons regulators

In this case, the experts are wrong. The billboard doesn’t lampoon regulators. It lampoons all of us.

Hey, if you’re shocked by cartoon cats and beavers, that’s your problem. I see this billboard just about every day, and I was planning to take a picture and talk about it on here. Honestly, driving by it is impossible to determine exactly what species the cartoon figures are–they just look like animals. I know that I couldn’t guess what they were.

This story just keeps on getting more and more ridiculous. Like so much in Las Vegas, it is almost a parody of itself. It seems that people in this city go to great lengths to make everything an oversized mockery, then run around crying, “We’re about more than just gambling and sex! Why don’t people take us seriously?” The fact that the state’s biggest newspaper runs story with advertising “experts” talking about pussies and beavers says it all, as does the mock gravitas tone of the reporting. Seriously, if you ran this article in The Onion or another satire, people would laugh at the joke.

I’ve talked about this issue enough in the past, and I was going to ignore the latest go-round of non-news, but this was just too much.

For news and a picture of one of the initially offensive billboards, see Porn or Advertising?.
I’ll just post the image here:
Hard Rock
That billboard is still proudly visible on Swenson Ave, though it now reads, “Keep your mind on the game.” Why?
For info about the initial complaints see It’s a Hard Rock life, Hard Rock not solid, and Hard sell too edgy.

Speed bumps

I don’t have any news story about this: it’s just personal observation. There are too many speed bumps in Las Vegas. They just put three of them in the driveway that leads out of my apartment complex, probably because the hammerheads that live there were speeding around the curving road that leads to Howard Hughes Parkway and causing accidents.

In addition, there are two speed bumps on my way into the UNLV parking lot I use. So that’s five I have to drive over, at least twice a day. I’m going to get my car’s suspension checked.

Back in Atlantic City, I remember one speed bump: the one out at the Shore Mall, when you pull into the parking lot by Boscov’s. Maybe there’s more, but that’s the only one that jumps out at me.

On the scale of things that bug me, it’s relatively minor, but hey, I thought it was worth mentioning. It’s be nice to see them just put up a sign saying, “DRIVE SLOW, MORONS” instead of a speed bump, just to see if people slowed down. Probably they’d speed up. So speed bumps might be a necessary fixture of urban life, especially with self-involved hammerheads who are in such a hurry to get to where they are going that they ignore common sense laws of safety.

State of Nevada

I was a guest on KNPR 88.9 (Nevada’s Public Radio) this morning, in particular on State of Nevada, the daily public affairs show hosted by Gwen Castaldi. The subject was gaming expansion, and I think the panel gave a very good summary of where the industry is and will be going. You can read about or listen via RealAudio here.

I’m strapped for time, so I’ll just give you a few headlines with no commentary today:

Online Gambling Needs Regulation (press release on yahoo.com)

Nevada gambling regulators confiscate $26,000 in fake chips (watch this story disappear)

New, younger fans revive the old riverboat gambling game of poker (and not just because your humble correspondent is quoted towards the end of the article)

Enjoy!

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.

Misguided loyalty?

As I reported earlier, the Venetian was rather quietly fined a while back for several violations, including the rigging of a contest–a game of chance.  I would think this would tend to discredit the legal casino industry in Nevada and would provoke a few license revocations, but it actually only garnered a million-dollar fine. 
 
Well, one employee responsible has been lectured by the Gaming Control Board.  From the LV Sun:

Roger Chuen Po Mok, formerly the senior vice president of Asian marketing for The Venetian, acknowledged that what he did was wrong in an emotional appearance before the state Gaming Control Board. Flanked by attorney Bill Curran, Mok — identified publicly for his role in the incident for the first time — said he schemed to rig drawings for prizes out of loyalty to his employer and his desire to please a good customer.
Mok and three others were fired after the scheme was uncovered in 2002. Earlier this year, The Venetian was ordered to pay a $1 million fine after a 12-count complaint against the resort was settled.
“Some poor choices were made in being loyal to my employer,” Mok read from a prepared statement.
Regulators never named the employees who were responsible for the rigging of the drawings for a Mercedes-Benz sports utility vehicle and two gambling chips, valued at $20,000 and $10,000, during a 2002 Chinese New Year celebration.
Mok said he rigged the drawing because a high-roller he was hosting lost $5 million gambling and the employee “didn’t want to see him go home empty-handed.”

But that’s not all.  Mok was also rapped for trying to cover up:

“What you did not only discredited you, but it discredited the state of Nevada,” said board Chairman Dennis Neilander.
Board member Bobby Siller said while the scheme to rig the drawing was a major judgment error, Mok worsened it by lying to state gaming investigators summoned by The Venetian. Siller compared the additional damage inflicted by attempting to cover up the scheme with the trouble former President Richard Nixon brought upon himself during the Watergate burglary investigation.
“You are now living with the consequences of your actions,” Siller said. “There were consequences to your employer, which had to pay a severe fine, and there were consequences to your co-workers, who were fired along with you.”

 
Venetian contest rigger lectured by regulatorsLet me put this into personal perspective.  When I worked in a casino doing security, I was in mortal dread of having my license revoked, which could have happened for virutally anything, it seemed.  To this day, if I am walking in a casino and I see a quarter on the ground, I will not pick it up, because if I had been seen doing so as an employee I would have been immediately fired and had my license yanked.
 
Gaming violations are very serious, because they threaten the integrity of the business.  If the games of chance aren’t really run by chance, why bother playing? 
 
I didn’t read anywhere in the article that investigators had conclusively proved that Mok was alone planning and executing the contest-rigging scheme.  The phrase that bothers me is: “he schemed to rig drawings for prizes out of loyalty to his employer.”  Does that mean that someone higher up asked him to do so?
 
We may never know the complete story, but this telling of it seems a bit…incomplete.

Merger update

Here’s a great capsule summary of the Harrah’s/Caesars merger proposal, and a breakdown of Harrah’s Caesars, MGM MIRAGE, and Mandalay Resort group, from Yahoo Finance:

Casino operator Harrah’s Entertainment is close to buying bigger rival Caesars Entertainment in a $10 billion deal that would form the world’s largest casino empire with $8.8 billion in annual revenue and as many as 54 casinos.

The merger would be the gambling industry’s second major takeover in a month – MGM Mirage last month agreed to buy Mandalay Resort Group for $4.8 billion plus debt.

A list of properties owned by and select financial information on all four companies follows:

PROPERTIES AND BRANDS:

CAESARS ENTERTAINMENT INC.: Operates 28 properties in five countries and 26,000 hotel rooms. Brands include Caesars, Bally’s, Paris, Hilton, Flamingo and Grand Casinos. Properties include Bally’s, Caesar’s Palace, Flamingo and Paris Las Vegas in Las Vegas.

Atlantic City properties include Atlantic City Hilton, Bally’s Atlantic City and Caesar’s Atlantic City. Also operates properties in New Orleans, Mississippi, Indiana.

International locations include South Africa, Australia, Uruguay and Canada.

HARRAH’S ENTERTAINNMENT INC.: Operates 26 casinos in 13 states. Brands include Harrah’s, Harveys, Rio and Showboat. Properties include Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, Harveys Lake Tahoe, Harrah’s Reno, Harrah’s Las Vegas, Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino and Harrah’s Laughlin in Nevada.

Also operates properties in California, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina and New Jersey.

MANDALAY RESORT GROUP: Owns and operates Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur, Circus Circus and Slots-A-Fun in Las Vegas. Other Nevada properties include Circus Circus in Reno, Colorado Belle and Edgewater in Laughlin, Gold Strike and Nevada Landing in Jean and Railroad Pass in Henderson.

— Owns and operates Gold Strike, a casino in Tunica County, Mississippi.

— Owns 50 percent stakes in Silver Legacy in Reno, and Grand Victoria, a riverboat in Elgin, Illinois, and Monte Carlo in Las Vegas. Monte Carlo is jointly owned with MGM Mirage.

— Owns 53.5 percent stake in MotorCity casino in Detroit.

MGM MIRAGE: Owns and operates 12 casinos in Nevada, Mississippi, Michigan and Australia, and has stakes in two other casino resorts in Nevada and New Jersey.

— Owns the Bellagio, MGM Grand Las Vegas, Mirage, Treasure Island, New York-New York and Boardwalk casinos as well as 50 percent of the Monte Carlo on the Las Vegas Strip.

— Owns three golf courses as well as Whiskey Pete’s, Buffalo Bill’s and Primm Valley Resort in Nevada, Beau Rivage in Mississippi, and MGM Grand Detroit casinos.

— Owns a 50 percent stake in the Borgata casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey and a 25 percent stake in Triangle Casino, a local casino in Bristol, United Kingdom.

EMPLOYEES:

CAESARS ENTERTAINMENT has 52,000 employees.

HARRAHS ENTERTAINMENT has nearly 48,000 employees.

MANDALAY RESORT and its consolidated subsidiaries together employed about 28,000 people as of January 31.

MGM MIRAGE has more than 45,000 employees.

REVENUES, NET INCOME:

CAESARS ENTERTAINMENT: For the year ended Dec. 31, 2003, it reported revenue of $4.46 billion and net income of $46 million.

HARRAH’S ENTERTAINMENT: For the year ended Dec. 31, 2003, it reported revenue of $4.32 billion and net income of $292.6 million.

MANDALAY RESORT: For the year ended Jan. 31, it reported revenue of $2.49 billion and net income of $149.8 million.

MGM MIRAGE: For the year ending Dec. 31, 2003, it reported net revenue of $3.91 billion and net income of $243.7 million.

FACTBOX-Harrah’s, Caesars may merge to form No. 1

There are the numbers. Both boards have approved the merger.

This deal was not unforeseen, and I think that the only place where there will be real issues will be in New Jersey, and Harrah’s can probably avoid undue concentration there by selling the Hilton. After all, Donald Trump briefly owned four casinos, so there is a precedent for it.

For more information, see the New York Times or Bloomberg.com.

Sevened out?

People like reality TV, and people like Vegas. So, the plan seems to be, let’s keep on combining the two until there is nothing else left on television. For good measure, throw in Paris Hilton’s dad, millionaires, and high stakes gambling. Incredibly, this is the story from Reality TV World:

According to Daily Variety, Rick Hilton, the Hilton Hotels heir better known as the father of “celebutantes” Paris and Nicky Hilton, is preparing a reality-competition show focused on gambling entitled 777. The show will feature seven Las Vegas high-rollers who each ante up $1 million of their own cash to play, with the winner walking off with the entire $7 million pot.

Filming for the show would take place over seven days, with the contestants sharing a suite and engaging in several games of chance overseen by 777’s resident “pit boss.” The project is currently being pitched to networks, although it has yet to find a home.

The show came together as Rick Hilton talked to Jason Hervey, who is a producer (along with Endemol USA) of Rick’s wife Kathy’s upcoming NBC reality show, The Good Life. Hervey, part of Bischoff-Hervey Entertainment, connected Rick with producer Scott Sternberg (Rock & Roll Jeopardy), who was looking to make a Vegas show, and 777 was the result.

Sternberg says that he has been on the prowl for “whales” willing to ante up $1 million in return for (i) the publicity of reality TV and (ii) the chance to win $6 million. We note that this may be difficult, since they would be the real financiers of the show, but they aren’t being cut in on any part of the production payments.

Paris Hilton’s father Rick launches gambling reality-competition show ‘777’

The problem with this is that TV already has a reality show where people compete for a $5 million prize–this year’s World Series of Poker. It would be better to see a “reality” show about seven millionaires who blow all of their money gambling and then have to take jobs at a casino to make ends meet. Or not. All I know is that if you’ve got any kind of reality TV idea connected to gambling, this is your moment.
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