Mafia! The hat

While shopping at a local outlet mall, I noticed this wonderful chapeau offered for sale:
I’ve got a few problems with this. The chief one is that only a fool would advertise that they were part of a continuing criminal enterprise. The whole point of the mafia is that it’s supposed to be a shadowy criminal underworld. If you start wearing clothes that actually say “mafia,” you kind of lose the element of surprise.

On the other hand, this would be a great accessory if different organized crime groups were playing in beer-league softball. You could have caps for “Yakuza,” “Russian Mob,” “Triads,” and other well-known criminal organizations.

If you go around telling people that you’re in the mob, you’re most likely not. So if you wanted people to think that you were connected, this is would be the last thing you’d wear. In fact, I thought that maybe you’d want to change the hat to read “not in the MAFIA” to throw people off. But then again, if someone who really was in the mob wouldn’t wear this hat, maybe wearing the hat would be the best way to avoid getting picked up. My head hurts, just thinking about it.

I’ve got one last thing to say: as a proud American of Italian descent, I’m truly thankful that this hat wasn’t in red, white, and green. That would have been too much.

I am disappointed that it wasn’t in pinstripes, and there wasn’t a matching pinkie ring, though.

The trouble-maker that I am, I think that the next time a casino has a “wear sports stuff to work” day, an employee should wear this hat, and see just how long it takes someone to object or call the Gaming Control Board. Come to think of it, it would have been much easier for the Board to crack down on skimming back in the day if all of the mob guys had just worn identifying caps.

Why is Vegas Vegas?

What makes Las Vegas…Las Vegas? John Pryzbys (it’s pronounced like “frisbee” but with a “b,” if you’re curious) has an article that asks that question in today’s RJ. And I’m one of the ones who offered some answers. From, naturally, the LVRJ:

What is Las Vegas?

A place. An idea. A stereotype. And, for those of us who happen to live here, a city that defines us in ways we probably don’t even realize.

Las Vegas is a place steeped in contradiction and shaped, either subtly or overtly, by both natural and man-made forces that, in turn, shape us.

That’s why we batted around this question: What are the basic forces — things, ideas, conditions — that define Las Vegas and make it different from any other place in the world?

Here are our conclusions. We don’t pretend that our conclusions are the final word. Feel free to do some batting around of your own.

VARIETY OF INFLUENCES: What Makes Las Vegas Las Vegas

Here’s what I had to say about “transience:”

Some newcomers, Schwartz says, have a “boomtown mentality.” They want to get everything they can out of Las Vegas and move on. “We’re like a modern-day Virginia City or Goldfield or Searchlight with nicer buildings.

“People move here and think, ‘I’m going to get a great job and make $50,000 parking cars, and I’ll do that a couple years, save up, buy a house, get a lot of equity, trade out and move back home.’ And it doesn’t always work.”

It’s an interesting question–a sort of “why is this night different from all other nights?” query that leads to more questions than an actual answer.

One could write a whole book on the subject. Or two.

Strip shell game!

It’s hard to believe, but one of the oldest gambling con games is alive and well in the shadow of the Las Vegas Strip. I snapped some pictures of a shell game in action on Monday between the Tropicana and Hooters. Technically that’s not the Strip, but it’s in the Strip tourist corridor, so the headline is accurate. Click through to see indisputable photographic evidence and some homespun analysis.
Continue reading “Strip shell game!”

Book review: The Fortune Machine

This is another paperback I discovered in the catacombs of the UNLV Special Collections stacks. The tagline is what sold me: “The most beautiful girls in Las Vegas couldn’t stop Eddie from winning.” Also, Library Journal called it “a groovy novel.” So, I figured, it’s about a card-counting Greg Brady. This might make for an entertaining 250 pages. It was really, really weird.
Continue reading “Book review: The Fortune Machine”

Book Review: Winner Takes All

Christina Binkley. Winner Takes All: Steve Wynn, Kirk Kerkorian, Gary Loveman, and the Race to Own Las Vegas. New York: Hyperion, 2008. 304 pages, hardcover.

Over the last decade, the Las Vegas Strip has become increasingly consolidated. Once, there were a host of casino owners: Aztar, Bally Gaming, Boyd Gaming, Circus Circus Enterprises, Grand Casinos (if you count Grand’s stake in the Strat) Hilton Hotels, Mirage Resorts, MGM Grand, Inc, Primadonna, the folks who owned the Frontier, Riviera, Sahara, Imperial Palace, and a few other “non-aligned” casinos. Today, the list is smaller: MGM Mirage, Harrah’s Entertainment, Wynn Resorts, and Las Vegas Sands, Inc. dominate the market, though a number of “non-aligned” casinos remain, and Boyd is set to return to the Strip soon with the mega-development Echelon Place.

In Winner Takes All, Binkley examines a few of the major players in the Strip consolidation sweepstakes. She parlays her access (she’s the former lead Vegas reporter for the Wall Street Journal) into a truly insightful book. Unless you’ve spent the past few years sitting in the executive offices of MGM Mirage, Wynn, and Harrah’s, you’ll definitely learn something from reading this. Binkley does a solid job of pulling back the curtain on the motivations and rivalries that unite and divide the movers and shakers on the Strip.

Binkley goes beyond petty corporate politics, though, and discusses the underlying business strategies that differentiate Wynn, Kerkorian (and his executives), and Loveman. Wynn believes in luxury above all; Kerkorian thinks that size matters (he’s opened the world’s biggest casino hotel three times) and is a consummate deal-maker’ and Loveman brings scientific management to the wild west of the casino floor. If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, you might learn a few lessons from each of these three approaches. If you’re just a person who likes to come to Vegas, you’ll get an insider’s peek into some of your favorite resorts.

As a historian, I’ve got to grouse at a few historical inaccuracies. The most egregious is on page 16, where Binkley contends that the original MGM Grand had “shoddily built rooms” and that the tragic 1980 conflagration was the result of a “grease fire,” making it sound like this was a roadside greasy spoon that went up in smoke after the deep-fryer was left unattended. Actually, it was an electrical fire that sparked the blaze, and though construction faults did exacerbate the fire (smoke was able to get into the guest tower, and sprinklers were not installed in the deli or casino), the casino was, when it opened, the biggest and most expensive building in the history of Las Vegas. Though we now know that its builders cut corners, at the time few disputed that it was a “grand” casino. There are a few other minor issues I have, but I won’t go into them here. Suffice it to say that Binkley is an outstanding source for the material that she personally reported on, but might have relied on lesser sources for some of the background.

Although (or maybe because) the book is about Las Vegas, 1999-2007, it is dominated by Steve Wynn. Even when he’s not there, he’s there, haunting the thoughts of the author and the principals. In simple terms, MGM Grand, Inc. wants to be like Wynn, so the company buys Mirage Resorts. Harrah’s realizes it can’t compete with Wynn, so it relies on “propeller heads” (management wonks) rather than exploding volcanoes to better its bottom line. Las Vegas, it seems, is divided into wanna-be Wynns and anti-Wynns, but there is no one who is unaffected by Wynn.

This is, of course, unfair to the men and women who’ve built up Harrah’s, MGM, and even Wynn, to say nothing of the crowd at Las Vegas Sands. There are a host of principals in this book who deserve to stand on their own: Terry Lanni, Jim Murren, Bobby Baldwin, and Glenn Schaeffer are not “title characters,” but each has contributed significantly to the creation of modern Vegas, so it’s not entirely accurate to dismiss them as Wynn clones or antitheses. But Wynn’s all-pervading presence in the book is unavoidable.

Which leads to the big question: how is Wynn treated? Like the people she writes about, Binkley is hardly agnostic when it comes to Wynn. I’m not giving much away here: the prologue features Wynn, apoplectic with rage, screaming at Binkley that the MGM Grand buyout of Mirage was a friendly deal. So it’s obvious that Binkley isn’t going to be disinterested. But she veers into caricature at times (“His capped teeth gleam white, white, white.”), which paradoxically makes Wynn even more of a larger-than-life character. Wynn-haters will glory in the chronicles of corporate extravagance; Wynn-lovers will say, “So he likes plastic surgery–he still knows how to build the best casinos in the world.”

Winner Takes All is a valuable look inside the boardrooms of Las Vegas during one of its most explosive eras. I recommend it to those interested in a behind-the-scenes look at the titans who have rebuilt the Las Vegas Strip.

What happens in Kapchagai

It seems like everyone wants a piece of Vegas. Well, at least everyone who likes casinos and tourism. Today, for example, I got a phone call from a woman in the Domincan Republic who wanted me to sell her casino carpet. Yes, despite the myriad admonishments on my contact page and elsewhere that I don’t sell carpet, I still get quite a few calls about it. And people still get upset that I can’t sell them carpet.

Anyway, the latest place trying to catch Vegas in a bottle is Kazakhstan. From the BBC:

Authorities in Kazakhstan say they are talking with investors about building a gambling and entertainment complex near the commercial capital, Almaty.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev said he had long thought of building a sort of Las Vegas on the vast empty steppe outside the city.

Officials say a new complex would help to control the growth of casinos and gambling in Almaty itself.

Kazak authorities have long been uneasy about gambling growth in major cities.

Almaty residents fret about the effects on children, or about old people pouring their pensions into slot machines.

Almaty now has nearly 40 casinos. Their colourful neon lights make some of the most impressive displays in a city which has been transformed in recent years.

But President Nazarbayev has said he wants to move the casinos and the hundreds of smaller gambling businesses out of the city entirely, to the shores of Lake Kapchagai, a huge reservoir 80km (50 miles) away.

That is in the vast dry steppe, a landscape not unlike the deserts which surround Las Vegas, but with a beach as well.

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Kazakhs pondering ‘desert Vegas’

If Las Vegas had a beach, imagine how well it would do. Of course, there’d be the matter of how to replace the tourists from California (which would have to be sunk into the ocean to get beachfront property off the 215 beltway).

I probably posted this just so people could imagine their own Borat jokes. Still, it’s yet another example of gambling being harnessed for development.

Best Vegas Story…

I’ve read in a newspaper in a while. While I’m quick to pounce on what I perceive as uninspired or erroneous reporting (check out USA 5 minutes ago or Dogs not playing poker), I’m also the first to recognize excellence.
The piece in your question concerns a lesser-known Las Vegas casino, the Western. Adam Goldman, an AP writer whose work has not gone unnoticed here, has wriiten a real gem about that casino. Here’s a sample, from the LV SUN:

On a stretch of despair Endorsements that tourists in Las Vegas seldom see, the Western Hotel-Casino stands out as a beacon for the broke and nearly broken.

With their crumpled dollars and gloomy gait, they stumble in off Fremont Street through the wide, doorless entrance, cheap nfl jerseys beckoned by the sounds of penny slot Scalp machines and cheap table games.

The Western is a poor man’s dream, a downtown casino where sad Las Vegas cliches collide.

“This is the underbelly of Vegas,” said 28-year-old Byron Hilton, who was playing $2 blackjack sinas’ on a recent Friday night. “This is not the Strip.”

There is no uniformed valet parking Porsches here. Instead they come on foot, in beat-up cars and wobbly bicycles. For many, it’s been a short journey to the Western.

The boxy structure is planted among a slew of low-income houses and budget motels — the Downtowner, the Uptown and the incongruous Lucky. The Western feeds from one of the city’s bleakest ZIP codes, stained by high poverty and unemployment rates.

Inside they gamble, pouring nickels and quarters down Music the throats of always hungry machines.

The roulette table sees an occasional wholesale nfl jerseys gambler, but the blackjack tables — marred by cigarette burns and beer stains — get plenty of action at minimum $1, $2 and $5 bets.

“You can’t win no money here,” said 38-year-old Ace, who has frequented the Western since 1995, the same year he said he “pulled this a job” in Reno, and had to get out of town “real Rock, quick.”

In the early morning weekend hours, the smoke hangs in the air like a veil, a giant gray cloud that wraps itself around the customers. The booze is working its sleepy magic.

Gritty Western casino survives in ‘the underbelly’ of Las Vegas

Seriously, this deserves better than a daily newspaper–I could definitely see it expanded in the New Yorker. This is about breeding a thousand times better than most of the casino wholesale nfl jerseys stories running today. Click through and read the entire story–you will be glad you did.

For some visuals, I have a photo I took of the area around the Western a while ago:
East Fremont
It isn’t much, but you get the idea.
This is the Vegas that you won’t see on reality TV, but these stories are just as important as those of high rollers, vacationing frat boys, and ambitious executives.

Out of this world?

At the risk of being self-aggrandizing, I’ve got to put this in here. A while ago, I spoke with a Texas reporter about a company that claims to have developed a system to add pheromones to ventilation systems in stores and casinos. Islamic These pheromones would, allegedly, cause people to spent/gamble more. From the Galveston County Daily News:

Enhanced Air’s Director of Development Nigel Malkin said the company’s product, Commercaire, makes consumers feel comfortable and secure so they shop longer and spend more.

Ethicists at the University of Texas Medical Branch and the University of Houston Clear Lake said the practice is offensive if consumers aren’t told the system Easy is in use, and one of the country’s leading experts in pheromone research questioned the validity of the company’s scientific claims.

But Enhanced Air promises big sales boosts and spiking customer loyalty. The compound doesn’t cause consumers to get into a spending frenzy so much as it causes them to feel more at ease in an environment and more receptive to sales messages, said Malkin.

Malkin claimed that he originally developed the product for “a Las Vegas casino,” and the reporter asked me about this possibility. I was Red predictably quite skeptical, pointing out that casinos go to great lengths to keep air clean. But I couldn’t stop there–I had to go for broke:

Manipulating gamblers’ behavior surreptitiously would pose too great a risk for a public relations nightmare, Schwartz said.

Something like that would seem so boldly predatory it would raise that issue, do you want to take all their money?” he said.

“Schwartz also contends that rumors of casinos pumping oxygen through the vents to keep players awake at night is nothing more than urban legend. cheap nba jerseys He said the idea that a casino wholesale nfl jerseys would infuse a ventilation system with a chemical, Welcome even an organic one, was hard to believe.

“They giornata work pretty hard to cheap nba jerseys try мире. to keep the air as clean as possible,” Schwartz said. “But who knows, there could be a giant alien base under the Strip.”
Company claims pheromones boost retail sales

That’s right, a “casino expert” finally said in print what many had suspected for years–that the real alien presence in Las Vegas is not out at Area cheap mlb jerseys 51, but wholesale mlb jerseys in a subterranean base underneath the Strip. I’ve always said that if I didn’t have fun at my job, I wouldn’t do it, and here’s proof. I obviously didn’t literally mean that I thought aliens were at work, but it’s just as ridiculous as other stories I hear.

Anyway, it’s all in a day’s work.

Welcome to Vegas, enjoy your stay

Getting the VIP van treatment is one of the best things about Las Vegas. Ornate hotels surround their guests with everything they desire. Of course, if you are already a celebrity, it must be that much richer, right?
Being part of a major awards show must be an absolute thrill, but nothing compared to the joys of returning to your room all-inclusive to find your from personal possessions have been rifled through and/or thefted. The genie of the Aladdin apparently made more than things like casino revenue and room rates vanish, as two guests of the Radio Music Awards there discovered:

Nelly and Michelle Branch Burglarized in Las Vegas: “LAS VEGAS–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Oct. 28, 2003–Last night, multi-platinum recording artists Nelly (Cornell Haynes) and Michelle Branch’s hotel rooms at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas were burglarized while they attended the wholesale MLB jerseys Radio Music Awards. Mr. Haynes claims that over $1 million dollars worth of jewelry was taken from his room while Ms. Branch claims that computer equipment was stolen from her room. Reports have been wholesale jerseys filed with the cheap nba jerseys local police department and a Me-Soluziones police investigation is currently under way. “

How did this probably happen? The best guest is a simple push-door theft. Often, when guests leave their hotel wholesale MLB jerseys room, air pressure prevents the door from closing completely. It is no secret that groups of push-door theives have been working the Strip for years–in fact, Metro tries their best to educate visitors about the problem.

This is great news for people who are looking for a new laptop or some bling and don’t want to pay retail, but very Strip bad for hotel guests who happen to value Las their personal property. Don’t let push-door theft happen to you–make absolutely sure the door is closed behind you.

Red Rock, Strip West?

I had to work a Red Rock West reference in there. cheap jerseys There is some debate over Station Casinos’ planned Red Rock Station casino at the 215 and Charleston Blvd, which would feature a 300-foot hotel tower. From theLas Vegas SUN:

Station conducted a community meeting at D’Vorre and Hal Ober Elementary School to try to win more public support for the project. Attendees examined a series of photos, drawings and maps. Station’s representatives answered questions.

There appeared to be more opponents than supporters at the meeting, but a true count was difficult because hundreds of people wandered in and out of the meeting. Many said they were concerned about Cumbria the height, 300 feet, cheap jerseys of one of the proposed towers, and dozens wore stickers that said, “Don’t Bring the Strip to Red Rock.”

The casino would be a little more than five miles from Red Rock National Conservation Area’s visitors center, and would not be visible from there, casino officials said….

“Station should learn to play by the rules, which allow a 100-foot casino,” said Glen Arnodo, political director for the Culinary Workers Union, wholesale jerseys which is fighting the proposed casino.

“It’s a bad idea to put a Strip-sized casino in a neighborhood, especially next to Red Rock Canyon,” Arnodo said.

The union, working with the Sierra Club, mailed 16,000 color pamphlets to area residents and produced the anti-casino Wholesale Elite Jerseys stickers that were handed out Tuesday night. Arnodo said the union is interested because Red Rock is a natural treasure that needs to be protected.

But Station Casinos Way Vice President of Corporate and Government Relations Lesley Pittman said the union management has ulterior motives for fighting the project: Station Casinos are non-union shops; its employees don’t belong to the union.


It’s not surprising at all the the union is against the plan. I have the feeling that if Station was building a charity hospital, the union would block it, given that Station is non-union. To be fair, wholesale nfl jerseys Station would probably block anything that would benefit the union, as well.

In any event, there are legitimate views on both sides, and About this debate highlights the “development vs. environment” discussion that increasingly takes place when new projects are proposed.