From the Emerald City to Pharaoh’s Tomb | Vegas Seven

In this week’s Vegas Seven, I have a feature article considering the ways that the spirit of 1993 is still with us:

In the fall of 1993, the wrapping came off three new resorts that promised to change the way people visited Las Vegas. The opening of The Mirage four years earlier is rightfully credited for kicking off the megaresort era on the Strip, and Excalibur, which opened in 1990, proved that the family-friendly, mass-market model worked just as well for new hotels as for older ones. But the 1993 openings of Luxor October 15, Treasure Island October 27 and MGM Grand December 18 seemed to define a new direction for the Strip: families, and lots of them.

It was a big gamble, $1.9 billion invested on more than 10,000 hotel rooms and new attractions that were either going to open up Las Vegas to a new market or be the most expensive failures in the city’s history. And at first, it seemed to pay off. In 1994, Las Vegas visitation increased from 23.5 million to 28.2 million. That doesn’t seem so incredible now that we’re flirting with the 40 million mark, but at the time it was a nearly 20 percent jump—the biggest increase ever, both proportionally and in absolute numbers. Even the four horsemen of 1998-99—Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Paris and Venetian—only moved the needle by 10 percent.

via From the Emerald City to Pharaoh’s Tomb | Vegas Seven.

I think that the importance of what those three resorts meant to Las Vegas has been forgotten, for a few reasons. First, the late-1990s upscaling boom, which you could argue lasted until the opening of Cosmopolitan in 2010, seemed superficially to be a more important transition. Second, the resorts themselves changed their identities within a few years. Third, with the post-2001 shift towards nightlife, the 1990s emphasis on family attractions is a little embarrassing. And finally, Las Vegas casinos are much more about the present than their past.

But, as I discuss in the article, we owe a great deal to those openings, and we have not moved as far from them as we think.

Latest GFJ: The Power of Twitter

My much-anticipated Green Felt Journal piece about casino tweeting–which inspired me to finally claim @unlvgaming and get to work–is out, in today’s Vegas Seven:

Casinos are always looking for new ways to reach customers. So it’s no surprise that they’ve embraced Twitter, the popular social networking application that lets anyone tell the world, in 140 characters or less, “what’s happening.”

Casino tweets range from straight-up promo offers TI Suite Sale $50 F&B + 20% Off Spa / Also $61 Strip View w/free breakfast to single-sentence press releases Celine Dion is returning to @CaesarsPalace and will be back home at the ColosseumatCP 3/15/2011! to actual interaction with followers Hey #vegas tweeps, come introduce yourself this Saturday night! #stationsocials.

On one hand, it’s great that casinos are connecting with potential customers, whether it’s by smoke signals or Short Message Service. On the other, just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should. Does all of this tweeting, retweeting and following actually add anything to the bottom line, or is it just sound and fury for the sake of sound and fury?

via Tweets connecting casinos with potential customers | Vegas Seven.

It was a fun piece to write, and I learned quite a bit from my talks with Brandie and Hunter (though to be fair, I get to talk to Hunter every few weeks on the Vegas Gang). With an Advertising and New Media Summit at the next Casino Marketing Conference, it’s clear that social media is increasing in importance for casinos, just as it is for other businesses.

Book review: Super Casino

Re-reading after seven years, I’m struck by two things: I’m not entirely comfortable reviewing books that I don’t like, and the general quality of writing about Las Vegas has not much improved.

Let me explain: as a writer, I absolutely hate saying negative things about other writers. I know how hard it is to find the discipline and vision to write a book, then go through rounds of revisions and editorial haggling. To do all this and then see your work ripped to shreds is just heart-breaking.

But sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind, I’ve heard, and sometimes the writer isn’t the victim, the reader is. Maybe the writer took a nice advance then realized that he didn’t have anything meaningful to say on the topic. In that case, I’ve got no pity: I’ve been offered projects that I didn’t feel I could do justice to, and I’ve turned them down, even though it meant passing up a payday. Before I start writing, I feel an obligation to the reader to approach the topic in good faith.

And the more crap that’s out there, particularly the more well-marketed crap, the less room there is for real writing in the book ecosystem: it’s literary kudzu, or snakeheads, or whatever invasive species you can think of. Theodore Sturgeon was probably right when he said “ninety-five percent of everything is crap,” and in regard to Las Vegas/gambling that’s probably a generous estimate. But since for whatever reason I’m in a position to have some influence, I try to encourage good writing. I’m not saying I practice it or anything, I’m just saying I can recognize it and, like a soused undergrad seeing that guy from his o-chem class across the haze of a frat party, say, with an equivalent nod of the head, “Dude!”

As you’ll see, I’m not saying “dude” for this book.

Continue reading “Book review: Super Casino”

Luxor getting darker?

The Tropicana’s woes might be the Luxor’s gain. The pyramid on the Strip is picking up two exhibits that as Columbia Sussex’s flagship is taking on water (allegedly). From the LVRJ:

Luxor is picking up two nongaming attractions from the Tropicana.

Atlanta-based Premier Exhibitions announced Tuesday it signed a 10-year agreement with the Luxor to covert 50,000 square feet of the resort’s atrium level into exhibition space for “Bodies … The Exhibition” and “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition.” Both shows are now on display at the Tropicana. No dates were announced as to when the shows would be relocated.

Since last year, MGM Mirage, which owns Luxor, has been renovating the pyramid-themed resort named for the historic Egyptian city, adding several restaurants and nightclubs. Luxor President Felix Rappaport said last year the atrium level would also be remodeled.

ReviewJournal.com – Business – Two nongaming attractions now at Tropicana will be displayed at Luxor

My biggest misgiving about the Luxor (besides my “we were slaves in Pharaoh’s Egypt” heritage) has always been the funereal aspect of the place. Themed casinos are supposed to be about fun, something that Jay Sarno absolutely nailed: ancient Rome (in the popular imagination at least) is decadent and fun. A circus is fun. An Egyptian king’s tomb…not exactly my idea of good times.

When I go into the Luxor, I often think of Rorshach in The Watchmen talking about his reaction to Ozymandias’s Egyptian-themed headquarters–he’s overpowered by his morbid surroundings, by the Egyptians’ death obsession. From chapter 10:

Recognize dog-headed Anubis bust. Anubis, watched over dead. Whole culture death-fixated, obsessively securing their tombs against intruders…
Ancient pharaohs looked forward to the end of the world: believed cadavers would rise, reclaim hearts from golden jars…Understand now why always mistrusted fascination with relics and dead kings…in final analysis, it’s us or them.

But people come to Las Vegas to concentrate on life, on the here and now. That might be one of the reasons for the success of the Mirage, way back in 1989. A volcano is dynamic. A rainforest is always changing. It’s a celebration of life continuing. I think that, on some psychological level, many visitors identify with that. A pyramid, on the other hand, is unchanging, and a reminder of our own mortality.

It seems like the latest round of renovations and additions have been designed to make the pyramid more fun, more carefree. So adding two exhibits focusing on death and tragedy seems to be a step in the wrong direction.

I’m sure that there are great business reasons for bringing them in…it will get bodies in the door (pun, unfortunately, intended). But could this be a missed opportunity? If they are really trying to take the Luxor away from its museum-with-slots roots, are these exhibits really the answer?

Luxor explosion not terrorism, cops say

I’m sure when most people heard that a bomb went off in the Luxor’s parking garage at 4 this morning, they at least considered the possibility that it might have been a terrorist scheme gone awry. But apparently it was “just” a “homicide with an unusual weapon.” From Breitbart:

A device left in a casino parking garage exploded early Monday, killing a hotel employee who picked it up, authorities said.

The man was removing the device from atop a car when it exploded shortly after 4 a.m. on the second floor of a parking behind the Luxor hotel-casino, said Officer Bill Cassell, a police spokesman. He declined to describe the device, but said initial reports that it was a backpack were wrong.

Police said the blast was not a terrorist act but an apparent murder of a Luxor employee. No threat had been made against the Luxor, Cassell said.

“We believe the victim of this event was the intended target,” Cassell said. He said another hotel employee narrowly escaped injury when the device exploded.

Gordon Absher, a spokesman for MGM Mirage Inc., which owns the Luxor, said he could not confirm that the victim was an employee.

Aerial video showed no apparent damage to the parking structure, where entrances were blocked while police, firefighters and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents investigated.

There was little damage around the vehicle and the hotel was not evacuated, police and a hotel official said.

Cassell said the case was being investigated as “a homicide with an unusual weapon.”

The Luxor, a pyramid-shaped hotel at the south end of the Las Vegas Strip, has more than 4,000 rooms and 6,000 employees.

Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents were involved in the investigation, said ATF Special Agent Nina Delgadillo, regional spokeswoman for the agency in San Francisco.

1 Dead in Casino Parking Lot Explosion

My condolences go out to the family of the victim. This just goes to show that you can’t be too careful with strange packages. Sometimes I think that the emergency management types over-react when they find “mysterious packages,” but I’d rather see that than someone lose their life.