Looking back on Two Way Hard Three

In case you missed it, I’ve had two posts on Two Way Hard Three this week–each, in its own way, looking backward.

The first, Biggest Story of 2011–Six Nominees, breaks down what I think were the six biggest stories of 2011.

The second, The Las Vegas Hilton: Looking Back, takes a look…back at the history of the Las Vegas Hilton, which as of Tuesday became “LVH–The Las Vegas Hotel and Casino.”

So if you want a look at recent and not-so-recent history, that’s about 4,000 words worth of history for you to read.

Two Way Hard Three triple-play

If you’re not tuned into my Twitter feed or don’t regularly check Two Way Hard Three, you will be surprised and, one hopes, delighted to hear that I’ve had a very productive few days there.

This came about because, in the run-up to the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic,* I wanted to stoke excitement by doing the most exciting thing I know how to do–writing about casinos (yes, that’s a personal shortcoming that I’m working on). So on Wednesday, I penned a number-heavy analysis of Atlantic City casino comps vs. Las Vegas Strip casino comps. Here’s a little teaser:

Worse yet, the trend is heading in the wrong direction. In 2007, there was one casino in the over-40% red zone: the AC Hilton. In 2010, four casinos were there.

As a whole, the industry is spending 8 cents more per dollar of casino win in revenues. That’s not sustainable, and those properties with the highest comp ratios are the most likely to collapse.

Let’s now turn to the Las Vegas Strip….

Comps: Atlantic City Vs. Las Vegas

I followed that up on Thursday with an in-depth treatment of the Tropicana’s recent game of musical chairs. I’d been asked to talk about it quite a bit, and wanted to just get my thoughts out there, unmediated. Here’s a sample:

I can’t speak directly to the circumstances around Mr. McCartney’s departure, I will say it’s not unprecedented for casino presidents to leave abruptly. Obviously neither side is going to have a frank discussion about the real reason for the departure, so for now it’s best to just let that one go, since anything anyone says is going to be speculation, which isn’t that illuminating or respectful to those involved.

The second essential, entertainment turnover, I can speak to directly. We’ve seen tons of it on the Strip, and at successful casinos, too.

Tropicana shuffle: Panic or business as usual?

And just this morning (after Hunter’s posting of a CCTV-camera quality, last-known-photograph shot of the possible Wynn Cotai) I offered up some thoughts on casinos, history, and the mob, sparked by Henry Hill’s stint signing autographs at the Global Gaming Expo earlier this month:

Fast forward ten years and all things organized crime are, it seems, embraced. There’s been a Godfather slot machine. There’s been a Sopranos slot machine. In Atlantic City, Resorts is embracing a “Boardwalk Empire”-inspired Roaring Twenties theme, paying tribute to Prohibition-era law-breaking. The Tropicana, which once hid secret interests from reputed mob bosses Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky and was, in the 1970s, implicated as mob-tainted as part of the Strawman investigation, went all-in with a “Mob Experience” that not only celebrated organized crime, but made it seem as natural a part of the industry as comp buffets for slot players. And Henry Hill was part of the industry’s biggest showcase.

The mob & casinos: time heals all wounds

So I’ve been pretty busy. Between this, my Business Press column, and the Vegas Seven piece on Ramesh Sadhwani, you’ve got about 3,000 words (or more) of my writing to entertain you. And, if you’re a guest at the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic* this weekend, you get a chance to stump me. Sounds like fun.

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* Not a real mafia.

Fun on TWHT

If you haven’t seen them already, I’d like to draw your attention to two recent items on Two Way Hard Three. First is my write-up of a serendipitous encounter with the Cosmopolitan street team:

Late last week, the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas unveiled its latest secret weapon–a purple truck. Since its existence was confirmed on Twitter, speculation about its true purpose has been running high. Would it dole out free indie rock and hipster glasses to the unwashed masses of Las Vegas? Would it spontaneously curate streetside happenings? Or would it actually do something useful, like provide free shuttle service? As usual with marketing promotions that want to go viral, it was shrouded in mystery.

Well, word has it they’ve been active this weekend, and I ran into the Cosmopolitan street team quite by accident this morning.

The Cosmopolitan takes it to the streets

The second is an in-depth, longer-than-an-hour interview that Hunter did with me:

http://www.vegasgangpodcast.com/2011/07/vegas-gang-64-july-24th-2011/

If you’ve got comments, feel free to leave them here.

I’m not usually asked to talk about myself that much, so I really let loose.

Busy day on Two Way Hard Three

I had a busy day yesterday. I added a previously-written column on the history of Steel Pier right here and I wrote two pieces for Two Way Hard Three.

The first was a fun little piece about Vegas insider moves:

Everyone wants to feel that they’re a Vegas insider. It might be something as basic as knowing that the airport connector isn’t the most direct route from McCarran to the MGM Grand, or it might be something as esoteric as being able to quote, from memory, the names of all of the bouncers at every Vegas nightclub.

Basically, it feels good to know that you’re doing Vegas right. There are so many rookie mistakes to be made (and hey, even locals make them all the time) that it’s great to know that you didn’t waste your time or get ripped off.

Little Vegas insider moves

Then, reacting to news that Steel Pier was for sale (and the justification for it), I shared a few thoughts on Steel Pier:

To me, Steel Pier is symbolic of the failures of the casino industry in Atlantic City. When it was being built, a bridge over the Boardwalk to Steel Pier was considered one of the marquee attractions of the Taj. This would have hosted a restaurant or nightclub offering tremendous views of the Boardwalk. I can only imagine how great it would have been to sit down for a meal or go out for a night of dancing with the lights of the Boardwalk and the ocean waves surrounding you.

Trump selling Steel Pier reveals much

I hope you read and enjoy both pieces.

Mob myopia in Two Way Hard Three

I finally read that LA Times piece on vintage Vegas venues (yay for alliterative ledes) and something in it provoked a response in me. So I wrote a Two Way Hard Three post until I expressed something close to what I was feeling:

Other people have already discussed the LA Times piece that featured “vintage Vegas” attractions, but I want to focus on a very narrow part of the set-up for the list of attractions, particularly this quote:

“It was better in the old days when the mob was still here,” said Aiko Shono, a 35-year resident of Sin City. “Everyone had a job, everyone was friendly [and] people were not rude.” (read full story here)

Coupled with longtime Golden Steer server Fernando Camacho’s description of Anthony Spilotro holding court at his private booth ("Anybody who came through that door had to kneel and kiss his ring"), it creates quite a disconnect.

via Mob myopia | Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog | from ratevegas.com.

I’d appreciate it if you could give it an honest read. I know it’s not very fashionable to be critical of mafia chic in Vegas right now, but I just can’t cheerlead that stuff. I explain my objections as well as I can in the piece. As someone whose career is centered on the history of Las Vegas and gambling, this is something I feel very strongly about and also something I’ve given a lot of thought to.

I’m really ambivalent about the whole fascination with Mob Vegas. On one hand, it’s good that people are interested in the past. On the other, it would be nice if they could get a more balanced look at history. The real history of Las Vegas, which includes but doesn’t end with organized crime, is really a lot more interesting an accessible than most people give it credit for. There are some great stories there.

Which will we see first? in Two Way Hard Three

In case you missed it, I’ve got a slightly-more-serious but still fun piece up on Two Way Hard Three about various longshots on the Las Vegas Strip:

With a renewed push for a casino smoking ban in Nevada, I go to thinking: which would happen first–no smoking in a casino, or a casino dress code? They are both changes that some people think would improve the casino experience, but would probably be fought tooth and nail by most operators. I just can’t see them turning away a player because he’s in a t-shirt instead of a sportcoat, or because he wants to smoke.

Still, I thought it would be interesting to consider which of these following scenarios might happen first.

via Which will we see first? | Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog | from ratevegas.com.

It’s just a thought exercise, but I think it’s useful to try to see around the corner and predict what’s going to happen. It’s obvious that the status quo isn’t going to continue forever, so it’s interesting to try to guess what’s going to stay and what’s going to go.

Atlantic City double shot in Two Way Hard Three

In case you missed it, I’ve recently posted two Atlantic City-related pieces on Two Way Hard Three. The first is the complete text of my answers to questions Wayne Parry asked me about Atlantic City:

The AP’s Wayne Parry wrote an excellent article about Atlantic City’s rise and fall. He reached out to me for my thoughts, and I answered several of his questions. Obviously, with space constraints being what they are I figured most of what I said wouldn’t make it into the story, so I planned to post it here so I could share my thoughts with a broader audience. You can see many of the numbers I reference in my Atlantic City Gaming Revenue (pdf) report.

Here are his questions and my responses:

via Some thoughts on Atlantic City | Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog | from ratevegas.com.

Last week, I decided to gloat a little and revisit a past prediction I made about mini-casinos and Trump Marina:

Landry’s Inc. a Houston-based company that owns a full spread of restaurant chains and Downtown Las Vegas and Laughlin’s Golden Nuggets, has officially taken ownership of the now-former Trump Marina and will be putting about $100 million into renovating it. Meanwhile, a vaunted plan to allow “mini-casinos” has resulted in exactly zero construction to date. That’s exactly what anyone would have predicted when the mini-casino concept was first mooted, and it’s a good sign that some operators, at least, see some upside in the market.

Landry’s takeover just as predicted | Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog | from ratevegas.com

I mixed together some history and numbers stuff, which seems to be the way most of my work is going these days. Fun stuff. I still don’t see how the mini-casinos make sense if they cost more than full-sized casinos and have less revenue potential.

Finally, I had some fun this weekend and tried to answer the question Where should the Vegas Internet Mafia have its picnic?

I know I’m no Misnomer when it comes to the comedic stuff, but I figured it was worth a shot.

I promise that, later this week, I’ll be delivering something that is a) mostly serious (and harmless) and Vegas-related. It’s already in the works, but I want to take some time with it.

Landry’s Marina takeover talk in Two Way Hard Three

If you’ve missed it, I’ve got a post up at Two Way Hard Three that explains Landry’s purchase of Trump Marina and the return of the Golden Nugget to Atlantic City, with some bonus historical context:

Landry’s Inc. a Houston-based company that owns a full spread of restaurant chains and Downtown Las Vegas and Laughlin’s Golden Nuggets, has officially taken ownership of the now-former Trump Marina and will be putting about $100 million into renovating it. Meanwhile, a vaunted plan to allow "mini-casinos" has resulted in exactly zero construction to date. That’s exactly what anyone would have predicted when the mini-casino concept was first mooted, and it’s a good sign that some operators, at least, see some upside in the market.

via Landry’s Marina takeover just as predicted | Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog | from ratevegas.com.

Since I wrote it, I’ve seen two stories, one of which confirms something I said. Trump Plaza is potentially on the market, which I alluded to in the TWHT piece. Second, Hard Rock is apparently about to pull permits to build a $300 million mini-casino at Albany Avenue and the Boardwalk–right across from the site of the old Atlantic City High School.

I spent a lot of time in my TWHT piece talking about what a lousy idea that was, and I haven’t seen anything to convince me otherwise. When you can get 1,000 rooms and 2,000 slots in a totally renovated building for $138 million, why would you pay $300 million for one-quarter or less of a facility–200-500 rooms with about 510 slots? I ran the numbers and I just don’t see how it could possibly be profitable.

If anyone has an explanation, I’m willing to listen. It’s totally possible that I’m missing something here, but it’s also possible that I’m not. Back in 2007 there were a lot of smart people who thought Strip condos were a can’t-lose proposition, so I’m not so sure that, just because someone can borrow hundreds of millions of dollars they’re smart enough to spend it.

Wynn & China on Two Way Hard Three

In case you missed it, I posted a piece yesterday on Two Way Hard Three talking about Wynn Resorts and China:

In today’s flurry of email headlines (which continue whether I’m in the office or not) I read a blurb saying that Wynn Resorts “has become”; a Chinese company. Certainly this is no surprise to Wynn. I remember him saying that as far back as 2005, though then it was more along the lines of, “One day Wynn Resorts will be a Chinese company.”

Of course, this is getting press now since it’s being coupled with his criticisms of the Obama administration, but looking at the numbers, it’s clear that Wynn Resorts has been a predominantly Chinese company for quite some time.

via Wynn’s a Chinese company, now more than ever | Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog | from ratevegas.com.

Check it out, if only for the neat little charts. I managed to cut out one step in producing those charts, so I’m pretty excited about them.

Talking about Steve Wynn talking about Mirage at TWHT

Sometimes I like to share things that I find while plumbing through the archives, just because. Yesterday I did just that at Two Way Hard Three:

Working on my lecture for tomorrow about Las Vegas gaming in the 1980s and 1990s, I wanted to go back to some of the original sources. So I’ve been browsing through the archives quite a bit.

I found a press release issued on November 14, 1989 titled “MIRAGE RESORT SETS NEW DIRECTION FOR LAS VEGAS.” For those keeping score at home, that’s 8 days before the Mirage’s grand opening

via From the archives: SW talks Mirage, 1989 | Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog | from ratevegas.com.

It’s always neat to see how people thought (or hoped) things were going to turn out, and compare it to how they actually did. Ten years from now we’ll be able to do this with CityCenter.