Wednesday, December 16, 2009

ARIA Pre-Opening Pictures!

Even though ARIA doesn't officially open to the public until midnight tomorrow, it has been up and running for the past 2 days with MGM Mirage employees as the guests. They have been calling it "ARIA Fun Days" and security has been pretty tight checking badges. I checked out Crystals earlier tonight and it is prety damn interesting despite every store being ultra-highend. I will post the pictures of that tomorrow.

I went back down and poked around later near the entrance of ARIA and in a stroke of sudden nerve I asked a couple who was walking by if they were leaving and they said yes. I said I was a Vegas Fanactic and was dying to see the place, could I have their badge? They gave it to me. The keys to the castle woo hoo!!! Thank you who ever you are!

First impression... Absolutely gorgeous. Top-notch in just about every way, as much as one would expect with the price tag the joint has. It is styled like most of the recent properties that have opened, "Red Rock-eques" on steroids would be a good description. I really can't wait to get in there and check the place out top to bottom over the next 3 days. City Center really is a piece of work when you finally see it completed. Unfortunately, I didn't get much time to walk around as they were ushering people out so the VIP parties could start but as I avoided security, I managed to glance at most of the major parts and get a couple of good pictures before being moved along as well as some of the exterior of the build. I will post the Crystals picture tomorrow

ARIA Pre-Opening Pictures

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Complete Vdara Review

Overall, my experience at Vdara had quite a few high points and a few issues; most were temporary involving the opening of a new place. Some however are major design flaws that will not be easily corrected. I will start with the good...

I was one of the first hotel guests to arrived after the VIP Ribbon Cutting. When I pulled up to the front entrance, I was met by 15 valets and bellmen standing there waiting for me. I almost felt assaulted by the service. I would continue to get almost overwhelming attention my entire stay. I checked my bags as check-in was scheduled for noon and proceeded inside. The big wigs were still mulling around and the media were being led on tours. I managed to get a handshake in with MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren. At noon, we were told check-in wouldn't start until 1 PM. 5 years building it but apparently they needed an extra hour to get things ready! I used the time to find a spot to plug in the laptop and used the FREE (a shocker!) Wi-Fi to post the first set of pics. By the time I was done, the rooms were ready and check-in started. During my check-in, the key making system went down for a few minutes then once I got to the elevator, the first one was not working. Both issues were quickly fixed. The room floors were actually quite different than the lobby as they are dimly lit with subdued colors. A couple of cool features before even entering the room: door bells, electronic 'Do Not Disturb' signs and locks that just require the key to be waved past it.

The rooms are actually condos with a kitchenette/dining area are you walk into the room. It has a sink, microwave, combo fridge/mini-bar, Keurig coffee maker and the dining area was a small table for two. The living area and bedroom are separated by the media center and desk which is equipped with 2 large flat-screen TVs and a connection center with HDMI, USB, VGA, RCA and S-Video ports. It is furnished in the same modern/retro style of the lobby with mostly beige and dark brown colors accented by a few pieces of hideous green. The bathroom is quite big with high end fixtures, separate shower and a very large tub. The one big downside is only a single sink on the vanity. A couple of other cool features of the room include motorized blinds and a small locking closet which is something I haven't seen before.

Now for the bigger issues I encountered that will not be easily remedied... The room itself was great and I would stay again in a heartbeat if it weren't at Vdara. Despite my mistaken belief, Vdara is a completely stand-alone building. It is not attached to either ARIA or Bellagio. To get to ARIA, you will need to walk out of the front door and across the porte cochere which is only a couple hundred feet but still not fun at 2AM in February. The connection to Bellagio is even worse. After you walk down a short glass hallway in Vdara, you are deposited outside in a covered walkway that is 30 feet above a loading dock with utility pipes running overhead. $8.5 Billion building City Center and this is what connects the 2 crown jewels of the MGM business? Someone dropped the ball big-time on this one. The other major issue is a lack of basic amenities at Vdara itself. Once again, I get they are relying on ARIA to provide many amenities but not being able to get a cup of coffee in the morning at a 1,500 room hotel is ridiculous. There also isn't even a simple gift shop. Forgot your toothbrush or want a candy bar? Walk your ass over (outside) to ARIA or Bellagio. There also a lack of dining options with only 1 restaurant on-site and it is high-end. Bacon and eggs was going for $22!

No doubt staying at Vdara will feel much less isolated once the rest of City Center opens but leaving a key piece of the puzzle as a stand-alone building is a mistake and won't be cheap to fix though not impossible. This is an epic fail on par with the Aladdin Strip access disaster. The bottom line is Vdara is exactly what it is billed. If you are interested in staying at a very nice hotel with great service that is non-smoking and non-gaming then the issues of access may not be a problem for you and actually might sound appealing. If you are looking for a classic Vegas hotel, then it is probably the last place you want to stay.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Vdara is finally open!

It's finally open!!! Vdara opened at 12 noon to a decent amount of fan fare with news organizations local and national covering the event. The place is everything you would expect from the latest and greatest in hotel design. Lots of marble and dark colors as well as high ceilings and a lot of natural light. Its a very nice place thus far. Room pictures will be posted shortly...

Vdara Grand Opening Pictures

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mirage's 20th Anniversary

It was November 22, 1989 when "New" Vegas officially arrived with the opening of the Mirage. The first new building on the strip in years, it was a casino like no other. It sparked not only an unprecedented building boom on the strip but also around the world. Shortly after would follow Excalibur, Luxor, MGM and many others. More importantly, it created a casino explosion throughout the country and even the world turning places like Tunica MS and Macau China into gambling Meccas. It's hard to believe how much has changed since that day 20 years ago.

Steve Wynn has many critics but there is no denying the immense impact the man has had on Las Vegas and the gaming industry. His bold vision and fearless drive has made the city what it is today for none of the others would exist were it not for the success of the Mirage and Bellagio. The places he has built have provided the livelihood to tens of thousands of people and are largely responsible for turning a "sleepy" desert town into the sprawling metropolis of today.

Golden Nugget's New Tower

In somewhat ironic news, this week also welcomed the opening of the "Rush" Tower at the Golden Nugget downtown. Ironic because it not only was Steve Wynn's first casino and a blueprint for the Mirage but also because it just happens to also be the first new hotel tower downtown since... 1989. Think about that for a second. All of the construction that Vegas has seen in the past 20 years and ZERO was on Fremont Street. That pretty much sums up the situation down there, doesn't it?

As always, I wish the best for new endeavors anywhere in town but coming out of the gate, management is a bit delusional about the environment in which they are opening. The CEO is quoted saying "We're not going to drop rates just to turn dollars, I'd rather not have all the bodies. It's got to be profitable dollars for us to rent a room." Really? An empty room is better than a head in the bed? Once again, I am amazed at how some of these guys got to where they are. Fortunately, there is some sanity somewhere in the organization as despite the CEO's proclamations otherwise, the prices have been dropping steadily since the day they started taking reservation.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Orleans Review and Room Pics

The second night of the trip I moved over to the Orleans and got there around 1 PM. There was only a short wait of about 10 minutes at the front desk. It was a double on the 15th floor very close to the elevator. Since my last stay a few years ago, the rooms have been "refreshed" with new linens and draperies but definitely not completely remodeled. Never the less, the room was in pretty good shape. They are on the larger side for a standard Vegas room and has a seating area with a small couch and coffee table. I always love having a couch but in this case the downside was that the TV was little small and far away to watch it. Similar to other Coast Casino hotels, the bathroom is located at the back of the room and there is no closet, just a rack in the bath. A unique feature of the Orleans room is a small window in the shower area that actually opens, All in all, the room was decent enough with no real complaints though I preferred the room I had the night before at Palace Station especially considering was $5 cheaper.

As one of the largest locals casinos, the Orleans has a decent collection of restaurants, most of which skew towards the cheaper ends of the scale. There is a decent food court, a large buffet which was slightly better than average, the dreaded TGI Friday's as well as a still 24 hours coffee shop plus a couple of nicer places. The lunch buffet was nothing out of the ordinary but did have a good selection and everything I tried was fresh and tasty. A late-night room service burger while also nothing spectacular, arrived ridiculously fast which was nice after the problems the night before at Palace Station.

One of the reason I choose the Orleans was because I wanted to catch a Las Vegas Wrangler game; the minor league hockey team who plays at the Orleans Arena. The game was entertaining enough though not NHL quality but certainly priced right at $38 for a seat right on the glass and just about every other one was $8. Being a small arena, every seat is a good one. As a bonus, it was Dollar Beer Night which made it a hell of a bargain for an evening of entertainment. They should definitely be marketing more to the Strip as an option if one of the dozens of Cirque Du Soleil shows isn't your idea of a good time.

Staying at the Orleans, I got the feel that it is like the MGM of the locals casinos. It has everything every other one has, just more and bigger. Plenty of rooms, many restaurants and a giant casino. If you want to try staying at a locals place, it's a great way to go plus its only a short hop down Tropicana to the strip. The room was nicer at Palace Station but otherwise Orleans has much more to offer.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Palace Station Review and Room Pics

I arrived around 6PM and check-in was fast with there actually being more clerks than people waiting. I have noticed less front desk staff at many places these days so this was a nice surprise to start out the trip. In a matter of minutes I was up in my room on the 16th floor of the tower. For only $30 a night, the room was incredible. It looks freshly remodeled in the past 6 months with all new furnishings including a nice sized flat panel TV and marble counters in the bathroom. The\ shower had a nice, high "rainshower" head with good pressure. One note, there was only a shower stall, no tub in the bathroom. Not a problem for me but might be for some. The whole room was in great shape and quite clean with no stains or burns anywhere. I couldn't have been happier with the quality especially at the rock bottom price.

Several times in recent posts I have discussed the issue of the dying coffeeshop and the Stations are at the forefront of movement. I got to experience the new Coco's replacement when I had a late room service meal a little after 11 PM. I pressed the button on the phone for room service and the it rang at least 25 times before I hung up. I tried again with the same result. After waiting a few minutes, once again no answer. I called the operator and she said that room service was available from 11PM to 11AM so they should have answered and she would connect me. Still no luck. I called back the operator who puts me on hold for a minute before finally finding someone at Coco's to answer the phone. Hardly stellar service! If I wasn't looking to make a point, I wouldn't have made that much of an effort and simply would have been pissed off and went with another option. To their credit; once I did place my order, it arrived quickly and was pretty good but the whole experience underscores my point that there is no way an outside establishment will treat the casino customers as well or offer the value as an in-house place would.

The following morning, I was in the casino playing a little Keno when out of the blue I was approached by a slot host who asked if I would like a buffet comp! It was good for anytime and for up to week with no points coming off your account. In all of my trips and all of the hours playing in a Vegas casino, that has NEVER happened to me. It happened once at an Indian casino in So Cal but never in Vegas. Needless to say, I was pretty shocked. It is precisely that type of stuff the casinos need to get back to if they ever want to fill all those new rooms coming online in the next few months. Kudos to Station for that move. I used the comp for a lunch buffet that was above average in quality but short on quantity. There just wasn't a really large selection of items especially compared to some of the other locals buffets around.

All in all, I was very happy with my stay at Palace Station. You just can't beat a freshly remodeled room for $30. Aside from the issue with room service, everyone else I dealt with was great with fast service at the valet and front desk plus the unsolicited comp while only playing quarter keno was an added bonus. Considering its location close to the strip and just off the freeway, it definitely is a decent alternative to a Strip place if you are looking for a good deal on a room.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Bob Stupak R.I.P 1942 - 2009

Yesterday, Las Vegas lost one of the greatest characters to ever grace its landscape, Bob Stupak. The creator of the Vegas World casino in the 70s which morphed later into the Stratosphere, left a permenant mark on the city's skyline and history. Born in Pittsburgh and self-dubbed the "Polish Maverick," he placed his first bet at age 8.Running craps games in the army, he learned that he could make a nice buck because "people were prepared to gamble a little if they had a chance to win a lot." He bounced around the world for a while developing a PT Barnum-like flair for marketing but always had a love for Las Vegas. He finally moved there in the 70s opening a restaurant, gambling museum then Vegas World in 1979. Here he would begin to truly make his mark on Las Vegas. When he realized the Strip ended at Sahara, a quarter mile south of his casino, he took it upon himself to declare the Strip has "officially" been extended. He went to great lengths to get people into his casino in often classic fashion. Vegas World was known for the utmost in gimmick marketing, sometimes ending him up in hot water with the Gaming Commission. Though things like no-craps craps and late-night TV ads selling vacation packages and dealers wearing old-western bowties that read "He's Bob Stupak. He's Polish!" the casino was like no other.

While living in Australia, he got the idea to build the Stratosphere and never gave up on the dream. He knew people were drawn to tall buildings and set out to build the tallest one west of the Mississippi River. When first proposed; people said he was insane, that planes would crash in it. Persistant as always, Stupak was undeterred. Despite having to take on investors that would eventually drive him out and force the place into bankruptcy, his vision was achieved and Stratosphere remains one of the must-see atrraction in Vegas and an icon that can been seen from anywhere in the Vegas valley.

Stupak's personal life was as colorful as his professional one. He once bet a million dollars on the Super Bowl and was an accomplished poker player if not so much for his skill as his bravado. He would incessantly tempt fellow players at side bets on virtually everything, typically in huckster style. He once bet anyone in the poker room that he could do "between two and three hundred push-ups." Everyone rushed to bet the skinny Polish guy. Once he got on the floor, they quickly realized he never said "between 200 and 300 push-ups." They quickly paid up! He ran for political office on several occasions, though never won and was quite the ladies man. He almost died in 1995 when he wrecked his motorcycle and completely crushed his face. The traffic investigator when he arrived on scene couldn't imagine anyone living through the accident but Bob managed to pulled through. In 1999, he proposed a Titanic themed casino on the Strip with a complete replica of the ship serving as the hotel, sadly the Las Vegas city council shot down the idea. There was also a very charitable side to Stupak with large donations particularly to the neighborhood surrounding the Stratosphere. To say it isn't the best part of town is an understatement and Bob wanted to help the residents. He employed many of them when the Strat first opened and built a community center and park in honor of his father which is a jewel in the middle of a pretty rough neighborhood.

Rest in peace, Bob. You made a legendary place in the history of Las Vegas and your legacy will never be forgotten!

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Monte Carlo Review and Room Pictures

For the final two nights of the trip, I moved over to a Monaco Suite at the Monte Carlo in anticipation of the wife's arrival later that day. I worked it out that after spending 3 nights with Mom, I would fly her back to Orange County to look after our pets as Lisa flew out for the last two nights. I managed to keep them both happy while not having to do it at the same time! It worked out well and I will do it again for my trip in December.

Check-in at the Monte Carlo was painless with only a very short line and I was up to the room in a just a few minutes. Amazingly enough, we weren't looking at a wall for once! Though far from the best view in town being on the 6th floor overlooking valet, anything was better than the previous 3 nights. The Monaco Suite is a really a mini-suite with 1 and a half baths. It wasn't priced much more than a regular room and it was well worth the extra money. Since we enjoy hanging out in the room, having the seating area and extra bath was definitely nice. The room itself was nice enough though hardly 5-star luxury. The furnishings were in good shape and everything was clean except for some of the dirtiest windows I have ever seen. More on that in a second... There was a flat screen TV but bafflingly there wasn't HD programming. I can't fathom the stupidity of spending the money for new Hi-Def TVs then not provide HD! The TV also wasn't really big enough to enjoy from the bed. They made up for it by having a very comfortable couch. The bathrooms, like the room itself, were also in good condition but both toilets were fairly difficult to flush, which was odd. The master had a combo shower/whirlpool tub but we just used the shower.

Overall, we were both very happy with our stay at the Monte Carlo. I have never had a very high opinion of the place since it opened back in the 90's. It was one of just three places on the strip that I have never stayed since there is nothing to really draw you there and the casino has never been very good. However; between the room, a surprisingly fun casino (if you aren't looking for serious gambling) and a decent selection of restaurants, we didn't leave the place all that much the entire time we were there. I sold the Monte Carlo short and it turned out to be a nice mid-budget place that might be a better option than something like Luxor or TI especially once City Center opens next door in Decemeber.

A very interesting incident happened on the first day at the hotel. As I mentioned earlier, the windows were terribly dirty. Lisa was poking around and discovered to both of our surprise that the window fully opened! I don't think I have ever seen a window that opened in a Vegas hotel so we were both shocked. Since it was a smoking room, we decided to leave the window open to air out the room. No more than 10 minutes later, the phone rings and its security telling us that we have to close the window as its obviously a safety hazard. No problem. We close it then as we always do when we leave, hang the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door as we head down to the pool. We are in the pool for about 30 seconds before lightning rolls through and they close the pool. We head back to the room to find that they ignored the DND sign and busted in to put a stop plate on the window so it didn't open anymore. It was almost as if they were scoping us out and waiting for us to leave to get into the room. The speed at which they acted was breath-taking! I'm sure if I called them for something, they wouldn't have been so speedy. It definitely gave us a good chuckle. It also served as a reminder that we are just "guests" in the hotel and its THEIR room and they will enter as they please.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New York-New York Review and Room Pictures

The first night of my stay was at New York-New York. I received an email offer about 3 days before we left for $44 a night. We were supposed to have been in the standard Skyline room but when we checked in at 11:30 PM, the gave us a free "upgrade" to a "Park Ave. Deluxe." The room was located on the 3rd floor near the food court elevators and when we got in the room, I swore the window was a fake. There was not a single ray of light to be seen, even from above. The next morning, we find out it wasn't fake but looked directly at a wall 3 feet away. By far the worst view I have ever gotten in Vegas. We probably would have been happier without the "upgrade!" No big deal though as we were only going to be there 12 hours. Other than the view however, the rest of the room was decent overall. It is an older room that is still in relatively good shape but don't expect a flat screen with HDTV. There wasn't any major stains or burns and all the furniture was good as well. The room is a little on the small size but I guess there wanted to continue the New York theme to the rooms! The bed was comfortable enough with no sagging though the pillows could have been better. The bathroom is very run of the mill with only 1 sink but the combo shower/tub had very good water pressure.

As for the rest of the hotel; the place has a decent collection of restaurants, most of which are quite affordable including a big food court and an ESPN Zone. There are several good bars and clubs including the Times Square Bar which started the whole "Dueling Pianos" rage that every hotel now seems to have. It is definitely entertaining enough, especially while sucking down free drinks and slow-playing video poker at the bar. The location is also very good. Located feet from MGM's front entrance and just across from Excalibur and the tram to Luxor and Mandalay Bay, there are plenty of other options within a short walk. There are a few definite negatives against the place... The casino is pretty terrible as far as good games go. The pool is amongst the smallest in Vegas and as mentioned previously, the rooms are hardly the lap of luxury. All in all, NY-NY serves its niche pretty well. If you are looking for a younger crowd and want to party all weekend and want a room that is a step up from bargain, it is a great choice. If you are looking for a luxurious romantic weekend getaway, there are far better choices in town.

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

5 Nights on the Strip

Just back from the End of Summer trip and there is quite a bit to post! I will start getting room pics and maps up tomorrow but I wanted to post a few tidbits from the trip. I would have done it real-time but had remote access issues. Mom and I spent the first night at New York-New York and then moved over to Venetian (actually the Venezia Tower, there is a difference!) for the next two and the luck of the draw as far as the view went couldn't have been worse at both places! At NY-NY, it was hands down the worst view out of a window ever Vegas or otherwise, despite Venetian's best effort to beat them.

New York-New York


I like a decent view and sometimes will even pay a premium for it. However, I'm not that anal about it and generally don't mind whatever I get but being handed this back to back even after mentioning how bad the view was the first night is almost ridiculous! To top it off, in order to provide such an amazing view at the Venetian, we were the furthest point humanly possible from anything! Miles and miles of walking ensued during those 2 nights. The final 2 nights were with Lisa in a suite at Monte Carlo. The view was hardly spectacular but at least it wasn't staring at a wall!

Another nugget of awesome from the trip was a billboard that is along Industrial not far from Trump.

Apparently he is the angry, Old Testament God and not the newer, kinder "Jesus" God! You got to love Vegas. No where else can you see an advertisement looking for budding pornstars a mile away from one condemning all the city's visitors to death, I'm just bummed it's not prominently displayed on the strip or on one of those street blimps! Now that would be priceless. Much more to come in the next few days...

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Innovations in Separating You and Your Cash

I have to give props to the guys over at MGM/Mirage for coming up with innovative ways to part you from your cash even in this tough economic environment. First, they started the latest hot trend in bargain dining, the "All-Day Buffet." For one low price, you can gorge yourself from morning to night thus insuring that you never even leave your hotel. It started at the Excalibur Buffet, which I wouldn't eat a single meal at let alone three, but the idea has now spread all over town from the locals joints up to the higher-end places.

The gurus at the MGM Grand have now come up with another way to keep you captive in their hotel. They recently introduced the "Prima VIP Privilege" program. Basically, you post $500 to your room account at check-in which you then use for food, drinks and entertainment. In exchange, they bestow upon you a bevy of goodies and perks. You get VIP Check-In, free suite upgrade, 2 for 1 entrees at most restaurants and 2 for 1 drinks at most bars. VIP Access to Studio 54 and Tabu, 1 round-trip limo to another MGM property and some others goodies. It sounds like an awesome deal. The catch? If you don't use the $500, no refunds. You lose what ever is left over. Therein the lies the pitfall of most "good" Vegas deals like this. The casinos are marketers second to none and while the offer is 100% legit, you have to work to get your money's worth out of it and they know most people simply won't do it. For every guy who get the maximum value out of it, 5 will leave $100 in their account on the way out the door.

Offers like this have made "working the Vegas deal" a science onto itself. Casinos work non-stop to get people in the doors. Everything from 2 for 1 coupons in the magazines to fully comped suites for the best players. For those in the know and are willing to put in a little effort, working these casino offers can be quite lucretive. For example, the "Prima" deal can be a nice windfall if you plan on eating most of your meals at MGM, going to their shows and partying at their clubs. For a 3 or 4 night stay, $500 is pretty easy to spend and scoring those added free perks along the way on as a bonus makes it a great deal. You just need to plan for it going in otherwise you will find yourself leaving money on the table. Learning these little insider tips on how casinos work have saved me literally thousands of dollars over the years. Looking back on my first couple of trips, I laugh at some of the foolish things I did with my money! Two great sources I use for finding the best deals in town and how to take advantage of them are the Las Vegas Advisor and the weekly LV Review-Journal column, Player's Edge. Both are worthy resources that everyone who is going to Vegas should have bookmarked. In the case of the LV Advisor, the membership is the best $50 I ever spent. It can pay for itself tenfold in a single trip. And no, they don't pay me to pimp for them!

Click Here for more details about MGM Grand's Prima program.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Vdara Opening Delayed...

I just spoke with the Director of Hotel Operations at Vdara, the 1st piece of City Center scheduled to open, and was told my reservation for opening night of October 1st has been cancelled and they are now delaying the opening until December 1st, 16 days before the opening of the rest of City Center.

Booking a room on the opening night of a hotel is always fraught with risk. Most usually don't hit their targets and if they do, it's usually with a "soft opening." So I was kind of expecting this to happen though was hoping that it wouldn't be delayed. She was very apologetic and comped me 2 nights once they do open. I used one of them for the new opening night of Dec 1st.

Updated: 08/03/09 4:00PM

Just to add a little more detail about our conversation... She mentioned the reason for the delay was Vdara is relying on the rest of City Center to provide many of its amenities. Since it will not be opened for 2 and half months after the planned Vdara opening, they would not be able "to provide their guests a complete experience." So instead of going with the "soft" opening, they decided to push it back closer to the December 16th opening of the rest of City Center while still giving themselves 2 weeks to work out any kinks. It also seems to me that it is convenient reasoning if they aren't quite ready to open the place. It makes sense from a PR stand-point. There is way too much at stake with this whole project to risk starting off with bad press if you can just as easily give yourself 2 months to get everything right.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Biggest Shoe Yet Drops...

In the biggest shoe yet to drop in the financial disaster that is the Casino Gaming sector, Station Casinos finally filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy today. It has long been spectulated that it was going to happen and almost did back in March. They have been negotiating with debtors for several months but were not able to come to a resolution to refinance the $5.4B in debt they took on in the 2007 leveraged buy-out that took the company private. The filing doesn't change much for the day to day operations of the company but a few bondholders will certainly be taking it in the shorts, as they should.

This BK filing is the price that Station's management pays for their hubris. Like MGM and Las Vegas Sands, they took on a mountain of debt beyond their ability to pay for it in a poor environment. The big difference between them and MGM/LVS is those companies built with their debt whereas Station just decided they were better than Wall St. and wanted out of the public company game. I am hardly an Econ PhD but only the very best of economic forecasts could have predicted making good on that amount of debt with nothing more than current cash-flow to pay for it. The Fertitta's got so used to the cash register ringing from the endless amount of Las Vegs home-equity that they couldn't envision anything but. Well that register stopped ringing and here now lies the remains of the Fertitta's grand plan. You know the guys over at Harrah's who made the very same bet but only for 3 times the amount of money are sweating coming to work each day. It's only a matter of time before that LBO disaster visits the LV Federal Courthouse with its tail between its legs.

I have predicted these BKs for quite a while and I believe that despite short-term pain, Las Vegas will be better off because of it in the long run. This is capitalism's nature flushing mechanism as those who made bad bets lose their money with no taxpayer bailout required. The new company that emerges is leaner and less burdened with debt allowing it to compete more aggressively for business. Once again, the winner will be the customer who Station will be fighting for. Remember that the very best thing that ever happened to both the Stratosphere and Aladdin/Planet Hollywod was BK as both of the places are now thriving even during this economic downturn.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Web Hosting Nightmare Comes to an End...

The horror of dealing with a 3rd-party web host has finally ended. After well over a month in hell dealing with the grossly incompetent people at, I have moved along with my other sites back to my own server. It required a bit of an upfront outlay that I really wasn't planning on but to have control back and to not have to pay a monthly fee for shitty service is well worth it. The worse part of the whole experience with the clowns at Godaddy was not only incompetence but the arrogance to blame the problems on me despite basic common sense dictating otherwise. I even went through the effort of producing reams of data to help them fix the issue since they wouldn't even make an effort to look at logfiles. After the 15th conversation and hours on hold with tech support (which isn't even an toll-free number), they finally admitted THEY had a problem. They then proposed a completely unacceptable solution plus no reimbursement for the days of downtime that was incurred. It was time to bring the site back in-house! So after a long week of banging away, everything now resides on a brand spankin' new network under my complete control. This will allow for not only better uptime but to implement things I could never do with the amateur setup I was working with at Godaddy. If you ever consider using them for even the most basic of websites, think again.... I can finally now get around to posting some new maps and pictures that I haven't been able to get up due the problems with GoDaddy.

Since this was a pretty much a complete re-design of the network including plus a complete migration of the website and database, I would greatly appreciate it if you let me know if you run across any errors or fluky behavior. As always, THANKS for visiting!

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Palazzo Review and Room Pics

The final 2 nights of the trip were spent at Palazzo in a Fortuna Suite. I needed to upgrade the accomodations from the Trop as Lisa would be joining me for the rest of the stay and neither of us have stayed at Venetian or Palazzo. They have been sending some decent email offers lately so we took them up on one and got the room for $179 a night. I am not a huge fan of the management of Venetian but I won't let that stop me from snagging a super sweet room on the cheap.

Check-in was a breeze on a Wednesday at 1PM. Only a 5 minute wait and I was on my way to my room on the 9th floor with a strip view. The elevators are on the opposite side of the casino from the front desk, which is a decent walk. The room itself was gigantic, at 940 Sq. Ft. There are 2 seperate seating areas, a wet bar and 3 TVs. Nice modern features include motorized drapes, a DVD player and Printer/Fax Machine. The bathroom was quite large with seperate tub and shower. Also, in addition to the double sink vanity, there was an additional make-up desk. It was definitely a strip view but because of the way the building is positioned, its was less than spectacular.

We really loved this room. The couch in the living area was big and very comfortable. The room was just perfect to hang out in. The size made it felt more like home than a hotel room. The furniture, carpet and electronics were in great condition and still had that "new" hotel room feeling despite being well over a year old and a smoking room. Housekeeping was great as they honored the "Do Not Disturb" sign but asked if we needed anything when walking out of the room and brought us towels in a matter of seconds. The only real complaint was
the heating/cooling system was a bit of a problem.. Though it had all the bells and whistles, it was hard to work with in full daylight and impossible at night since it didn't light up.

The rest of the hotel is as nice as the rooms. The first few times I walked through the casino, I felt it had a sterile feel but spending some time there, it grows on you. Aside from the distance of the front desk to the room, the place is laid out pretty well. There is a coffee place and gift shop right at the foot of the room elevators and the self-parking elevators are just a few feet further away. The pool area is very similar to the one at Venetian and are connected by a long walkway. There are several pools and hot tubs of various sizes as well as the new rage, an "Ultra-Pool." I don't quite get the concept of waiting in line at the pool to pay to hang out at another pool which just has more expensive drinks and louder music but different strokes I guess...

Palazzo along with Venetian have a lot to offer. There are a ton of top notch restaurants, several night clubs, a world famous Spa and a giant shopping mall. If they always were as reasonable on their room rates as they have been in the past few months and stopped jerking around their casino customers, I would stay there more often. However, their disdain for players coupled with the normally outrageous rates is the reason why we have never stayed there in the decade it has been open. Hopefully the new economic reality of Vegas will help the management of Las Vegas Sands see the light!

Coming soon... A new feature, Lisa's Spa Review. First up - Canyon Ranch Spa at Palazzo.

Check Out the Room Pics Here

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tropicana Review and Room Pics

The first night of the most recent trip was in an Island Tower room at the Tropicana. I booked the room directly through the website for $39 a night. The Island Tower is the large building in the back of the property and currently the only one open as the Paradise Tower is closed for repairs. I arrived at 3 PM on a Tuesday and there was zero line for check-in. Within minutes, I was on my way to my room which is a little bit of a walk through the casino and down a hallway over the pool. Considering the day and time, I was impressed with the amount of action in the casino. On my last trip through the Trop in December, the place was a ghost town.

Overall, the room was certainly worth the price. The first thing that strikes you as you walk in is the cheesy mirror and wood design on the wall and ceiling around the bed. It dominates the room! The furniture and carpet are on the lower end of quality but were in surpringinly decent shape. No major stains or burns anywhere. The bed was definitely one of the major downside, completely showing its age with a major sag in the middle. The bathroom is your circa 1985 formica single-sink vanity and interestingly large tub/shower angled in the corner. A few stray hairs that weren't mine made me question it's use but after throughly rinsing I hesitently decided to shower in it. Water pressure can be a concern in Vegas hotels and the Trop had something I never experienced, terrible pressure at the sink and fine in the shower. Often, its the other way around.

The pool area at the Trop was, at one time, the best in Vegas. It has long been surpassed by the Mandalay Bays and MGMs but it still is pretty large with a big nature area surrounding it. It pioneered swim-up Blackjack long before Hard Rock came along and even can be closed off in the winter making it one of the few indoor pools on the strip. The location is pretty good on the corner of the Strip and Tropicana, just across from MGM, Excalibur and New York-New York. Though the Island Tower is the furthest away from strip, there is self-parking in the back that makes for an easy in and out if you have a car. Hooters Casino is also a short walk out the back door.

Surprisingly, in all of my trips to Vegas, this was my first time at the Tropicana. It wasn't a 5-star experience in any way but consider the price, it was not disappointing either. If a large pool and a good location at a low price are important to you, it is a decent choice. However on most nights, for just a few dollars more, you can find better options such as Luxor, Flamingo or Monte Carlo.

All New Room Picture Page!!!

The Room Picture page has completely redone with every picture increased in size plus new links for easier navigation through the slide shows.

Check Out the Room Pics Here

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Death of Vegas Exaggerated?

I just returned from a mid-week trip and the crowds were as big as I have ever seen especially considering it wasn't a weekend. Downtown on Wednesday night was elbow to elbow and every time we walked through the Venetian it was completely packed though noticably less so at Palazzo. Even the Tropicana was bustling on a Tuesday night. Back in December when I walk through there, the feeling in the casino could best be described as a morgue. I'm sure those who were in town definitely weren't as free-spending as in the past but it seems that the massive discounting the hotels have been doing is working to pull in the visitors. Perhaps the oft-predicted death of Las Vegas is once again failing to materialize? All is not roses and puffy clouds though. There are quite a few rotting corpses of half-finished projects around town, none more prominent than the disaster that has become Fontainebleau. 50+ stories and no completion in sight.

In the next few days, I will get room pics and reviews posted of the Fortuna Suite at Palazzo as well as ones from a fine Island Tower room at the Trop. I also have a handful of new property maps to add as well.

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Steve Wynn, More Wynn and City Center

A member of the Las Vegas Advisor community recently reported that on top of the $20 he was charged for 2 drinks at a bar in Encore last month, there was another $5 charge. When asked what it was, he was told it was because he ordered his drinks in the rocks. WHAT!?!? I'm sorry but it takes a brass pair to charge for ice cubes after serving you a $10 cocktail!

I am a huge fan of Steve Wynn and have consistantly sung his praise on these pages. What the guy has done for the city of Las Vegas is immeasurable and everything he does is usually first class all the way. However, if this truly is the policy at Wynn and Encore, it is totally and completely unacceptable and goes against all the good he has done lowering room rates. It is precisely this kind of crap, along with things like "resort fees," that have caused people to stay at home and why Vegas is no longer "recession-proof." One visitor commented that he has seen the "ice surcharge" at clubs in Manhattan. Great, that is fine for NYC where they charge $299 a night for a dumpy hotel, not for Las Vegas where you used to be able to get a deal for your buck. Hopefully this was just one woefully misguided bartender and not the start of a horrible new trend.

In other news from Mr. Wynn, he gave an interview to Bloomberg News saying he was "kicking the tires" about perhaps purchasing some of MGM/Mirage's casinos if/when they have their property fire sale. He emphasized nothing certainly was imminent but said “I’d be interested, if at the right price, whether it’s Bellagio or Circus Circus.” I'm sure he would love nothing more than to steal back Bellagio at a bargain basement price but wouldn't it be interesting to see Wynn own Circus Circus?!?! Would he upgrade the place to have turn down service with clown-shaped Pez Dispensers on the pillows? Seriously though, any asset sales by MGM or Harrah's will open up the competition on the strip though I would much rather see some fresh new outside blood setup shop next to the big boys.

Lastly, in a huge piece of news... it was announced yesterday that MGM has secured the final piece of financing needed to complete City Center. In addition, the lawsuit filed against them by their partner in the project, Dubai World, has been dismissed. This is huge news for the city of Las Vegas in so many ways. Firstly, it ensures that thousands of construction workers will continue to get paychecks. Secondly, they expect to hire upwards of 10,000 employees once the place is completely open. I question if those numbers are still accurate given the weak environment it will be opening in but whatever amount they hire will be greatly welcomed. Lastly, it will hopefully bring positive publicity back to Vegas when there has been nothing but bad news for a long time.

I know there are many strong feelings out there amongst Las Vegans toward MGM/Mirage and City Center in particular but if this place is a success, the benefits with go far beyond those at MGM to the entire Vegas valley. Here's to it being finished SAFELY and on-time!

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Stratosphere Premier Room Review and Pics

For the second night of the trip , it was on to the Stratosphere. I had a 4PM check out from South Point and I used pretty much all of it. Getting to the Strat at the time I did, I was concerned with the check-in line as this place is notorious for horrendous waits at the front desk. Much to my surprise, there were only 3 people in line with ample staff at the counter. When I asked to make sure I was in a smoking room, the clerk told me that it was not so I asked for the room to be changed. She said she had to check with the manager?!?! After a few minutes, she comes back and says that they "will give it to me" and I was changed to a room a couple of floors higher. You would think by the way she acted, she was upgrading me to the VIP Suite! It gave me a nice chuckle on my way to my room.

I was in a "Premier Strip View" room on the 20th floor and it definitely had a strip view though it is somewhat ruined by the monstrousity that is Fontainebleau. I paid $60 for the night directly off the Strat website. Like the room I gotten at MGM the next night, the room was recently "beautified" as they called it but it definitely wasn't a complete remodel as it still had an old TV and a cheesy formica counter-top in the bathroom. The bed, floor and furniture were all in good condition however. All in all, not terrible accomodations considering the Strat often is amongst the cheapest on the strip most nights.

When staying at the Strat, you almost have to go up to the tower and they were giving free admission to hotel guests so I couldn't pass it up. I ended up spending over an hour up there taking pictures as the sun went down and watching people on those insane rides. There is now plenty of new material to update the picture page!

For dinner that night, I had my one and only meal at the Strat, a graveyard breakfast special at Lucky's Cafe, their 24 hour coffee shop. This place has been consistently good over the years and was just as good this time around. The food was all cooked just right and the service was fast. As a single diner I really appreciate that, just give me the damn check so I can go!

The casino isn't very good as video poker is usually poor and the table games are filled with gimmicks like crapless craps and 6/5 BJ. This is coming from a casino that boasts "Get Better Odds at the Stratosphere" in its ads. In several of the elevators, they actually had the balls to post this ad. With "better odds" like that, I will take my gambling elsewhere thank you!

The Stratosphere has gotten a bum rap over the years but for what it is and what it tries to be, it really is a good value. The rooms are definitely decent and usually priced right, the restaurants are much improved over the years and the tower is one of the must see attractions in Vegas. The downside being a not so great location and a poor casino but a rental car or an all-day Deuce pass are simple remedies for both of those issues.

Check Out the Room Pics Here

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Monday, April 13, 2009

MGM Grand Review and Room Pics

The last night of my recent trip was spent at MGM in a standard "Grand Tower" room. It was a single king room on the 20th floor looking towards the east, IE not the strip! The room has been "remodeled" since my last stay in a regular room in at MGM back in 2003 but definitely not up to the level of today's standards (still sporting the 20" tube TV!) The room is a decent sized, as its not terribly old, allowing for a couch instead of just a chair or two by the window. The bathroom is exactly the same as it was in 2003 and like the rest of the room, its bones are starting to show some age. Both of the faucets in the sink leaked onto the vanity, some of the tiles were a bit beat up, the heat/AC made noise occasionally and there were a couple of large stains on the carpet. Certainly nothing that was a dealbreaker but not 5-star accomodations by any means. Overall, the room wasn't terrible and definitely worth the $49 I paid for it but feels more and more dated with each new place that opens or remodels.

I have stayed at the MGM a few times in the past couple of years as I generally like the place from a resort standpoint. The casino is absolutely atrocious so I resign myself to playing elsewhere but for everything else, it serves its purpose well. For starters, aside from Mandalay Bay, I think it has the best pool in Vegas. It is enormous with a several pool areas and jacuzzis, a lazy river and a lagoon plus the "ultra-pool" Wet Republic, if that is your sort of thing. It has the greatest selection of restaurants from fast food to 5-star of any casino in town and the location, while not perfect, is still good enough to get out and about easily. Add in numerous shows, nightclubs and other entertainment options, it really is "Maximum Vegas" as their motto boldly states.

The MGM definitely is not for everyone however... As I stated previously, the gambling is about as poor as you can get. Fortunately, scant play like a $20 in a penny slot machine will generate offers like the one I stayed on. Also if you are looking for luxury, this is not the place for it. With 5000 rooms, they operate on volume not personal service. If you want to be waited on, Encore is just down the road. But if you are looking for a place with a half-decent room with plenty of action, a great pool and all the feel of a "Vegas" casino then MGM definitely fits the bill.

Check Out the Room Pics Here

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Harrah's closes Bally's Sports Book

Bally's abruptly closed their large Sports Book this week claiming it will re-open in September and are directing guests to the considerably smaller Paris Book instead. Since there is no remodel planned, this is merely another ill-fated cost cutting move by the wizards who run Harrahs and in typical arrogance actually released this comment through a spokes person... "The Paris sports book is in such close proximity (to Bally's) that we didn't think it would inconvenience our guests to filter them over to Paris for the time being," Pettit said. "It's a captive group within Bally's and Paris, so we should be able to service our guests with the Paris sports book."

Captive? Really? Are there not 75 other casinos in Las Vegas with at least 10 within walking distance of Bally's? At least one of their customers disagrees with them... "Besides, it's just as easy for me to get across the street as it is to walk over to Paris, and Bellagio is nice." said visitor Harvey Cherces. Way to go! In an save to save a few bucks, they suceeded in driving even more of their customers to the competition!

I have hardly been a huge fan of Harrah's and moves such as these have been the exact reason why. How much money are they really saving by making this move? I'd venture not all that much in the grand scheme of things for a company of it's size. What is worse than removing a major feature of the resort is the attitude that their customers are merely sheep who can be simply herded next door to a lesser facility and will be fine with it.

It's not all that shocking though considering this is pretty much how they have always treated their customers. They have operated under the assumption that if they threw free rooms at people, no one would notice the horrible games in their casinos. Every casino they have acquired has systematically been gutted and replaced with games designed to extract maximum cash out of midwestern tourists in the quickest possible manner. They are almost single- handedly responsible for the scourge that is 6:5 Blackjack. The irony is they call their slot club Total Rewards but aside from the free rooms, there is very little in the way of rewards.

The upside for the Vegas visitor is that with the ginormous debt load they are carrying, somewhere around $20 Billion, they will almost certainly be forced to sell off some of their properties. New owners = Competition = Value for Customers. If you're not a Harrah's debt-holder, it's all good!

Adelson loads up on LV Sands stock

Sheldon Adelson, builder and majority owner of the Venetian and Palazzo purchased 4.7 million shares of his company's stock on the open market this week. I have been a regular basher of Mr. Adelson in this space as the problems at LV Sands, while not entirely his doing of course, were made worse the business model he swore by. I would like give the guy props on this occasion however for nutting up $15 million of his own cash which shows faith in the company. As high as Vegas flew a few years back, I think it has been beaten down so far that if you pick a survivor, there is a ton of money to made. Apparently Adelson believes he will survive. It remains to be seen.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Las Vegas Hilton Room Review and Pics

We started our trip at the Las Vegas Hilton. On the way into town, we saw signs that it was NASCAR weekend at the Speedway so we knew it would be busy. We rolled into the valet at about 5PM and the wait at check-in was about 10 minutes. The Hilton has a few different room types so we reserved a "Grand" room because it is larger than a standard with a seating area that we like to have. At the desk I ask for my usual; smoking, high-floor, good view if possible. She tells me they are very busy with NASCAR in town and all she has is a smoking on the 3rd floor with no view. Ok, no problem, we aren't picky. We hoof our stuff all the way to the last room on a very long hallway, open the door and it is not only a non-smoking room with no view, it is not even a Grand room like we paid for. Back down to the front desk, where I am told the only other room in the entire hotel is also on the 3rd floor. I ask if it a Grand room, "No but its smoking." is the response. So I look at him for a few seconds before he asks "Is there anything else?" Ummm yeah, the 20 bucks I paid for the "upgraded" room! It is not a lot of money just the point that they were perfectly intent on screwing me had I not said anything. He goes in the back and comes back a few minutes later and tells me he credited my account with a surly look on his face. A very frustrating start to the vacation...

The rest of the stay wasn't too bad. The "premium" room that we ended up in was fairly nice. It has been recently remodeled and everything was in decent shape. There is a good-sized flat panel TV, marble counter-tops in the bath and it was definitely larger than a regular room. The only real problem was the amount of noise in the room. The door was so thin that I thought someone has having a conversation in my room! The AC also rattled, the mini-bar had a persistant hum and the elevator "ding" was awfully loud! It all made it a little tough to get to sleep.

The only food we ate at the Hilton was a quick snack of nachos and a pretzel at the Sports Book Deli, both of which were good. This is the 24 hour dining option at the Hilton as yet another casino coffee shop is no longer open all night. Fortunately, they do have an extensive menu. The coffee/wine bar in the lobby has snacks and pastries 24 hours as well. We played just a short time in the casino which has very little to note except the "Space Quest" casino still exists which makes it even more out of place now that the Star Trek attraction is gone. There are a decent amount of good single line video poker machines near the giant sports book that I spent some time playing without any luck!

All in all, the stay at the Hilton was slightly above average. It is definitely a long way from it's glory days as one the high roller joints in town but a decent option for an inexpensive room if being a block off-strip doesn't bother you. If you are attending an event at the Convention Center next door, its a no-brainer and the monorail station somewhat offsets a less than ideal location.

Check Out the Room Pics Here

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Encore Review and Rooms Pics

Last weekend, we got to spend a night at the newly-opened Encore at Wynn Las Vegas. It was the second night of our trip after spending the first night at the Las Vegas Hilton. A review the LVH will get posted tomorrow. We arrived pretty early on a Sunday and were greeted by not oen but two valets as we arrived. The first thing you notice is RED. They introduced the theme at Wynn and boldly extended it, particularly the chandeliers in the casino, big and 100% red.
The other "big" difference between Encore and Wynn is butterflies as the background element instead of flowers.

There was only a small crowd in the lobby. A nice touch is there isn't a queue line but actual person directing you to the shortest check-in line. After only about 5 minute wait,
we were checked in. We were offered a room on the 20th floor with a north strip view immediately or we could wait for a south facing view.We choose not to wait and were up to the rooms in a few minutes. The room, in a word, awesome. Much like the rooms at Wynn but much more intimate feel with the divide between the rooms. Though not a true suite, the wall is sufficient to achieve the result. The room is loaded with the latest whiz bang features. Flat Screen TV with multiple inputs, automated drapes even a fax machine/printer if you have a USB cable. The lights, drapes and even the "Do not disturb" sign are automated and controlled by a little box next to the bed. The bathroom is huge with dual sinks, large bath tub and a stand-up shower. Other amenities in the room are a safe, mini-bar, robes and a scale. The room just feels top-notch through and through. The north facing view did not disappoint either. From the 20th floor, we had a great view of Fontainebleu going up as well as out to downtown and beyond. It was definitely good enough to stare at for more than a few minutes.

The best part about the room was the price... $159 on NASCAR Sunday and I could have gotten Monday free if we were staying the extra day. As a result, both Encore and Wynn seemed to be pretty busy the entire time we were there. By contrast, we walked over to Palazzo for dinner and it did not have nearly the same action. Steve Wynn apparently gets it. In the new economic world, you better offer value or you are going perish and that is what he is doing. For that same night, we could have stayed at Luxor for $109 or get Encore for $50 more. Where are you going to stay? We felt like high-rollers just sitting in that room and after all, isn't that what Vegas is supposed to be about? For 24 hours, I didn't even think about my 401K balance!

The one draw back to the 5-star luxury is a lack of comfort amenities that we enjoy; no quick eat places even a coffee joint. All of the restaurants are high-end, including the "coffee shop" and room service prices are through the roof. So while it was certainly an great experience staying at Encore, it will never be a place I can stay at and not leave for an entire weekend like I have done at the Palms and South Point. But definitely something everyone should experience especially now that it is such a deal.

Check Out the Room Pics Here

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

M Resort Opens on Sunday

M Resort boldly opens sunday night to a worsening economic environment each day. Combined with the fact that it is 10 miles south of the strip, the place faces an uphill battle with a $1 billion price tag. However, owner Anthony Marnell is saying all of the right things to succeed in the new Vegas reality. The son of Rio builder/owner (as well as Wynn and a half dozen other casinos) Tony Marnell, his marketing pitch is similar to what made Rio successful when it opened, a nice place and a great value. No "$15 martinis and $90 Steaks."

He also plans on focusing on the customer, screening all employees for a "friendly attitude." Sure everyone says that, he will have to actually do it to pull it off. One thing he did say that shows me that he "gets it" in the new Vegas...

“People don’t care about all this bigger and better stuff. They come here with their hard-earned money — and every day they realize how hard-earned it is — and they’re going to spend it where they’re going to get value. They want to know that they are going be taken care of, and that you’re going to treat them like they want to be treated.”

I have been beating the same drum for almost a year now and its similar to the philosophy of his neighbor to the north at South Point. There was a time when Vegas was universally recognized as a cheap vacation. How quickly has it become the symbol of decadance? President Obama has basically made it criminal to book a convention in town because it is now the land of the $400 bottle of Gray Goose. Vegas needs to get back to value... in the hotel, restaurants and especially the casino.

If all goes well I should have some pics and a property map early next week. Good luck Mr. Marnell, may the gambling gods smile upon you!

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rob's Vegas Brain Droppings

Since Vegas is easily one of my top 5 things in life, I often ponder about my beloved city. I am fascinated by just about all aspects of the town so my thoughts vary from casino economics (one of my favorites) to the obscure like that just over 100 years ago, the population was zero, which still amazes me. I will often want to put these thoughts up on the home page but usually just never remember to do it! I have come up with solution, an idea whose time has come... The Brain Dropping!

I borrowed the phrase from the amazing George Carlin, R.I.P, which was the title of one of his classic books. I think it fits perfectly with what they are. Simply, a Brain Dropping is a random though posted online for the world to see and comment on. Kind of a cross between a Blog and a Twitter, much shorter than a Blog and more insightful (hopefully!) than a Twitter. Since they are intended to be short, I will be able to easily post one whenever a stroke of Vegas genius hits me, which I am not to humble to say is often! Check out the new section here... and let me know what you think!

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Boyd to Buy Station?

This afternoon Boyd Gaming announced it has made an unsolicited offer to purchase a significant portion of Station Casinos properties in the Vegas Valley. Here are some excerpts of the letter sent from the Boyd Executives to Frank Fertitta of Station Casinos...

"We believe that Boyd is uniquely qualified to operate the assets of Station. We are dedicated to operating first class casino entertainment facilities and have demonstrated this commitment within the Las Vegas market for over thirty years. "

"Based on available public information, we estimate that the enterprise value of the OpCo Assets is approximately $950 million."

"As of December 31, 2008, Boyd had approximately $2 billion in available liquidity under its Revolving Credit Facility. We have sufficient liquidity to finance a cash transaction consistent with the terms outlined in this Proposal."

The "OpCo" asset that Boyd is seeking includes Station's ownership interest in Green Valley Ranch and Aliante Station (Co-Owned with the Greenspun Family) as well as Texas Station, both Fiestas as well as Wild Wild West on Tropicana.

If they are able to pull it off, it would be committing highway robbery in my opinion. Less than a billion for those properties when Aliante went up 3 months ago for almost $700 million by itself? I can't imagine the deal going through as stated considering there are several other people out there fishing to get into the Vegas market, i.e. Ameristar, who coincidentially built the Fiesta Henderson back in the 90s as the african-themed "Reserve." Another person who might have some ability to pick up one or 2 of those places is Michael Gaughan, owner of South Point.

As a small side note to point out how far things have fallen in Vegas... Harrahs recently spent more than $950 million on the new tower at Caesars before deciding to not complete it but Boyd may get a whole collection of properties for the same price!

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

McCarran Airport Numbers down 7.7% in 2008

McCarran Airport's 2008 passenger numbers were released yesterday and traffic for the year was down 7.7 percent with December being down 14.1% over the same month in '07. It was the worst year over year showing since 1981 but the December stat really tells the story of what is going on in Vegas. A 14% drop represents over a half million less people coming to town. Ouch! That equates to a whole lot of empty hotel rooms.

I definitely noticed a difference in the size of the crowds during my trip the week before X-Mas. It is usually not the busiest weekend of the year but this year was definitely unlike anything I have ever seen. Last year, I spent the same weekend at the Palms and on Friday night, the line to get into the Rain was circling the casino. It was easily a 2 hour wait to get in. This year, I was there also on Friday night and not only was there no line, I overheard one group of people talk about club-hopping around the Palms, something that would have been impossible just 6 months ago. Just about everywhere else has similarly light crowds.

The upside to the Vegas downturn is the abundance of deals. Not a day goes by without at least 3 emails with new offers and I am even seeing offers for Super Bowl weekend, typically one of the busiest and most expensive of the year. I also received 3 free nights this month at Encore just days after it opened and I am the furthest thing from the biggest fish in Mr. Wynn's database. I wish I could take him up on it! So those who are still planning to come to Vegas, shop around as the deals are plentiful. You can end up with an amazing room at a great price or a decent room practically free and I don't see it ending anytime soon.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Week in Vegas - Other than CES!

With CES going on in Vegas this week, it has been all the buzz on 7,283 different blog. It's a geek's wet dream! Despite the biggest techfest of the year, there actually was some other news coming out of Vegas this week.

MGM Mirage announced that it was delaying the opening of "The Harmon" component of City Center until 2010 and pulling the condo option out of it. With this change and others they have done, they managed to shave $600 million off of the price tag for City Center. They will finish the exterior of the building but leave the inside unfinished. The cancellation of the condo part is keeping inline with the overall weak demand for Vegas high-rise condos. I don't know how they are going to sell the rest of them in Vdara and Veer and they were banking heavily on that cash to finance the whole project. We will see how the whole thing pans out when it opens in December 2009.

On the very next day after the MGM announcement, a very different story came out. One that used to be common in Vegas but now is a serious head stratcher. An Israeli group asked for a permit to build the world's largest hotel on a site next to the Hard Rock Hotel.. At one time it was to be Las Ramblas, a massive project that was proposed then cancelled which involved actor George Clooney. This is absolutely puzzling to me. Everyone who has not been dead for the past year knows this thing will never happen. Especially since the company that proposed it is currently dumping properties just to pay it's bills. My guess is, they feel the permits will raise the property value but considering the nose dive that resort corridor property has taken, I don't think it will help much.

On a website note, I still have a bunch of property maps to add from my last trip, hopfully they will be done this week.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Mirage Review and Room Pics

The final night of the trip was in a Tower Deluxe room at the Mirage. In my 66 trips to Vegas, I have never found myself staying there which really is a shame since the Mirage is the place that started what is modern Vegas. I left Aliante Station a little before noon on Sunday and was at the Mirage in less than a half hour. On this stay, I got to experience both a remodeled and non-remodeled Tower Deluxe room during my check-in saga which I detailed below.

First off, the un-remodeled room... The Tower Deluxe rooms are larger than a standard room, located at the top of hotel and have a Jacuzzi tub in the bathroom. The room was decorated in light browns and beiges and is dominated by a giant armoire in the middle of the room. Instead the beast resides a tiny 21" CRT TV! There is also a small desk as well as table and chair. Aside from the armoire, the room seems big for the amount of the furniture in it. Despite the age of the room which I am guessing is at least 5 or 6 years old, it has held up pretty well with only minimal stains on the carpets and little wear showing on anything else. The bed was a bit lumpy but not terrible by any means. The bathroom is large as billed and covered in marble. There are 2 sinks and a vanity area on the counter with the tub and shower on the other side. As with the rest of the room, the bathroom looked great for its age. My only complaint would be the water pressure I had in the shower. If I hadn't known any different and this was the room I was given, I would have been more than happy with what I got. It is definitely a step above a standard Vegas hotel room. Unfortunately, I saw the remodeled rooms and watching the dinky little TV was a bit of a bummer! That's what I get for being a smoker!

The remodeled room was even nicer as you would imagine though it did seem smaller than the other room. The design is similar to Aliante and Red Rock with a lot of dark brown and instead of an armoire dominating the room, its the flat-panel TV. The bathroom is actually pretty much the same in both rooms with just the sinks and counter top replaced. The one awesome feature of the room is the media access center. From a panel in the desk area you can connect virtually any device to the TV. There are USB, VGA, HDMI and Composite/S-Video connections so you can use your laptop of portable DVD on a giant screen. I wish I had gotten the chance to use it!

As for the rest of the Mirage, it is still a pretty nice place. The casino is largely catering to mid to high rollers with virtually no tables under $10-15 even on a Sunday. There is also no decent video poker worth playing either unless you have gobs of cash. Needless to say, I keep my money in my pocket. So were others it seemed as well. The only real busy place was the sports book, which is expected on a Sunday during football season. I did get a chance to eat while staying here a few times. I had a late lunch at the Carnegie Deli which almost requires you to get a pastrami on rye. I am originally from New York and have eaten at the original many times. The sandwich was decent enough with a ridiculous amount of meat but in no way like in NYC. I guess you just can't get a good Jewish rye in Nevada. Go figure. One thing that was similar to New York was the price, $12.95 but does include pickles! Later that night, I was in the mood for some late night dining and wandered over to the coffee shop to find out that it closes at 11PM on weeknights! Yet another example of the on-going death of the Casino Coffee Shop (see my Dec 14th rant below.) You can however go back over to the Carnegie for a $15 burger and that is the scam they are pulling. Why offer a burger for $6.99 when you can charge $15 at the name brand restaurant! It is stingy little moves like this that are driving people away from Vegas, especially those of us who come to town frequently. They need to remember what made Vegas great to begin with but that is another rant all together! Anyway, I ended up with a giant potato knish and a coke for dinner and managed to get out under $10. Although I didn't eat there on this trip, I have eaten at the Brazilian steakhouse Samba in the past and if you are a carnivore I highly recommend it.

Now for the details of my check-in saga.. I got there at about 12:15 on a Sunday so I wasn't surprised when I was told that my room wouldn't be ready for a half hour. The desk clerk was very pleasant and offered a line pass to any of the restaurants to bide my time. I didn't use it instead going over to the Sports Book to watch the early NFL games. After 45 minutes, I go back to the Invited guest line as instructed where I am at first told it would 3 hours. I say I was told it would only be a half hour, 45 minutes ago. So she starts clicking away. After a minute of searching, she tells me she thinks she has a room for me and calls housekeeping to check. On hold for what seems like forever, she finally gets the OK and sends me on my merry way off to the top floor. I get up to the room and open the door to find a very UN-remodeled room but at least they got one part right, it's a smoking room. Now, I am not a 5-star room snob but I reserved the "Tower Deluxe" specifically because they sent me numerous emails bragging about the remodeling so I nutted up and paid the extra $20 a night. I debated whether or not to call the front desk to change rooms and decided it would be worth the effort. I spoke with a very friendly person who apologizes, puts me in a room several floors down and switched my key over so I didn't have to go back to the lobby. Great, that was easy. I proceed to get downstairs and into the elevator for my new room when I notice on the button for the floor is a "No Smoking" sign. Damn! So I go to the room, which is quite nice by the way, and call again. At this point, the 4th front desk clerk finally explains to me that there are no remodeled smoking rooms Tower Deluxe rooms. I really wish that would have been explained to me upfront, I would just taken a regular room to begin with! So I now drag my stuff back to the original room only to get there and the key doesn't work. Fortunately security was up in no more that 5 minutes to get me in and he assures me it will work in a few minutes. Sure enough, on my next trip to the room the key still doesn't work. Once again, security was quick about getting up there. I finally went back to the front desk and got new keys and didn't have any more problems.

Overall, it was a decent stay at the Mirage despite the room snafu and the late night dining issue. A few days after I got home, a survey request can via email so I filled it out noting my problems. A day or two later I received a reply from a person in customer service apologizing and offered me a discount or upgrade if choose to return. I may take them up on it on a trip with the wife since the location is great and pool looks like a lot of fun but it definitely wouldn't be my choice as a new home base anytime soon.

Click Here for Room Pics

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Gold Coast Review and Room Pics

The first night of my recent trip was in a "Premium" room at the Gold Coast. I arrived around 3 PM on a Friday and there was a decent line at the check-in desk. With only two people working the desk, it took almost 45 minutes to finally get up to the room. They have recently remodeled all the rooms in the place as well as made extensive changes in the casino and restuarants. The upgraded room cost about $10-15 more a night than the regular rooms but have a trendy look to them. I was a sucker a spent the extra few bucks... The room is decorated in the dark wood that is all the rage these days. The armoire/dresser/ TV Stand is one unit and has a nice sized flat-panel TV. There is also a small desk near the window. One puzzling thing about the room... They spent thousands redoing everything but left the $5 alarm clock? They couldn't have spent $15 and got one with an IPod connection? It seems like a small thing but its one of the amenities that makes a difference for me. Anyway, like the Orleans, the bathroom is at the far end of the room and also has the little window in the shower that actually opens. There is just one sink and no tub. A interesting "feature" is that the shower has no door, just a fixed piece of glass covering half of the area.

I didn't eat at any of the restaurants this stay but did want a room service breakfast before checking out. There was no menu in the room so I ask a housekeeper; she proceeded to hand me a photo-copied piece of paper with the menu on it. I actually chuckled to myself. The food arrived quickly, was reasonably priced for room service and was hot and excellent all-around. I also have eaten at the buffet several times in the past. Dinner is just ok, nothing spectacular but the breakfast is one of the better spreads in town and only $6.

I have stayed in several remodeled older rooms recently and they all suffer from the same difficult issue, an old room still has old bones. You can't make the room larger or install central AC where none exists so it's tough really compare with the new hotels. However, given the price on most nice nights, the Gold Coast is definitely a very nice room if you are looking for a deal near the strip but not necessarily on it.

Coming tomorrow... Mirage Tower Deluxe Room Pics of both a remodeled and non-remodeled room.

Click Here for Room Pics

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