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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