Sunday, March 21, 2010

Green Valley Ranch Review and Room Pics

Station Casinos has been sending a monthly offer recently for 3 nights plus some free play at any of their casinos so I took them up on one night at Green Valley Ranch. I haven't stayed there in a couple of years but have played there a little bit and always liked the place. I moved over there after 2 nights at THEHotel and it was a little culture shock. The hotel at GVR is about as sedate as any in Vegas with not only no wait at either the Valet or Front Desk but virtually no one else around on a Monday afternoon! I was told at check-in that they had closed their smoking floor but could offer me a "balcony suite" but could only smoke on the balcony. Fine. As long as I don't have to walk a mile for a smoke but its seems rather unwise to close all of your smoking rooms at once at a hotel/CASINO!

The balcony "suite" was really just a slightly larger regular room with a patio as opposed to a balcony. The room was very similar to the one I had a few years ago though it has been recently "refreshed" with new carpet, linens and a flat-screen TV. In addition to the king bed, there was a large chair and ottoman, small writing desk and armiore that served at the TV stand. The bed was pretty comfortable but nothing to write home about. The patio was less than inviting as a place to hang out. It overlooked bare rooftop and walls with the stench of roofing asphalt permeating the air. Great to smoke on and not much else. The room was also equiped with a Bose Wave radio, wired and wireless Internet, robes and slippers and iron/board. The bathroom was almost an exact replica of the bathroom I had the previous 2 night at Mandalay Bay and the same as just about every bathroom built in Las Vegas over the past decade. It was so similar that even the little contained for Q-Tips was the same at both places! There is a large bath tub and shower stall on one side, twin sink vanity in the middle and a seperate water room to the other side with a ton of marble tossed in for good measure. It was stocked with just about everything you would expect from a 4-star hotel.

The casino at GVR is definitely one of the nicer off-strip properties and has some decent games to boot. I have played here occasionally over the years and usually had decent luck and this trip was no different. There are quite a few of the video poker machine I enjoy (5-play 8/5 BP) and after a rough start, I came back and held my own over the rest of my stay and ended up with a ton of play when it was said and done. The drink service in my location was only adaquate but I also was pretty far from any of the bars.

I ate a few meals in-house during my stay and GVR is another place suffering from the cost cutting plague that is killing the Vegas casino coffee shop and late night dining in general. They recently closed their coffee shop, moved the Original Pancake House into it's space which is now open something like 6AM - 8PM, if even that late. If you need something to eat at midnight, you choices are room service and FatbUrger. Pretty disappointing. My room service meal was decent enough but the menu was somewhat limited. I opted for a club sandwich which was pretty good and delivered quick but still would prefer to have some options. I also had a breakfast sandwich on my way out the door at the Turf Grill near the Sportsbook that was excellent.

Staying at GVR is quite a different experience from a Strip mega-resort. If you never stayed at GVR, it is unlike any hotel/casino in Vegas. The hotel is about as detached from the casino as possible while still being connected. The walk from your room to the casino leads down a hallway past more hotel rooms to a non-descript door out to the public area. No elevator opening into a bustling casino here. While the hotel is definitely shooting for a more upscale environment, the casino is very much a locals joint with loads of video poker and the obligatory movie theater and food court. Overall, I enjoyed my stay as it was a nice change of pace to the bigger, more choatic places on the Strip. And while it is a few miles off the Strip, easy access to the Beltway makes it no more than a 10 minute trip most times of day. If they keep sending free nights, no doubt I will definitely be staying here again in the future.

Click Here for Room Pics

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

The State of Vegas Part 2

Harrah's Gets Planet Hollywood...

In recent months, Harrah's has been buying up the public debt of Planet Hollywood and finally finished the all out purchase of the place for what amounts to essentially $650 million. A pretty impressive move in this lending environment especially since Harrah's own financial position is shaky at best. The purchase gives the company control of the entire east side of the Strip from Harrah's down to Planet Hollywood plus Caesars on the west side. They now own 9 casinos within a half mile of each other!

Here comes the rant... To say I never have been a big fan of the folks at Harrah's Entertainment is a major understatement, going all the way back to when they started their massive expansion in the late 90s. The company's operating model is the epitome of what went wrong with the casino industry over the past decade. It is run by MBAs from back east who probably never even played a hand of blackjack let alone have an understanding of the gambling customer. Their approach to the business is the same as if they were manufacturing widgets. They look to minimize every last penny of cost and maximize every possible profit opportunity yet totally and completely oblivious to the fact that the product they sell is CUSTOMER SERVICE! There is no obvious difference between the slot machines at Casino A or Casino B and 99.9% of Vegas visitors accept the fact that gambling is a losing proposition. All they ask for in return is at least the possibility of winning and being appreciated for the loss. Neither of these concepts does Harrah's understand. Their casinos without exception sport the worst video poker odds and table game rules in town. They proudly introduced the insidious 3/2 BJ to Las Vegas, actually bragging about their "single deck action." One can only assume their slots are programmed to be similarly "generous." To show their appreciation for playing weak games, they have the Total Rewards slot club. Aside from free rooms they toss around easily to entice you to come to one of their 9 bad casinos, it is hands down the worst of any of the major companies. Figuring out how to earn a point requires a PhD and its next to impossible to get a comp for anything beyond that free room and even their casino hosts are virtually powerless to do anything about it. I was actually hoping their debt load would have forced them to shed a property or 2 not have yet another suffer from similar mis-management!

... and Icahn Gets Fontainebleau

On to one of the few nuggets of good news coming from the Vegas casino biz lately... Billionaire Carl Icahn has taken over the broke and partially finished North Strip eye sore, the Fontainebleau. After spending over $2 billion to get the place 70% done, it went BK and construction was halted last year and it has been rotting in the elements ever since. Icahn came in and picked the place up for $156 million, 7 cents on the dollar!

I am a huge fan of this move. Carl Icahn is a genius opportunist and has a history of turning around losing operations. Those familiar with Icahn's Vegas past will recall he pulled off a similar deal to buy the half completed Stratosphere. He dumped some of his own cash into it to finish the hotel and update the casino then sold a few years later for a enormous profit. The same will happen with Fontainbleau. Gone will be all the 5-star amenities that were originally planned for the place and instead it will be completed as a value joint, something that will be needed if its to survive long term in that neighborhood. This news is great for Las Vegas as this disaster of a project finally gets someone who can get the job done and great news for Vegas visitors who will get 3,500 brand new hotel rooms at bargain prices.

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

The State of Vegas

Over the next few days I want to talk about the huge amount of news over the past month or two that is slowly shaping the face of post-meltdown Las Vegas. There has been change all over the place, some of it negative and some of it positive. In no apparent order, here's a look at some of the recent developments...

Shuttered Hotel Rooms

There has been a rash of room closures around town and this is certainly isn't a good sign. Late last year, the legendary Binion's Casino downtown completely closed it's hotel tower along with the coffee shop and the Sahara close 2 of its 3 towers due to lack of demand. (A positive note: the Sahara buffet was also closed!) Closing down rooms has to be troubling news... From people I know in the hotel business, I have heard the ballpark number is about $12 a day to run a room for a mid-sized hotel. If they can't get the rate and occupancy levels to support more than $12 a day, things are looking pretty bleak downtown and the north Strip.

Shuttered Joints!

From closed rooms to entire places going away! In the next month, 2 of 3 reasons for the existence of the Lake Las Vegas Resort will close their doors. The 5-Star Ritz-Carlton and the adjacent Casino Montelago will be done. The only thing left out there will be the Loew's Hotel which itself is in bankruptcy. The parent corporation of the entire place is broke and the lake itself in constant danger of draining away to Lake Mead. I pity the homeowners who are left. It was a really nice place but WAY too far off the beaten path to really ever succeed even during good times and the first place to completely die in the new Las Vegas.

Boyd to take out Station

In a move that is pure genius from the shareholders of Boyd Gaming's perspective and an absolute disaster from just about every other, Boyd is agressively trying to buy Station Casinos as a whole out of Bankruptcy Court. Boyd is flush with cash after abandoning the rotting skeleton that is Project Echelon on the site of the former Stardust. So it has now set its sights on its main competitor in the Vegas locals market, Station, after its ill-fated leveraged buyout. If the power play is successful, one company would control virtually every major casino in the Vegas Valley not located on the strip or downtown and would be a major blow to anyone who plays or stays off-strip. Don't get me wrong, I am a full-fledged capitalist in every sense of the word and completely support the strong eating the weak but the casino business in Nevada is regulated for a reason and this is where the Gaming Commission needs to do their job for the good of the overall industry in the state. This mega-merger would not be in that best interest. Perhaps a partial purchase of a select number of properties but to allow a complete domination by Boyd would not be good for the locals market in Vegas.

More tomorrow on the fates of Fountainebleu and Planet Hollywood and what I think it all means for the future of Las Vegas.

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