Saturday, May 5, 2007

BREAKING: MGM Mirage Sportsbook Outage

On what is undoubtedly one of the biggest betting days of 2007 for Las Vegas with the De La Hoya-Mayweather fight and the Kentucky Derby going on, the sports book at every MGM Mirage property is currently NOT able to take any bets.

The outage seems to have started around 3 pm PT, just before the Kentucky Derby began. I was at the Monte Carlo attempting to place a bet and the huge line wasn't moving. I asked; system is down across the company. I returned about 45 minutes later to place a bet on the big fight and the system remained offline.

This is a major, major problem for MGM Mirage, which is hosting the fight of the decade at the MGM Grand Garden tonight.

I have calls out, will update. Developing...

**UPDATE: MGM Mirage spokesman tells me system returned online at about 3:55 pm, down for about one very precious hour that included the top of the Derby. They're too busy today to say what happened, but that's got to be a multimillion-dollar system failure.**

Friday, May 4, 2007

Steve Wyrick responds

During my interview with Steve Wyrick for next week's episode of "The Strip," I asked the Planet Hollywood magician about the lack of a hearing assistive device system in his theater. He said there is one and that the usher I asked -- actually it was the box office dude -- was mistaken.

That's really good to hear. But I think we're going to have to start putting pressure on these theaters to train their personnel since they frequently don't know. And, also, I've been told the Americans With Disabilities Act requires signage offering these devices to patrons.

This is developing...Hunter from RateVegas.Com suggested in a comment from the prior post that he might incorporate that question in his tracking of Vegas theaters. Great idea. Hopefully he'll do that.

What's more, though, is that I'd be curious if anyone offers audio description for the blind, which is starting to spread in Broadway theaters and some movie theaters. Man, that would be awful hard to do at "Ka," wouldn't it?

Stay tuned for the interview. There's definitely a Norm-worthy moment or two in it.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Don't worry, deafie, it's REALLY loud

Just came in from the Steve Wyrick magic show at Planet Ho because I'm interviewing the headliner tomorrow for next week's "The Strip" podcast.

One question I may ask is this: "How the &%*#@ could you build a $35 million theater complex from scratch in this day and age and not make it accessible to people with hearing disabilities?"

I asked the guy at the counter tonight if there were headsets. And, just as I told you all the other day with the Gordie Brown usher, his answer was: "No, I don't think so, but the theater's brand new and everything's really loud."

Incidentally, it actually wasn't. Wyrick speaks a lot in the show and he has a soft voice. I just don't understand why it's even legal to open a theater in this age of ADA without hearing assistive devices?!?!

Gentle reader, please start asking about this when you go to theaters in Vegas. Just ask. Pretend you have a deaf aunt at home you'd love to bring. Whatever. I want to start keeping track of this. And any disability lawyers out there willing to tell me if the ADA covers public theaters?

Let the Bette puns begin

So far, the media's been awful restrained in employing the predictable "Bette on Vegas" puns. A newspaper in Adelaide, Australia -- where Google Analytics tells me this blog seems to have a number of readers -- ran with "Best Bette To Replace Dion" and the Dallas Morning News screams "Vegas puts money on Bette." But otherwise, no major fouls. Well, Robin Leach did use "Bet on Bette" which isn't so much a pun as a redundancy. Sigh. But it'll get worse. Midler starts rehearsing her exclusive gig at the Colosseum in October and opens in February 2008 and will stay at least into 2010.

The press event was surprisingly simple and sweet. The director of Celine's show and "Le Reve" put on an adorable two-minute dance to the instrumentals from "Miss Otis Regrets" in which six of Celine's dancers, dressed as bellhops, roll out Bette's signature Louis Vuitton luggage and then Bette popped out from behind some curtains. She sat down and confirmed what you read here yesterday. (Photos by Jae C. Hong, Associated Press).

I'm not posting the audio because it turned out terribly, but she was her witty, charming but brief self. If you want to read some terrific interviews with her, check out ones that ran today in the Review-Journal by Mike Weatherford, the Las Vegas Sun by Jerry Fink, on Robin Leach's blog, in USA Today and on the Associated Press wire by Ryan Nakashima. There are probably a few more out there, but that's probably more than enough.

See? I'm a good sport after all. At least all these writers did something worthy with their access.

Before Bette, how about a Dunkin' Donut?

I'm about to clean up and head to Caesars to see Bette Midler in the flesh. I can't wait and will bring you the details and audio (if it's any good) as soon as possible.

In the meantime, big news in the Review-Journal today! Dunkin' Donuts is coming to Vegas! Jennifer Robison has this terrific scoop that they're opening tons on the West Coast, much to the grateful delight of millions of transplanted East Coasters. Miles loves it so much he wanted a picture with one of them -- dressed in their colors! -- last time we were in Pennsylvania.

I am a little concerned, though: Not only are they expanding awful rapidly (41 stores in Vegas by 2010) and that was the undoing of the highly overrated Krispy Kreme, but just imagine how much Miles and I will expand!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

More EXCLUSIVE Bette Midler Details!

Just heard that the press conference tomorrow at the Colosseum to announce Bette's new gig will be "produced" and, while Midler is not expected to sing, there will be a bunch of Celine's dancers involved in some sort of spectacle. Can't wait to see what they do!

Right now, I'm waiting for a camera crew from RawVegas.TV to come and interview yours truly on today's big scoop. Will post the link whenever they get it done. You'll get to see where I work. Prepared to be underwhelmed. Not sure what to do with my noisy chihuahuas. Also must hide the current issue of Vegas magazine that has devil's ears drawn on covergal Jamie-Lynn Sigler, a nemesis.

Vegas, Disabilities and the Hard of Hearing (Like Me!)

The Department of Justice today released information on a settlement with two casinos, the Mandalay Bay in Vegas and the Circus Circus in Mississippi, both now owned by MGM Mirage.

The settlements are exhaustive and the Vegas end of it involves Mandalay paying a $30,000 fine (whoop-de-doo) and enacting a long list of physical alterations to accommodate people in wheelchairs that undoubtedly will be a road map for compliance used by every other property in the city. Accessible rooms must have 32-inch-wide doorways, public bathrooms have to be however wide, they must provide accessible rooms for most every level of room style, etc. The Alain Ducasse eatery Mix was singled out as needing to provide a way for people in wheelchairs to get to upstairs dining areas. You can read it for yourself at this link until May 5.

So here's my complaint: What about those of us with disabilities not related to being unable to walk? In all of this, the only thing that touches on, say, people with hearing loss, is a requirement that they provide visual fire alarms in rooms.

I go to a lot of shows. I estimate fewer than a quarter of theaters on the Strip offer hearing assistive devices for their patrons. Every single cinema and Broadway theater does, but in Vegas, almost nobody bothers when they're spending tens of millions building them to include this convenience for their deaf and hard of hearing audience members. The theater that Rita Rudner was in -- and now Roseanne Barr is chilling in for a time -- at New York-New York was the first I ever saw that actually had signage for it, and I think the Cirque shows may have it which is ironic because you don't have to understand anybody's talking when you see one of them.

What's more, some that do have amplification devices don't advertise it. You have to ask. And then the ushers and box office personnel typically are baffled and don't know whether it's available or not. Nobody's training them. And I'm a young, assertive New Yorker/journalist; most of those looking for such things are elderly and not terribly comfortable even asking in the first place.

I particularly loved this response from an usher at the Gordie Brown show at the Venetian: "No, we don't have that, but it's really loud." It would be funny if I didn't hear this answer almost every time the answer turns out to be "no."

Don't tell me what's loud and what isn't. If I could hear like you, I wouldn't be asking, y'know?


I just confirmed with a source deep within the Caesars-Colosseum empire that tomorrow it will be announced that Bette Midler will headline in Celine's theater after she departs at year's end.

This is a brilliant, brilliant move. She's a huge draw, a terrific entertainer and no doubt will earn many, many millions. Steve Wynn had told me two years ago he was in negotiations for her to come into a yet-unbuilt venue at Wynn Las Vegas but that never materialized.

There are only a few artists alive who can consistently sell out a venue as ginormous as that one.

Congrats to Caesars. I can't wait to interview the woman whose albums lifted me out of more than one miserable epoch of my life.

Bette will be on hand Thursday for a press event and starts rehearsals this fall. We will bring you the raw audio from that event tomorrow.

UPDATE: Some other journalists are grumbling because they were told this news but are under an embargo. I would have observed that embargo had I been invited to be in on it, but I was not and so here you are with this exclusive. That said, Robin Leach tells me he has a Bette interview going up tomorrow at 6 a.m. PT on his current blog site. (It's moved around a little.) Go check it out when it's available.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Sinatra by a nose!

Wow - our polls aren't usually this interesting, but we left it up for two weeks and something weird happened. The question was: What dead star do you wish you could've seen when he/she performed in Vegas?

As of our recording of last week's show, Sinatra was way ahead. And then suddenly Elvis made a run for it and the two traded the top spots several times over the weekend.

Check out the final results here. Impressive. Dean Martin's a distant third and, sadly, nobody seems to miss the black folk. Sad, I say, because I'd see Ella and Sammy read out of the phone book.

New poll is now up. Let the games begin anew.

Is this unreadable?

(UPDATE, 1:02 pm PT: How's this?)

While I'm waiting for "The Producers" star Brad Oscar to call for our interview for this week's episode of "The Strip," I noticed that the writer of the Res Ipsa Poker blog reacted to my befuddlement in Sunday's post on why people watch live poker. He finds watching live poker utterly thrilling and blames my disinterest on my being a "media type." Fine. I asked for that.

But his post's headline is: "Holy Unreadable Color Combinations Batman" and near the end he writes: "I would say click through and read it for yourself but be warned you might go temporarily blind."

So I ask. Are these colors unreadable? If so, of course I want to fix that. And, God bless Blogger, it's pretty darn easy to do. So speak up! And, of course, join the live chat and hear the unedited show as we record it at 7 pm PT tonight at LVRocks.Com.

The Moron Strikes Again

There is a fellow in Las Vegas who fancies himself a journalist named Michael Politz who runs a trade magazine for the food and beverage industry, Las Vegas Food & Beverage. Yeah, that's him looking awful silly to your right. He traffics in rumor, occasionally getting one right, and he's has made a zillion enemies in Vegas not by being hard-hitting or overly fair but by playing favorites and frequently making an ass out of himself in public.

Each week, he publishes a column called The Vegas Eye in which he reports, re-reports and speculates on all manner of Vegas club and food scene happenings, sightings, etc. He desperately wanted to get onto the Party At The Palms With Perez symposium on celebrity journalism that we at the "The Strip" podcast organized at the Palms' ghostbar in January that included Perez Hilton, Norm Clarke, Robin Leach and Kate Bennett, but some of the other panelists refused to appear if he was going to be involved. Swell guy.

Today, Mr. Politz wrote a long paragraph about my coverage of Las Vegas in the current Conde Nast Traveler, which features the vaunted Hot List. That is, a worldwide listing and write-up of the best of the prior year's new restaurants, hotels, nightclubs and spas.

The operative word there is "new." Altogether now: New. We spotlighted out of Vegas in this year's edition Nove, Rao's and Guy Savoy for restaurants; the spas at Caesars and Red Rock; the Playboy Club/Moon bar for nightclubs; and the Red Rock Resort and Casino for hotels.

Politz's critique is the same as it was last year, based on a persistent inability to comprehend that this list is not a citywide verdict but only a commentary on this particular year's best of the newest:

"It's a seemingly odd bunch with some glaring omissions and somehow only touches three properties in the entire city. Oh well, perhaps the editorial and advertising departments are taking their lunch a little too closely together. ... While we appreciate the attention the magazine is bringing to Las Vegas, we just ask them to widen their scope next time around."

While I can -- and have -- argued for the inclusion of more new restaurants, the fact that Vegas got three when a town like Chicago only got two and the gastronomic Mecca of San Francisco got four out of the total of 95 worldwide is some evidence that my effort to represent this city's amazing food scene is starting to pay off. It was actually more of a challenge the year before because Wynn Las Vegas had just opened and I could have done four on their restaurants alone but had to be very selective in order to give Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand his props, too.

Anyhow, the point of this rant is that I explained that to Politz last year when he made similar snarks. So this year, there's no excuse. He's just willfully ignorant. And that drives me bananas.

By the way, if you want to hear the audio from the superb panel discussion that Politz was not involved with and therefore chose not to cover, click here or save it to your computer by right-clicking here.

Monday, April 30, 2007

This week on "The Strip"

This week's upcoming podcast to post Thursday features a terrific interview with "The Producers" star Brad Oscar, who was nominated for a Tony as the original pigeon-obsessed Nazi playwright, then took over for Nathan Lane as Max Bialystock and reprised that role in London and now here. David Hasselhoff is departing the Vegas production this week, so we ask Oscar about the changes afoot.

Coming up in the next few weeks: Brandon Flowers from The Killers, master chef Joel Robuchon and Pamela Anderson. Not necessarily in that order.

Join us online to listen in and chat with fellow fans as we record the show live on the Internet Tuesday night from 7-8 pm at LVRocks.Com.

Plus, don't miss the current show with a very relaxed and insightful Paul Anka. And go back and listen to our Hasselhoff chat from December.

Exclusive: Edwards Trashes Richardson At Private Fundraiser

I ran out on Susan, Gabby, Lynette and Edie last night (Bree ran out on us months ago, didn't she?) to drop in on a John Edwards '08 fundraiser at the fantabulous Vegas house of a California couple. I had been invited by a close friend and had exclusive access to the event.

Naturally, I wrote about it. My essay is up on NVToday.Com now.

But here are the fun nuggets:

* I asked him about the South Carolina debate in the 90 seconds I had to chat with him. He surprised me by panning the performance of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Said the Cutest Candidate of his Oval Opponent: "He just didn't seem to have it together, was sweating an awful lot. But the rest of us did fine. Some of us were a bit nervous."

* Even in this crowd, which raised $60,000 for the candidate, some folks were skeptical about supporting him and distracted by the flap over his $400 haircuts.

* Edwards mocked himself twice. Once he referenced the haircut thing in an abbreviated stump speech and then insisted he didn't know they cost so much and, running his fingers through the coif, quipped, "And it wasn't worth it." Then when he got to the line about his dad being a poor mill worker, he joked about how often he trots out that line.

He did pretty well, really. But the image problem caused by those haircuts is very, very serious.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

We're In The Sun!

Las Vegas Sun columnist and pundit extraordinaire Jon Ralston used our MGM acreage blog entry as the basis for Satuday's entry of "Flashpoint," a daily nugget of something notable and interesting but not notable or interesting enough to merit an actual story. Read it here. Fun!

Oddly, though, the Sun's website folks have the Flashpoint under the obits section, according to the URL: Odd!

Vegas' Most Boring Spectator Sport

Why do people watch LIVE poker? I ask every single poker star I interview, and Chris Moneymaker on "The Strip" gave the best answer: No clue.

I was invited on Friday to come to the Bellagio to watch the final table of the World Poker Tour Championship, a sort of mini-World Series of Poker event with a $25,000 buy-in in which the winner got about $4 million. (Jamie Gold, by comparison, won a record $12 million last year at the WSOP.)

The big draw was that Guy Laliberte,
the founder of Cirque du Soleil and the wealthiest man in all of Canada, was one of the six left in out of 639 players. I went over at about 4 pm to observe with the prospect of interviewing Laliberte for this blog and "The Strip." He's an elusive fellow, I've only interviewed him once back in 2003 for a Newsweek piece on "Zumanity," and I thought it would be fun.

I was also exhausted from a very long week that included four hours of gruelling dentistry Thursday and still had me throbbing on Friday.

Three hours later, I left. It could have taken all night -- in fact, Laliberte was knocked out in fourth place for $600,000ish about 90 mins after I departed -- and the allure of going home and lolling with Miles on a Friday evening after a long work week was just more appealing than sticking around for an undetermined amount of time to bring you all a chat with Laliberte. I'm sorry.

But mostly I was baffled by why the audience -- about 400 people -- were so enthused. They sat there for hours watching...nothing. They had to follow on monitors and try to understand what the announcer said about chip counts and the like, the action was very slow and most of the hands involved people folding. I had the advantage of sitting behind a row of poker bloggers in the media booth so I could look over their shoulders and read how they explained the situations, but even they had no idea what sort of mental gymnastics these players were going through. (I was also stunned by how many poker bloggers there are, all largely writing the same thing, and how very respectful the World Poker Tour folks were of them. I doubt there's any activity where the media reps are even slightly as solicitous toward bloggers.)

The point is, I get why people watch poker on TV, where you can see the hole cards and remark on the decisions with perfect 20/20 hindsight. But in person? For hour after hour?

In about a month, the World Series of Poker will rev up again at the Rio. Thousands will stand around and watch. It is probably the weirdest spectator sport in all of Vegas. There's hardly even the chance of scoring a free drink or glimpsing a bare breast or anything!

Can anyone explain this to me?