Friday, April 11, 2008

Show's Up: Raising the Barr

The latest episode of "The Strip" is up! Click here to hear it or right-click here to download it.

This week's guest, Sahara headliner Roseanne Barr, talks about how long she expects to stay at that hotel, the
differences between working at opposite ends of the Strip, about giving Judd Apatow and Joss Whedon their writing starts on her legendary sitcom and about when she started calling herself the Domestic Goddess. Plus, she's heavy into her website, RoseanneWorld.Com.


* More on the Binkley book

* Rival podcasters take their shots

* Strip clubs add fancy food

* Show ticket prices are rising

* The Plaza's on ice again.

* A listener writes in wondering where the cops are on the Strip

Also, the trivia question, poll results and the Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week.

Links about stuff we discussed:

Roseanne Barr's website is here
The Las Vegas Advisor's show-tix survey is here
Howard Stutz' column about Trump's delays is here
Steve's blog item on the Plaza is here
The Vegas Tourist podcast is here
Norm's item about Amazing Johnathan's hidden-cam claims is here
Read about the Binkley book controversy here
The YouTube clip of Roseanne's first Carson appearance is here
The image of a raunchy Roseanne on the cover of Vanity Fair is here

Thursday, April 10, 2008

My Last Words On Binkley's Book...

...I think. Probably. You never know.

Here's this week's Weekly col. It includes reaction from Wynn, Lanni and Adelson as well as reaction to reaction from Christina Binkley herself. And I must say publicly what I told her privately, that her willingness to be open and responsive to even her harshest critics is proof that she behaves as she wishes, as a journalist, to be treated. The Las Vegas Sun editors could learn a thing or two from that. It's called class and professional courtesy.

The Strip Sense: She said, They Said

Vegas moguls react to WSJ scribe’s latest tome
by Steve Friess

Last week, I detailed a disturbing list of factual mistakes in Winner Takes All, the book by Christina Binkley of the Wall Street Journal about the past decade or so of wheeling and dealing that created the Las Vegas Strip as we know it.

Binkley’s book deserves special scrutiny because of who she is—the longtime gaming-beat writer for one of the world’s most important newspapers—as well as what she wrote. In the book, she portrays Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn as both visionary and petty, MGM Mirage CEO Terry Lanni as somewhat detached and Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson as irrelevant and invisible.

Binkley has said in interviews that Wynn is sore about her depiction of the buyout of Mirage Resorts as an unfriendly merger. (To my reading, Binkley actually just lays out the facts as she’s gathered them in that case and lets readers decide.) But Wynn himself told me the piece that sticks in his craw most is a passage in which she reports that Wynn became angry over the $25 million price of something, prompting his German shepherd to “menace” the seller, Dino Fusco, with a threatened bite to the crotch. Wynn got the price down to $15 million.

“Dino and I talked twice this week, and he’s furious about this,” Wynn said. Fusco, Wynn said, insisted he said neither that there had been a rant nor that the dog had threatened him. “In the space of two minutes, you have a story that is twisted so much. And that may live somewhere forever. And it makes you wonder when you read history how much of history is bullshit.”

Binkley told me she has Fusco on a recorded interview and that he hasn’t retracted the tale to her in subsequent conversations. “But I can imagine he didn’t want to tell Steve Wynn that,” she wrote me in an e-mail. “No one, particularly an investment banker, wants to be on the receiving end of Steve Wynn’s fury.”

Indeed, Wynn is livid over the book, which describes his using Mirage Resorts funds recklessly and nickel-and-diming MGM Mirage over their purchase of his Shadow Creek home as well as intimating he’s a liposuctioned Lothario.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Caesars is the New Harrah's. Yawn.

Buh-bye, Bill Harrah. Your company is officially something else entirely. Harrah's Entertainment is, heretofore, Caesars Entertainment Corp.

What's funny is, it prompted a little Who's On First interplay in AIM between me and another journalist who messaged me and wrote, "Harrah's is Caesars?" I thought she was asking me who owned whom. So I said, "Caesars is Harrah's, actually." And she said, "Hmmm... Is that a philosophical question?"

As it turns out, yes. The company is still the same company. Still has riverboats galore. But the move, of course, is intended to once and for all shuck the middle-brow, Midwest-grind-joint image. Perhaps they think that will improve their hapless efforts at getting licenses and stuff overseas.

Some will remind us that Circus Circus became Mandalay Resorts Group back in the day.

Except one thing. Circus Circus became Mandalay Resorts -- and a company with a new focus -- when it started building high-end properties. Since Harrah's bought Caesars, however, the only thing they've built at all is more hotel capacity at...Caesars Palace. Oh, and they've spiffied up some Flamingo rooms. Other than that, the company led by Gary Loveman still has never actually built anything in Las Vegas except maybe an impressive database.

So this is a company that thinks it can alter its image merely by changing its name. And it can't. That requires actually doing stuff.

My journalist colleague was surprised, too, that there was no fanfare. No press conference, no rollout of a new website, not even any leaking it to a favored journalist or two. (Rats!) Just this unexciting press release issued at 4:30 p.m. PT, too late for East Coast media to do much more with it than a brief. Which is odd, considering that the entire exercise is about image.

But I guess it doesn't matter much. Harrah's is private now. They don't have to worry about their stock price. For now.

CityCenter, Then and Now

Congratulate us! We finally got the Panorama Towers investment property that we thought we'd flip and retire on rented out! The amount barely covers half the mortgage, but it makes the situation manageable until better days arrive which, the way things are going right now, should be right around the start of President McCain's second term.

But, anyhow, it's settled for the time being and now my dad, his friend and I are only taking half a bath on the thing. Whew.

Since I won't be able to come and go from the place once our tenant takes up residence, I raced over there to snap one last set of balcony shots of CityCenter. But before I show them, here is a shot of the development almost exactly a year ago, on April 11, 2007 from a nearby parking garage:

Then here I am on July 30, 2oo7 when we did our Panorama walk-through before closing on the unit...

Then there were pix I posted on September 24, 2007, but you can see those for yourself. And now, here is what it looks like today:

Wow, huh? They work fast! The progress on the Vdara, that curved blue tower blocking part of Bellagio, is especially striking. Here's the straight-on view.

OK, back to work. You, too.

Well, That Was Short

The Honorable Mr. McKee apologized in an entry of his blog for implying that I am somehow in the employ of Steve Wynn.

Then he alternately agreed with and took issue with parts of my multiple critiques of Christina Binkley's "Winner Takes All." Of course he's wrong, but at least he was nice about it. Hah.

Who's next?

Another day, another feud

David McKee seems like a nice fellow. He's certainly a good blogger over at the Las Vegas Advisor's spiffy new site. I even have it bookmarked. And he even quoted me in a piece he wrote a long while back about the Broadway-to-Vegas trend for Las Vegas CityLife. Plus, he contributes nicely to RateVegas.Com's VegasGang podcast. Check it out.

So I had fairly warm feelings about the guy. Well, I did until some of readers pointed me to this really offensive, totally out-of-line comment he wrote in the comments section of said blog last night. A poster had questioned how McKee could be such a fan of "Winner Takes All" by Christina Binkley after having read the extensive list of factual mistakes I set forth in last week's Las Vegas Weekly column. And this was his baffling response:

"Eh, if memory serves, Friess found some ticky-tack goofs (like the "Gans/Ganz" discrepancy) and made a federal case of them. Steve Wynn is Friess' bread-and-butter guest on "The Strip Podcast"; Wynn has made his displeasure with "Winner Takes All" known and ... you do the math."

Now, there ought to be a code amongst Vegas bloggers, but there isn't. And since McKee opted to write this on his open forum, I thought I'd respond on mine.

Dear David:

How about not "going on memory" but instead actually reading what I wrote?

In my USA Today review of Binkley's book, I praised it extensively and specifically noted her even-handed portrayal of Wynn in all his contradictions: "
Wynn, developer of the Mirage, Bellagio and Wynn Las Vegas, is seen as filled with contradictory traits. In anecdote after anecdote, Binkley illustrates his magnanimity, egotism, eloquence, weirdness, humor, insecurity, pettiness. The fact she had terrific access to him did not tilt her evenhanded portrayal. At times, she is deliciously dishy in a way that is unlikely to get another interview, as when she implies Wynn had cosmetic surgery."

Even in my Weekly commentary, I also had nice things to say about the book overall and still recommend(ed) it. But the fact is that there were an unforgivable list of very serious -- not "ticky/tack" (what does that mean, anyhow?) factual errors that I find inconceivable from coming from a Wall Street Journal writer. Any two or three of these mistakes would have had her benched at many of the papers you and I have written for. (Well, if you've written for the Las Vegas Sun, perhaps not. They don't seem to mind.)

Binkley invented at least one phone call, pretends that airplanes can land at airports they can't, has people as parties to deals they didn't make. And since the book came out and this list was published, there have been a long list of further mistakes that have been brought to my attention.

She also seems to have crafted a book entirely around not detached news judgment but who gave her access. I have very little problem -- in fact I was delighted -- by her portrayal of Wynn. He's complicated and her rendering is also complicated. But her ignoring of Adelson? Her minimizing of Lanni? Her infusing Loveman with responsibilities and accomplishments that weren't his alone? I was much more indignant about her treatment of other Vegas figures. When she's on the topic of Wynn, her work largely sings -- even with errors so baffling and careless that they must force the in-the-know reader to wonder about the accuracy of other parts of the tome.

Yet what's most offensive is this weird implication that I'm a lackey for anybody, much less Steve Wynn. Do you actually read my work and listen to our show? Do you know how many times I have been on the receiving end of Wynn's ire? Sometimes our interviews are cordial, often he finds me obnoxious. C'est la vie.

Listeners and readers have often thought that perhaps Wynn just likes my spunk, likes being challenged. That could explain how we met in the first place; I wrote a scathing review of the new Wynn resort for the Chicago Tribune and he called not to bawl me out but to invite me to let him show me the hotel himself. OK, he bawled me out, too. But after a two-hour discussion in which I defended myself point by point, he decided to give me the walk-about. Something tells me that wouldn't have happened if I had cowered and quivered before him.

For the record, I obtained a copy of WTA in December, but it was an uncorrected galley proof and I believed it proper to give Binkley the fix to correct many of the glaring errors in the final product. But she didn't. Then I had to wait for my USAT review to run before I could expand on it in my Weekly column. So that explains my timing, not some errand being run on behalf of a pooh-bah. I've taken guff from the GalleyCat blog for that approach, to which I've responded. And so it goes.

But you make it sound as if Wynn called me up and said, "Stevie boy, ya gotta go after this broad." Are you serious? Or are words just that cheap? I do give Wynn -- and Adelson and Lanni -- a chance to respond to the book in tomorrow's Weekly column, but then I give Binkley the last word as well.

I expect non-media people to "do the math" as you say. They're unaware of how journalists actually operate and aren't expected to do their research before they make off-handed remarks.

You, Mr. McKee, are a lot better than that. I do encourage folks to read your blog. It's excellent and clearly takes a lot of work. I just wish you'd taken an extra millisecond to think about what you were saying about a colleague before you insulted my reputation.


P.S. And yes, I did enjoy "Double Or Nothing" by Tom Breitling. It was a surprisingly well-written rendering of an interesting and specific Vegas tale. It isn't anything more than it purports to be, a subjective memoir, and is benefits from lower expectations. As opposed to Binkley's effort, which is harmed by the extremely high expectations we rightfully have for a journalist of her stature.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Strip Is LIVE @ 7 pm PT w/ Roseanne Barr!

Join us as always in the LVRocks.Com chat room at 7:05 pm for the live show and a fun and funny interview with Sahara headliner and Internet maverick Roseanne Barr.

Or else grab the show when it's out on Thursday. Either way!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Plaza is off again...for now

You don't usually think of drama when talking about whether a Vegas resort will ever be built. Or maybe you do.

Less than a month ago, I alerted blog readers to a Wachovia investment note that pointed to the Hebrew newspaper Yediot Ahronot having quoted the folks from the Elad Group as saying that the credit crisis in the U.S. had put plans for a $6 billion, 3,500-room hotel-casino supposedly to be called the Plaza across from Wynn Las Vegas on on hold because of the challenging lending market.

Hours later, a Vegas-based spokeswoman for the project wrote me to say it's not true and provided a statement from Mike Naftali, president of the ELAD Group, as saying there was "no credibility to the rumor." He went on to note that the group that week was getting permits from the "Las Vegas" (we know it as the Clark County) Commission. So I posted a follow-up.

Not being able to read Hebrew (OK, I actually can read the letters and sound out words because of my Bar Mitzvah training, but I can't comprehend because comprehension wasn't terribly important at Oyster Bay Jewish Center where I went to Hebrew school...) I was unable to go back to the Hebrew paper and see for myself what was written.

Except now an Israeli newspaper with an English web site, Haaretz, published last Wednesday this obscure but significant brief that was brought to my attention by Sparky of Las Vegas who must have more stuff on Google Alert than anyone I know:

Tshuva admits Vegas project may be delayed

For the first time, Yitzhak Tshuva yesterday admitted, via proxy Miki Naftali - the head of Tshuva's company Elad - that his Las Vegas project, being pursued with Nochi Dankner, might have to be delayed by the subprime-cum-credit crisis. However, it is also true that Tshuva thinks the crisis will be over by the start of 2009. If not, and the builders can't borrow at reasonable interest rates, then postponement may become inevitable. (Ora Coren)

So the thing's not exactly dead. But it is clearly facing distress. Which is no embarrassment in the current fiscal climate, unless you've overpaid for the land and have no good choices as to what you can do with it OTHER than to build when nobody's going to buy it off you for $35 million an acre. At least not at the moment.

In last week's chat with Wynn on "The Strip", the man himself said he expects the lot across the street from him to be empty for a while and he's not terribly sad about that so long as the Frontier is gone. (Oddly, the huge Frontier SIGN remains five months after the implosion. Why? Did the Neon Museum miss a pick-up date?)

Howard Stutz wrote his Review-Journal column on Sunday on this very topic, focusing on the fact that it was Donald Trump who was saying his second Trump tower may be delayed. And to think Stefanie Schaeffer was just on "The Strip" saying absolutely, positively, all systems are go. I guess Trump trumps, uh, Trumpettes?

And, again, the other key question here is: Does all this weaken the legal hand of ELAD as it sues to own the name "Plaza" in Las Vegas when the hotel from whom they're trying to grab the name is, at the very least, open and operating, and you're not?