Friday, December 19, 2008


OK, folks. I've worked long and hard on this one. My profile of Steve Wynn is out on the AFP wire. In the process of that work, Wynn gave me this hour-long personal tour of Encore. You can:
  • Download the audio by right-clicking here
  • Find the map here
  • Follow along with an annotated written guide here
We'll have much more on the next two proper episodes of "The Strip" as well as in my Las Vegas Weekly column next week. All I ask is that, if you haven't already and feel compelled to, please donate to this blog and podcast to support this work. It takes a lot of time and life is expensive. Click on the DONATE button at upper-right.

Breaking: Elton John done at Caesars in April

Elton John's wonderful Red Piano show at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace will end its run this spring after another roughly 25 shows during runs in February and April, Colosseum spokeswoman Kris Lingle just told me.

The production opened in February 2004 and he played his 200th show last July. His initial contract was extended by three years in 2005. I wondered a year ago whether Elton was getting bored with this gig based on some remarks I caught on Larry King Live about some impatience during the show as to when it would be over. By contrast, Elton said, he still gets pumped playing to touring audiences.

No word yet who will replace Elton and be headliners alongside Cher and Bette Midler, but the rumors are constantly out there that Celine Dion wants to retake her throne and perhaps have another child. Here's Lingle's tantalizing comment on that:

"I'm sure Celine has come up in conversations and everyone knows the power of Celine in Las Vegas. But no decisions have been made yet."

Lingle said that Elton may return to Caesars for concerts or such but that "The Red Piano" show as we know it and as David LaChapelle divined it will end in April. Tickets are on sale for the February run but have not been made available for the final April run. Look for a stampede of celebrities and high-rollers for that, so go in February if you don't want to re-mortgage your house.

Between the 2009 closures of Mamma Mia!, The Red Piano and Criss Angel Believe, it's going to be a sad year in Vegas. Oops. Did I just say that?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Diceman Cometh

As I suspect you've seen all over the news, we Las Vegans had a heckuva time with our wacky snow last night. I had shot a picture of our house for the blog earlier yesterday, but look at it a few hours later:

Shortly after this was taken, my neighborhood lost power for about four hours, making all the prettiness a bit more inconvenient. Miles had my car at work because his is in the shop, so my friend Trevor picked me up to take me to his place so I could write my overdue Steve Wynn profile. I do wonder if my editor believed my dog-ate-my-homework excuse for lateness, that my desert city was overwhelmed by snow.

If he didn't believe it, check this out -- the Vegas snowman! Notice the nose of ice:

Before Trevor came by, I forced our water-hating dogs on a walk. They weren't amused, especially when they were being used for publicity purposes.

They're clever, though. They found a snowless clearing of grass beneath a large tree to do their business. It's hard to see -- look for Jack's glowing eyes to the left.

I admit it; I did not pick up after them this time. Fine me. Exceptional circumstances, you know. Fine me.

By this morning, it's all but gone now -- there's some dustings around the neighborhood but it won't last long. When Trevor came back, the re-inflated Chubby Santa outside our place was almost clear of snow.

Most of us enjoyed the spectacle, but this lady around the corner sure didn't:

There was still enough snow, though, to torture Black and Jack just one more time on this morning's walk...

Oh well. The Clark County School District -- and this will KILL readers up north -- canceled school today. First time in 30 years. Even though it was all over by midnight. I guess every kid should know the joy of a snow day at least once in a childhood.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Criss Angel Facade Cracks Further

Astute listener and reader David F. from Manchester, U.K. pointed out that Criss Angel Believe, just two months into its official, post-preview run, is offering 40 percent off tickets. He caught it on the LuxorLV's Twitter stream. I dug a little deeper and it seems that this discount is through 2008 and the normal prices resume after New Year's Eve.

It is absolutely without precedent for Cirque to be discounting a 10-week-old show. What happened to this being the No. 1 show or at least the No. 1 Cirque show in Vegas? Yes, they've lowered prices on several shows, including Mystere and Ka, but those are older shows. If the Criss Angel show were of the Love or O caliber, not even the worst recession would be reducing it to this. Also, the period between Xmas and New Year's is still one of the busiest times in Vegas, so it's telling that they're discounting these seats for shows in that span, eliminating the explanation that they're trying to fill seats in the traditionally slowest period prior to Christmas.

MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman had some thoughts. Admitting he's not up on occupancy for the new Luxor magic show and was not involved in the pricing for the discounted shows, he said: "I don't know what the pricing situation is for that show, but I think what's up is that we're in the midst of an all-time historic economic downturn. We're not getting the same room rates during that time, either. Even New Year's Eve, where the prices usually go up dramatically, they're not going up as much as they once did. There are New Year's Eve weekend packages that average out to less than $2o0 a night. That's unheard of."

Well, OK. And in a way, perhaps the recession is a good thing inasmuch as it may kill off bad shows faster than if there was the cushion of better days. It may be that Las Vegas CityLife, which put Angel on the cover of their annual Get Out of Town issue, could get its wish sooner than later, although the R-J's Mike Weatherford did report this week Cirque will be spending the next few months working on a "fixation" plan.

On the upshot, though, Angel has surged a little in TicketNews.Com's weekly Vegas show rankings. He'd actually fallen off the list and sat behind such hot tickets as Jubilee! since the Oct. 31 opening and subsequent critical savaging.

Looking at the list on that site -- and I have been week after week -- all I can say is that it must be nice to be the Colosseum. Bette, Cher and Elton are perennials atop this list.

Vegas Snow Day!!!

Lookit!!! That's Black and Jack sitting under our snow-covered courtyard canopy! OK, I put them there. And they wouldn't stay for long. But I gave them a treat for their troubles, so don't call the ASCPA, please.

Here's the snow view from our front, complete with the blown-up chubby Santa...

...but it's kind of hard to see, so look at this street view...

As I mentioned, the dogs weren't impressed. They went back to doing what they do...

OK. Back to work. You, too.

[UPDATE: Readers want to share, too. Here's Troy's snow pix. Send me links to yours or put the link in a comment!]

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Wynn Pays $75K To Demo Frontier Sign

I just came in from my tour of Encore with Steve Wynn and I much, much, much more on that later, once I sort out what won't fit in my Wynn profile slated to run on Monday, opening day, in a national publication. But I do have this intriguing bit of news to break: Wynn went in halfsies with the ELAD gang on the $150,000 cost to demolish the old Frontier sign in time for Monday's Encore opening. He also said he bought 200 trees from Nellis Air Force Base and is having them moved and planted in a line along the sidewalk in front of the empty lot where the Frontier used to be. Don't ask me why Nellis was having a tree sale, but I hope the guvmint got a good price. Wynn couldn't remember what he paid.

Why would he have to do all that? Well, Wynn is big on controlling what his guests can see, at least on the lower levels at the restaurants and such. That's what the 180-foot mountain outside the Wynn Las Vegas was all about. "A carnival is great," Wynn once told me, "but you only get to control your section of the midway." Burned in his memory remains a birthday party he once had at Picasso at Bellagio after the new Aladdin (now Planet Ho) was opened across the street. "That damn sign was blinking and blinking in the window and there wasn't a thing we could do about it," he told me in 2005.

But your question probably really was, "Why would he have to pay to remove the sign on someone else's land?" Well, he didn't say it in so many words, but clearly the Elad people are in no hurry to remove it or do much of anything on the land for which they paid $35 million from Phil Ruffin last year. They imploded the Frontier in November and spent gobs of money in court successfully defending their rights to use the Plaza name for the proposed $5 billion resort modeled after the Plaza New York which they own, but the project's timetable continues to be pushed back thanks to the lousy credit market.

So Wynn decided to take control and get 'er done. His hatred for the Frontier of old and anything associated with it is legendary; he famously once told me it was "the single biggest toilet in Las Vegas" and that having empty space across the street was better than that thing. Yet today he also found satisfaction and poetry in being the one to take it down since he was part of the group of owners of the property that first erected the sign as it looks now in 1967. Here's an extensive history of the sign from UNLV's Center for Gaming Research. "I put that sign up and I tore it down," Wynn chuckled today.

The sign, though, was not preserved for the Neon Museum. Wynn said it fell apart in the tear-down. That's sad.

Of course, Wynn's moved on. While I was away, the Encore marquee sign was unveiled. It's here:

It's cute. Nothing terribly flashy. But at least it's not this:

That is so strangely tacky for the otherwise picture-perfect CityCenter folks. It's a beautiful, elegant building. Why does it need its name slapped on it? There had to be a more attractive way to do this.

[UPDATE: Since posting this, it's been noted that the Sun did this piece on the Frontier sign last week. I've checked, though; nobody's reported the dollar figures, the 200 trees or the part about the sign not going to the Neon Museum.]


For the first time in our history, we're not having a live show for the second week straight. I'm so sorry. Work has overcome both of us. BUT I promise we'll post several interviews this week, including those with Doyle Brunson and Phil Hellmuth.

Also, next week, we'll have Steve Wynn. Hopefully that'll tide you over!

Monday, December 15, 2008

More details on the Treasure Island deal

I'm not filing for anyone on the Treasure Island transaction, but another piece I'm working on has me chatting a lot today with a lot of relevant people. There are about three importnat questions I've had about this: How much land does Ruffin get for $775 million, what's next in the MGM Mirage firesale and what happens to Mystere?

Some answers:

* How much land? Nobody's quite sure, actually. The 100-acre figure I cited earlier is roughly the combined Mirage and TI parcel (see here from aerial thanks to Google Earth) and the dividing lines have not been drawn in this deal yet. Deutsche Bank analyst Bill Lerner says there's about a 20-acre no-man's-land of vegetation between Mirage and TI. MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman, who was with Mirage Resorts when TI was opened, says he thinks the TI is on about 17 acres but that not everything goes to Ruffin anyway.

In fact, and this is news, it's already been determined that the TI's valet cars will be parked in a garage on the Mirage's property and the TI's employee parking garage will also continue to be owned by MGM Mirage. Ruffin will pay a fee to MGM Mirage for use of those structures, Feldman said. Still, everyone keeps telling me my fixation on the amount of land is irrelevant because Ruffin's not going to redevelop. Perhaps, and if it were anyone but Ruffin, it wouldn't be so interesting. But, as Lerner agreed, Ruffin is the one whose sale of the Frontier property for $35 million an acre sent Strip real estate into the stratosphere. And the point here is that if you can buy a functioning, currently-but-not-forever-depressed business and the land it's on for $775 million now, how will anyone be able to justify paying exorbitant per-acre prices again anytime soon? "Any way you slice it, he has sold brilliantly and seemingly bought brilliantly," Lerner said of Ruffin's Vegas dealings.

* What's next? I actually forgot to ask Feldman but I suspect he wouldn't be specific anyway. Lerner is less inhibited. Here's his list of what MGM Mirage could sell to improve its liquidity while not harming its core business: "You could see some land deals, maybe they'll sell some of their land south of Mandalay Bay or across the street from the Luxor. I think the other stuff probably exploring might include MGM Grand Detroit, although it's tough to sell something in Detroit right now, but they might look at Biloxi (Beau Rivage), Elgin, Ill. (the Grand Victoria), maybe even their share of Borgata in Atlantic City." Monte Carlo isn't core but its location makes it unlikely since MGM will want to control almost the entire NY-NY-to-Bellagio block. And Circus Circus, in good times, is a cash cow. A slum, true, but a profitable one.

* Le future de Mystere. Feldman says that Ruffin gets Mystere, obviously, and it will continue to operate uninterrupted. However, should Ruffin choose to close the original Cirque sit-down, MGM Mirage's exclusive deal with Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas dictates he can't replace it with another Cirque production. Which means, I suspect, that Mystere will never, ever, ever close. Ever.

Making The Most of Overtime Travel

I woke early enough this morning to get over to the Utah State Capitol. The Quality Inn folks were so great, giving me a shuttle driver who drove me there, waited for me while I looked around briefly and even took the money shot you see above.

I had been to SLC before, but not to the capitol. I've visited 28 or 29 capitals but not all the capitols, although in the past couple of years I've gotten to Salem, St. Paul, Juneau and Boise. The goal now is to have pictures at each.

As capitols go, Utah's was somewhat blah. It's pretty from the outside, especially set against the snowy mountains. But inside, the dome does not allow light and has dull, non-ornate murals. Most have to do with Mormon arrivees, of course, like the second one here of Brigham Young.

Zzzz. No razzle dazzle. This being SLC, though, I suspect they saved all their dimes and invested instead on this, the world HQ of the LDS crowd...

I'm at the airport now, waiting for some unforseen calamity to throw another loop in my trip home. I got the intensive security treatment at the gate, right down to being felt up on my crotch and bum. Really. The guy couldn't have been nicer about it, saying at every awkward juncture: "I'm about to feel a sensitive area. Do you want a private screening?" I declined. This, I gather, is what I get for buying a one-way ticket and traveling day-of, even if the start of this journey was Philadelphia lo these many hours ago. In Philly, they also pulled me aside, but they didn't check to see if I was carrying a doody bomb, alas.

It didn't help when I provoked suspicion by walking to the front of the entrance to the airport to shoot this:

A guard popped out and asked me why I was snapping that photo. I explained the sign was misspelled and walked back in from the cold. I've no doubt he stood there wondering what was wrong with the sign.

Do you know?

MGM Mirage Firesale Begins!

As my colleague Robin Leach correctly predicted last night, MGM Mirage announced this morning it is selling the Treasure Island for $775 million to reclusive aging billionaire Phil Ruffin. I can't find how many acres the TI sits on -- this and several other sites say 100 acres. If that's so, that's $7.75 million an acre for the land alone, a heckuva deal seeing how there's a decent business standing on it at the moment, too. Ruffin himself set the record by getting $35 million an acre out of the Elad suckers for the Frontier property about 20 months ago. So is $7.75 million the new watermark?

This is actually pretty good news for the mid-ranged property inasmuch as Ruffin got high marks for bringing peace and stability to the disastrous New Frontier in 1999, at least before he flipped it. It was razed, of course, to make way for a whole lotta nothing.

Wall Street was happy with MGM, rewarding the debt-larded behemoth with a 18 percent surge in stock price at the opening and its highest price in a month. You can read the press release here. I especially love Ruffin talking about the TI as being in "pristine condition," as if he were buying a rare coin.

The TI's employees probably can heave a sigh of relief not felt in the rest of the MGM Mirage universe, where just last week the Bellagio let go all part-timers at the front desk for the rest of the year. That is, until Ruffin flips the place. Which he's bound to do. But until then, the TI is the crown jewel in his collection of Marriotts. How fun for him.

On the downside, the TI is a resort that is easily forgotten and benefits greatly from its crossmarketing angle with the other MGM Mirage properties. It's unclear how it'll do without that network. In fact, Steve Wynn all but acknowledged to me at one point that the place was the bastard child of his creations, the one he did in a hurry with a lesser budget.

No word on the implosion date, but it's said Mystere will continue to play twice a night on the site even after the rest of the place has been demolished.

So, folks...what's next? Is it tasteless to talk about Monte Carlo in the context of a fire sale?

Yet Another Miserable Travel Day

Holy crap, we have bad travel luck. Last time it was Miles, you may recall.

I write from a trashed room at a Quality Inn in Salt Lake City where Delta has put me up for the night, prolonging my 9-day trip for yet another night. I really just want to be home. But no. That's would be too easy.

The day actually started out pretty well. I've been, for the past three nights, in suburban Philadelphia visiting another sister and her four kids, ages 3 to 15. They are observant Jews, so Friday night and Saturday were quiet, calm times of card games, eating and napping. On Saturday night, I took 8-year-old Daniel and 13-year-old Arielle to see Bolt, which was probably the funniest thing I've seen since, um, Wall-E. So now you know my mental age. But, seriously, the scene where Bolt and Mittens nearly give up their adventures for a life living fat off leftover food from buffets in Vegas was priceless.

Daniel was particularly thrilled by my visit, so I gave him permission to wake me at 8 a.m. so we could squeeze out as much of our Sunday as possible. He actually gave me until 9:30 a.m., and then he pounded on this thing...

Yes, I slept in the bed right there that looks like Barney shed on it. It was cozier, actually, than the Strawberry Shortcake bed I was in at my other sister's place. Once the lights are out, does it really matter?

So, anyhow, I spent the morning teaching Daniel how to play Texas Hold 'Em. We both began with stacks of 40 pennies; he wiped me out twice. Either the kid is a prodigy or I suck. I will say one thing, though: If you buy those decks of cards that are preused in casinos, beware. I gave each of the kids such a deck as part of their Hannukah gifts at our family's holiday party last week; the Green Valley Ranch deck I gave Daniel had two eights of hearts and no king of spades. Oops. Fortunately, the other decks were fine.

Anyhow, we had a terrific time, as you can see:

Daniel dominated me, but Arielle occasionally commandeered my camera and took a zillion odd photos including several of herself with her mouth wide open, like the first one where she appears to be eating algebra equations...

When you give a child a camera, though, prepare for some rather unusual results...

Yeah. So here's the whole clan as we played Apples To Apples: Jewish Edition just before my departure. The girl covering her face is Tziona, the eldest:

Not to leave anyone out, here's the youngest of the brood, 3-year-old Chaim:

That was all nice. The rest, not so nice.

Miles called from Vegas around noon because he saw online that my direct 3:45 pm Philadelphia-Vegas flight on Southworst was canceled. I called SWA. Some sort of plane mechanical problem. But why didn't SWA call or email me, then? "We have a lot of people we'd have to call," the lady huffed. If I went to the airport, she said, I *might* catch the 4:30ish, one-stop to Vegas or I could definitely get on the 5:30ish one-stop.

Here's where it starts getting good. This being Southworst, I had checked in on Saturday to be in the A Group for boarding. Now I was facing the dreaded C Group for not one but two flights. Could I please have the new Business Select status to board with the A groups? I'm 6-1 and "kinda big," I claimed.

Nope! Southworst would do nothing to accommodate my inconvenience. Not even guarantee me for the next flight.

I asked for a supervisor and, while on hold forever, I found a one-way seat on a 4:30 pm Delta flight to Vegas for $50 LESS than my SWA ticket. You read that right: For a day-of, one-way to Vegas from PHL, they were charging $110, tax included. That's bananas. And proof that the Strip economy is in big trouble.

Mr. Supervisor was just as worthless, so I demanded and received a full ticket refund, then booked on Delta. Off I went to the airport, leaving a heartbroken Daniel begging me to stay. I got on my plane ready for an easy ride to Salt Lake City, then home.

Or not. Just as we're about to head to the runway, the ENTIRE PHILADELPHIA AIRPORT is shut down. We'd find out later that a US Scare Commuter plane had to make a crash landing. The FAA had to investigate. Nobody hurt, but we ended up stuck in the plane for another three hours before we departed. If you thought it sucked for me, how about the guy across the aisle with the black and brown chihuahua in the carrier case under the seat in front of him? He didn't plan on being on that plane for eight hours!

Delta handled it beautifully, I must say. Those of us missing connections were greeted upon our arrivals with vouchers for hotel rooms and a cute little travel kit with a T-shirt and some toiletries. The problems weren't their fault, but they took responsibility.

And then the best part. I was near the front of the line at the Quality Inn tonight, got my key, went to my room. And when I entered, this is what it looked like:

The place was trashed. I thought maybe someone was still in here. It hadn't been cleaned and the animals who had stayed the night before had opened every packet of sugar, creamer, coffee, whatever. Everything was astrew and, best of all, the disgusting people who had left this room like this has also filled out their comment card. "Blow dryer is broken!!!" they moaned. Yeesh.

I called the front desk. The poor guy sounded so overwhelmed by my flightmates I decided to clean up the room myself. Then I walked to the Pilot gas station for dinner: Cheetos and Milkduds.

Oh well. It's been a long day. I hope I get back to Vegas on Monday as planned. But rather than end it with a downer, I'd rather think of this cute little face:

I had kept my sister apprised of my troubled travels, and when I landed in SLC and turned on the phone, there was a text message from her. It read: "Uncle Steven, this is Daniel. I told you you shouldn't have left today! I miss you so much! I love you! Come back really soon!"

Sigh. What I wouldn't give for that purple bed right now.