Friday, April 10, 2009

The Idiocity of Air Travel Today

I was in Minneapolis briefly for something personal earlier this week and then used a free ticket to pop down to Atlanta to surprise Miles, who was visiting his parents for the week. To make this work, I had to buy myself a one-way ticket from Atlanta to Las Vegas for Sunday.

When I was working on this last weekend, one-way airfares from ATL-LAS were quite high, none less than $400. But I stumbled across some other one-way fares from the Southeastern U.S. that weren't so bad. To wit, it was $133 to fly from Jacksonville, Fla., to Las Vegas, stopping in Atlanta.

I called up Delta. Could I buy the $133 ticket and just use the second half? No. How, pray tell, could it be that it costs $450 to fly ATL-LAS but $133 to fly JAX-ATL-LAS, putting me on the same aircraft for the second leg. In what universe is it a third as expensive for an airline to transport a passenger on two planes?

The Delta rep's response: "There is no way to explain our fares."

You're tellin' me, sister. So on Sunday, I fly from Atlanta to Charlotte to Jacksonville on US Air for $120 and then from JAX-ATL-LAS for $133. I'm saving $200 and gathering a bunch more frequent flier miles. And proving that our air travel system is stupid.

Oddly, Miles gets to take me to the airport in Atlanta for a 7 a.m. ET flight, fly his direct ATL-LAS flight in the afternoon, and pick me up at McCarran at 7 p.m. PT. That's assuming all four of my flights lift off and land as expected. Needless to say, I built in a LOT of time for error.

Any good reading suggestion?

Wynn Regrets Opening Encore Now

The second half hour of Jon Ralston's "Face To Face" interview with Steve Wynn is now available, this time focusing on all things political and the national economic challenges.

Among the most interesting and candid bit to readers of this blog will probably be an aside by Wynn in answering Ralston's question about whether President Obama's stimulus efforts can or will work. Wynn said:

"The only person in Nevada, and as far as concerned it’s between me and the President of the United States, who’s creating jobs is me. I created 4,000 jobs in December by hiring people even though it wasn’t the right thing to do now that we look back on it, it would’ve been better to open up next year."

That's pretty blunt. He's equally blunt, though, on folks who would oppose Sen. Harry Reid's re-election next year:

"I think anybody in Nevada who doesn’t vote for the Senate Majority Leader to get re-elected is really dumb because it’s the most important thing that Nevada’s ever had in Washington."

Soon-to-be ex-wife Elaine Wynn said pretty much the same thing to me last month.

Wynn also offers up an intriguing solution to the national economic doldrums:

"If you wanted to create jobs in every sector of this economy in every community from Seattle to Palm Beach, from Bangor, Me., to Phoenix, we could do it in less than a month without hiring any federal employees. You’d simply say if a company can prove that it increased its regular workforce with health insurance, then you prove to the IRS that you’ve added these people for a period of time and we will give you a tax credit to support the payroll of that new hire. You would see, instead of handing out trillions of dollars in stimulus packages, by not collecting the money, by incentivizing the people to hire other people, by supporting the payroll in forms of tax break, you would have job creation from one end of this country to the next."

He's also got an answer to the America's education crisis:

"If anybody changes their career and become a teacher and gets accredited and works for five years, we will give you tax-free income up to $75,000. We will have a complete change. If you stay for 10 years or get an additional degree, we will give you $100,ooo in tax-free income."

Of course, teachers don't make anything near that kind of money, but it's an interesting idea.

Wynn takes great pity on the leaders in Carson City who have a $3 billion budget hole and few options because, as he says, "the budget of the state of Nevada is a lean machine." He said those who wish to raise taxes are "purely psychotic" but later endorses a doubling of the payroll tax as the fairest means of raising revenue.

But his greatest venom is reserved for owners of nongaming businesses in Nevada. Check out this exchange after Ralston asked him what the wrong thing for the Legislature to do is:

Wynn: I know if they go after the gaming industry, we will have massive, unbelievable cutbacks. The unemployment rate in this state would go to 15 percent. Everyone of these companies is losing money. It’s an insane question even. They’re losing money, including me. The well’s dry. The god-damn businessmen in this state, they’re selfish, selfish, selfish people [who] refuse to take up their fair share.

Ralston: Who are you talking about?

Wynn: The banks. The lawyers. The insurance companies. The construction companies. The whole gang of ‘em.

Aren’t they hurting now too?

Yup. Yup. But they’re not paying the kind of taxes we are.

Ralston then asked about the mining industry and Wynn called it "the most privileged industry in this state, second only to media. ... The mining guys here, they get away with murder. They don’t pay anywhere near their fair share."

Great stuff. Wynn also beats on Obama a few times and has a very funny moment when Ralston is trying to get him to beat up on Gov. Gibbons. Go to the Las Vegas Sun and watch for yourself.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Wynn on "60 Minutes" This Sunday?

While writing the last post about Jon Ralston's fantastic Steve Wynn interview, I went hunting for the old Charlie Rose interview with Wynn from 2005. I found that, but I also found that just today, CBS posted this 2-minute Q-and-A with Rose to YouTube about his most recent interview with Wynn. It appears that interview, which I've been waiting for since January, will be on this Sunday's episode of "60 Minutes," where Rose is an occasional contributor.

Should be interesting. I found Rose's thumbnail there of how Wynn got into gaming very, very strange and fairly inaccurate. And I wonder if CBS will acknowledge or disclose that the Wynns are large corporate sponsors of Charlie Rose's PBS show, as Elaine Wynn told me in November when I was working on my Wynn-Obama column.

Here are the videos of Wynn's September 2005 appearance on Charlie Rose, by the by. I think the second one is from a different day than the first one:

Wynn on Buying Bellagio: "Perhaps"

For those of you fascinated by Steve Wynn -- and who isn't? -- my pal and colleague Jon Ralston nabbed The Man (does Wynn have any commonly used nicknames?) on his "Face To Face" interview show for two half-hour episodes this week. The first, focused on gaming business matters, aired today on Las Vegas One and is now available online through the Las Vegas Sun's website because Ralston is also a Sun columnist.

There was lots in here and, aside from Charlie Rose, Wynn doesn't sit for lengthy TV interviews with anyone other than Ralston. And you know he likes Jon because, just as he does with me at least once or twice an interview, he chastizes the host in that loving way of his. (This time it comes in the start of segment 2 when Ralston compares Michael Milken to Bernie Madoff. Hoo boy.)

But what did he SAY, you wonder? Well, I encourage you to go watch, but here's some of the stuff I picked out:

1. Reacquiring Bellagio or Mirage: The first time Ralston asked, the answer is, "Well, I guess it depends on price." Then there's some discussion of what a great board Wynn Resorts has, and how they might be able to "be helpful to people on the Strip who perhaps would be better served by unbundling." I love that. Can you imagine? "Hello, Kirk? Remember that stuff you bought out from under me? Well, since I'm such a nice guy, let me help you by taking it back for a song. No, no. Don't thank me! Nothin' to it! What are friends for?" Ralston asked point-blank if Wynn wanted Bellagio or Mirage back and Wynn replied: "The operative word is perhaps. Maybe. Under certain circumstances. Conditional." Conditional on maybe Kirk Kerkorian rolling over in the grave he hasn't even begun inhabiting yet, perhaps? Wynn also went on a bit about the Mandalay Bay-Luxor-Excalibur in the same breath, but I couldn't make heads or tails of whether he was thinking about buying them or simply taking the opportunity -- helpful guy that he is -- to point out another way that the MGM gang spent too much.

2. Unbundling like it's 1999. As he did in my most recent interview with him, Wynn endorsed the "unbundling" of MGM Mirage, citing Vegas' storied history of "smart groups of guys fightin’ it out, getting the best deals by having to compete for advantages, entrepreneurial zeal." But I liked this one bit where he said, "I think an unbundling of the Mirage Company is a good idea." Hmmm. Wasn't that what we used to call it back in the day? A slip?

3. Madoff is worse than Hitler? As mentioned earlier, Ralston got Wynn going about Milken and Madoff. Wynn was explaining that Mike Milken, whose junk bonds financed Mirage, was his mentor in terms of explaining why having proper capitalization keeps companies afloat in rough times. Ralston wanted to challenge him on Milken but steps in it about Madoff, sending Wynn over the edge. Wynn defended Milken and said he'll go down as "the most important figure since Bernard Baruch on Wall Street." As for Madoff, whom Wynn never heard of until his scheme collapsed: "That’s one of the worst people in the history of the world. This man destroyed, over a 10-year period, destroyed his friends, women, charities, folks with their case money. How this guy didn’t get killed by somebody is beyond me." Yikes! Not sure what "case money" is but I listened to it a few times and that's what he said.

4. Good MGM, Bad MGM. The nicest thing Wynn can say about MGM Mirage is that there are "very smart people" there who did what everyone in the business world was doing at the time. He also said that MGM with CityCenter and Las Vegas Sands with Macau "undertook projects of such overwhelming scope and ambition that they have no real precedent or historical models to rely upon. They were groundbreaking products." Except that he doesn't mean any of that in a good way. "When you start a project without having enough money to finish it," Wynn said, "I find that to be [long, long, long pause] mystifying. I don’t know what to say except" and here I must simply try to SHOW you what he did.

He plays with his lips!!! Classic!

5. It's like he read this week's Strip Sense! With that amusing maneuver, Wynn goes on the attack. "Suppose there's a strike! Suppose there's an attack! Suppose the economy goes to hell!" he said, his voice rising. "What do you do? Tell everybody to go home? Oh, gosh, golly, sorry. … you look like a ninny. You’re supposed to understand that stuff happens. ... I have found it surprising that my brilliant colleagues have somehow managed to forget those things on occasion and now they’re paying a price for it." Now, what was it I wrote in the last two paragraphs of this week's Las Vegas Weekly column again?

6. One last, great quote. Wynn, bemoaning the lousy room rates he's getting for Wynn and Encore right now, said of these resorts: "This is not what they were built for." I think he really meant to say, "This is not WHO they were built for."

There's lots more and I encourage everyone to race to the Las Vegas Sun and watch it. I would've loved to have embedded the video of today's episode here -- it's in four parts -- but there doesn't seem to be a way on the Las Vegas Sun's website to do so. Weird, that.

Ralston's second show with Wynn should appear online tomorrow and promises to be more about politics and state budget issues. According to Jon's own summary of this interview, Wynn refers to Gov. Jim Gibbons, the Republican who promised Wynn he'd support the 3 percent room tax increase if the public voted for it only to let it become law without his signature, as "an unusual man." I wonder if he makes more funny faces when he says that.

The Show is UP: Marie, Part II

Here's the second half of Marie. Enjoy the show! Click on the date below to listen or right-click and save to your computer. Or subscribe (it's free!) via the iTunes link or via the Zune link. Enjoy.

April 9: The Stevie and Marie Show, Part II

In Banter: MGM goes up and down, Tony Curtis is weird, CityCenter may seem cluttered and legislators ponder a whore tax.

Last week she talked about genteel topics like Groucho Marx pinching her butt and brother Donny falling off tables. But this week, Marie Osmond gets controversial, particularly when she’s talking about what she knows about the behind-the-scenes world of Dancing With the Stars and American Idol.

Links to stuff we discuss:

Tickets for the Donny and Marie show
GritsToGlitz.Com, guest co-host Amy’s show
Jill Curtis’s horse rescue organization, Shiloh
VegasHappensHere’s photo of the F’bleau towering over the Riv
The Strip’s Tony Curtis episode
The A.P. on the whore tax hearings
RuPaul’s Drag Race TV show

This week's LVW col: Building Block

Here's this week's Las Vegas Weekly piece, to some extent a continuation of the thoughts from last week. Cheers!

Building block
More than a few did see this mess coming, and acted accordingly

The competition was trying to be dignified, generous, sympathetic.

“Yes, I think it would be devastating to Las Vegas for MGM to fail,” said Jan Laverty Jones, senior vice president at Harrah’s and former Vegas mayor, to my question from last week’s column about whether MGM Mirage and CityCenter were the Nevada equivalent of an entity “too big to fail.” “But,” she added, “the question becomes, did MGM really get too big, or did the precipitous fall in the economy and consumer confidence cause the size of the project to be too big? Could anyone ever have expected this?”

That last question perked my ears up, because it was nearly verbatim something Phil Ruffin, the Kansas billionaire taking the Treasure Island off of MGM Mirage’s hands for $775 million, had said an hour earlier.

“This economy is so bad,” Ruffin said. “Who would have predicted any of this would happen?”

Well, here’s the thing: They did. Both of them and/or their corporations.

Okay, they didn’t anticipate the historic international implosion of the housing and credit markets. They didn’t know that Wall Street and Main Street would be brought to their knees by bizarre, unsustainable and falsely valued financial instruments or that, for the first time in anyone’s memory, a major economic disruption would turn once-impervious Las Vegas into a tourist ghost town and conventioneers’ national pariah.

So, no. Foreseeing this precise event coming to pass? Terry Lanni, Jim Murren, Kirk Kerkorian, Sheldon Adelson and the rest of the MGM Mirage and Las Vegas Sands leaderships are absolved of that.

But how about simply a serious slowdown? A saturation of the marketplace? A pause that refreshes?

Read the rest at this Las Vegas Weekly link.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Strip is LIVE tonight w/ Marie Part II

We're live tonight @ 6:45 p.m. PT at LVRocks.Com with the second half of the conversation with Marie Osmond and the president of the hotel whose fancy suite almost none of you could place. Marie Osmond gets a little controversial this time, particularly when she’s talking about what she knows about the behind-the-scenes world of Dancing With the Stars and American Idol.

Come to the chat room at LVRocks.Com and listen live and converse with others. Or wait for the podcast, which you can subscribe to for free in iTunes.

Foto Fun: Inside The Wynn Artist's Studio

A few weeks ago, while working on a lengthy profile of Wynn designer Roger Thomas that is scheduled to appear in The Advocate in June, I got a tour by his assistant of the Wynn design studios near McCarran Airport where plans for Wynn and Encore as well as the Macau editions of both were hatched. Because there were concerns about the publication of proprietary designs on this blog, I had to have Thomas' permission to post these photos, which I finally have.

Also have this news: In the next two months, Thomas said his team will be presenting to Steve Wynn ideas for redesigns of the original Wynn Las Vegas rooms. There will be new color schemes, new furnishings, new linens and drapes and mattresses. I didn't get to see any of that, but the resort is coming up on five years old in 2010. That's the typical cycle for redoing rooms for Wynn.

Anyhow, the studio. As you might suspect, there are a series of workrooms overloaded with bits and pieces of potential designs. On a daily basis, Thomas and his staff are inundated with fabrics, carpets, images of artwork and other samples from hopeful designers, precious few of which actually end up being used.

Here's the frame wall, a variety of sconces and lighting fixtures and other stacks of stuff...

There is a system intact, as much to keep track of all this as to not get accused of stealing ideas:

This got damaged and is being fixed:

Below is an earlier iteration of the space at Encore where there is now a stage off from the pool and conference rooms overlooking:

Something needs to be hung at the Sinatra restaurant at Encore:

There are original Boteros in the hallway...

...and plenty of art involving Thomas himself:

Click on this one below to see what sort of books lurk in Roger Thomas' office library...

...but the books that really matter are these, those that Thomas has carried with him and sketched his ideas in as they occur to him for decades, all saved and lined up behind his chair:

The kids from the private Meadows School made this for Thomas after a visit:

And, of course, there is the hardhat. The pink hard hat. I did mention I was writing for The Advocate, yeah?

I shot some photos of the Sky Casino at Encore last week with Thomas. Will post that, too, when he OK's them.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Sunday Funny

Loyal readers know I love Argyle Sweater, the latter-day Far Side cartoon by Scott Hilburn. Today's was another winner, although I wonder if any of you keen-eyed Vegas lovers can spot the mistake in the artwork...