Friday, June 5, 2009

Some, Uh, GOOD Economic News!

Most months I strain to find anything remotely sunny to glean from the data provided by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority on room occupancy, gaming revenue and tourist numbers. You know, like when the only positive indicator is that the Laughlin airport received a a few more visitors.

Well, there is some glimmer of happy news for the Las Vegas Strip in the April data. You just have to do some calculations to really find it.

For instance, the report says the city's total occupancy was 88 percent on 140,559 rooms means that 3.71 million room nights were occupied. While 88 percent is lower than the April 2008 mark of 90 percent, there are also 2.9 percent more rooms now thanks mainly to Encore. So in April 2008, 90 percent of 136,586 rooms were occupied, or 3.68 million room nights. That means April 2009 enjoyed a modest uptick.

Since visitor volume was down 2.9 percent overall, this means that people are staying longer and/or local Las Vegans are taking staycations on the Strip. And they'd be smart to do so; average room rates in April 2009 were $94.08, down THIRTY PERCENT from last year, when in April the average room rate was $135.67. OUCH!

Also up is auto traffic to Vegas from California. It rose an impressive 11.3 percent higher. That seems to imply that (a) Californicators are taking trips closer to home and (b) Californicators are taking advantage of rock-bottom Vegas prices.

So that's that. OH! And hooray for Laughlin, too. About 1,100 more people deplaned there in April 2009 versus April 2008. Up 5.5 percent! Yahoo!

Pix I Forgot I Had, Re: TI

I totally forgot I had these on my camera, probably because they're not very good. But in light of how much interest there has been in this week's Strip Sense piece on the Ruffinized Treasure Island, I figured what the hell. Above is the rendering of what the Gilley's at the TI will look like.

And some folks were confused as to the references in the column to expanding the viewing area for the Sirens show. Well, here's what the boardwalk looks like now...

...and here's what they plan to do with it.

Work will be done, Phil Ruffin says, this summer when they drain the lagoon for a month for annual repairs and such.

Now I'm off to a busy day. I'm checking out three shows today/tonight in a feverish effort to fill in gaps in my Vegas show knowledge. And I'll be on Nevada Week in Review tonight talking politics. That show airs at Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at noon on Channel 10. The show's also available on iTunes.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

This week's LVW Col: Phil Ruffin Reveals TI Plans

Here's this week's Strip Sense column from the Las Vegas Weekly. Don't skip the jump to the full column if you really want to know what all Ruffin's plans are for the TI. But here's one big hint: Mechanical bulls are BACK! Yee-haw! -sf

The Anti-Wynn

Phil Ruffin reveals big plans for that neglected niche: the mid-market


I was a bit confused when I showed up at the Treasure Island on Monday for lunch with its new owner, Phil Ruffin, and his assistant told me on the house phone to meet the Kansas billionaire at Francesco’s Pizzeria. I asked her to repeat that a few times, certain I had misheard her.

You see, until a few minutes before, Francesco’s was not a pizza joint. It was a serious, high-end Italian restaurant that was named by Steve Wynn himself as a tribute to Frank Sinatra. Had they created a spinoff? “Oh, we closed that up a little while ago and opened up this place,” said Ruffin, 72, squeezing into a booth after apologizing for no apparent reason for wearing a suit today. “This place does triple the business.”

The new Francesco’s has been moved from “Upscale Dining” to “Casual Dining” on the Treasure Island website. It offers serviceable paninis and pizzas, nothing too fancy or expensive. Out went the heavy china and stuffy service, in came a lunch shift.

“People don’t want high-end these days, certainly not from this place,” Ruffin said. “We’re getting all kinds of business from the Venetian, the Wynn, the Mirage, from people who don’t want to pay $15 for orange juice.”

And therein, Phil Ruffin has found his niche in the Las Vegas universe. Let MGM Mirage, Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts, Harrah’s and even Boyd Gaming scramble after the ever-diminishing top end with their fancy suites, expensive restaurants and condo sales. Ruffin flirted with all that for years as he pondered what to do with the New Frontier site, bought in the late 1990s and always slated for some form of redevelopment. By the middle of this decade, Ruffin was facing a decision on whether or not to move forward with a plan to build a Swiss-themed luxury resort, the multibillion-dollar Montreux. Images were even circulated to the press.

Just before he had to pull the trigger, he realized the thing made no financial sense for one important reason: “I’m not Steve Wynn.”

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com

The Show is UP: Jon Voight

I didn't know what to expect from Jon Voight, but what I got was an extremely expansive, very chatty movie icon willing to go pretty much anywhere with me. So with Miles still not feeling right and a longer-than-usual interview to contend with, we made this the focus of the interview and forewent the rest of the usual features of the show. Hope you enjoy it. You know the drill: click on the date below to listen or right-click and save to your computer. Or subscribe (it's free!) via this iTunes link or via this Zune link. -sf

June 4 : Jon Voight Likes To Talk

Actor Jon Voight ‘s roles in Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance and Coming Home made him one of the most iconic movie stars of the 1970s. He’s also the father of one of the most iconic movie stars of this era, Angelina Jolie. Voight is being honored with the Marquee Award at Cinevegas at a June 14 ceremony where an overhauled version of his 1982 Vegas-set comedy “Lookin’ To Get Out” will be screened. The film also stars Ann-Margret and was Angelina Jolie’s first film role. In this conversation, Steve and Jon Voight discuss his experiences with everything from Midnight Cowboy to Coming Home to Seinfeld. Then Voight explains how he turned from being an anti-Vietnam War activist to a fan of George W. Bush and Sarah Palin. He also has some harsh words for President Barack Obama.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Dum-Dum Hump Day Smile

I was sitting in my sister's kitchen near Philly two weeks ago when my 9-year-old nephew, Daniel, starts singing this silly little ditty about a sweater. Turns out, his older sister, Arielle, writes these odd little songs and Daniel performs them. I filmed some of them and have posted this 2-minute one -- about Dum Dum The Lollipop -- on YouTube. Forward to friends who need a chuckle! It's awfully silly.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


I just got off the line after an astounding, incredible 90-minute interview with Oscar winner Jon Voight that went from the secret behind his "Midnight Cowboy" physique to Angelina Jolie's first film role to his Bush-Palin love. SO...we're playing all of it tonight in lieu of a proper episode because a sickly Miles remains out of commission anyway. Voight is receiving the Vanguard Award at the Cinevegas Film Festival later this month at the Palms.

Join us in the chat at LVRocks.Com to listen to the interview and discuss it. I'll be in chat, too. We'll get started at about 6:30 p.m. so we can fit most of it in. Otherwise, grab the podcast edition when it's posted by Thursday morning. Subscribe (it's free!) in iTunes.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Weidner Responds, Sort Of

Former Las Vegas Sands COO William Weidner today shrugged off the attempt by LVS CEO Sheldon Adelson to lay the company's problems at his feet. The company's stock has fallen from $148 in Oct. 2007 to about $10 today. Construction has been stalled in Macau, Las Vegas and Pennsylvania while Adelson finds new financing packages, which he says he is this/close to sewing up.

In a May 22 interview with me, Adelson said:

"Would I have done anything different? Yes, I would’ve fired Bill Weidner a long time ago. He created a financing situation that was completely inappropriate. Now we’re getting financing that’s more appropriate. What I’d like to say, unequivocally, is it’s not a matter of the [Macau] market. The market is good, very good. You cannot change the culture of Chinese people and their love to challenge luck. If there’s some bumps in the road in terms of everything going 100 percent perfect. Our numbers have been going up and the [Macau peninsula, where casinos have long clustered and now include Sands Macao, Wynn Macau and MGM Mirage Macau] have been going down. [The Cotai Strip is] standing out as a separate must-see attraction in the city of Macau."

Weidner responded by noting that the trouble with the company's liquidity is that Adelson refused to sell off stock in early 2008 when the stock was still trading in near $100. Doing so would have provided plenty of cash for the company and averted the credit challenges, he said.

Other than that, Weidner didn't want to get into a public pissing match with Adelson. "Let him say whatever he wants to say," Weidner said. "It's ridiculous on its surface."