Saturday, July 4, 2009


Here's some internecine media fireworks to admire alongside the crappy shooters with which your asshole neighbor is presently littering your street and freaking out your dog.

My esteemed colleagues, a tiff that has been bubbling up between Norm Clarke and Robin Leach spilled over earlier tonight. Norm, of late, has been increasingly snarky about some of Robin's stuff. Earlier this week, for instance, in his Review-Journal column, writing about a tasteless upcoming Criss Angel trick, the Patched One referred to "Leach, taking a breathless booster tone, ...". That was eyebrow-raising.

Today, though, the gloves came off, sort of, over the news that Mirage ventriloquist Terry Fator is divorcing his wife of 18 years. About three hours ago on his @Norm_Clarke Twitter feed, The Patched One wroth:

If you can't read it, it says: "A competitor is claiming, again, that he has an 'exclusive' -- this time Re Terry Fator's divorce. Vegas Confidential had it hours ago. WTH"

Norm had been Tweeting about the Fator breakup for six hours by then. It didn't take much sleuthing to find this Tweet from @Robin_Leach:

The Jolly Brit wroth: "Breaking News: Top Strip headliner reveals longtime marriage is ending. Full exclusive on shortly. He says 'A sad day' ". That was about an hour after Norm started his Tweets, so Norm clearly wins this round.

I caught Norm via text-message to ask him about his decision to go public with his displeasure. He wrote back: "I made a similar comment on Twitter a couple weeks, saying a 'celebrity blogger is claiming an exclusive on a press release that came out yesterday.' I hoped that would nip it in the bud. It didn't."

As I said, this has been festering. I asked Norm why it mattered so much to him.

"It mattered to you when Perez Hilton plagiarized you. It matters when a competitor claims 'exclusives' that appeared first elsewhere. We all try to be professionals, especially when it comes to giving credit where it's due. It's the honorable thing to do."

Fair enough, and for the record both Norm and Robin have routinely given me, this blog and my podcast proper credit. So I have no complaint of my own, but can see what Norm's issue is. I asked Norm if he had tried to address this with Robin privately. This was the exchange:

Norm: I pointed out some examples of "exclusives" that weren't by e-mail a couple months ago. His response was that he wasn't responsible for the headlines.

Do you buy that?

Norm: No, I don't buy that, not when "exclusive" keeps appearing in the text and tweets. It's tabloidy.

A bit later, Norm texted me again: "Just got a message from RL saying he doesn't write headlines or put it in his I guess an editor is inserting it in stories and tweets."

Why, if I didn't know better, I'd think Norm was getting snarky again. I don't know how that works, either, given that I've been at events where Robin was Tweeting and it doesn't seem like there are any intermediate steps between his hitting "send" and the Tweet appearing on my phone.

I contacted Robin via email. He's out on the beat right now Tweeting away about Steve Wyrick's Fourth of July publicity stunt. He began by insisting: "The story posted on the Vegas DeLuxe website is not marked exclusive."

Well, no. Not anymore. Here's the earlier screenshot...

...and how it looks now.

Robin also wrote: "I had an exclusive interview with Terry very early this afternoon and Tweeted accordingly at first possible moment on a holiday weekend. When I learned Terry talked with Norm after me and I posted the full interview and story on the website I did not use the word exclusive."

Hmm. That actually raises an interesting question. What *is* an exclusive, anyhow? I mean, Norm broke the story, that's clear, but I wouldn't begrudge Robin from also calling it "breaking" since it is very new news and the proximity of their scoops pretty close.

But the issue here is Robin's use of the term "exclusive." There's a difference between an "exclusive" and an "exclusive interview," isn't there? Robin clearly shouldn't claim he had the Fator news "exclusively," but can he say his interview with Fator was "exclusive"? Sure! Used loosely, that could just mean that Robin had a one-on-one interview with Fator. That gets unwieldy, to be sure -- by that definition, every single interview I conduct one-on-one could be considered an exclusive -- but the TV media does this all the time. Captain Sullenberger had already been on CBS and NBC by the time Fox News called their chat with him "exclusive" when he spoke to them the next day. And, remember, Robin Leach comes out of a TV tradition.

And another thing, in Robin's defense: I have no doubt Robin generally has no idea what Norm reports or when. It's all flying by so fast, who has the time to research everybody else's minute-by-minute work? I've fallen prey to this, too; I've thought I was breaking something that had been buried in a Mike Weatherford column I had missed from weeks earlier. When it is noted, I fix it if it can be verified. (The Review-Journal, by the way, never makes such corrections for anybody once they've claimed to be first on something that they were, in fact, third or fourth on. But that's a whole other thing.)

In any event, the whole lot of it gets very messy. But The Jolly Brit, taking a cue from the gazillion feud-plagued celebs he's quizzed over the eon, insisted it's not.

"Competition is healthy and I'm glad we both got the story," Robin concluded. "I don't know what you're noticing--Both of us doing the best job we can! I have the greatest respect for him."

Norm-Robin photo credit: SteveDacri.Com

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Show is UP: Rolling With Dice

You've been forewarnd: Parts of this week's interview are not suitable for those with delicate sensibilities. But only parts, and they're carefully noted. Otherwise, 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

July 2: Rolling With Dice

Hide the kiddies, brace yourself and, if you’re easily offended, you may want to skip at least the second half of this week’s show. Andrew Dice Clay is coming to Vegas in July for another set of shows on the Strip that may portend a headliner residency, so the controversial and foul-mouthed comic is our guest tonight. Is he, as he likes to say, the Elvis of comedy, or is he, as Steve put it in their conversation much to Dice’s annoyance, an overgrown Fonzie? Judge for yourself this hour as they go at it about the 51-year-old’s overactive sex life, about ejecting hecklers and about why he canceled some recent shows in Utah. Plus, hear his version of what happened when Saturday Night Live player Nora Dunn quit the show because he was hosting.

In Banter: The Twin River racino, Michael Jackson’s death, Patti LuPone’s outburst, the Danny Gans 911 call, the tricky Brotastic ad, the survey about Vegas tourist walking habits and Lance Burton looks forward to six more years and (then?) the Monte Carlo’s implosion.

Links to stuff discussed:

Andrew Dice Clay’s website
Steve’s New York Times piece on the bankrupt Rhode Island racino
VegasHappensHere.Com photos of the Twin River casino in RI
Hear the Danny Gans 911 call
Norm Clarke on Lance Burton’s new deal
The billboard for Brotastic/Blue Man Group
Steve’s column on the Patti LuPone text-messaging incident
Hear KNPR on Michael Jackson’s death and his Vegas relevance
Steve’s column on rehabbing MJ’s image
The Las Vegas Sun on Boulder City Hotel’s money woes and the NYT travel on Boulder City
The Las Vegas Sun on the data related to walking tourists and Orbitz hotel bookings
Our episode with Whoopi Goldberg from Nov. 9, 2006
Wikipedia on the difference between a “video lottery terminal” and a slot machine
The L.A. Times’ tasteless blog headline on Billy Mays’ death

Thursday, July 2, 2009

This week's LVW Column: Jackson's Comeback

Jackson's comeback
With the King of Pop's tarnished life behind him, Vegas has the chance to rescue his legacy


I know you felt it, too, so I’m just going to come right out and say it: Michael Jackson’s untimely death was the best thing that could ever have happened to Michael Jackson’s music.

Until last week’s shocking news of the Gloved One’s death, it was impossible for most people to hear his peculiar falsetto without thinking about what a bizarre, creepy train wreck he had become since the height of his success. The baggage was overwhelming—the molestation accusations, the strange parenting tactics, the startling physical transformation—and it imprisoned and stigmatized the product.

And so, as heartbreaking an ending as it was to a tragic and tortured life, Jackson’s premature death was the first step toward redeeming and restoring to its rightful pop-culture place the Michael Jackson oeuvre.

The rest, I firmly believe, is up to Las Vegas.

Pretty soon, the fawning eulogies and tributes will wind down, and the constant video and radio play will taper off. This burst of appreciation will subside and give way to protracted tales of how exactly he died, what becomes of his estate and his children and what the promoters of his upcoming London comeback concerts knew about his condition as they plowed ahead with the plans. In other words, we will be back in full-on Wacko Jacko territory.

Still, for those of us who loved his music and hope that his legacy consists of something more than just that, something else needs to happen. And that something not only must occur in Las Vegas but it must also be completely disembodied from the bulk of Jackson’s life story.

Read the rest HERE

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

How To Do A Quirky Wedding Right

Mmm. Take a look at that wedding cake. Pretty, huh? Clever and unusual? Absolutely. What is it? We'll get back to that.

My cousin, Matt, got married in Old Lyme, Conn., over the weekend to this fantastic woman, Madora. They're real down-to-earth, smart kids with a terrific sense of themselves and everybody in attendance knew these two were perfect for one another. I've only got three first cousins and Matt and I, as the only grandsons on our common side of the family, grew up very close thanks in large part to our wonderful grandmother, who died in 2003.

Miles and I were curious how Matt and Madora would execute their wedding since neither seemed like people given to elaborate ceremony or even for being the centers of attention. They're just not fussy and indulgent like, I dunno, a certain gay couple whose wedding you might have read about on this blog. And yet, Madora's family owns this amazing spread on the Connecticut shore of the Long Island Sound, so the setting was going to be stunning any which way. See?

We probably should've known this was going to be a different -- and only in a good way, I swear -- sort of thing when the invitation came ... without the date on it. An e-mail followed apologizing with a very self-amused and amusing, "Oops, who does that? Heh Heh."

So, how else was this event unusual? Well, the officiant was not a minister or rabbi or even a justice of the peace. It was Matt's childhood friend who works at San Francisco City Hall. And while the bride wore a becoming simple, white, almost traditional sleeveless gown, the groom wore seersucker. Also, the bridesmaids wore...

...whatever they wanted.

They set up a tent next to this real old house with all sorts of secret passageways and such that my nephews and nieces had a grand old time exploring. The servers were all young girls from a local charity whose name I don't recall; Madora decided rather than hiring a professional waitstaff, she'd enlist some teenagers and give the money to their group. Smart. Oh, and dancing took place under a tent on a concrete patio with tunes pumped in from someone's Mac.

Dinner was pizza. But not just any ol' pizza, no. Great pizza. Cooked and served on...

...this firetruck! The Pizzetta Mystic Company's Mobile Pizza Unit. The guy on top made the pizza, that video to the right showed him doing so and the pizza was served on a buffet on that ladder.

It was really amazing pizza -- and a lot of fun. There was also this photo booth on the other side where you can don fire helmuts. Here's me with my 10-year-old niece, Allyson:

Drinks were largely served in bottles out of large buckets filled with ice. And after pizza, there was Haagen Dazs pops. Here's me with my 15-year-old niece, Tziona, having one:

But the kicker was, in fact, the cake. Take another look at it:

Miles and I looked it over and thought maybe it was a big thing of fudge or a massive brownie or ganache, maybe. And then we learned what it actually was. It was, in fact, the strategic arrangement of 16 of these:

Ta-da! Miles and I spent $300 on this thing...

...and it was totally gross. Matt and Madora spent about $50 and it was an (under)statement that fit the entire event. Bravo!!!

Mostly, though, I am so happy for the couple and my aunt and uncle. See how delighted my aunt is?

I've seen that smile before. On my grandmother at another family wedding that took place, eerily, a decade ago this weekend. See?

Congrats to all. We were honored to be there.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Strip is LIVE tonight w/Andrew Dice Clay

Is he the Elvis of Comedy...or just an overgrown Fonzie? I asked Andrew Dice Clay that question -- he was not amused -- and much more and we're playing that conversation on this week's episode of "The Strip." Fair warning, though: This interview gets a bit bizarre and x-rated in places.

Why not join us at 7 p.m. PT at LVRocks.Com for the live stream, the chat room and the studio cam where you can see Miles and me record the program? And, yes, both of us are finally back in the studio -- without any health complaints and everything! Woo-hoo!

Plenty of Vegas news to mull over, too, from our two-week hiatus -- Michael Jackson, that racino and Lance Burton's announcement today come to mind. Also, the trivia question, the poll, listener feedback and, as always, the Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week.

Come on down or wait for the podcast version, which should be out tomorrow. Subscribe (it's free!) via this iTunes link or via this Zune link.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Nation's First "Racino" Is Bankrupt

I find it difficult to shut off my journalistic sensors while I travel. For one thing, these tough economic times require me to do as much work as I can generate. For another, from the start of my full-blown freelance life when I lived in China, there's always been a rush that came with finding a story where I'm not expected to do so and then selling it. And yes, Miles has a love-hate relationship with this; it helps provide for us and we end up meeting interesting people and seeing unusual things that ordinary tourists never do. But it also means less time to just bump around and power down.

But, anyhow, this explains how I came to write about the Swiss effort to outlaw cat fur in garments last year, why I witnessed the opening of Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem last month and why, over this weekend on our Boston-Rhode Island-Connecticut swing for a family wedding, I covered the turmoil related to the nation's first "racino," Twin River in Lincoln, R.I., for the New York Times.

Here's the lowdown: Twin River opened 61 years ago as a horse track in this bucolic town 15 miles north of Providence. By the 1980s, it was a greyhound track with betting available as well on simulcast races occurring elsewhere. And in 1992, the state and the then-owners, Wembly LLC, agreed to add slot machines. Thus, the advent of the "racino," a word Miles had never heard of before but now finds quite a bit of fun. (?)

The casino part looks like every other casino floor of this sort, see?

There is an itty bitty difference, though. Those 4,700 slot machines are actually known as "video lottery terminals" and are owned by the state. They're administered by the Rhode Island division of Lottery, which keeps 60.08 percent of the revenue and doles out the rest to the owners and other governmental entities.

As I understand it, a VLT is the same as a slot machine except that all of their outcomes are determined by one large central computer for the whole casino which generates random numbers to determine wins. Slot machines, by contrast, are individualized units with their own computerized chips; their outcomes are usually unrelated to other machines. The VLT thing was a way for Rhode Island to add slot machines and call them a form of the lottery without having to get approval of the town of Lincoln to "expand gambling," per state law. The VLT is seen as an addition of an existing gambling practice -- the lottery, y'see.

Oh, and the revenue from these slot-machines-by-another-name now amounts to the third largest source of revenue for Rhode Island behind income and sales taxes.

In 2005, BLB, an investment group that includes the Kerzner folks who own the gigantic Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, bought the joint for $465 million, renamed it Twin River and spent $225 million expanding it. Now it has a larger casino, much more parking, a range of restaurants, a comedy club and a concert venue.

Also, some cute design features:

Oh, yeah. And a greyhound track.

A word about the track before we continue: It's a very weird deal. Twin River is currently obligated by law to have 125 days of live races in order to also have the slot machines. They're also required to give $9 million to the Rhode Island Greyhound Owners Association to fund the entire dog-racing industry and spend about $2 million to operate the track even though it only generates about $1.5 million in revenue. Why? Because Rhode Island is a heavily unionized state and the General Assembly feels it's important to force the casino to keep the 225ish jobs associated with the dog races intact.

But Twin River has bigger trouble. BLB overspent on its upgrades and can't afford its debt, so last week they struck a voluntary bankruptcy deal with their lenders and the Rhode Island governor's office. The lenders will forgive nearly $300 million if the debt, BLB will find another operator for the facility and the state will let the casino stay open 24/7 and dump the dog racing.

This solution has made lots of folks mad. Folks like Hal Perry...

...who lives in this house directly across from Twin River:

He put up that sign himself, by the way. He and his other neighbors -- the Twin River property is bordered by residential homes on 1-acre lots -- are upset by the prospect of more noise, traffic and bright lights coming from the casino if it operates 24/7. As it is, it stays open 24 hours Friday-Monday and closes at 2 a.m. on other days.

And, of course, the greyhound folks are mad. They're also powerful; on Friday, the Democratic legislature voted to increase the number of required racing days to 200, a thumb-in-the-eye to the Republican governor and a move that could compromise the agreed-upon bankruptcy deal. Like I said, it's all a weird deal.

Oh! Oh! Oh! And here's the best part! Guess who wants to be the new Twin River operator?

I'll give ya a second and show some fun images of Twin River I shot. Here's the second-floor glassed-in no-smoking gaming area...

...and the carpeting for those casino-carpeting aficionados out there...

...and I'm not real sure why this sign, which reads "Area of Refuge" means...

...or what "sharps" are.

And imagine my surprise when I found Ed, the cover model for my book, "Gay Vegas..."

...dealing virtual blackjack in one of these creepy machines.

I also have a question here. I get the lottery-like aspect of the slot machines. But what about games that involve skill, like video blackjack or poker? How does the central computer control the outcome? How is that not different than the random numbers generated by a lottery?

But anyhow, so who wants to take over Twin River? Why, these folks do!

As it happens, Harrah's has been trying to get into the RI market for years. They wanted to build a $1 billion, full-fledged resort-casino in West Warwick, R.I., but they got rebuffed again and again until the effort finally went down for good in 2006 with a statewide referendum that rejected it.

Now they've got another shot, and Harrah's veep Jan Jones is all over it, confirming talks are ongoing. "We’re interested, very interested," she told me. "We like Rhode Island, we think we understand that market very well. We think Total Rewards would be a significant revenue driver to Twin River."

I wondered why she loves RI so much. It's half the size of Clark County and has just 800,000 residents. Ah, she said, but it's smushed between Massachusetts and Connecticut. And Harrah's nearest casino is in Atlantic City but they have hundreds of thousands of Total Rewards members in New England that they could bring to Lincoln.

What about the dogs?

"I know the dogs are very important to Rhode Islanders," the former politician said. "That’s a decision made by banks and legislatures, but I know Rhode Island feels strongly about their dog tracks."

So Harrah's would turn Twin River into a destination resort with a hotel and all that?

"Well, you couldn’t build a hotel right now, you couldn’t get the zoning," she said. "So all of this is a process. But it's the beginning of the process and the point is that it's an excellent opportunity."

I'm sure folks like Hal Perry are just thrilled to hear that.