Friday, January 1, 2010

The Strip is LIVE Sat w/ WAYNE NEWTON

We're live on Saturday from 4-6p PT at LVRocks.Com with the live version of this week's "The Strip" podcast. We'll play my blockbuster (no, really!) Wayne Newton interview starting at 4 pm and then Miles and I will record the normal parts of the show. Emily's away so we're using The Petcast time.

Loads to banter about including New Year's Eve on the Strip, Wayne Newton's show, Mystere, developments in the Wynn-scalper drama and Steve's reaction to Garth Brooks' amazing show.

Join us 4-6 pm PT to listen live and chat with other listeners. I'll be in the chat for the entire time. The next live episode of "The Strip" will be Jan. 23 because we'll be on vacation in Montreal, so come on down, wontcha?

Wynn v Scalpers, Round Deux

Psst! Want some Garth tix?


Tonight begins the second weekend of Garth Brooks mania at Wynn Las Vegas. You might recall, Wynn has declared war on ticket brokers (aka scalpers) and instituted Draconian ticketing policies. Entire jobs at Wynn have been devoted to stamping out this evil and making sure that everyone at the show has paid $125 plus taxes and fees and not a penny more to Wynn Las Vegas and nobody else.

Except do a little Googling. My niece, Courtney, did. First thing that pops up when you search "Garth Brooks Las Vegas" is a site owned by

$385 a seat! And they're not even being shy about it! It comes up even before Garth's Wikipedia page!

The further out the show dates are, the more they cost. This is from VividSeats.Com:

These aren't shady outfits, either. Both companies boast being members of the National Association of Ticket Brokers and the Better Business Bureau. And check out VividSeats.Com's BBB rating:

Over on eBay, two "Top Rated Sellers" are hawking seats, too, at vastly inflated prices:

That's surprising because Wynn had specifically asked eBay to stop allowing such sales. Oh well.

So here's the thing: The suckers who buy those seats will not be able to use them. Folks coming tonight -- myself included because I missed media night with the flu -- must pick up the tickets with all members of their parties present and showing ID. They'll get wristbands that can't be removed until the show starts. The tickets say the names of the attendees on them. And there'll be random checks at the showroom door.

And any legit ticket broker knows this.

I'm not fond of the anti-scalping policy -- it smacks of anti-capitalism to me and seems a recipe for customer service disasters -- but this is the plan and it's no secret to people in the business. What happens when someone buys seats from eSeats.Com or Vividseats.Com or an eBay Top-Rated Seller unaware of the Wynn measures? Do these companies that are knowingly trying to skirt the venue's rules lose their A+'s from the BBB or their Top-Rated Seller privileges? Will they be sanctioned by the National Association of Ticket Brokers, whose president told me for my Portfolio.Com piece on the topic last month: "It’s Garth’s show and Steve’s show and they certainly have the right to place terms and restrictions as they so desire.”

Jennifer Dunne, the Wynn spokesqueen, said the resort is bracing for problems on this, the second weekend, even though the first weekend went real smooth. She figures folks who heard how ticketing was handled in December will think they can circumvent the system -- they didn't do the wristband thing for the first show, for example -- but that the Wynn team will keep shuffling the deck to make keep their nemeses off the scent.

"What they’re going to find out when they pick up today is that there's wristbands this time," said Dunne of folks who buy via scalpers. "This is what leads to unfortunate situations."

Wynn has taken some smart measures to help fans and ticketholders who might not be able use their seats. They give full refunds until an hour before the show, resell those tickets in a stand-by line and have been releasing tickets they've canceled (because they found scalpers had bought them) days before shows. And the most interesting approach is a section of the Wynn website under entertainment where fans can enter their information -- their names, when they want to see the shows -- and they get on a waiting list. Those people get dibs when tickets come available. Dunne said there are 40,000 people in that database.

I must run to get our seats and grab dinner. I'll be Tweeting what I find -- including images of our tickets and wristbands -- later, so follow if you care. And, of course, I'll be reviewing the show on the podcast, which we'll record live tomorrow from 4-6 pm PT at LVRocks.Com.

NYE '10: The Great, Godly & Claire Nolastname

What a classic Vegas night! Happy New Year, everyone!

My 18-year-old niece, Courtney, is in from ASU for a few days, so she tagged along with me as I covered my perennial Vegas New Year's Eve feature, the street-preachers-on-the-Strip piece. In years past, I've done versions of this for Las Vegas Weekly, The New York Times, the podcast and this blog, so it stood to reason I'd do it once more for my favorite new client, the AOL news site Sphere.Com. I also was supposed to contribute to AFP's coverage but that was ruined by Claire Nolastname, but we'll get to that shortly.

This go-around, Miles was at the KVBC Mother Ship directing the coverage, so Courtney and I were left to our own devices. We saw Mystere earlier in the day (4:30 p.m. show) in preparation for a big Cirque du Soleil piece I've got planned for later this month, and I was glad I saw it again because I was reminded just how wonderfully the Hershey Bar of Cirque shows holds up. It's classic and beautiful and has one of Cirque's two best scores ever -- Alegria has great music, too -- and was created at a time before the comedy aspects of Cirque shows started to feel forced and contrived.

We made some goodies for Miles and his peeps...

Niece & I made brownies & cheesecake to bring to a certain pr... on Twitpic

...and brought it by the KVBC ranch after "Mystere" and after dinner at the critically raved Chinese restaurant China Mama. It was a good ride because I hadn't yet seen the restored neon signs on the islands on Las Vegas Boulevard north of downtown and U.S. 95. Check that out:

Then we headed to Panorama Towers, where my father and I have an investment condo, and parked there to walk the Harmon overpass to Vdara, then Bellagio and then out to the Strip. Vdara seemed like an utter ghost town at 10 pm on New Year's Eve. Here's Silk Road's bar:

Our destination was the KVBC set in front of Caesars Palace where Jim Snyder and Sophia Choi were anchoring the sprawling coverage that included folks at Town Square and on Fremont Street. It was nice to have a sane retreat. Here they are on the couch with reporter Dan Ball and doing stand-ups.

Alas, I was on assignment, so Courtney and I made our way north to the lineup of itinerant preachers for whom New Year's is prime time. Between Vegas on New Year's Eve and Pasadena's Rose Bowl Parade on New Year's Day, these are the two largest scheduled public gatherings within a few hours of one another and within a 12-hour period in America.

Some people tried to reason and debate the fire-and-brimstone set, which in this image includes Petar Keseljevic (black jacket, from Oslo, Norway) and Ruben Israel (sandwich board, is proprietor of

But it is hard to reason with folks carrying signs like these... most mocked them and took posed like this:

In years past, the preachers have spread out around the Strip but this time they stuck together near the barricades where the cops were. For my Sphere piece, Israel said: "We've been told tonight that if it were not for the police, they would punch us, beat us and stab us. We've been beat up more times than I can remember." Regardless of your beliefs, it's simply shameful they should deal with such abuse.

I turned the camera over to Courtney while I did interviews and she shot something that I rarely see, pictures of me doing my work:

When the clock came close to striking midnight, we raced back to the KVBC pen, shooting some colorful photos along the way:

And finally, Vegas made up for the pathetic fireworks show that ushered in 2009 -- fitting, really, given what a crappy year it was -- with a fantastic display off the top of the Stratosphere, TI, Venetian, Aria, MGM Grand, Planet Hollywood and...

Caesars Palace! Here's some YouTube video of the fireworks I just found:

The amount of fireworks smoke was something I did not recall from years past but it reminded me of the Strip after an implosion, less the hazardous flying gunk:

I also was unfamiliar with the utterly failed people-moving efforts of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department after the fireworks ended. When Miles worked on the Strip in years past, we had a special media parking spot at Caesars that made the getaway easy. This time, I was in a rush to file my Sphere piece as well as some "color" for an Agence France-Presse piece but cell service on the Strip was completely nonexistent. So I tried to get back to my car at Panorama.

We tried walking up the Strip to CityCenter so we could take the Harmon overpass but the cops had barricades up in all sorts of inexplicable places, leading to stampede conditions because nobody could move and folks became increasingly angry and upset. I saw many people fall down, get knocked around and desperately try to climb over barricades to get out. It was actually impossible to walk south from Caesars Palace past Flamingo Road, let alone to Bellagio. Not because there wasn't any room but because there were barricades that penned people in for no apparent reason.

So we leaped a barricade along with everyone else -- I actually didn't have a choice because we were shoved by the crowd until we were pressed up against it -- and went west on Flamingo Road. My hope was to go through Bellagio from the North Entrance, then to Vdara, out to the Harmon overpass and back to Panorama.

Yet the hotel was not allowing non-guests in. I begged the self-proclaimed "head of security" Claire Nolastname -- that's what she said! -- to let me get through, explaining I was not a partier but a working reporter on a tight deadline trying to get to my vehicle to file a story I could not file there because of the cell signal failure. She could not have been more dismissive. I showed her my press badge, even the CityCenter notebook I was using. Rules were rules. Screw me.

Instead, Courtney and I had to walk over I-15 on Flamingo then south on Hotel Rio Drive to Dean Martin to Panorama Towers. It was a circuitous and rather dangerous extra three miles of walking that cost me more than an hour and my AFP gig. My AFP editor, you see, ultimately decided to move the national story on the wire without any Vegas input because he couldn't reach me. Shame, too, because I had a ton of stuff in my notebook from my walk-through the Bellagio earlier, in fact. But beyond the loss of income for me, I also could not have been more furious or dumbfounded. In all my years in Vegas, folks like valet car-parkers and security officers have always had great respect for other people who were trying to do their jobs. But not Claire Nolastname!

It was an ugly ending to an otherwise wonderful, very fun night. And I'd rather not conclude this post on this kind of note or else the terrorists, or at least Claire Nolastname, will have won!

So here's my favorite image from the night gussied up by Courtney on some photo editing site called Picnik.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Poll: Douchebag of the Year

Tweeter @FunnyKeithLyle and I were brainstorming about who qualifies as Douchebag of The Year and I thought he was referring to an actual poll. He wasn't, so we decided to create one. Here it is. If you'd like to host this poll yourself on your site, email me your email address and I'll send along the HTML. It's easy and fun. Now vote. I left out women -- sorry, Carrie Prejean -- and people of too-local interest like Gov. Jim Gibbons. Enjoy and vote! The poll is to your right.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Harrah's Firesale Sale

Isn't she cute? Tacky, but cute, right?

Got her for $1 a week or so ago and have been meaning to catch up on my blogging about this. Over the Dec. 18-20 weekend at Paris Las Vegas, Harrah's put out a ballroom's worth of goofy wares at ridiculous prices to sell off excess inventories of tchotkes just in time for holiday shoppers seeking bargains.

Didn't hear about it? No, well, neither did I until the day before it was over. A listener/reader in New Jersey alerted me to the Harrah's version of that Wynn Warehouse event I covered here in November. I even inquired with a Harrah's publicist who told me that the event was for employees and not open to the public. Which was weird because these signs...

...were all over the shopping esplanade at Paris. It was, indeed, open to the public and, in fact, there was a similar one the prior weekend at Caesars Palace. I'm told the next go-around will be in May and that Harrah's generally tries to do them twice a year. I'm really surprised they don't promote this more to the Vegas public; they'd bring in hoards of bargain-seeking locals who might just stay for dinner or a hand of blackjack, y'know?

I made it with 15 minutes to spare until the sale closed that Sunday, which explains why most people are in line to check out in these images.

There was lots of leftover World Series of Poker garb...

...and merchandise from Harrah's properties all over the United States.

(Vegas peeps who may wonder: Paula Deen has her name on the buffet at Harrah's Tunica.)

Yet the big theme at this sale seemed to be Bette Midler-branded stuff. Every item - T-shirts, hats, mugs, shotglasses -- yes, Tim & Michele, I got you one -- and Christmas ornaments going for 100 pennies.

In case you're wondering what kind of discounts were going on, this... what some suckers/fans once paid for Bette Midler ornaments.

There were the odd, weird items, too, like seasonally-themed G-strings...

...and, uh, material for topiaries?

And apparently black people don't fancy these...

...for which they should be quite proud.

Anyhow, here's my loot, mainly stuff I picked up to put in the prize list for Trivia Question winners on The Strip Podcast. I spent a whopping $12 plus tax.

Oh, OK. I wanted the Kiss My Brass mug. And you just never know when Flamingo ashtrays are going to come back into style, do ya?

A 1-Minute ThePetcast.Com Funny

My ThePetcast.Com co-host Emily Richmond has a cat that's stalking her and her dog, Archie. See?

Hear more about this "problem" on Episode 221.5 of our show. Find it at ThePetcast.Com or subscribe via iTunes. Also on that episode, Emily unfurls her list of the top 5 pet-related stories of 2009.

The Show is UP: The Vegas Juniors

Here's this week's episode of "The Strip," a sorta double episode pairing up a Louis Prima Jr chat I did but never aired in September with a completely fascinating conversation with Sandy Hackett. No, really. The folks in the live chat on Saturday barely talked, they were so intrigued by the interview. You know it's going well when the source, in this case Hackett, exclaims, "My GOD you've done your research." Click on the date below to make the show play or right-click to save it and listen at your leisure. You can subscribe, too, (it's free!) in iTunes or in Zune.

Dec. 29: The Vegas Juniors...

...with Louis Prima Jr and Sandy Hackett

Nowadays if you’re the offspring of an iconic celebrity, you can get work regardless of your talent as the subject of a reality TV show or by providing vacuous interviews on red carpets. But some of those who were born famous actually spend their lives trying to both make their own mark on the world and protect the legacies of their parents. In this episode, we’ll hear from two men who have done just that, Louis Prima Jr and Sandy Hackett. Prima continues to try to rescue the dying Vegas lounge act that his father made so great and Hackett is a comic and musician in his own right whose Rat Pack production at the Sahara bounces off of his own family history with Frank, Dino, Sammy and Joey. Both have struggled with and enjoyed perks from their famous names and both speak openly about that mixed blessing as well as their fascinating Vegas histories.

In Banter: The Aria buffet, Phil Ruffin’s Bellagio play, the Build It Bigger on CityCenter, Forbes on Adelson and Ruffin, the MGM Mirage Xmas Day outage and more.

Links to stuff discussed:

Get tickets for Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack Show at the Sahara
Louis Prima Jr’s website
Sandy Hackett’s website
The site for Casino de Quebec
Wikipedia on Mary Healy and Peter Lind Hayes
HowStuffWorks on Discovery Channel’s Build It Bigger shows on Veer and Aria
Doug Elfman’s baffling Viva Elvis piece claiming there aren’t Elvis impersonators in the show
Forbes Magazine’s pieces on Sheldon Adelson and Phil Ruffin
VegasHappensHere.Com’s coverage of the Christmas Day outage at the main IT center of MGM Mirage
John L Smith’s column about Jim Murren’s baseball lie
Norm Clarke’s reporting on the legal tussle between the Rat Pack shows

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Guvmint Handout The R-J Loves

Rarely is there a day when the editorialists at the Las Vegas Review-Journal do not peer out at an unjust world through their extreme-libertarian lenses and find some form of government spending to bash as unnecessary or excessive or a result of our ever-expanding Nanny State.

And then, this morning on my driveway, I received the fruit of the R-J's very own guvmint handout: a 36-section, 576-page, 9-pound stack of newsprint that went almost directly into my recycling bin. Almost, of course, because I had to take a moment to look more carefully on your behalf at the sort of pocket-lining Socialism that Sherm Frederick, Tom Mitchell and the rest of the Bonanza Road gang are A-OK with.

What is it? Well, that's a printed list of every property and property owner in Clark County and their tax assessment. They do it every year. And, yes, all of this information is readily available to anyone who wishes to find it on the Clark County Assessor's website. You can go right there and find out exactly how much my house isn't worth these days. Knock yourself out.

No, no. You won't see anyone over there bitching and moaning about the $555,000+ waste of Clark County taxpayer dollars mandated by a 100-year-old state law. Nor will you see any reporting in the paper about how a change to that law to end this direct deposit into the local newspaper's accounts passed both houses of the Nevada Legislature in 2009 only to be vetoed by Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons. Strange that the R-J didn't rail viciously against the smaller-government-loving Gibbers keeping in place a system that flushes $800,000 in taxpayer money across the state down the toilet. How many teachers could we hire with that dough?

Keep in mind, this is a desperate state that has had to cut just about everything. The Stephens Media Subsidy, however, stayed in place. And the Legislature, which overturned Gibbons' veto a record 41 times, including to heroically grant me fake gay marriage, didn't bother with this one.

Why does the government spend all this money to print and distribute this material? For that we turn to April testimony from the Nevada Press Association, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Old Media which has in the first line of its who-are-we blather that members are "limited to newspapers qualified to publish legal notices in the state." It's their entire raison d'etre. You're not a worthy member unless you're on the take from The Man.

NPA Executive Director Barry Smith appeared before a Nevada Senate committee on April 30 to defend this silliness. According to the transcript, he repeatedly insisted that such public notices are an important service that helps keep the assessors honest and allows neighbors to detect mistakes, inadvertent or otherwise.

He also claimed that having this landfill-fill delivered is far more user-friendly than going on the assessor's website. That is actually a lie. The 576-page behemoth I received today lists everything in alphabetical order. I don't know most of my neighbors' last names and I suspect neither do you. But when I go to the Assessor's website and toss in any address, the site helpfully also lists several others before and after mine. See?

From there I can click on any of them and find out who owns it, how many bathrooms they have, what sorts of improvements they've made and so on. I can even see an aerial photo of the place. I keep pressing the paper I received today, but darn it if nothing ever seems to pop up!

Smith's performance in Carson City was the sort of thing that the R-J boys would be picking apart tasty limb by tasty limb if he weren't standing up for perpetuating their gravy train. He complains that government websites are too complicated and there are so damn many of them, so the people just can't find what they need themselves. Because, you know, the R-J is usually in the business of advocating for
government intervention on behalf of helpless and deliberately clueless average Americans.

Smith also waved this "survey" the NPA took that showed that -- surprise! -- 87 percent of respondents said state and local governments should continue to publish such notices in newspapers. In his testimony, though, he admits it was not a random-sample survey which means it also has no scientific value for use in making public policy. Also, the findings make no common sense.

My favorite, though, is when Smith argues that removing the newspaper from the equation also removes "third-party accountability." I guarantee you nobody at the R-J or any other newspaper actually reviews the information they publish for the county. This is an advertiser relationship; the newspaper is in no way acting as a fact-checking entity in this mix. Another lie.

Smith is also gravely concerned that the U.S. Census in 2007 found 47 percent of households with annual incomes of less than $25,000, 45 percent of Hispanic households and 40 percent of households where people have no college education have no Internet access. He doesn't bother to note that it's pretty unlikely those people even subscribe to the newspaper and that people that poor probably don't own homes, either.

And, as an aside, just imagine if that $555,000 a year went instead to provide subsidies to help make Internet access affordable which, in turn, could be used for all sorts of great purposes as opposed to the one purpose it is presently not accomplishing! The R-J Editorial Board would oppose such a cyber-welfare effort and tell people to go to the library to log on, right? Of course.

Finally, the R-J's subscription rate is about 170,000. (Probably less, but for the sake of argument, we'll be generous.) There are 2 million people in Las Vegas. This is a penetration of 8.5 percent. According to the Senate testimony, as much as 70 percent of residents have some form of at-home Internet access. That means that by a gigantic factor, the Internet is the more effective means of providing this information.

Ass. Paul Aizley, the Democrat who tried to change the law, told that Senate committee that the 2008 assessor rolls took up 456 pages of newsprint that required 40 million pages of paper and ink in 2008. The R-J has narrowed its margins, which may explain why this year's version is 120 pages heftier, but ultimately the outcome has to be similar. It's 9 pounds of newsprint times 170,000 and that's 1.5 million pounds of paper. Yikes.

I appreciate that that $555,000 is a goodly sum for the newspaper company and I would hate to see more colleagues lose their jobs. But, you see, I take them at their word when they write ad nauseum about being self-sufficient and about shrinking government.

Where's Glenn Cook or Vin Suprynowicz when it's their own salaries at stake? If they don't stand up against such waste even when it costs them and their company personally, I'll assume they were just faking their outrage -- as most people suspect anyway -- all along.