Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Amid the revisionist history propagated by its brass and the disrespect the company is showing for its own architecture, MGM Resorts is having a rough day around these parts. But bad things come in threes, as they say, and another blunder today shows that, one year on, CityCenter's customer service leaves a lot to be desired.

Y'all might remember my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. I wrote a Las Vegas Weekly column about how much they loved CityCenter for all the reasons CEO Jim Murren said some people would. They were back this weekend and, of course, they returned to Vdara. They were there for four nights.

Their flight leaves today at 4 p.m., so sis-in-law hoped to stay in the room until 2 p.m. You know, a late checkout. She called down. She learned no can do, if she wanted to stay past noon, she would have to pay another $50. Not even a "Well, we can give you until 1." You know, like pretty much every hotel I've ever stayed at would do. Also, as Bellagio would usually do.

Did I mention that Vdara was so empty all weekend it could have easily been mistaken for Neonopolis? This weekend, with the marathon and the National Finals Rodeo and whatever else was happening, we never saw a single other soul in the hall or on the elevator. So the demand is soft. It's no skin off their teeth to give it another hour.

But a return customer who had stayed for four days can't get another hour or two in her room? The company is so hard up, they want to extort her?

Tacky tacky.

It's a Wrap, Speaking Of Damaging The Brand...

MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren was just talking about not wanting to damage his brand, but yesterday he began doodling on a starchitect's building, so it's hard to take him seriously, isn't it? Yup. That, above, is a sunrise shot of the beginnings of what is no doubt going to be a hideous wrap of Aria. That was shot by guest host Amy, and listener/reader Weston P. sent along this closer version:

I'm not the only one who hates this, of course. We shouldn't need to lecture MGM Resorts on the importance of respecting their architecture, but Weston thinks people should do so anyway:

I, for one, am disgusted by it. They began today and three glass panels now have wrapping on them. How can MGM go so low as to deface one of the prominent luxury hotels in our skyline for who knows how long?! Hopefully, they will receive a few harsh phone calls about this. I know I am going to do my best to talk to someone as this is, in my opinion, appalling.

Sing it, brother! Oh! Guess who else hates wraps? From last week's interview:

Friess: Would you ever put one of these advertising wraps on your resorts?
Steve Wynn: When hell froze over.
Friess: And why? Why wouldn't you do it?
Wynn: It's terrible, terrible looking. It's OK if you're running a Motel 6 or a low-end place like Circus Circus.
Friess: The county just gave MGM permission to put a wrap on Aria for their Viva Elvis show and I'm just really offended by this idea. I mean I took them seriously when they said they are doing something high class with their architecture and then they throw up bumper stickers all over it and it gives everybody who hates Vegas a chance to say, "Look at that."
Wynn: This is the same group that built the place. It's the same brain that built the place.

Meanwhile, the worst part is that what they appear to be putting on that gorgeous building looks even worse than we expected. This was the VegasTripping.Com mock-up:

The VT gang gave the MGM gang too much credit. That, above, would be stately and dignified compared to what they're actually doing.

But *Didn't* CityCenter Open All At Once?

In a Sunday piece for the Los Angeles Times that shills for MGM Resorts as the company launches a new Southern California marketing effort because said Southern Californians remain disturbingly unaware of Aria, we find this gem:

CityCenter, a nearly $9-billion project, opened in phases, which wasn't conducive to highlighting its electric ambience. "It's hard to display that imagery when you're not open," [MGM Resorts CEO Jim] Murren said. "You can't show a commercial of a construction site and say, 'This is exciting. Come see us.' "

Huh? CityCenter did NOT open in phases, unless you define "phases" as the distance betweee Dec. 1 and Dec. 16, 2009. By mid December last year, all the public spaces -- that is, Vdara, Crystals, Aria and Mandarin Oriental -- were operational. There is nothing major that has opened at Aria unless you count the "grand" opening of Viva Elvis.

True, Harmon wasn't open and likely never will be, so Murren can give up on whatever hope he has for that "imagery" helping to create excitement. And Veer was externally finished and lit up. It's a condo tower, so it's not supposed to contribute to the tourist's experience, remember? Tourists are only ever expected to see it from the outside.

Maybe he thinks the fact that a few yet-to-open shops at Crystals will provide that jumpstart for the enterprise? Really? That long-overdue Harry Winston, which was to open a week ago but didn't, is so exciting! Yes! That's it! That's what's been missing!

What's more, Murren went on and on to anyone who would listen last year -- except for L.A. Times contributor Jay Jones, I guess -- about how CityCenter was different BECAUSE IT WASN'T OPENING IN PHASES. He specifically talked about how that's what made this something other and better and greater than how Wynn, Venetian and even Bellagio added towers after their debuts.

How nice of Jones to hold the CEO accountable for literally uttering the precisely opposite thing he said last year. Nicely played, Mr. Murren.

Then there's this:

"We could have, of course, filled up Aria right from the beginning if we had discounted [rooms] to a point where we could stimulate demand that way," Murren said. "But that would have been unfair to the brand."

Alas, you sure did discount the rooms to a point that devalued the brand -- and gave away all sorts of nifty deals. You said Aria would compete with Wynncore, Bellagio and Venazzo. It does not. Had you tried to price Aria at those levels, your occupancy would not have creeped into the 80% range in the third quarter.

These are bizarre statements. What a shame nobody at an esteemed newspaper like the L.A. Times would bother to point out the contradictions.


We don't do live interviews much on the Saturday show because they're a pain to arrange, but this week they sure did make the episode pop. Al Mancini and I had a really fun and respectful scrum, as had hoped, and Ric Guerrero from Slidin' Thru did something that's never happened before: He broke news in the Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week. Anyhow, a good time was had by all, and now it's your turn. Find the show in the feeds for iTunes or Zune (that's free, fyi) or can click on the date below to get it to play or right-click on it to download it to listen at your leisure.

Dec. 5: Foodie Fight Three Ways...
...with Franck Savoy, Al Mancini & Ric Guerrero

By now everybody who listens to this program, reads Steve’s blog or enjoys eating out on the Strip must know about all the controversy kicked up over this little book that recently came out that names the 50 quote-unquote essential restaurants in Las Vegas. Steve had some issues, so on this show he’s invited co-author and food critic Al Mancini into the LVRocks.Com studio to hash it out on the air, live. Before we get to that, though, Steve interviewed Franck Savoy, the 31-year-old son of Guy Savoy who was just named director of restaurants at Caesars Palace. Savoy dishes about growing up in Paris as the son of the famed chef, what’s really happening at rumor-riddled Bradley Ogden and, of course, what his fast-food guilty pleasures are. And, in a special INTERVIEW edition of the Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week, Ric Guerrero of Slidin Thru breaks some news.

In Banter: The mayor's Ferris wheel, Ruffin's Starbucks, Wynn's expo center, Rhumbar's kangaroos, Frank Marino's blood drive and other absurdities.

Links to Stuff Discussed:

Franck Savoy’s ascendancy at Caesars Palace
Steve’s Las Vegas Weekly column on the book “Eating Las Vegas”
The Slidin Thru website
VegasHappensHere.Com on Slidin’ Thru’s new brick-and-mortar store
VegasHappensHere.Com on the Bradley Ogden drama
Steve Wynn is engaged, per Robin Leach and Norm Clarke
Steve’s LA Times piece on the topless shows in Vegas
Vote for us for the Trippies
The Eating Las Vegas book site
Al Mancini’s blog, The Second Deadly Sin
The Rhumbar, Sea World and the kangaroo
News about Susan Anton in Menopause, Bobby Slayton at Hooters and Boys II Men at Flamingo
Singer Tommy Held’s website
Frank Marino’s blood drive and why Frank can’t give blood

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: Steve Wynn On His Engagement

I'm the first to confirm Steve Wynn's engagement to Andrea Hissom directly and officially, and it's kind of funny how it happened.

Late last week, I interviewed The Steve for a few upcoming stories. I did not know that he was engaged because I'd been too busy and had fallen behind on reading the R-J. Wynn had instructed his publicist, Jennifer Dunne, to warn me NOT to ask him about the engagement, but she didn't get to me in time. Of course, I didn't know anyhow. And then we were talking about how he has reacted emotionally and creatively to the Vegas economy and this happened:

Wynn: Vegas was good because I could do my thing. Las Vegas was good because I could do what I loved doing.

Friess: Right.

Wynn: It's just convenient that it was Las Vegas because that's where it was possible. Now it's Macau.

Friess: And now Las Vegas is not where it's possible?

Wynn: That's right, not at the moment.

Friess: How long do you think it will be?

Wynn: There's always tomorrow.

Friess: Do you think in your lifetime you will be building another...

Wynn: It depends on when the market comes back and how healthy I am. Right now, I'm feeling great. I skied 15,000 vertical feet today, and I'm engaged to my girlfriend and that's great.

Friess: You're engaged?

Wynn: For three days now.

Friess: Wow. I had not heard that yet, no kidding.

Wynn: It's been in all the papers, you've missed it.

Friess: I haven't looked at Norm today.

Wynn: Norm yesterday.

Friess: Well, I haven't looked at Norm. Congratulations. When is this big wedding going to be?

Wynn: We don't, we don't have any idea.

Friess: Wow.

Wynn: I got engaged Thursday, I mean Tuesday night in Sinatra. The two of us had dinner and I...

Friess: Were there a lot of people there?

Wynn: No, just her and I. Well, there were other people in the restaurant who saw it. That's how I guess it got in the paper. I didn't make an announcement or anything.

Friess: Did you get down on your knee?

Wynn: No, I would have had to get under the table. I was just like, try this on. She had tried a dress on and it had to be altered and I said, 'Good thing you tried that on. You should always try things on to make sure they fit properly. Incidentally, try this on.'

Friess: That's how you said it, at dinner? In the beginning or the end of the meal or what?

Wynn: The beginning.

Friess: And then, you just sat there and ate dinner anyway?

Wynn: Yeah, and ordered a bottle of expensive wine.

I'm ashamed to say I didn't ask the one question any self-respecting US Weekly scribe would know: What about the ring? Sorry. Others will have to fill you in.

What's interesting, though, is comparing this account to ones other journalists have written up based on scuttlebutt. According to one account, Wynn and Andrea were in a private room, he popped the question at the end of the meal, they're plotting a spring wedding and he asked very "traditionally." Hmm.

I'm going with my source.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hot Blond Tina, The Vegas Sheriff & Reality TV

See that? That's a woman known as "hot blond Tina" on YouTube. The R-J reported last week that she was suing Langley Productions and Turner Broadcasting Systems because they used video of her from 2008 when she was in the booking pen at the Clark County Detention Center following a drunken driving arrest. She was very inebriated, trying to flash her considerable boobs and carrying on about creme brulee. Tina Vlijter, 32, says she doesn't recall signing a release form letting Langley use the material on various TruTV shows and sites and, thus far, Langley has refused to produce the release despite her lawyer asking several times.

Still, there's more to the story, as I broke on AOL News this weekend after the first media interview with Tina at her attorney Easton Harris' office. How and why do reality TV cameras get such unrestricted access to suspects in sensitive, usually off-limits locations? You know they wouldn't let an R-J or KSNV reporter in there to just hang out day after day or even hour after hour fishing for sensational footage. They surely wouldn't want to waste the police manpower supervising the journalists. But Langley gets to do it? Why?

As I reported, the Vegas sheriff, Doug Gillespie, got at least $35,000 from Langley entities in his recent, successful re-election campaign. Is that why? Hard to know, since he refused to answer my calls asking him to explain how he decides what media gets to go where. Is there a policy? Are there contracts? What are the limits? Do they get to preview the material and cherry-pick what gets used?

By the way, Gillespie received only about $20,000 from various Harrah's-related entities. So Langley, who is not actually located here, is a more generous supporter of this sheriff than the world's largest casino company. That's odd, right?

People certainly seem titillated. The version of Hot Blond Tina's video that we at AOL News linked to had about 10,000 views on Friday. Now it's at more than 360,000 and climbing. Here it is, for however long it remains available. It's from a segment from the TruTV show "Inside American Jail."

Also, this has been the case for two days running now...

Should be fun to see where this goes this week.