Friday, December 17, 2010

The Petcast + Strip Are LIVE on Sat!

For the first time ever, Miles will be co-hosting The Petcast with me. No, really! With Emily away until May, we've been using guest hosts whenever we do the show and last time out Miles asked why I never ask him. So, finally, after slaving in obscurity on The Strip, he's getting his crack at the big time. What a thrill.

We'll do one episode of The Petcast at 12:30 p.m. PT with an interview with author Hal Herzog ("Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat") and then go right into The Strip featuring my recent interview with dance legend Twyla Tharp, whose "Sinatra Dance With Me" got an A- today from R-J critic Mike Weatherford and raves yesterday from David McKee of Stiffs & Georges. This was the interview that gave rise to this Las Vegas Weekly column and this piece for Miles and I will recount our Vegas-tinged NYC trip and talk a bit about that little gambling shack that just opened up.

Listen live and chat with fellow listeners from 12:30-2 p.m. PT at LVRocks.Com for all of it. It is quite likely this is our last live show this year given the holidays fall on Saturdays, so bring some spiked egg nog and make it festive! Although if Miles cusses on The Petcast, I may be driven to drink, too.

If you can't make it, get the podcasts when they're up! Subscribe to The Strip (it's free!) in iTunes or Zune or to The Petcast in iTunes or Zune.

Wynn, Caesars Tchotckes Sales This Weekend!

This weekend if you're in Vegas, you've got a chance at scoring some awesome swag at ridiculous prices:

* The Wynn is doing its Wynn Warehouse Fri-Sat 9 am - 6 pm and Sun 11 am - 5 pm in the LaTour Ballroom. You might recall I covered this last year. It's a massive expanse of Wynn-branded stuff of all sorts.

* Paris is hosting the Caesars Entertainment Holiday Retail Blowout Sale, which I also covered last time. This one (see graphic) is in the Concorde Ballroom on Friday and Saturday 8 am - 7 pm and Sunday from 8 am to 2 pm. Again, it's a fantastic opportunity to get Bette Midler ornaments, Harrah's Joliet shotglasses and other odds and ends.

Great opportunity, and how nice of them to do them the same weekend conveniently before Christmas. Somebody in our house is getting a Caesars Atlantic City track suit!

[h/t @BlogMike for the second item.]

Media: Of Righthaven, Cosmo, the Sun & Me

Some stuff to take note of as I huddle behind the laptop on a rainy Friday afternoon at The Beat:

* Righthaven. Remember when a certain "media critic" suggested that the Review-Journal and Stephens Media might rein in their copyright infringement lawsuit frenzy because they dropped a few of their weakest cases around the time of their regime change? And remember when I said it wasn't so? Well, it looks like they're not only not stopping but they continue to take their direction from... me! Back on Oct. 3, I started them a list of the major media outlets ripping off their graphic for the Vdara Death Ray story. And now they've sued 10 sites over just that, although in true ham-handed Righthaven fashion they're the lightweights (without legal departments?) like Flick & Tea rather than wealthy players like Gawker.Com, or even AtlanticWire.Com, whose parent just announced a $1.8 million profit largely from its web operations. Righthaven is going after a biggie -- Drudge Report -- on behalf of the Denver Post, by the way, as the business model expands or metastasizes, depending on your point of view. This is not, of course, the first time Righthaven has pursued a mark thanks to me. Remember this lady?

* ¡Hola!, Periodista. Meanwhile, have you ever heard of...

LasVegasSol.Com? Me either until a few minutes ago when I was grabbing the above links. Turns out, it's the LasVegasSun.Com, only in March 2009 they also started using LasVegasSol.Com. It appears that any URL from the Sun can be swapped with its Spanish URL counterpart. I just can't figure out why. It's not as though they have a Spanish-language mirror site that I can find. Baffling. Also, you know what they don't own, but which would actually make a lot of Vegas sense?

* Cosmo Crapola: I've dialed back my critique of specific reporters lately because I know I come off as shrill and arrogant. It's not easy to strike that balance, particularly in a thin-skinned city where even epically insecure powerhouses who dish out incessant attacks on people take criticism very personally. But today I need to take aim directly at recently installed R-J gaming reporter Chris Sieroty over this travesty:

It's a second-day reaction story after Cosmopolitan's Wednesday opening. Yesterday, I lamented the rah-rah headline declaring the opening "smooth" when there were many, many reports of significant problems. That was bad, but this is simply unforgivable because by the second day, there's no excuse to not be aware of -- and challenge Cosmo brass -- about widespread reports of snafus.

Sieroty opens his piece: "Analysts, casino executives and politicians emerged from opening night ... with generally positive impressions... ." Notice anyone missing from his laundry list? Like, uh, people who stayed at the fucking place? Customers? It was not difficult to find blog and Twitter traffic about delayed rooms, technology outages, slow restaurant service, people locked in stairwells and much more.

This is my greatest complaint about gaming-industry journalism, that my colleagues seem uninterested in what real tourists and customers have to say. And it's never in history been easier to get that perspective, to interact with those people. Sieroty could have put out a Tweet saying, "Hey everyone, what'd you think of Cosmo? Anybody hear of problems?"

Which brings me to the other issue with this piece. His gauge for assessments of Cosmo are Oscar Goodman, Steve Wynn, Bill Lerner and David Schwartz. Dr. Dave is a serious academic and writer with no conflicts and Lerner is an analyst with some peculiar past views but both are wonks and that's fine. But Oscar Goodman would never, ever, EVER diss a new Vegas casino for any reason, no matter how hideous he believed it to be or how drunk he is. And Wynn? It's nice that Wynn was complimentary, but could Sieroty possibly be unaware that three days ago I quoted him as calling Cosmopolitan "an extraordinary example of ill-conceived plans"? Where is the journalist to chime in and note that Wynn's kudos seemed tactful and polite but the other day he said this other thing?

Please understand that I actually am quite fond of the Cosmo, and none of the problems can't be resolved over time. But it is just inaccurate to suggest this place opened flawlessly or to universal praise. And I'm hopeful that as Sieroty settles into his beat, he'll work harder to go beyond the wonks and the execs and try to give the reader a better-rounded perspective on what's happening out there from the customers, too.

* The Friesster Omnipresent. I know I'm late in writing up my views on Cosmo, but I've been a little busy. If you want to know what I think so far, I did an hour with Hunter, Dr. Dave, Jeff Simpson and Chuck Monster yesterday all about Cosmo for The Vegas Gang show yesterday (not posted yet, will update this when it is) and an hour today with Doug Elfman and Richard Abowitz on KNPR's State of Nevada hosted by Ian Mylchreest reflecting on the year in Vegas entertainment and tourism news this morning. You can download that already by right-clicking here. This afternoon I'll be on The Dave Scott Show, too, live on LVRocks.Com at about 4:20 p.m. today talking about Vegas-related holiday gifts and, of course, tomorrow Miles and I will do The Strip. Ther'll be another post about that shortly. Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cosmo Opening: MSM v Blogosphere

Once again, we come to understand why the blogosphere is so important, especially in gaming and travel journalism. Here is the headline of the Review-Journal today following the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas' debut:

And here's what VegasTripping.Com's Chuck Monster said:

You see, as much fun as the first night of operations and all the partying was for journalists, insiders and others who visited with free access to food and entertainment, it was something of an operational disaster for people who actually stayed here. Check-ins were delayed, food servers were slow, various bits of cool technology like the touch-screen slot machine finders didn't work. Read Chuck's account. I've heard several tales of woe just like it. It doesn't take much to find on Twitter if you search.

This was NOT a "smooth landing," Review-Journal. At least not to those who were actually spending their money here. I just heard from someone who was locked in a stairwell last night. Seriously.

As Laura Martin, often a Twitter nemesis of mine, rightly noted last night: "I don't trust Vegas reviews from journos. Intoxicated by access."

There's lots and lots to like about the shiny new thing on the Strip and I'll get to that. In fact, I'm now late to recording Vegas Gang with Dave Schwartz, Hunter Hillegas and Jeff Simpson, and we'll mull all of that. They've done a nice job physically.

But none of that matters when someone like Chuck is telling his considerable audience not to stay here because there are so many functional troubles. That's harsh, especially since Chuck was incredibly patient with Aria when he had repeated service issues there.

Did you find any of that in the Review-Journal? The Sun? On the TV news? On KNPR? On Nightline?

Of course not. Thank goodness for the blogs.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Podcast: The Cosmo Matrix & Unwin's Theories

Above you can see the very basis of the theory behind Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. The talking points for the $3.9 billion resort opening Wednesday is that it will fill a niche of an alleged 59 million Americans who are part of the "curious class." The media has chowed down on that "narrative" for this opening, and we shall see in coming months whether it's correct.

But what is it? Well, Unwin drew me a picture earlier this month during my interview with him. You may want to reference that picture when you listen to the conversation, which is in the podcast feed now and can be downloaded by right-clicking here. (It'll also appear on your iPod if you listen that way. Not sure about other devices.)

What you see above is Unwin's case for different forms of high-end Vegas resort concepts. The poles run from themed to design-driven and from spirited/vibrant to refined/proper. The B in the lower left is Bellagio, the W is Wynn, E is Encore, P is Palazzo, A is Aria, CP is Caesars Palace and up there in the upper right corner is a C for Cosmopolitan.

Now, I could draw any number of arbitrary grids and create a construct that leaves me alone in a gigantic class. But, as I pressed Unwin in this interview, he's really going after exactly the same folks that Jim Murren said he was after a year ago, the moneyed, urban, educated set. Wynn and Encore go after them, too, but with the belief that when those people go on vacation, they want lush luxury, not concrete and glass.

We shall see where this goes, won't we? It strikes me as a lot of hype masquerading as demographic analysis.

Happily, the interview is not dominated by that kind of chatter. You also get to hear Unwin react to Steve Wynn telling me two weeks ago that the Cosmo is "an extraordinary example of ill-conceived plans" that won't get as much out of pedestrian traffic as Unwin believes.

Download it by right-clicking here or subscribe for free in iTunes or Zune.

Wynn: Cosmo is "an extraordinary example of ill-conceived plans”

Steve Wynn's still not sure how well Cosmopolitan will work out. He's not knocking the current operators, but he has some reservations. Some are the same as the concerns he had earlier this year when he described the ingress/egress issues he envisioned for it.

Friess: So you have actually been throughout Cosmo? Do you like the design of it?

Wynn: They have a nice room, Steve. You know, a nice commodious room, much better than Fontainebleau. The public area is layered on four levels or five. The entrance and exit of the place is [with a French accent] impossible. The access to the building is a nightmare.

Friess: Although for pedestrians its a lot easier than Aria, for example.

Wynn: Yeah, for pedestrians. If you are going to live off the people walking from Planet Hollywood, you will make four cents -- FOUR CENTS! -- from the people on the street in front of Planet Hollywood. Choke to death! This market can't exist on that type of stuff anymore. This market needs occupancy, big mid-week occupancy with conventions and stuff like that.

On the topic of whether it should ever have been built -- which he is quick to remind everyone is not the fault of the people running it now -- he doesn't hold back much, either.

Wynn: It's on such a difficult site. The access is so murderously challenging for the management. You know, the way we check in and check out 3,000 rooms on a Sunday. Right?

Friess: Right.

Wynn: How do you do that in that building?

Friess: You mentioned that. You mentioned that about the driveway was the first thing you noticed when went there was that the configuration of and I didn't quite get it until I went there myself but the configuration when you drive in is very weird.

Wynn: My point is that the Cosmopolitan is an extraordinary example of ill-conceived plans. If that young man they brought in, that nice man from Harrah's, if he makes a go of this, he gets the Nobel Prize.

That "nice young man," Cosmo CEO John Unwin, responded to all of this in my interview, which I just posted into The Strip Podcast's feed. Download it by right-clicking here or subscribe for free in iTunes or Zune.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thanks, McCarran! and other airport musings

We arrived at our NYC hotel, the lovely Marriott East Side, late Wednesday and went to check in only to discover my driver's license was not in my wallet. They didn't actually need it, but I was lucky to have looked for it sooner than later. I had it going through security at McCarran and thought I'd returned it to my billfold, but it was neither there nor in my laptop messenger bag which, nonetheless, got a much-needed cleaning out.

I called a friend who was watching the dogs and the house and had him FedEx me my passport so I could get on tonight's flight home from JFK. And what is waiting for us in the mound of mail? That envelope with this return address:

My license! Mailed to me by the airport folks... at their expense!

Wow. I am quite impressed. I guess I dropped it and someone turned it in, which is so kind. I've been rescued from hours at the DMV! Hooray! I wonder if other airports do this. Whew.

Not a bad way to get this blog back up and going now after a layoff, huh? Miles, even, was baffled I wasn't blogging while we were traveling. Feh. Y'all can entertain yourselves for a few minutes, no?

Meanwhile, we arrived via Delta at the D Gate today and look at what we found:

It's like a bank of slot machines in "The Walking Dead." What happened? Are they replacing them? Eerie.

I'm eternally fascinated by what Caesars puts on their primo space because there's always some quirks. When I saw this...

...all I could think of was, "How come Al Mancini, John Curtas and Max Jacobson weren't invited into this portrait?"

But Miles had a better point: It took them less than a split second to replace the billboard with this portrait seeing how Rao's chef Carla Pellegrino -- one of the few female executive chefs in Vegas -- quit the restaurant just a few minutes ago. That's some mighty quick work there forgetting she was ever there. How terrific that they're back to an all-boys club. Think they actually reshot the photo or just used some PhotoShop?

And finally...

...there's something sort of desperate about the Mandalay Bay having to throw a free New Year's Eve party "free of cover charges or reservations." I mean, what does that even mean? Do I really want to be at a NYE party that even I can get into for nothing?

Turns out, it's also very, very misleading. Evidently, they've redefined "cover charge." If you go to the website for this event advertised on this billboard, you see this:

You see, you pay $50 in advance -- or $75 day-of -- for a "block party pass." With that, from what I can glean, you get to hang out at the Mandalay Bay Beach -- hence it is, in fact, a cover charge -- and you get five "signature cocktails" at any of their 12 event bars. It's hard to tell what else you get, but online "tickets" actually end up costing $57 when Ticketmaster's fee is factored in.

Oh, one more thing. Anyone wanna tell me what's wrong with the text here? Click on it to enlarge.