Wednesday, December 31, 2008

This Week's LVW Col: The Lion King

Here's this week's Las Vegas Weekly column, the first of at least two based on my NYC trip in December. Happy New Year's Eve everyone!

Can You Feel The Length Tonight?

The Lion King has a shot at success here - but its running time could kill it


My 9-year-old niece sat next to me at the Minskoff Theatre in New York City, utterly enthralled. Her widened eyes were glued to the visual feast before her, the mammoth puppets and the ebullient, multiethnic cast performing colorful, energetic song-and-dance numbers, the Elton John/Tim Rice score.

A few seats away from her, though, was a slightly different story. A middle-aged couple from Ohio watched at first attentively and then, as time went on, with some impatience. The woman, in fact, dug out her program and opened it to the page with the list of songs, trying to catch a little bit of light so she could figure out how many were left. I had made her acquaintance before the show started because she complimented my niece on her outfit, and so at intermission I wondered how she liked the show.

“Oh, it’s wonderful,” she said, “but maybe a little bit too long for me.”

The show, of course, was The Lion King, the production that aspires to be Las Vegas’ Next Big Thing when it arrives this spring at the Mandalay Bay. Along with the Cirque du Soleil Elvis-scored show coming to CityCenter, The Lion King is one of only two major entertainment premieres now on the 2009 calendar for the Strip. (Okay, there’s three if you’re willing to count that Scary Spice stripper show coming to the Planet Hollywood, but I’m not.)

Whenever a Broadway show is heading to Vegas, I like to get out and see it in its native habitat, New York. That way, I have a baseline to compare the quality of the performances and changes in the staging of the Vegas edition when it arrives.

And, of course, I get to begin to judge whether it’s going to succeed or fail in Las Vegas.

Read the rest HERE

Win Stuff At The Wynn Mall Kiosk

I don't usually expound too much on our weekly Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week for "The Strip" because it's content that rewards the listener who makes it all the way to the end of the show. This one, though, was worth both TSTTotW status and a blogger attention.

In an early December interview with Steve Wynn, I asked him about a rumor I'd heard that there were Wynn people at the Fashion Show Mall across the street giving away discounts on stuff. He said he knew nothing of it and I forgot all about it until last week when I went to do some Xmas shopping.

My first clue was this:

Butterflies! Wynn butterflies! On the floor, on railings, here and there in a particular section of the Fashion Show. Plus arrows leading somewhere no doubt wonderful! I took the bait, followed the arrows and eventually I found...

A full-fledged Wynn-Encore kiosk located, evidently permanently, directly outside the entrance to Needless Mark-Up!

So what, pray tell, does one find at a Wynn-Encore kiosk? That's the interesting part. The attendants I chatted with said they can book rooms, restaurant reservations and show tickets. In fact, by mid-January, I was told, Nevada residents can book "Le Reve" and Danny Gans seats at a 2-for-1 rate that they won't get at the Wynn box office or at any of the discount ticket sellers. The mall desk also boasts stacks of "VIP" passes to get in free pre-midnight at the ultralounge Blush and, if you've got a vagina, at Tryst. See?

But the most fascinating thing about the kiosk is the CHANCE TO WIN FABULOUS PRIZES! If you walk up and ask for a contest card, they give you one of these things:

You peel back one tab -- the missing one above says "Join" -- and stand the chance of winning $10K in slot play. You have to redeem it at the Red Card desk inside the Wynn or Encore casinos and, presumably, if you're not a Red Card member, you have to sign up. But, still, it's free.

I asked for, and received, two of these cards. It was unclear whether I could have taken both prize winners to the casino or what other "Terms & Conditions" apply, as it says, since there's nothing anywhere on the cards explaining the "Terms & Conditions."

Of course, I couldn't bear the suspense of not knowing what I didn't win on the second card, even though that is a clear no-no for this contest. (Invalid if more than one tab is pulled, it warns.) So I threw away the $10 at the ice cream shop Sugar & Ice that I initially won on the card below to see what else I might've received...

Not bad, really. $10 at the deli, free admission for the Ferrari place, $25 slot play... those are actually decent things to win, really.

While I'm on this subject, I think it's terrific that you can make dinner reservations at Wynn or Encore from the Fashion Show Mall, but how is it possible that you can't do so for any of the Encore restaurants on... EncoreLasVegas.Com?!?!? After Miles and I discussed our dinner at Switch at Encore on this week's forthcoming podcast, I wanted to provide a link to the restaurant on the Encore website. Shockingly, I discovered there's nothing on the Encore website about ANY of the restaurants there, which is strange because that is the aspect of Encore that is being most promoted to journalists at this point.

See for yourself:

There's no tab for restaurants. And there's no info about Encore restaurants -- Switch, Sinatra, Society, Botero and Wazzuzu -- on the WynnLasVegas.Com site, either. Isn't that strange? I mean, they've got Danny Gans up there and he doesn't open until February!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Strip is LIVE tonight @ 6:45 pm PT w/ more WYNN

What Barack Obama is to "60 Minutes," Steve Wynn is to The Strip Podcast.

Tonight, we finish out 2008 with the rest of our pre-Encore chat with Wynn in which we discuss his athletic prowess, his concerns about the economy and a little Gandhi. Plus, news from Vegas, the poll, a new trivia question, listener feedback and, as always, the Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week.

Join us from 6:45-8 pm PT in the chat and to hear the live show at LVROCKS.Com or wait a day or so for the podcast version.

Monday, December 29, 2008

You know Xmas is over when...

...your blow-up Chubby Santa appears to have had too much egg nog.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Something new among the old

I just finished leafing through today's last-weekend-of-the-year 2008 news rehashes in the Review-Journal and Sun. Oddly, the most notable thing I spotted was this advertisement for the Silverton Hotel-Casino a little ways south on Las Vegas Boulevard:

I've never heard of Vegas casinos offering anything other than free cocktails to players. Starbucks coffee sounds like a smart move. I do recall popping in at the Fernley Nugget in Fernley, Nev., recently to check out the state's first casino to open as a non-smoking joint and noting they had a self-service soft-drink fountain. I wonder which is more effective in parting you from your money, free alcohol or free caffeine? Red Bull and vodka anyone?

On a related front, the papers were largely reiterations of old news and, given this annus horribilis, not terribly happy news at that. But in and among all that, the Las Vegas Sun's Charlotte Hsu provided a must-read, a in-depth, enlightening and wonderfully long piece on a local Iraq veteran's war experiences. Plus, of the year-end fodder, Howard Stutz gave a compact recounting of Sheldon Adelson's miserable year that reminded me that his failures were not exclusively about his company's woes. And I agree almost entirely (I still don't get the Cher thing) with Mike Weatherford's Top 10 shows of 2008, especially since he allows us to swap out "Love" or "Ka" if we're not enamored of "O," as I am not.

If I have a bone to pick this morning -- and there ought to be one, right? -- it's with R-J food critic Heidi Knapp Rinella listing the Capital Grille at the Fashion Show Mall as her sixth favorite of the eateries she reviewed in Vegas this year, exhorting us to "take in the unmatched view."

Unmatched view?!?!? Perhaps, if by "unmatched view" she meant of empty lots, stalled construction projects, a neon McD's sign and, off in the tantalizing horizon, the Naked City. (I'm feeling a future Stripper Poll coming on here, best restaurants with views. I wouldn't have even thought of putting CG on that list, though.) I like the Vegas Capital Grille, actually. But when I'm there, the view is the one thing that always seems unfortunate; if only they had gotten a perch facing south, the big windows and pretty architecture would be put to good use.

Finally, I'll be heading out shortly to pick up the Sunday New York Times. The NYT Sunday Magazine on the last weekend of each year is my favorite, a series of obituaries of highly influential individuals who died this year that always includes several non-famous names you never heard of but whose lives altered the culture in some way. One year, I discovered that the guy who invented the high-five was gay. Can't wait to find out what I didn't know this year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Petcast is LIVE on Saturday 10-noon PT

Emily and I are back in the studio on Saturday for some new Petcasts. Join us from 10-noon PT at LVRocks.Com to listen live and join the chatroom.

Here's the scheduled lineup:

10 a.m.: Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani on decriminalizing feral cats.
10:30 a.m.: Mary Olund of Cabernet Standard Poodles on why the "royal poodle" is a marketing myth.
11 a.m.: Hal Newsom of WallyPets.Com talks about selling wallabies.
11:30 a.m.: Steve's sister talks about volunteer dog-walking for the Humane Society of Sedona and listener/podcaster Bay Loftis returns to talk about her newly adopted puppy, Doris!

If you wondered...

...whether Danny Gans might be planning to revamp his dated impressionist show when it arrives at the Encore Theater (boy, that name's appropriate here, isn't it?), take a look at the cartoon advertisement that is now appearing around Wynn and Encore...

So far as I can tell, that's George Burns, Michael Jackson, Lucille Ball, Stevie Wonder, Garth Brooks, Kermit the Frog and ... I dunno about the guy in the plaid shirt. Jeff Foxworthy?

Steve Wynn has spoken eloquently about attracting a young, hip crowd to Encore. He has repeated his aim at a St. Tropez-like place where the party goes on seamlessly from mid-afternoon to early in the morning. But how does an impressionist doing 20-year-old punchlines appeal to that audience? Who in the demographic Wynn is courting will understands the emotional punch of Gans' George Burns? And Lucille Ball? Really?

I don't get it.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Show's UP: A Very Wynning Xmas

Merry Xmas and Happy Hannukah everyone! Hear the show by clicking on the date or right-click to download it and listen whenever you want. Or subscribe via iTunes here or via Zune here.

Dec. 25: Wynn's Encore, Part I

This is Steve Wynn’s week, no doubt about it. On what is traditionally one of the slowest nights in Las Vegas and in the middle of the worst recession in generations, he opened the doors to his $2.3 billion expansion, Encore. The results were a flood of curious explorers that led to bumper to bumper traffic on the Strip as far south as the Mandalay Bay and a line all the way into the Wynn casino. In honor of that milestone, over the next two weeks we’re presenting our interview earlier this month with Wynn in which he talks about everything from the shape of the buildings to the original plans for the Encore TV commercial.

In Banter: Encore, snow, Criss Angel, City Center, Elton John.

Show links:

See Encore here
See pix of the snow in Vegas here
Read CityLife's cover of Criss Angel here
See the breaking news about Elton John here
See the L.A. Times' glowing review of Encore Las Vegas here
See the video for Richard Cheese's"Christmas in Las Vegas" here
See Steve's coverage of the Treasure Island sale here
See the Vdara sign photo here

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An Encore From Last Night

Many others documented the opening far better than me, and I urge you to head over to EncoreOpening.Com to see all the terrific commentary and photos provided by Hunter at RateVegas.Com and Chuck Monster at VegasTripping.Com. Also, Dave McKee had some insightful thoughts on the design of the property that you can find here.

But here's a 6-minute video episode of The Strip showing the Wynns as they declare Encore open for business. The people who were already inside were either invited friends or hotel guests. Click on the image to watch, and sorry as always for the shaky camera work. It may be better to merely listen.

Here's a better still show of the couple:

I went on to dinner with Hunter, his wife Megan, Chuck, Mike E and listener/reader Brian Fey as well as a couple of new friends at Sinatra, where the Wynns dined nearby with Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf among others. It was an outstandingly delicious meal.

As I took the long march from Sinatra to the Wynn south valet to get my car, I went through the shopping esplanade the connects the properties. It was after 11 p.m., the place had been open for three hours, and the line was, as Miles likes to say, bananas. This is where it started...

...and it went on...

...and on...

...and on, into the Wynn casino. There were at least 800 people in that line. And there were others at other entrances. Wow.

The Strip is LIVE tonight w/Steve Wynn

We're back in the studio finally tonight at 6:45 pm PT for a new episode of The Strip, playing some of my lengthy sit-down interview with Steve Wynn a week prior to our walk-through. Join us at LVRocks.Com from 6:45 pm-8 pm tonight to hear it and chat with fellow listeners or wait a day and grab the podcast.

Wynn goes into detail about his life and times with Frank Sinatra, for whom there is an eponymous restaurant, how Siegfried & Roy impacted occupancy at the Mirage, what the MGM Mirage did wrong in designing MGM Macau and what the original Encore TV commercial was supposed to look like.

Plus, news from Vegas, a new poll, the trivia question, listener feedback and, as always, the Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week.

See ya later!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Idiot That is Friess

I spend a lot of time on this blog criticizing other journalists for work that is problematic in various ways. I also praise excellent work, but who remembers anything but the slings and arrows? I believe it to be healthy to keep journalists' feet to the fire and I view myself, given my own experience and expertise, to be qualified to offer such commentaries.

I never claimed to be perfect myself, and today I'm going to prove that I know that.

I will not have a profile of Steve Wynn running in USA Today on Monday. It kills me, I feel horribly and I hope I don't ever forget how miserable I feel right now. Those wishing to indulge in shaudenfraude are welcome to do so.

A couple of hours ago, USA Today had to pull my story. I had rewritten a version of their piece for the Agence France-Presse wire, a French news service. There was a miscommunication and the AFP wasn't supposed to run my piece until midweek or later. But the piece instead went out on Saturday, some international news websites posted it on their sites and USA Today decided they couldn't run a similar story from the same writer.

It wasn't supposed to work out this way. I should have known better, that something like this could possibly happen. Freelancers are notoriously promiscuous, but this arrangement was subject to too many potential problems -- all of which actually came to pass, natch -- and I blame only myself. I was neither dishonest nor unethical, but in the end I might have considered avoiding even the potential for this sort of trouble.

I'm terribly sorry and saddened. The AFP piece is here and it's good, although not nearly as good or as long as what USA Today was planning to run. Oddly, it will probably be better read, seeing how AFP wire is avidly employed in most of Latin America, Europe and Asia.

But mostly, I am punishing myself the only way I know how, by publicly announcing my stupidity and carelessness. And then I'm getting back to work.

Friday, December 19, 2008


OK, folks. I've worked long and hard on this one. My profile of Steve Wynn is out on the AFP wire. In the process of that work, Wynn gave me this hour-long personal tour of Encore. You can:
  • Download the audio by right-clicking here
  • Find the map here
  • Follow along with an annotated written guide here
We'll have much more on the next two proper episodes of "The Strip" as well as in my Las Vegas Weekly column next week. All I ask is that, if you haven't already and feel compelled to, please donate to this blog and podcast to support this work. It takes a lot of time and life is expensive. Click on the DONATE button at upper-right.

Breaking: Elton John done at Caesars in April

Elton John's wonderful Red Piano show at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace will end its run this spring after another roughly 25 shows during runs in February and April, Colosseum spokeswoman Kris Lingle just told me.

The production opened in February 2004 and he played his 200th show last July. His initial contract was extended by three years in 2005. I wondered a year ago whether Elton was getting bored with this gig based on some remarks I caught on Larry King Live about some impatience during the show as to when it would be over. By contrast, Elton said, he still gets pumped playing to touring audiences.

No word yet who will replace Elton and be headliners alongside Cher and Bette Midler, but the rumors are constantly out there that Celine Dion wants to retake her throne and perhaps have another child. Here's Lingle's tantalizing comment on that:

"I'm sure Celine has come up in conversations and everyone knows the power of Celine in Las Vegas. But no decisions have been made yet."

Lingle said that Elton may return to Caesars for concerts or such but that "The Red Piano" show as we know it and as David LaChapelle divined it will end in April. Tickets are on sale for the February run but have not been made available for the final April run. Look for a stampede of celebrities and high-rollers for that, so go in February if you don't want to re-mortgage your house.

Between the 2009 closures of Mamma Mia!, The Red Piano and Criss Angel Believe, it's going to be a sad year in Vegas. Oops. Did I just say that?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Diceman Cometh

As I suspect you've seen all over the news, we Las Vegans had a heckuva time with our wacky snow last night. I had shot a picture of our house for the blog earlier yesterday, but look at it a few hours later:

Shortly after this was taken, my neighborhood lost power for about four hours, making all the prettiness a bit more inconvenient. Miles had my car at work because his is in the shop, so my friend Trevor picked me up to take me to his place so I could write my overdue Steve Wynn profile. I do wonder if my editor believed my dog-ate-my-homework excuse for lateness, that my desert city was overwhelmed by snow.

If he didn't believe it, check this out -- the Vegas snowman! Notice the nose of ice:

Before Trevor came by, I forced our water-hating dogs on a walk. They weren't amused, especially when they were being used for publicity purposes.

They're clever, though. They found a snowless clearing of grass beneath a large tree to do their business. It's hard to see -- look for Jack's glowing eyes to the left.

I admit it; I did not pick up after them this time. Fine me. Exceptional circumstances, you know. Fine me.

By this morning, it's all but gone now -- there's some dustings around the neighborhood but it won't last long. When Trevor came back, the re-inflated Chubby Santa outside our place was almost clear of snow.

Most of us enjoyed the spectacle, but this lady around the corner sure didn't:

There was still enough snow, though, to torture Black and Jack just one more time on this morning's walk...

Oh well. The Clark County School District -- and this will KILL readers up north -- canceled school today. First time in 30 years. Even though it was all over by midnight. I guess every kid should know the joy of a snow day at least once in a childhood.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Criss Angel Facade Cracks Further

Astute listener and reader David F. from Manchester, U.K. pointed out that Criss Angel Believe, just two months into its official, post-preview run, is offering 40 percent off tickets. He caught it on the LuxorLV's Twitter stream. I dug a little deeper and it seems that this discount is through 2008 and the normal prices resume after New Year's Eve.

It is absolutely without precedent for Cirque to be discounting a 10-week-old show. What happened to this being the No. 1 show or at least the No. 1 Cirque show in Vegas? Yes, they've lowered prices on several shows, including Mystere and Ka, but those are older shows. If the Criss Angel show were of the Love or O caliber, not even the worst recession would be reducing it to this. Also, the period between Xmas and New Year's is still one of the busiest times in Vegas, so it's telling that they're discounting these seats for shows in that span, eliminating the explanation that they're trying to fill seats in the traditionally slowest period prior to Christmas.

MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman had some thoughts. Admitting he's not up on occupancy for the new Luxor magic show and was not involved in the pricing for the discounted shows, he said: "I don't know what the pricing situation is for that show, but I think what's up is that we're in the midst of an all-time historic economic downturn. We're not getting the same room rates during that time, either. Even New Year's Eve, where the prices usually go up dramatically, they're not going up as much as they once did. There are New Year's Eve weekend packages that average out to less than $2o0 a night. That's unheard of."

Well, OK. And in a way, perhaps the recession is a good thing inasmuch as it may kill off bad shows faster than if there was the cushion of better days. It may be that Las Vegas CityLife, which put Angel on the cover of their annual Get Out of Town issue, could get its wish sooner than later, although the R-J's Mike Weatherford did report this week Cirque will be spending the next few months working on a "fixation" plan.

On the upshot, though, Angel has surged a little in TicketNews.Com's weekly Vegas show rankings. He'd actually fallen off the list and sat behind such hot tickets as Jubilee! since the Oct. 31 opening and subsequent critical savaging.

Looking at the list on that site -- and I have been week after week -- all I can say is that it must be nice to be the Colosseum. Bette, Cher and Elton are perennials atop this list.

Vegas Snow Day!!!

Lookit!!! That's Black and Jack sitting under our snow-covered courtyard canopy! OK, I put them there. And they wouldn't stay for long. But I gave them a treat for their troubles, so don't call the ASCPA, please.

Here's the snow view from our front, complete with the blown-up chubby Santa...

...but it's kind of hard to see, so look at this street view...

As I mentioned, the dogs weren't impressed. They went back to doing what they do...

OK. Back to work. You, too.

[UPDATE: Readers want to share, too. Here's Troy's snow pix. Send me links to yours or put the link in a comment!]

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Wynn Pays $75K To Demo Frontier Sign

I just came in from my tour of Encore with Steve Wynn and I much, much, much more on that later, once I sort out what won't fit in my Wynn profile slated to run on Monday, opening day, in a national publication. But I do have this intriguing bit of news to break: Wynn went in halfsies with the ELAD gang on the $150,000 cost to demolish the old Frontier sign in time for Monday's Encore opening. He also said he bought 200 trees from Nellis Air Force Base and is having them moved and planted in a line along the sidewalk in front of the empty lot where the Frontier used to be. Don't ask me why Nellis was having a tree sale, but I hope the guvmint got a good price. Wynn couldn't remember what he paid.

Why would he have to do all that? Well, Wynn is big on controlling what his guests can see, at least on the lower levels at the restaurants and such. That's what the 180-foot mountain outside the Wynn Las Vegas was all about. "A carnival is great," Wynn once told me, "but you only get to control your section of the midway." Burned in his memory remains a birthday party he once had at Picasso at Bellagio after the new Aladdin (now Planet Ho) was opened across the street. "That damn sign was blinking and blinking in the window and there wasn't a thing we could do about it," he told me in 2005.

But your question probably really was, "Why would he have to pay to remove the sign on someone else's land?" Well, he didn't say it in so many words, but clearly the Elad people are in no hurry to remove it or do much of anything on the land for which they paid $35 million from Phil Ruffin last year. They imploded the Frontier in November and spent gobs of money in court successfully defending their rights to use the Plaza name for the proposed $5 billion resort modeled after the Plaza New York which they own, but the project's timetable continues to be pushed back thanks to the lousy credit market.

So Wynn decided to take control and get 'er done. His hatred for the Frontier of old and anything associated with it is legendary; he famously once told me it was "the single biggest toilet in Las Vegas" and that having empty space across the street was better than that thing. Yet today he also found satisfaction and poetry in being the one to take it down since he was part of the group of owners of the property that first erected the sign as it looks now in 1967. Here's an extensive history of the sign from UNLV's Center for Gaming Research. "I put that sign up and I tore it down," Wynn chuckled today.

The sign, though, was not preserved for the Neon Museum. Wynn said it fell apart in the tear-down. That's sad.

Of course, Wynn's moved on. While I was away, the Encore marquee sign was unveiled. It's here:

It's cute. Nothing terribly flashy. But at least it's not this:

That is so strangely tacky for the otherwise picture-perfect CityCenter folks. It's a beautiful, elegant building. Why does it need its name slapped on it? There had to be a more attractive way to do this.

[UPDATE: Since posting this, it's been noted that the Sun did this piece on the Frontier sign last week. I've checked, though; nobody's reported the dollar figures, the 200 trees or the part about the sign not going to the Neon Museum.]


For the first time in our history, we're not having a live show for the second week straight. I'm so sorry. Work has overcome both of us. BUT I promise we'll post several interviews this week, including those with Doyle Brunson and Phil Hellmuth.

Also, next week, we'll have Steve Wynn. Hopefully that'll tide you over!

Monday, December 15, 2008

More details on the Treasure Island deal

I'm not filing for anyone on the Treasure Island transaction, but another piece I'm working on has me chatting a lot today with a lot of relevant people. There are about three importnat questions I've had about this: How much land does Ruffin get for $775 million, what's next in the MGM Mirage firesale and what happens to Mystere?

Some answers:

* How much land? Nobody's quite sure, actually. The 100-acre figure I cited earlier is roughly the combined Mirage and TI parcel (see here from aerial thanks to Google Earth) and the dividing lines have not been drawn in this deal yet. Deutsche Bank analyst Bill Lerner says there's about a 20-acre no-man's-land of vegetation between Mirage and TI. MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman, who was with Mirage Resorts when TI was opened, says he thinks the TI is on about 17 acres but that not everything goes to Ruffin anyway.

In fact, and this is news, it's already been determined that the TI's valet cars will be parked in a garage on the Mirage's property and the TI's employee parking garage will also continue to be owned by MGM Mirage. Ruffin will pay a fee to MGM Mirage for use of those structures, Feldman said. Still, everyone keeps telling me my fixation on the amount of land is irrelevant because Ruffin's not going to redevelop. Perhaps, and if it were anyone but Ruffin, it wouldn't be so interesting. But, as Lerner agreed, Ruffin is the one whose sale of the Frontier property for $35 million an acre sent Strip real estate into the stratosphere. And the point here is that if you can buy a functioning, currently-but-not-forever-depressed business and the land it's on for $775 million now, how will anyone be able to justify paying exorbitant per-acre prices again anytime soon? "Any way you slice it, he has sold brilliantly and seemingly bought brilliantly," Lerner said of Ruffin's Vegas dealings.

* What's next? I actually forgot to ask Feldman but I suspect he wouldn't be specific anyway. Lerner is less inhibited. Here's his list of what MGM Mirage could sell to improve its liquidity while not harming its core business: "You could see some land deals, maybe they'll sell some of their land south of Mandalay Bay or across the street from the Luxor. I think the other stuff probably exploring might include MGM Grand Detroit, although it's tough to sell something in Detroit right now, but they might look at Biloxi (Beau Rivage), Elgin, Ill. (the Grand Victoria), maybe even their share of Borgata in Atlantic City." Monte Carlo isn't core but its location makes it unlikely since MGM will want to control almost the entire NY-NY-to-Bellagio block. And Circus Circus, in good times, is a cash cow. A slum, true, but a profitable one.

* Le future de Mystere. Feldman says that Ruffin gets Mystere, obviously, and it will continue to operate uninterrupted. However, should Ruffin choose to close the original Cirque sit-down, MGM Mirage's exclusive deal with Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas dictates he can't replace it with another Cirque production. Which means, I suspect, that Mystere will never, ever, ever close. Ever.

Making The Most of Overtime Travel

I woke early enough this morning to get over to the Utah State Capitol. The Quality Inn folks were so great, giving me a shuttle driver who drove me there, waited for me while I looked around briefly and even took the money shot you see above.

I had been to SLC before, but not to the capitol. I've visited 28 or 29 capitals but not all the capitols, although in the past couple of years I've gotten to Salem, St. Paul, Juneau and Boise. The goal now is to have pictures at each.

As capitols go, Utah's was somewhat blah. It's pretty from the outside, especially set against the snowy mountains. But inside, the dome does not allow light and has dull, non-ornate murals. Most have to do with Mormon arrivees, of course, like the second one here of Brigham Young.

Zzzz. No razzle dazzle. This being SLC, though, I suspect they saved all their dimes and invested instead on this, the world HQ of the LDS crowd...

I'm at the airport now, waiting for some unforseen calamity to throw another loop in my trip home. I got the intensive security treatment at the gate, right down to being felt up on my crotch and bum. Really. The guy couldn't have been nicer about it, saying at every awkward juncture: "I'm about to feel a sensitive area. Do you want a private screening?" I declined. This, I gather, is what I get for buying a one-way ticket and traveling day-of, even if the start of this journey was Philadelphia lo these many hours ago. In Philly, they also pulled me aside, but they didn't check to see if I was carrying a doody bomb, alas.

It didn't help when I provoked suspicion by walking to the front of the entrance to the airport to shoot this:

A guard popped out and asked me why I was snapping that photo. I explained the sign was misspelled and walked back in from the cold. I've no doubt he stood there wondering what was wrong with the sign.

Do you know?

MGM Mirage Firesale Begins!

As my colleague Robin Leach correctly predicted last night, MGM Mirage announced this morning it is selling the Treasure Island for $775 million to reclusive aging billionaire Phil Ruffin. I can't find how many acres the TI sits on -- this and several other sites say 100 acres. If that's so, that's $7.75 million an acre for the land alone, a heckuva deal seeing how there's a decent business standing on it at the moment, too. Ruffin himself set the record by getting $35 million an acre out of the Elad suckers for the Frontier property about 20 months ago. So is $7.75 million the new watermark?

This is actually pretty good news for the mid-ranged property inasmuch as Ruffin got high marks for bringing peace and stability to the disastrous New Frontier in 1999, at least before he flipped it. It was razed, of course, to make way for a whole lotta nothing.

Wall Street was happy with MGM, rewarding the debt-larded behemoth with a 18 percent surge in stock price at the opening and its highest price in a month. You can read the press release here. I especially love Ruffin talking about the TI as being in "pristine condition," as if he were buying a rare coin.

The TI's employees probably can heave a sigh of relief not felt in the rest of the MGM Mirage universe, where just last week the Bellagio let go all part-timers at the front desk for the rest of the year. That is, until Ruffin flips the place. Which he's bound to do. But until then, the TI is the crown jewel in his collection of Marriotts. How fun for him.

On the downside, the TI is a resort that is easily forgotten and benefits greatly from its crossmarketing angle with the other MGM Mirage properties. It's unclear how it'll do without that network. In fact, Steve Wynn all but acknowledged to me at one point that the place was the bastard child of his creations, the one he did in a hurry with a lesser budget.

No word on the implosion date, but it's said Mystere will continue to play twice a night on the site even after the rest of the place has been demolished.

So, folks...what's next? Is it tasteless to talk about Monte Carlo in the context of a fire sale?

Yet Another Miserable Travel Day

Holy crap, we have bad travel luck. Last time it was Miles, you may recall.

I write from a trashed room at a Quality Inn in Salt Lake City where Delta has put me up for the night, prolonging my 9-day trip for yet another night. I really just want to be home. But no. That's would be too easy.

The day actually started out pretty well. I've been, for the past three nights, in suburban Philadelphia visiting another sister and her four kids, ages 3 to 15. They are observant Jews, so Friday night and Saturday were quiet, calm times of card games, eating and napping. On Saturday night, I took 8-year-old Daniel and 13-year-old Arielle to see Bolt, which was probably the funniest thing I've seen since, um, Wall-E. So now you know my mental age. But, seriously, the scene where Bolt and Mittens nearly give up their adventures for a life living fat off leftover food from buffets in Vegas was priceless.

Daniel was particularly thrilled by my visit, so I gave him permission to wake me at 8 a.m. so we could squeeze out as much of our Sunday as possible. He actually gave me until 9:30 a.m., and then he pounded on this thing...

Yes, I slept in the bed right there that looks like Barney shed on it. It was cozier, actually, than the Strawberry Shortcake bed I was in at my other sister's place. Once the lights are out, does it really matter?

So, anyhow, I spent the morning teaching Daniel how to play Texas Hold 'Em. We both began with stacks of 40 pennies; he wiped me out twice. Either the kid is a prodigy or I suck. I will say one thing, though: If you buy those decks of cards that are preused in casinos, beware. I gave each of the kids such a deck as part of their Hannukah gifts at our family's holiday party last week; the Green Valley Ranch deck I gave Daniel had two eights of hearts and no king of spades. Oops. Fortunately, the other decks were fine.

Anyhow, we had a terrific time, as you can see:

Daniel dominated me, but Arielle occasionally commandeered my camera and took a zillion odd photos including several of herself with her mouth wide open, like the first one where she appears to be eating algebra equations...

When you give a child a camera, though, prepare for some rather unusual results...

Yeah. So here's the whole clan as we played Apples To Apples: Jewish Edition just before my departure. The girl covering her face is Tziona, the eldest:

Not to leave anyone out, here's the youngest of the brood, 3-year-old Chaim:

That was all nice. The rest, not so nice.

Miles called from Vegas around noon because he saw online that my direct 3:45 pm Philadelphia-Vegas flight on Southworst was canceled. I called SWA. Some sort of plane mechanical problem. But why didn't SWA call or email me, then? "We have a lot of people we'd have to call," the lady huffed. If I went to the airport, she said, I *might* catch the 4:30ish, one-stop to Vegas or I could definitely get on the 5:30ish one-stop.

Here's where it starts getting good. This being Southworst, I had checked in on Saturday to be in the A Group for boarding. Now I was facing the dreaded C Group for not one but two flights. Could I please have the new Business Select status to board with the A groups? I'm 6-1 and "kinda big," I claimed.

Nope! Southworst would do nothing to accommodate my inconvenience. Not even guarantee me for the next flight.

I asked for a supervisor and, while on hold forever, I found a one-way seat on a 4:30 pm Delta flight to Vegas for $50 LESS than my SWA ticket. You read that right: For a day-of, one-way to Vegas from PHL, they were charging $110, tax included. That's bananas. And proof that the Strip economy is in big trouble.

Mr. Supervisor was just as worthless, so I demanded and received a full ticket refund, then booked on Delta. Off I went to the airport, leaving a heartbroken Daniel begging me to stay. I got on my plane ready for an easy ride to Salt Lake City, then home.

Or not. Just as we're about to head to the runway, the ENTIRE PHILADELPHIA AIRPORT is shut down. We'd find out later that a US Scare Commuter plane had to make a crash landing. The FAA had to investigate. Nobody hurt, but we ended up stuck in the plane for another three hours before we departed. If you thought it sucked for me, how about the guy across the aisle with the black and brown chihuahua in the carrier case under the seat in front of him? He didn't plan on being on that plane for eight hours!

Delta handled it beautifully, I must say. Those of us missing connections were greeted upon our arrivals with vouchers for hotel rooms and a cute little travel kit with a T-shirt and some toiletries. The problems weren't their fault, but they took responsibility.

And then the best part. I was near the front of the line at the Quality Inn tonight, got my key, went to my room. And when I entered, this is what it looked like:

The place was trashed. I thought maybe someone was still in here. It hadn't been cleaned and the animals who had stayed the night before had opened every packet of sugar, creamer, coffee, whatever. Everything was astrew and, best of all, the disgusting people who had left this room like this has also filled out their comment card. "Blow dryer is broken!!!" they moaned. Yeesh.

I called the front desk. The poor guy sounded so overwhelmed by my flightmates I decided to clean up the room myself. Then I walked to the Pilot gas station for dinner: Cheetos and Milkduds.

Oh well. It's been a long day. I hope I get back to Vegas on Monday as planned. But rather than end it with a downer, I'd rather think of this cute little face:

I had kept my sister apprised of my troubled travels, and when I landed in SLC and turned on the phone, there was a text message from her. It read: "Uncle Steven, this is Daniel. I told you you shouldn't have left today! I miss you so much! I love you! Come back really soon!"

Sigh. What I wouldn't give for that purple bed right now.