Saturday, March 8, 2008

"Gambling is worse than crack because it's mental"

See, she lacked self-control and that's not her fault. Hell, her losses are a conspiracy! Read on...

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (March 8) AP - She was an ambitious lawyer and TV commentator who started going to Atlantic City casinos to relax, and soon was getting high-roller treatment that included limousines whisking her to the resort city.

Arelia Margarita Taveras says she was even allowed to bring her dog, Sasha, to the blackjack tables, sitting in her purse.

But her gambling spun out of control: She said she would go days at a time at the tables, not eating or sleeping, brushing her teeth with disposable wipes so she did not have to leave.

She says her losses totaled nearly $1 million.

Now she is chasing the longest of long shots: a $20 million racketeering lawsuit in federal court against six Atlantic City casinos and one in Las Vegas, claiming they had a duty to notice her compulsive gambling problem and cut her off.

"They knew I was going for days without eating or sleeping," Taveras said. "I would pass out at the tables. They had a duty to care of me. Nobody in their right mind would gamble for four or five straight days without sleeping."

Experts say her case will be difficult to prove, but it provides an unusually detailed window into the life of a problem gambler.

"It's like crack, only gambling is worse than crack because it's mental," said Taveras, 37, a New Yorker who now lives in Minnesota. "It creeps up on you, the impulse. It's a sickness."

She lost her law practice, her apartment, her parents' home, and owes the IRS $58,000. She said she even considered swerving into oncoming traffic to kill herself.

In interviews with The Associated Press, Taveras admitted she dipped into her clients' escrow accounts to finance her gambling habit. She was disbarred last June, and faces criminal charges stemming from those actions, but is trying to work out restitution agreements in order to avoid a prison term.

Her lawsuit names Resorts Atlantic City, Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, the Tropicana Casino Resort, the Showboat Casino Hotel, Bally's Atlantic City, as well as the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

The casinos deny any wrongdoing, maintaining in court papers that Taveras brought her problems on herself. Casino representatives either declined to comment for this report or did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Read the rest here.

Thoughts? I've often wondered how the casinoes have kept themselves out of court while gun manufacturers, cigarette companies and taverns all have been creamed in court. I mean, it's not like there's any shortage of money-sucking attorneys in Vegas.

Of course, it looks like this particular test case is a bit flawed as the plaintiff is an attorney with a bit of an checkered history anyhow. Apparently she's been charged with stealing money from the survivors of 9/11 victims. Nice.

Friday, March 7, 2008

That Big Thing I've Been Hinting At...

The trouble with hyping something is that heightened expectations are so easy to disappoint. And the importance of this story may not be readily apparent to everyone. You might recall earlier this week I beat up on a snooty critic who felt himself clever reciting the hackneyed old view of Vegas as, in his words, "a steroidal temple of tackiness."

Well, in the same pages as that phrase appeared, I'm breaking on Saturday an exclusive in The New York Times about a $40 million public art program at MGM Mirage's CityCenter. You can read all about it here.

Why is this such a big deal?

To start with, the artists involved are the Elvises (Elvi?) of their worlds. None is more amazing than Maya Lin, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial sculptress. She's creating a $3 million, 130-foot cast-silver representation of the Colorado River. Some pieces are being created, others are being acquired. Among the artists is Jenny Holzer, Claes Oldenburg, Frank Stella, Henry Moore, Richard Long and Nancy Rubins.

Don't worry; I wasn't that familiar with all of them either before I caught wind of this story. That's why I grabbed some images of what some of the pieces will look like.

First, here's the Henry Moore piece, which MGM Mirage paid $7 million for:

This here is the Claes Oldenburg piece, called "Typewriter Eraser X"...

The wackiest of the pieces may be the Nancy Rubins piece. She takes boats and stuff and turns them into a gargantuan tree, and this one will be 85-by-65-feet big. The images below show roughly where it'll be and what it looks like, which provides if nothing else a pretty cool new visual perspective on CityCenter. The Times has a slideshow, but these weren't included:

But the big deal here is that this plan has the potential to kick off an arts arms race in Las Vegas that really could turn the town into a destination for cultural tourists. Sure, we've had small Strip museums -- Bellagio and Venetian and, before he realized Rolexes provide better profits, Wynn Las Vegas -- but those are one aspect.

This collection -- along with the impressive architects involved with CityCenter -- singlehandedly changed the view of Las Vegas for art critic Joan Altabe, who I had quoted in a piece in the Times in 2002 railing against putting great art in a city where everything is so fake. How, she wondered, would people even know they were looking at the real thing with all the reproductions of famous cities and frescos around them?

In a comment that got cut from the Times piece because of space constraints, she said: “This is going to put Vegas on the map in a totally different way. Someone with an art mind is working here. I’m dazzled by this. It’s a step away from what I thought was a failing idea.”

You can hear a longer conversation with the wonderful Maya Lin next week on "The Strip Podcast." And I guess that's one other reason I'm so jazzed; every time Vegas goes in a new and unexpected direction, it provides me with an opportunity to learn something new from nothing less than the biggest names in their fields.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Do Comics Owe Us Corrections, Too?

I've been busy focusing on the mainstream media a lot this week, but I wondered if Bill Maher owes us a correction. I just heard the podcast edition of his Feb. 29 episode of "Real Time with Bill Maher" on HBO. Here's what he said:

"I know we're fighting them over there so they can't get us here, but today in Las Vegas they found a vial of deadly ricin gas. Sure, it could be terrorism. They say it may be terrorism, it may not be terrorism but it's Vegas, they don't like to judge. Yeah, they found this gas at a motel. There were eight people passed out on the floor. Well, seven from the ricin and then there was David Hasselhoff, he was just eating a hamburger."

It apparently takes a LOT of important factual errors -- it was ricin powder and nobody was found passed out -- to mold one really unfunny punchline.

Do comedians owe it to anybody to get it right?

Further Tales of The Las Vegas Sun Disaster


Like many of you, I've wanted to know more about what happened to create the disastrous story by Las Vegas Sun reporter Joe Schoenmann that led to a 535-word correction in Tuesday's newspaper. Since I blogged about it the other day, the correction has risen to No. 9 on the most-read list on the Sun's website and has garnered the attention of several news outlets including Editor & Publisher, the industry trade, which wrote this.

There's more.

I just got off the line with Tom Warden, the spokesman for Summerlin, who opened up about what happened, how his company reacted and how that shocking correction came to exist.

The original Feb. 26 story depicting Summerlin residents as racists ran in the wake of a shooting that killed a white teenage boy. Warden's first reaction was to call Schoenmann that day to complain about what he saw as factual errors and reporter bias. As the correction notes, Schoenmann had quoted anonymous racist postings from the Review-Journal site by people who claimed to be Summerlin residents, although there's no way of knowing and sources within the Review-Journal have told me that the posters' IP addresses showed that they probably were not. (Also, more than one posting came from the same IP address, I'm told.)

Schoenmann didn't budge about this or any other clear-cut mistake. "He thought it was a good story," Warden said. "I would not call it a productive conversation. I told him there were factual errors in the story. He didn’t think there were."

Oh, but there were. And as Warden prepared to contact Schoenmann's boss, Managing Editor Mike Kelley, he opened the Feb. 27 issue of the newspaper to find a Mike Smith cartoon and a letter to the editor from a Susan M. Gaffney of North Las Vegas that asked Summerlinites: "Do you honestly believe that hte location or size of your home, what you drive, how you look or where your children attend school protects you from reality?"

Here is the cartoon:

Warden said Summerlin folks felt kicked in the gut a second time. He and Summerlin executive Kevin Orrock went to Kelley's office for a half-hour conversation two days later, on Feb. 29. Schoenmann was not present; Warden would not say who, besides he, Kelley and Orrock, was.

Warden stressed repeatedly that the conversation was cordial and Kelley promised to look into the list of complaints he brought. There was no threat of advertising or access withdrawal and Warden said his side stressed from the beginning that they have great respect for the Greenspun family of companies. (That family includes the branch that developed Green Valley, the other major master-planned community in the region.)

Sun sources tell me Kelley himself wrote the March 4 correction. I've reached out to both Schoenmann and Kelley, but I have not heard back. (In fairness, I only reached out to Kelley within the past hour because I wanted to hear from Warden first. I contacted Joe yesterday and received no reply.)

The Summerlin brass are sated. "I had never seen a correction of that length," Warden said. "They took into account every single one of the issues I brought up. We’re gratified that the leadership stepped in and acknowledged the shortcomings."

That said, I have a minor correction to make myself. In my March 1 blog entry, I credited Joe with having quoted a Summerlin executive. Sadly, this, too, is not true. Schoenmann did NOT contact anyone in any official capacity for his piece; the person I thought was a Summerlin executive in a very quick reading was actually a consultant who has not done work for the developer for a while. It is shocking anew that a journalist did not give the developer a chance to respond to such a characterization of their community but then would refuse to even acknowledge shortcomings of the story when called on it.

Warden isn't quite sure how this story happened and said he was not given an explanation by Kelley. His theory: "I would say that there may be a bit of a blind spot out there amongst some of the younger journalists that anonymous blogs are not valid news sources. I was surprised that they would use an anonymous news site as a source for statements unattributed. Blogs can be excellent pubic forums for discussion, but there’s a different standard that you would use for a news piece."

That's charitable, but Schoenmann is in his 30s and has been in this business for more than a decade.

Should Schoenmann face some disciplinary action? "That’s not for us to say," Warden said. "That’s for the Sun’s leadership to determine. I will say we certainly wouldn’t mind if the reporter called to apologize."


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Just In Time For Our First Anniversary...

Miles and I will be celebrating our 1st wedding anniversary this month with a vacation to Switzerland. (Yay, us!) But before that, I revisited our wedding for a special Vegas issue of The Advocate, the GLBT newsmag.

You can read that essay here. The issue covers all things Vegas, with an exuberant Bette Midler on the cover.

Also, I'll be appearing at The Advocate's issue party on Monday, March 10, at 10:30 p.m. at Ivan Kane's 40 Deuce bar at Mandalay Bay. On Monday nights, they have male burlesque dancers; the rest of the week it's ladies.

It's free and open to the public.

More on the Las Vegas Sun mess

I've reached out to Joe Schoenmann about that epic correction and hope to hear back from him. That said, one of the commenters did raise a point that is extremely disturbing.

Damon Hodge, a writer for the Las Vegas Weekly where I do a column, wrote this short piece in July 2007 about having his confidence betrayed by a friend and fellow journalist. He does not name Schoenmann in it, but he gives loads of detail that lead directly to Joe for anyone who knows him. Not to mention, Hodge states he was directly quoted and named in a piece about messy 2007 NBA All-Star Weekend in Vegas after he explicitly said the conversation was off-record.

According to Hodge: "This guy published his friend’s comments along with his friend’s name, leaving his intentions on after-hours’ voicemail: “[blah, blah, blah] cool ... [blah, blah, blah] ... thanks ... [blah, blah, blah] Oh, and I’m going to use your quotes.” Ain’t this a bitch."

I did find the piece he's referring to and, yes, it was Schoenmann who wrote it. You can read it here on this PDF. But you can't read it on the Sun's actual website. For some reason, it's no longer there. See? (UPDATE: A commenter found the correct link on the Sun site. It's here.)

I fear a disturbing pattern is beginning to emerge here. Pulling that sort of switcheroo is a major ethical foul to begin with. Now stir in the calculation that, as a fellow writer at another publication in the same group there wouldn't be much Hodge could do about it. And add the fact that Schoenmann has, once again, opted to reach media insiders -- in addition to Hodge, he also quotes a Kansas City writer -- for comment, which is a pretty easy way to operate. (In the Summerlin piece, Joe quoted the wife of the owner of one of the largest PR firms in Nevada.)

I don't know where this is going. I do know that Joe has been viewed and treated for some time as a golden child at the Sun and that many of his colleagues were aghast when the Summerlin piece ran, as they should have been. It's all very disturbing.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

We'll Never Learn




The AP, Fox, MSNBC and CNN have already called Vermont for Barack Obama and John McCain. The polls have only been closed for 13 minutes there and not a single vote total has been released. I know they've got their exit polls and all that jazz, but I really thought these TV stations had learned not to do this. It serves absolutely NOBODY'S interest to call races before ANY votes have been counted. And every single time these projections prove wrong, the networks promise not to do it again.

So pathetic. It's NOT OK, just because polling shows something to be so.

Bam! The Strip is LIVE Tonight With Emeril Lagasse

Join us as always tonight at 7:05 p.m. PT for the live version of "The Strip," this time featuring star chef Emeril Lagasse and a chat with resurgent Strip star Tina Walsh, now starring in "Phantom" and subject of my current Las Vegas Weekly column.

Come on down to LVROCKS.Com for the live chat and hear us make all the mistakes we iron out of the show for the podcast version.

Or be that way and hear the show when it's posted on Thursday.

And yes, I asked Emeril the all-important question about his fast-food preferences. Ha.

A Correction of Breathtaking Proportions

(UPDATE 9:48 a.m. PT: I've reached out to Joe to get his reaction. Will post it if he is willing and permitted to respond. In the meantime, read a new development here.)
(UPDATE 6:23 pm PT: The correction is now appended to the top of the story on the Web.)

Read this. All of it. Click on it to make it big enough to see. Now. Then we'll talk.

Wow. I had to scan this in because the Las Vegas Sun didn't post it on their pretty new Web site. They also didn't append it to the Web version of the story that spawned it, as is standard for most newspapers. Perhaps that's because had they done so, they would have had to let everyone see just how much of a lie the closing statement is: "All these errors tended to give the story an anti-Summerlin tone, which was not intended... ." That's funny because, from the very first sentences of the piece, it was clear that the entire intention was to snark about the rich, white-bread, partly racist, insulated folks of Summerlin and how fitting it was that a white local high school student would be gunned down to shatter the myth and ignorance of Summerlinsers. And this sentence surely wasn't intended to be fair: "The picture painted by the numbers, then, shows that contrary to the rosy marketing and public relations image, Summerlin is far from immune to the ills found in any major community."

I must say I am clobbered by the shoddiness of the original piece mainly because its author, Joe Schoenmann, is generally a terrific reporter and a wonderful writer. I've known Joe since our days working together in the late 1990s at the Review-Journal, I've referred many editors to him when I either can't or didn't want to do certain freelance assignments and I've often said that I'm lucky he never decided to freelance or I might really have some competition in this town from someone else who, like me, has the versatility to handle just about anything.

But yikes-o-rama on this one. He used comments from anonymous crazies on the R-J Web site to attempt to reflect the views of some proportion of something as mammoth as one of the largest master-planned developments in America, with a 100,000+ population larger than most U.S. cities? He mocks the sales brochure of Summerlin which is, after all, a sales brochure and reads like any you'll ever see anywhere? What does anyone expect it to say, "It's kinda nice living up here, but just in case we give every family a Lo-Jack"?

Most disturbing about this piece is that its thesis was predetermined -- gangbanging invades pristine Summerlin! -- and filled in by some truly lazy reporting that led to some of the serious factual mistakes found in there. It's clear Joe didn't leave his desk for this one, which is OK in some cases; I am, after all, the guy who covered the Monte Carlo fire from New York City, though not because I wanted to. But Joe is writing specifically about a geographic region and the views of its residents and he didn't go to the school grounds or neighborhoods to talk to anyone? The sources quoted in the piece are, in total:

* A school board member
* A Summerlin executive
* Anonymous kooks writing on a Web site
* As a "woman on the street," (journalism parlance for an average person reflective of general sentiment), the wife of one of the most prominent public relations gurus in the state.

This correction also took a full week in coming. And I'd love to know what happened behind the scenes over there. I mean, it is a full-fledged grovel to Summerlin. In fact, some of it is unnecessary self-flagellation pointing up problems in the piece that actually aren't correction-worthy.

It can't be that they were threatened with legal action, as who would the plaintiffs be? Could it be that the Summerlin brass exploded and made a threat to withhold advertising? Cried foul that the Sun, owned by the Greenspun family, is an arch-rival as developers of Green Valley and would never write such a piece about their own territory where, presumably, the brochures also don't advertise the crime rate?

But wait, the Las Vegas Sun doesn't have advertising; it's folded into the R-J, which carries all the advertising water and shares it with them in some insignificant way that can't possibly cover the Sun's operating expenses. Oh, but Greenspun Media Group has lots of other publications (full disclosure: I write for two, Vegas Magazine and Las Vegas Weekly), so maybe that's where the threats came from?

Or, perhaps, the Sun's editors realized that they'd made an honest-to-goodness &%&W#-up and just wanted to come clean for the sake of integrity. If so, bravo. A nine-paragraph correction is above-and-beyond.

Anyway, I'm really disappointed by Joe on this one. Sometimes we get complacent, and I hope he's learned not to do that with this experience. If you want to see just how good he can be, check out this Las Vegas Life piece on brothel fugitive Joe Conforte. Brilliant.

Monday, March 3, 2008

"A Steroidal Temple of Tackiness"

Today's New York Times carried a very odd review of "The Showgirl Must Go On" in which reviewer Charles Isherwood does his level best to simultaneously fawn over Bette Midler and kick Las Vegas repeatedly in the nuts.

He begins with a description of Vegas as -- and you can tell he's chuffed with himself for writing it -- "this sprawling gambling mecca, a steroidal temple of tackiness." He also takes a predictable slap at the length of Vegas productions as "apparently the maximum time audiences here will agree to be entertained away from the slots and tables." And, of course, he again attacks the unwashed millions (yes, you) who visit by referring to them as "masses who flock to this city in stupefying numbers in fervid search of ways to get rid of their money."

There is so much wrong with these arrogant, ill-informed statements from a man best known for writing the biography of a dead porn star that it'll probably spawn an entire Las Vegas Weekly column next week. But it's especially funny to me considering the whopper of an exclusive I'm about to break in the very same section of the very same periodical by week's end, one that should prove once and for all that (a) Vegas isn't tacky anymore and (b) the high-brow, elite Isherwoodsian world better get used to (a).

That said, I can't help reacting right here and now to just one of his ad hominem attacks. And, as an aside, one of the sad parts here is that his critique of the show itself is pretty dead-on and, in many places, quite well-written. (He calls the opening number "blazingly funny"; some of the choreography "delightful"; likens playing the ginormous Colosseum stage to "putting a Broadway show on a subway platform.")

But Isherwood also, unnecessarily and bafflingly, asked: "Is it a little dismaying for longtime fans of Ms. Midler to find her installed in Las Vegas as the latest luxury product for high rollers in a city awash in them?"

I guess in New York City, where people spend far higher prices on hotel rooms, fancy meals, tourist attractions and show and concert tickets, there's nothing so insulting about being treated as a product? Evidently to the Isherwood set, commerce in the arts is only inoffensive when it takes place in Manhattan.

I wonder, honestly, whether Isherwood knows that Radio City Musical Hall next week is hosting the, uh, MYSPACE MUSIC TOUR! I mean, what a trashy town they have there!

Can you bet on the election in Vegas?

My father just called. He was asking me to find out the Vegas betting-line odds on the presidential election. I was bemused and explained to him that there is no such thing. The Brits are known for this sort of thing, but I don't believe that betting on electoral politics in the United States is legal. I mean, how would that work, anyway? What sort of handicapping would go on?

Sometimes, I told him laughing, casinos put out odds just for fun on some things. He seemed convinced such a betting construct exists.

Am I right or wrong?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Don't You Wish She Was Yours?

Much is said and written about how well ex-mob mouthpiece Oscar Goodman fits the role of Vegas mayor, but few outside of our area are aware of just how perfectly Rep. Shelley Berkley fits as the sole member of Congress to represent the Las Vegas Strip. And I was reminded of this spotting Molly Ball's Review-Journal item today about pointing out that her supporters at the recent Clark County Democratic Convention were wearing T-shirts with this unabashed, leggy logo. I scanned and enlarged from the paper it because I couldn't find the image online anywhere.

Anyhow, this is not a political statement: Berkley is the perfect Vegas counterpart to Goodman. The former casino cocktail waitress is loud, brassy and unashamed by anything about the city. Heck, she spoke openly on "The Strip" in February 2006 about her cosmetic surgery, joking about attracting the youth vote and spawning the first really big moment of coverage for our little show in Roll Call and on the Drudge Report.

What's more, take a quick look at her campaign website for one simple reason: I am quite sure she's the only member of Congress whose site has THAT icon following around your cursor.