Friday, October 24, 2008

Can You Spot All The Cliches?

Oh brother. CBS News decided to analyze contributions from gaming moguls to John McCain's presidential campaign. It's one of the silliest things I've seen in the network news in quite a long time. See for yourself...

Watch CBS Videos Online

Can we count the Vegas cliches?

* They're always Vegas "tycoons" and "titans" aren't they? Do they call the CEOs of GM and Chrysler "auto moguls"?

* Which one, Steve Wynn or Sheldon Adelson (mispronounced, of course), does this twit think equals Elliot Gould?

* Why is she focusing on Adelson and Wynn who have a combined three casinos in Vegas and none elsewhere while not mentioning Terry Lanni, another McCain co-chair, whose MGM Mirage owns 10 resorts in Vegas, two in Reno and five in other U.S. states?

* Why is the notion of campaign cash for access portrayed as novel and shady when it's Vegas but not when it's, say, Hollywood? Something tells me movie studio execs have given more than the collective $1.2 million she's "caught" the gaming bosses giving this year. What's their evil motive?

* She couldn't reach Wynn or Adelson, so she grabs some schlub from Gaming Today that nobody's ever heard of before to talk -- not very eloquently -- about the intersection of politics and gaming? What, CBS has never heard of Jon Ralston? Erin Neff? Molly Ball? J. Patrick Coolican? George Knapp? Dave Berns? Jeff Simpson? John L. Smith? In this day and age of belt-tightening, CBS spent all that money to send her to Vegas to do a hackneyed piece in which she conducts but one interview, that with a doddering fool?

* Gotta love the Three-McCain slot reel at the end. That's a good one for the casinos to think about putting on the machines for Halloween. You know, for a good scare.

What's most bizarre about this report is not that they decided to take an interest in campaign donations. That's a fine idea. It's that they did it without any context at all.

The reporter, Sharyl Attkisson, doesn't actually compare this year to any other election year, she just claims it's different this time out and then asks the clueless, ineloquent schlub that nobody's ever heard of to explain why. She states that Steve Wynn is a Democrat, but my instinct is that's not true. I do know that Elaine Wynn made a big deal about changing her registration to Democrat to participate in the caucuses in January and at the time I thought she said that this is a bit of a political schism between the couple. Either way, the reporter ignores the fact that Mrs. Wynn is one of Barack Obama's biggest boosters in Nevada and she's thrown fundraisers for the Democrat, too.

There's more. Attkisson acknowledges McCain's opposition to sports betting and his frustration that the gaming lobby batted it off, but she doesn't bother to use the footage of him more recently explaining his broader views on the gaming business. She doesn't take note of the fact that he's been supportive of Indian gaming in his home state of Arizona. She doesn't provide any information at all on either McCain or Obama's current views on gaming. And she seems to believe that the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-SIN CITY, would let any Congress screw too badly with his own state's golden geese.

And here's the best part. The reporter suggests that Wynn and Adelson are afraid of a "hike on the tax on gaming." Uh, hello. There is no federal tax on gaming revenues. Sorry, lady. Oops.

Finally, in typecasting Wynn and Adelson, it clearly escapes Attkisson's imagination that they might have many reasons, not just concerns about raising a tax that doesn't exist. In Adelson's case, for instance, he's obsessed with Israel. He believes McCain is better on Israel. That, as much as anything else, dictates his politics. And maybe they, like most rich corporate CEOs, are just more inclined to support Republicans. You know, like in every other industry.

I will give her one teeny-tiny thing. Somehow she managed not to work What Happens Here Stays Here. Thank goodness for small favors.

Two Things That Shocked Me Yesterday

I am not easily shocked. I am, after all, the guy who just posted an interview with Tony Curtis in which the 83-year-old talks about walking around Central Park with spunk dripping down his leg. So, really.

But yesterday, two things stunned me.

First, I was en route to the Bellagio for lunch with sources and I'd forgotten my iPod, so I was stuck listening to KNPR's fall membership pledge drive. On comes Ira Glass, the host of "This American Life." Glass calls up some guy who Glass has been told is a non-contributing listener. Ira gets the poor fellow on the line and proceeds to humiliate him, getting to him to admit how cheap he is and how he loves getting away with free stuff. The ne'er-do-well listener, clearly a Glass fan who is both thrilled to be speaking to him and crushed this is how that came to happen, repeatedly stutters his apologies and vows to send in some money.

Uh, holy crap. It was shocking. Impossible not to listen to and entertaining in a Jerry Springer way, but shocking. And people don't listen to NPR for that kind of entertainment, do they? It seemed like this was a national fundraising segment Glass had produced and not an attack on a specific Vegas-area listener, but he did conclude by warning that people should give since, "Aren't you a little bit like that guy?" And I'm sitting there telling the radio, "Uh, no. I give every frigging month."

I do wonder, though, how a non-giver would actually react to such an admonition. These pledge appeals don't ordinarily wander into blatant "You're a BAD person if you don't give" territory. They just encourage giving by positive reinforcement and, yes, some carefully worded guilt. This went beyond that motif into shaming people.

Speaking of guilt... the second thing. Miles and I were watching Fox News last night and this ad comes on. Watch it. Now.

Wow. Yes, this is a site for heterosexual adulterers being advertised prominently on a news channel that shills for the "family values" agenda! Evidently, ESPN actually banned the same company from advertising recently. Here's a Reuters report about that:

I love the part in that report where the AshleyMadison.Com dude claims this sort of activity is no different than ESPN accepting "What Happens Here Stays Here" ads for Las Vegas. Somehow I think this is a wee bit different.

Fox News, however, evidently does not. When ESPN ran these ads, they did so after 11 p.m. Fox News, however, had them airing even earlier.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

More on Criss Angel's No. 1 Claims

As I wrote yesterday, illusionist Criss Angel told Norm Clarke the other day that he had the No. 1 show in Vegas, the No. 1 Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas and the No. 1 show on television. I found each of these notions dubious for different reasons. Richard Abowitz also scratched his head.

Today I spoke to Cirque spokeswoman Anita Nelving for an explanation. She acknowledged there's no way for anyone to know who has the No. 1 show in Vegas since nobody shares their sales figures. Likewise, she agreed the No. 1 show on TV thing was out there.

As for the No. 1 Cirque show in Vegas, she says that Criss does have access to the internal numbers and he is correct inasmuch as the show is selling the most tickets on a daily basis than the others. She also said that is to be expected, seeing how it is brand new and it hasn't officially opened yet. After our phone call, Nelving sent me this statement:

"With a $5 million advance, we are very happy with sales for CRISS ANGEL Believe. Each show has been sold out to date. In terms of daily sales, currently Believe is averaging higher or equal to our other top-selling productions in Las Vegas."

And I still think that the most objective measure is TicketNews.Com, which I referenced yesterday. But that, too, comes with a caveat. According an email from Justin Robert Young of the iTricks Criss Angel Podcast, Believe was No. 3, behind Bette and Cher, a few weeks ago at TicketNews. That, too, makes it the No. 1 Cirque show at least for that moment.

Make of it what you will. It doesn't really matter at this stage. Let's regroup in six months and then we might have a barometer of how the show is doing.

The Show is UP: Tony Curtis Revealed Part I

Fair warning this week: there's some downright graphic sexual stuff in this episode of the Strip that came as a shock even to hardened chat-room denizens when we aired it Tuesday night for the live show. I'm not just trying to tantalize you. The word "ejaculate" arises at least once in this interview. And more to come next week, although nothing quite so intense. Click on the date to hear it or right-click to download the show and listen whenever you want. Or subscribe via iTunes here or via Zune here.

Oct. 23: Tony Curtis, Part I

Fifty years ago, there were few Hollywood heartthrobs hotter than Tony Curtis. This month, the star of "Some Like It Hot" and "The Defiant Ones" published a memoir of those glory days in which he recounts in great detail his almost compulsive sex life, his troubled childhood, his celebrity feuds and his triumph over a late-career cocaine addiction. As gripping as the book was, the interview about the book was even better, more detailed, more telling.

In banter: Harrah's woes, the M blimp revisited and why didn't the Bellagio have a 10th birthday party.


Steve’s piece on Tony Curtis for USA Today is here
Tony Curtis’s Wikipedia entry is here
Jon Ralston’s take on the Palin’s Nevada appearance here
See pictures from the Palin rally and see the McCain song sheet music here
Read more about the Michelin star decisions here
The Arnold Knightley’s R-J piece on Harrah’s fiscal woes is here

CA's Gay Marriage Fight In Nevada

I woke up a little earlier than usual today and the local papers were a faster read than even they usually are today, so when I spotted a piece on the website of The Advocate about Mormons bankrolling the campaign to ban gay marriage in California and Arizona, I had a little time to do a little looking around.

As you may or may not know, the California Supreme Court earlier this year decided that gays and straights both have the right to marry under the state's constitution. That kicked off an effort known as Prop 8, which would re-ban same-sex marriage. It is now, according to this report, among the most expensive campaigns ever waged over a social issue. The latest poll shows the pro-gay side with a nice lead, but that comes after two polls that found the opposite. Who really knows. In Arizona, there's also a ballot measure out there. I don't know where that stands, but it's not as big a deal only because same-sex marriage isn't already legal right now there.

But Nevada is packed to the gills with Mormons. Rich ones. And so I wondered whether they were giving much to the California effort to keep gays from matrimony.

Turns out, a lot. Nevadans so far have given $48,750 to the anti-gay side and $17,860 to the pro-gay side. That's almost 3-to-1 against the gays. It's also interesting to note that each side had 52 donors, so the anti-gay folks are just giving more.

The records on this on the California Secretary of State's website showed some substantial donations to the anti-gay side, including a $5,000 donation from the Coalition For the Protection of Marriage in Nevada, a group behind the successful efforts in 2000 and 2002 to pass an initiative that wrote into the state constitution that marriage is only for heterosexuals. Western States Dental Equipment in Las Vegas gave $2,300, a retired Henderson woman named Mauretia Peterson gave $3,000, The X-Factor Systems LLC in Henderson gave $5,000, the Paradise Group in Las Vegas gave $3,000, JK Management Inc. gave $2,000, orthodontist John Griffiths gave $2,000 and Equity Group Management gave $2,000.

The pro-gay side was more modest. The two largest donations were $3,000 each, one from Harrah's VP Michael Weaver and another from Ken Smith, former board president for Las Vegas' Gay and Lesbian Community Center. Gwen Migita, who heads up Harrah's diversity efforts, gave $250. None of the other well-known gay activists in the state have evidently given a dime, even though many of them continue to flood my email box with campaign literature germane to Prop 8. That's kind of odd. Otherwise, the only other donations of more than $1,000 came from Kol Entertainment Corp of America in Carson City and Jane A. Leyland a NASA research engineer in Reno.

Nobody from MGM Mirage's corporate brass gave so far as I can tell, but Bellagio's head carpenter, Tracy Stark, gave $100 to save same-sex marriage.

The California gay-marriage issue is of interest and concern outside the Golden State partly because Nevada casino interests have said they hoped to grab a piece of the gay honeymooning pie and, also, because California allows couples from other states to marry there. Massachusetts, the only other state with legal marriage, only recently started allowing that as well.

There do seem to be other matters of concern to officials from Nevada gaming interests going on in California this election cycle. Among them:

* Station Casinos gave a total of $101,733 to a long list of California politicians, which makes sense since they have stakes in the Thunder Valley casino near Sacramento. Oddly, they gave $10,000 to the Democratic State Central Committee of California under their corporate name and $4,900 to the state's Republican Party under the label of Ultimate Fighting Championship. Both are owned by the Fertitta family.

* Terry Lanni, MGM CEO, gave $1,000 to elect Democrat Mark Ridley-Thomas, currently a state senator, to become an L.A. County supervisor. That's random, but he does have a home in the L.A. area.

* Gary Jacobs, MGM Mirage Executive VP, gave $1,600 to support passage of Prop 2, which would require more humane treatment of farm animals. That's nice.

* Sierra Pacific, the public power company based in Reno that just merged with Nevada Power to become NV Energy, gave $43,600 to various California politicians.

Oh! And this cracked me up. Two Tahoe-area ski resorts gave substantial sums to the California Snow Political Committee. I didn't know precipitation required lobbyists. I Googled and was unable to figure out what they do. They're pro-snow? Someone's gotta be, huh?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Adam Goldman Rocks

Many veteran Vegas watchers know the name Adam Goldman because he was the first Associated Press reporter to cover gaming and the Vegas tourism industry as a serious beat. Among his most significant efforts while here was a dogged battle to force the feds to come clean about its probe into the 2003 tiger-mauling that ended Siegfried & Roy's stage career.

Adam's also one of my closest friends and stood up for Miles and me at our wedding. Here, in fact, is the cute shot of me and Adam on the deck of the Fantasy Tower suite where we got married.

Adam has been in the AP's New York bureau for a few years now. And for the past few weeks, he's been marooned in Anchorage, Alaska, to cover the Sarah Palin beat. He'll be up there through the election, in fact. He was the one who managed to track down Bristol Palin's baby daddy about 10 days ago and he's now been instrumental in the story that broke this week that the GOP's veep candidate was charging travel expenses for her children to her state.

Now it is brought to my attention that Adam's been deservedly rewarded for his efforts. Here's a memo posted on the site of the most popular journalism blog explaining how he landed the Levi Johnston story. He gets a $500 bonus for it, too!

Criss Angel and Ticket Sales Mindfreaking

Criss Angel, who has been on something of a media lockdown since negative reports about his Cirque show began trickling out, this week called up Norm Clarke at the Review-Journal to brag about how amazing his ticket sales have been for the show, which officially opens on Halloween.

"I believe we're beating 'Love' and 'O' and every Cirque show, and we're now the No. 1 or No. 1 best-selling show in Vegas," he claims. Reviews don't matter, Angel tells Norm, because audiences are "the ones that made me the No. 1 show on television and made me the No. 1 Cirque show in Vegas."

That's both a surprising AND unconfirmable claim. (Well, the no. 1 show on television claim is just plain ridiculous, actually.) Only Cirque and MGM Mirage know what ticket sales are and how they compare to other productions, and they're not now nor shall they ever tell. I have heard through sources, however, that RSVPs for the media show on Oct. 30 have been lackluster.

But here's the thing: I've been listening to the iTricks Criss Angel Watch Podcast lately. The host, Justin Robert Young, does a weekly show in which he keeps referring to the only public ranking of Vegas show sales I've ever heard of.

Young cites TicketNews.Com, a ticket broker, each week. And according to TicketNews.Com, for the week ending Oct. 19, "Criss Angel Believe" is ranked the fifth best-selling show in Vegas behind Love, O, Bette and Elton John. From what I can tell, in fact, this is the highest ranking the Criss Angel show has attained to date. Take a look:

The list kinda makes me sad because the odd Cirques out here are Mystere and Ka, which are also my favorites.

TicketNews.Com is an interesting resource because it is objective. They just create a listing of the most-bought tickets through their service. Here is how they explain their methodology:

TicketNews Exclusive Rankings and Power Scores are based on ticket sales from the TicketNetwork Exchange™, the world's largest secondary market exchange. A Power Score illustrates a given event's category-specific significance. Two factors are used to calculate a power score: total ticket sales from the given event and total ticket sales within the category. As such, power scores should only be used to compare events within a particular category.

I don't know whether Angel has access to data the rest of us don't. But I don't think that his claims should be published without demanding proof.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Friess Curse Is Over!

In my entire journalistic career, I have only ever covered presidential and vice presidential campaign losers. Dole, Kemp, Gore, Liebeman, Kerry and Edwards. They can all blame me. It was starting to weigh heavily on my mind this year as I've covered Obama, Clinton, Dodd, Biden, Romney, Huckabee, Richardson and, again, Edwards. The one time I was supposed to cover John McCain, he showed up 15 minutes early for a press conference and it only lasted 5 minutes. I showed up on time and totally missed him.

Well, the curse is now officially over. I covered Gov. Sarah Palin speaking in Henderson today. One way or the other, now, I will have been in the presence of the winner. I now officially am not responsible for the outcome of this election. What a relief. Here's the proof:

OK, she's hard to see. But look below at the enormity of the crowd at the Henderson Pavilion that Palin bafflingly referred to being delighted she was visiting the UNLV campus, which she was nowhere near. (Looking forward to seeing if anyone in the local press caught that since nobody nationally would've known the difference.)

In fact, the crowds were so huge that they had to put up huge screens for the overflow crowd that couldn't make it into the Pavilion proper, see?

Oh! Oh! Oh! I almost TOTALLY forgot! Just days after I listened on my iPod to a great NPR report about the history of presidential campaign songs, an art that evidently has gone by the wayside in our modern era, it so happens John McCain has one! They handed out this sheet music at the Palin rally today.

No, really. This is a real thing. It's copyrighted to a fellow named James Mann of Los Angeles. C'mon... Vote! Vote! Vote! Win! Win! Win! What other words could you possibly want in a campaign ditty? But, seriously, is McCain really shy or is that just an effort to make a rhyme? Why not the more age-appropriate "spry"?

Sadly, there was no Palinista sing-along in Henderson. Anyone out there who can read sheet music want to sing it for me? Leave it at (206) 424-4737. I'm dying to know how these brilliant lyrics leap off the page.

The Strip is LIVE tonight w/Tony Curtis!

Hey kids, we're live tonight at LVRocks.Com. And we're starting at about 6:45 p.m. PT tonight since now we have that show after us and we can't go long anymore. Boo.

Anyhow, we'll have the first parts of my Tony Curtis interview for USA Today, a whole bunch of news and a Top Secret Tourist Tip that I suspect Miles may not like very much.

Listen live and join us in the chat or catch the podcast later in the week. Your call.

Am I the only one...

...who thinks that this...

...looks like the brochure for a nursing home?

It's not. It's the cover of the invitation for the Nov. 11 opening of the latest Station Casino, Aliante Station, which is so far north in the Las Vegas Valley that you might want to bring your passport just in case. Here's the other side of the invite, which promises great opening night entertainment. Last time, with Red Rock, that meant Sting.

Here's what the place looks like from the outside:

It cost $675 million and has 200 rooms. Red Rock or Green Valley Ranch it's clearly not. I'm sure it'll be nice, though. I just think they could've picked a more lively motif for a, uh, CASINO, than the silhouette of a pair of birds, is all.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A busy weekend

I'm recovering a bit today from a whirlwind of a weekend, even by my own standards. Aside from following the case of the missing 6-year-old boy who happily was found late Saturday -- necessitating my attendance at a 12:30 a.m. press conference on Sunday -- I also had to go cover President Clinton's Vegas appearance. I didn't write anything for that because it was more of a babysitting job, but here's Molly Ball's account from the R-J. Since he made no gaffes and offered just the predictable campaign rhetoric, it wasn't worth a national story.

But there's more! First, on Friday night, my friend Trevor and I dined at the new Dal Toro restaurant at Palazzo. It was a tasty meal and the outdoor seating was particularly charming. While out there, look what we saw floating above the Treasure Island across the street?

Yep! It's the M Blimp. And suddenly I got it. It's not just about raising awareness for people who are in Vegas about the hotel-casino that opens five months from now 10+ miles south of the Strip. It's also an irresistible photo op for tourists. They snap it, show their friends, put it on their blogs, etc. Awareness raised. Ta-da.

Anyhow, on Saturday, after recording three new Petcasts and handling the missing-kid beat while he was still missing, I scooped up my Little Brother, Jamie. (LB as in Big Brothers Big Sisters.) He's now 18. He was 6 when we met. He's about to enlist in the Air Force, which is freaking me out. There's wars on, y'know. But he scored high on his tests and seems to have a path through the military in a technical or computer capacity that should keep him out of harm's way. Still, I worry. Oy.

We had two tasks Saturday: Voting and pumpkin carving. I wanted to be there both for his first adult civic act and to remind him of the joy of a childhood fast slipping away. Here he is at the Albertson's where the Early Voting booths were set up.

And here he is doing the deed. It was cute when he got a little confused as to how it works. The kid can play any video game there is and those consoles have about 15,000 buttons, but the touch-screen voting booth was confusing. Ha!

I won't discuss his or my vote, but I am proud to say that between his 18th birthday in August when he was basing his decision on The Daily Show and Saturday, when he voted, he seemed to be up to speed. He even watched two of the debates, which floored me. Maybe this military thing has him paying more serious attention to the political world or, perhaps, he's just as sucked in as the rest of us to The Greatest Reality TV Competition Ever. Either way, I was glad he had more substance upon which to make his conclusions.

A funny anecdote: As Jamie and I headed into the supermarket, sample ballots in hand, an older woman stopped us. "Oh, it's just so nice to see the young people coming out to vote," she said. Later, at home, I relayed this story to Miles. Miles' answer: "You think she was talking to you, don't you?" Frown Face.

Voting at the grocery store is very convenient, by the way, when you're also shopping for pumpkins...

We picked up six and headed to my friend Natalie's place to carve with her two young boys and one of their little friends. To be honest, Nat's kids lost interest around the painstaking clean-out-the-gourd phase, but Jamie was on task...

While Jamie and I used an image on a trace paper from a book, Natalie did a nice job freehanding...

And Natalie's kids' friend really did a neat job carving Trick or Treat into his...

How did I do? Well, I'm not much of an artist, but once we lit up the one I did from trace paper, it actually looked about right. That's the one on the left. The demented one on the right below I did quickly with a large knife just to get it done and Miles likes it more. I think it's sort of looks like Dick Cheney.

Oh! Did I mention who else helped?

Natalie has a 2-month-old long-haired Chihuahua named ... uh... well, I thought it was Paquito but that's not coming up in the English-Spanish dictionary and I remember Natalie saying it was Spanish for "little one." So maybe it's Pequeño? For half the time I was there, I thought his name was Mojito. That's a fun name for a dog, no? Anyone know if pumpkin guts are bad for little Mexican canines?

On Sunday, in addition to spending a couple of hours being interviewed by a reporter for Q Vegas for a forthcoming profile of me and handling that Clinton non-thing, I also made two varieties of pumpkin seeds, salty one from this recipe and a salty-sweet one from this one.

They're already gone.

Palazzo Saves LVS From Michelin Wipeout

The very prestigious 2009 Michelin Guide for Las Vegas comes out this week and the selections are posted online here. The three-star and two-star honorees are the same as 2008, with Joel Robuchon getting three and Alex, Guy Savoy and Picasso getting two.

There's some shake-up in one-star column, though. Remember, just getting one star from these folks means these places are amongst the smallest, most exclusive club of the finest eateries in all the world.

The one-star list includes Alize, Andre's, Aureole, Bradley Ogden, Daniel Boulud Brasserie, DJT, L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Le Cirque, Michael Mina, MiX, Nobu, Restaurant Charlie and Wing Lei. Dropped from last year's list was the Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace.

Newcomers include DJT and Restaurant Charlie. Both are interesting for different reasons. DJT at Trump International Towers is interesting because The Donald's personal chef, Joseph Isidori, has left and is "pursuing other opportunities," so I wonder if this rating reflects that significant personnel change. Spokeswoman Erin McCleskey told Norm Clarke in August: "Based on guest feedback, we have decided to modify the DJT experience to become more approachable and casual." That hardly sounds like a place striving for culinary masterwork anymore.

And Restaurant Charlie, which is Charlie Trotter's place at Palazzo, means that Las Vegas Sands got one. Last year, the absence of any of the Venetian's restaurants from the star list was conspicuous. I'm a little amazed that Palazzo, with such a huge new food lineup, could only muster one for this list.

Still, that's one more than last year. So now it's Wynn 4, Sheldon 1. Yes, I still count Picasso for Wynn. But hey, who's got two successful Broadway shows and who's got none, huh?

The best Friessmas card I got...

...came from Miles, of course. Don't you love it? I'd show you the inside, but it was some lovey-dovey stuff, so tough noogie. The "joke" of the card is a little odd -- "Have all the birthday fun you can get away with" -- since O.J. didn't get away with anything this time out. But still, given my life over the past month, just the cover made me laugh really hard.

And thanks to all of you who sent Friessmas wishes!