Saturday, May 30, 2009

Saturday Funnies...

This was today's Argyle Sweater. Wow. Harsh, huh? There's robust debate in the comments section over at GoComics.Com over whether this was fair, uh, game for a humor.

Strange, too, that in the Review-Journal, the tiger and Siegfried's jacket appeared as orange, not white. Plus, Siegfried's pants, the wall, the cop's gun and shoulder patch are all white. I'll scan in and add to this post later when I get home. (Miles is still recovering from strep and asked me to stay out of the house so the dogs don't go haywire and disturb his sleep.) Anyone have a clue why these color differences occurred? I find it hard to imagine the R-J would alter the comic over local sensitivities, but the fact that the tiger's not white in the newspaper version did have an effect on the joke.

Meanwhile, a couple of other toons I had clipped with Vegas-related relevancy. This March 8 Argyle Sweater is fun given where the new season of Top Chef is being filmed right now...

It's pretty amusing to see the folks on the GoComics.Com site debating who the lady on the right is in the comments section. Clearly, they don't watch the show.

And finally, this Danny Shanahan bit is only funny locally because the Luxor, thanks to desperate efforts by MGM Mirage to make money, does have colorful vinyl siding on it around here...

Friday, May 29, 2009


Ut oh. The Review-Journal is reporting that Glenn Schaeffer, the only top executive involved with the Fontainebleau Las Vegas with any gaming experience, has left the company. The now-ex-CEO also was supposed to lend some of his significant private art collection and vaunted art expertise to the project, I believe, so I wonder what's happened with that, too.

Why do I get the feeling that this place is shaping up to be a financial disaster that will make the $1 billion New Aladdin look like a mild blip? There are problems with this place from every conceivable angle. Their financing is on the rocks, the building itself looks from the outside incredibly intimidating and unwelcoming, they'll never sell those luxury condos and the Turnberry folks have destroyed the property values of their own high-rise residents next door by turning Strip views into views of the back ass of a parking box. And now their gaming-related leadership has bowed out.

And this was the project that seemed solid two months ago when CityCenter was about to drift into the sea. Eek.

Inside The Presidential Suite

[UPDATE: Several sugary sources insist Reese's does make squatter, smaller peanut butter cups. My apologies to Mr. Elfman for this scurrilous accusation. I am concerned, though, that our president may be so out of touch with average 'Mericans that he eats untraditional Reese's products as well as Dijon mustard on his burgers. Hannity's gonna have a field day...]

I happened to be at Caesars on Friday for lunch with a fellow journalist when it dawned on me to ask for a tour of the 22,000-square-foot Marc Antony-Cleopatra Suite where President Obama stayed on Tuesday night after Obama: The Las Vegas Spectacular, the benefit for Harry featuring Bette, Sheryl, Rita and Clint.

The photo above is another piece of hand-out art from Caesars, showing one of the atriums. Thanks to Mike E, you can look at the floor plan via this link. The rest of these images here were shot by me.

To give you an idea how gargantuan the thing is, see this photo below?

I took it from one of the terraces. The other terrace? You're looking at it over there on the other edge of the building. Wow, huh?

The place has: six bedrooms, eight bathrooms, two full kitchens to service two 10-seat private dining rooms ready with full settings of Sant’ Andrea Royal porcelain, two outdoor decks with waterfalls that flow into private pools, a dry sauna and two sitting parlors.

Some of the sights of the spread:
[Click on any images to enlarge them]

All are arrayed off a central corridor of bronze-swirled marble floors and pillars as well as Roman antiquities.

All of this is arrayed along this marble hallway...

The beds themselves were actually sort of plain and smallish. The president's a tall guy, right? No one could tell me, by the way, which one he used, but here are two of the three from the master bedrooms. (Obama was here alone, btw. No Michelle or kids.)

I spotted this candy wrapper (below) in a dish. Evidently, there were two but the Review-Journal's Doug Elfman is shown in this R-J video tour snatching one. (Elfman also controversially claims they were Reese's Peanut Butter Cup wrappers even though everyone with as many fillings as I have knows Reese's are wider and thinner. Plus, he thinks the existence of bidets are funny and sorta tries to get his viewers to imagine an Obama Enema. No, really.)

Here's the dining room, one of two that Obama didn't use when he ordered up a steak from Neros.

And here's the treadmill The One did not use. Instead, he went to Qua. They shut down the whole spa for his 45-minute workout.

They also, by the way, emptied the floor below this suite. And the Obama entourage occupied 100 rooms in the tower.

In case you're wondering, I don't know what the White House paid for the pad. Caesars spokeswoman Debbie Munch says Obama’s suite has no price tag; it’s only available to high rollers or celebrity guests. But the White House couldn't take it for free, could they? Especially for a fundraising trip, right?

Others who have used the suite, by the way: Marc Anthony and J. Lo (they were first after a recent renovation, renewing their vows along with New York Met Carlos Beltran and his wife, Jessica in October 2008), Celine Dion, Cher, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Two who have not: former presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush. Both stayed at the resort since their presidencies – Obama is the first sitting president to check in – but they were lodged in other suites.

Of course, the obvious question was asked: Will Caesars now rename the space the Presidential Suite?

“Ha ha,” Caesars spokeswoman Debbie Munch chuckled. “No. But I'm sure it will become known.”

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Robin Leach: NOT DEAD

See, this is why Twitter is stupid.

Tweeters are out in force passing around "news" that Robin Leach is dead. I got an email a few minutes ago from a colleague asking, very creatively, whether I'd heard if he's "left this vale of tears for that big nightclub in the sky."

So I called him. And he answered the phone. Which meant...

"You're not dead!" I exclaimed.

No. It turns out some radio jockeys went into his Wikipedia entry and killed him off. But he's doing just fine.

"There certainly have been moments in my professional life when I thought I was dead," he joked.

"OK, good," I said. "So you're definitely alive?"

"Yes, this is not a recording. This is really my own voice."

And a lovely voice it is. So all you crazy Internet people with your wacky Vegas theories and conspiracies, stand down.

Odd McCarran Musings

There is no place more curious to someone in my job than McCarran International Airport. It is the scene of the purest and most intense promotion of Las Vegas to outsiders. What marketing messages are being foisted upon tourists upon this first blush -- and the often hard-to-decipher logic behind it -- is fascinating.

That's why I've always got my camera out to shoot new billboards that amuse me. Whether it's a push for the fishing crowd or warnings of water-cheap eateries or efforts to get you to come here to raise cattle, something usually makes me scratch my head.

Last weekend's return was no different. The billboard above is the one you see as you descend the escalator from the C and D gates to baggage. It looks harmless enough, but I noticed -- and I realize this isn't the best photography but we were moving at the time -- that it seemed like smoke was coming out of the Polo Towers. So I looked more carefully and also noticed this:

The MGM Grand logo has been blurred out! Now, I'd like to have been in that meeting when they decided to do that. "If we let it say 'MGM Grand,' people will find out what that ginormous green building is and they miht want to go there!" Right? If they wanted not to show it, couldn't they have photoshopped it out altogether? Instead, the blurriness draws attention to it.

Meanwhile, just before that escalator ride, I saw this:

Now, what's the point here? Is it a reaction to the concern that celebrity chefs have taken over Vegas and somehow harmed the food quality? And if so, who is more responsible for this than the man whose name is on the MOST Vegas restaurants? So first, where do they get off countermarketing their own existence. And secondly, if we're talking less celebrity, more chef, then maybe the photo ought not be of the most famous celebrity chef in the world? Maybe it could show the photos of the chefs who actually cook here? Or -- imagine it! -- some food?

One Actress's Views of The Lion King

On this week's podcast, we have a brief interview with former Mamma Mia! star Carol Linnea Johnson about her band, the Hot Club of Las Vegas. But I also thought this exchange, which is on the audio, is interesting as we continue to debate whether The Lion King, which replaced MM!, is a good Vegas idea.

CLJ: Ultimately, it is a cartoon. People like to say, ‘Well The Lion King is Hamlet.’ And I say, well, you know, a dead father, a vengeful stepfather… but it’s not Hamlet. It’s a cartoon. And it’s beautifully realized but it’s a cartoon. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s able to corner a family market maybe that no other show does.

TheStripPodcast: But it’s not your expectation that it’s going to play to adults necessarily? I mean, it’ll play to adults bringing children, but…

CLJ: Well, they’ll love it. But I doubt really highly that if you’re going to spend $250 on tickets for something and you’re going to take a date, the Lion King might not be your first choice.

TheStripPodcast: Meow!

CLJ: Hey, who knows, maybe it’s hot! Maybe it’s all those gorgeous singers and hot bodies dancing as gazelles might really be the thing. It might be the new hot date ticket!

You can hear the entire 8-minute discussion starting at around minute-marker 59 on this week's episode.

This week's LVW col: Come Hither, Adam Lambert

Y'all saw the vague first draft of this one last week, but now I've got input from Strip execs, including one who says that they've been pondering the Strip potential of...Susan Boyle! Enjoy. -sf

Larger than life, perfect for Vegas

Someone here needs to sign American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert right now


Until last Thursday, I had never watched an entire episode of American Idol. Yes, I’m one of the six.

As any halfway-conscious consumer of celebrity news would, I generally keep up with the Fox mega-competition in a vague enough way such that by May each year I’m usually able to identify the two finalists the same way I know the teams in the Super Bowl every February. I don’t actually care in either case, but nor do I clamp my ears and squeeze shut my eyes and actively avoid what will inevitably climb into my brain via any available pore or passage anyway.

I wouldn’t have watched this finale, either, except that my 9-year-old nephew and 14-year-old niece, whom I was visiting in Pennsylvania, are nuts for the thing. It struck me as an opportunity to see how the folks who love this phenomenon interact with it.

Plus, I admit, I was curious this cycle because of all the lip about whether the nation was ready for its first probably gay American Idol in one flamboyant Adam Lambert. Lambert had been crowned the favorite months ago and already appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly.

So I subjected myself to two bloated hours and did my best to explain to the young’uns who cameo stars Cyndi Lauper, Lionel Richie, Queen Latifah, Santana, Kiss (“What’s with the makeup?” 9-year-old Daniel wondered) and Queen are. And for the first time, I watched Lambert and co-finalist Kris Allen perform and interact with host Ryan Seacrest.

Knowing nothing of any of the other performances to date, it nonetheless seemed fairly obvious to me who would win. When America was allegedly stunned that a handsome, sweet-natured balladeer from the Deep South bested the big-voiced, costuming-prone, guylinered reincarnation of Freddie Mercury, my sole surprise was that anyone expected a different outcome.

I mulled this with a gay AI–devoted friend in Chicago via Facebook later that night wondering what is typically next for these folks. Geoff recited the drill: summer concerts with the rest of the AI top 10-ish, a likely record deal with 19 Entertainment, a solo tour perhaps.

“He should get a show in Vegas,” I wrote.

“That is … brilliant,” Geoff responded.

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Presidential Suite

Not surprisingly, Caesars Palace is making the most of Obama: The Las Vegas Spectacular, the star-studded fundraiser for Harry Reid involving a host of Harrah's-related celebrities. They've just distributed this photo of the suite where the president rested his precious head last night and issued this press release, posted here in full...

Hail to The Chief At Caesars Palace...

LAS VEGAS (May 27, 2009) - While President Barack Obama was in Las Vegas for a sold-out fundraiser, he once again chose Caesars Palace as his resort of choice.

Having been a frequent guest of the hotel during his campaign, President Obama noted to the audience, "I thought I had a pretty nice room," he said. "But now I'm president, they upgraded me. It's a really nice room now."

Nice it is—the 22,000 square foot suite in the newly renovated Forum Tower offers unparalleled views of the Las Vegas Strip and offers and exterior patio with private pool. Always one to stay in shape, the President made sure to make a visit to the renowned Qua Baths & Spa for a workout and was spotted shaking hands and thanking the Caesars staff along the way. He also made a special surprise visit to room service to thank the staff.

At the fundraiser, Bette Midler (who like President Obama grew up in Hawaii) gave President Obama a Ukulele for his daughters, Sasha and Malia.

One odd thing here: How did the President get in and out of Caesars, including hanging out at Qua, without someone getting a camphone shot of him? I haven't seen anything today on the blogs or YouTube other than those podium shots on the Colosseum stage, which by the way, actually manage to make the most regal showroom in Vegas look boring. How come there are no photos of any of these celebrities with Obama, card dealers with Obama, gay cruisy guys at the spa with Obama?

Obama coins new Vegas slogan!

President Obama is presently doing some politicking at a Nellis-area solar panel factory following a night of partying for Harry Reid at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace with an all-Harrah's/AEG celebrity lineup (Bette, Rita Rudner, Sheryl Crow, ex-Harrah's headliner Clint Holmes). That may explain the absence at Obama: The Las Vegas Spectacular of any Cirque performers or at least that noted Obamatic Terry Fator. Har har.

Anywho, Jon Ralston just reported via e-mail that The One is believed to have uttered: "Nothing like a quick trip to Vegas."

I don't think that remark is going to quell the folks who want to pretend the President told the nation not to do business travel here when he clearly did not and
it's only a matter of time before Hannity and Limbaugh lampoon the mustard-eating Socialist for saying "nothinG" and not "nothin'" like real 'Mericans would.

Still, it does have a ring to it. So here's a free suggestion to R&R Partners and the LVCVA: Grab the audio of that statement and start cranking out new TV and radio ads with that familiar dulcet voice beckoning: "Nothing like a quick trip to Vegas."

Hey, it's less than "What happens here stays here" but a heckuva lot more than "Vegas Right Now." All they need is for Caesars to put up a marquee in those iconic red block letters that reads: "Obama Slept Here." The Vegas comeback begins!

[Update: The White House transcript of Obama's remarks today indicate the whole quote was: "
You know, it's always a pleasure to get out of Washington a little bit. Washington is okay, but it's nice taking some time to talk to Americans of every walk of life outside of the nation's capital. And there's nothing like a quick trip to Vegas in the middle of the week. (Applause.) Like millions of other Americans, we come to this beautiful city for the sights and for the sounds -- and today we come for the sun." That led him into his solar power push.]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Adelson Wishes He'd Fired Weidner Sooner

I had an extremely brief -- maybe 10-minute -- interview Friday evening with Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson as I prepared my New York Times piece on the opening of the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem. But gosh, what a 10-minute interview. He talked up the Bethlehem property, of course, but he also wandered into areas I hadn't even planned to discuss.

Most importantly, he was fresh off the plane from Macau and said he believes he may have the financing in place to restart construction of the resorts on the Cotai Strip and the hotel and shopping at the Bethlehem site by the end of 2009. With the Times' blessing -- owing to a shrinking business-section freelance budget -- I did an Agence France-Presse wire service story about this development.

Ah, but there was more. In March, longtime top lieutenant William Weidner, the chief operating officer, left the company. He says he quit; Adelson has said he fired him. This culminated an epic internal struggle against the backdrop of LVS' stock freefalling from an October 2007 high of $148 to a low of less than $2 earlier this year.

I asked Adelson whether he would have done anything differently in the past year or so and this was his wallop of an answer:

"Would I have done anything different? Yes, I would’ve fired Bill Weidner a long time ago. He created a financing situation that was completely inappropriate. Now we’re getting financing that’s more appropriate. What I’d like to say, unequivocally, is it’s not a matter of the [Macau] market. The market is good, very good. You cannot change the culture of Chinese people and their love to challenge luck. If there’s some bumps in the road in terms of everything going 100 percent perfect. Our numbers have been going up and the [Macau peninsula, where casinos have long clustered and now include Sands Macao, Wynn Macau and MGM Mirage Macau] have been going down. [The Cotai Strip is] standing out as a separate must-see attraction in the city of Macau."

Before I could even ask another question, Adelson was off and running again. Steve Wynn has lambasted LVS in Asia and MGM Mirage on the Strip, particularly on Jon Ralston's TV show, for overambitious plans that lacked proper financing. Adelson battled back on that one:

"I wish I had accelerated the construction [in Macau], not cut down on it. I hear that our competitors like Steve Wynn fault us by saying, 'Oh they went too far, too fast, and they never should have built so much.' In the meantime, what’s the bottom line of our company versus other companies? Even in the economic tsunami that we’re experiencing, we’re still doing better than other companies on a proportional basis. Much better."

It's hard to know exactly what he means here, but thanks to Hunter Hillegas at RateVegas.Com for providing me with some data from recent SEC filings for comparison's sake. He found that the Wynn Macau and Sands Macao had average daily room rates in the first quarter of 2009 of $268, higher than the $216 garnered by the Venetian Macao, which is Cotai. As for the revenue per room in the same period, Sands Macao got $260, Wynn Macau got $223 and Venetian Macao got $216. So on both measures, Adelson's own property on the Macau peninsula was doing better than his property on Cotai. In Vegas, Wynn-Encore got an average rate of $222, higher than Venetian's $209 and Palazzo's $221. So it's pretty close on that front but it's hard to see how Adelson claims a clear victory in any of these markets.

Adelson did say that the one project he does not expect to restart by year's end are the St. Regis luxury condos on the Strip that now stand half-built. Yet he said that could happen, too, if he can create a situation where the developer is also the lender so the buyers can get the credit to close that banks are reluctant to provide. (Photo left by Isaac Brekken for my NYT piece in March on the Vegas condo market.)

I asked Bill Lerner, the ex-Deutsche Bank gaming analyst who now has his own firm called Union Gaming Group, about this notion. He said it's not farfetched and he expects MGM Mirage to do the same with some of their condos at CityCenter.

"I think we’ll see that with some of the residential development in the Strip corridor where the protects are built or nearly built. The operator/developer will structure seller financing. Where’s the downside? If they move ahead and do something like that, it allows them to close and collect interest payments. It’s the best alternative given the current set of circumstances."

Lerner, incidentally, is quoted in my AFP piece speculating that LVS will sell off some assets or take on equity-sharing partners to finish the stalled projects.

Finally, Adelson again defended his approach and he brought up the fact that he put $1 billion of his own money into the company to keep it afloat.

"Unless somebody thinks completely ignorant of the facts, I think I made an educated and informed investment decision that was a good decision on our part that saved our company and now we live to fight another day. I took $1 billion out of my family’s piggy bank. How many people would do that?"

Not ever having that kind of wealth, I honestly cannot say.

The Strip is LIVE tonight w/Carlos Santana

We're finally airing our chat with Carlos Santana this week as he begins his first set of his 36-concert-a-year gig at the Hard Rock Hotel's new Joint venue. Plus, we'll discuss some explosive remarks from my interview last week with Sheldon Adelson and we've got plenty of banter about everyone from Adam Lambert to Pansy Ho.

As always, join us at 6:45ish p.m. PT at LVRocks.Com to hear the live show or grab the podcast edition when it's posted by Thursday morning. Subscribe (it's free!) in iTunes.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Breaking: People Lose Stuff At Casinos!

Sorry to keep going with the Bethlehem stuff, but this is too funny not to share. The Express-News in Bethlehem, Pa., where Las Vegas Sands opened a 3,000-slot casino on Friday, had this headline atop a report on their website on Saturday:

"Easy ways to stay safe at Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem;
two patrons report missing wallets"

We then learn that two women lost their wallets on opening day. One bought some food and then couldn't find it. She lost $220 she probably wouldn't have gone home with anyhow. The other lady admits she left it on a slot machine and when she returned for it, it was gone.

Now, I feel for these women. I do. I'm on record as being a total loser. But! If the lady had left her wallet on a table at Wendy's and came back to find it gone, would this be worth reporting in the newspaper? Would all fast-food joints and Dave Thomas himself be guilty by association? The intrepid journalist here offered up some surefire ways to avoid this fate, courtesy of About.Com. The experts apparently recommend you, uh, keep track of your shit. Stop the presses!

Of course, casino-hating commenters blamed the casino. Among the remarks:

Casinos are a robber's paradise. Wherelse can you find half-looped careless people loaded with money who don't pay attention to anything other than the rotating fruit on the machine in front of them?

You have to expect this kind of behavior in a house of gambling. Thefts like these happen in Vegas and AC and anywhere you have casinos, its just going to happen. I was wondering how long after the doors were opened on Friday it would be before we'd see an action like this reported.

Look at the dempgraphic [sic] that feeds these places!! Old people, mostly women, widowed women who are desparetly [sic] trying to spend all of their husbands hard earned money. Money he earned working weekends and holidays to provide for this blue haired biotch that sat home made dinner and did the laundry.

Yikes, huh?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Unions Heart Sands and Sheldon!

No, your eyes do not deceive you. Despite Las Vegas Sands and CEO Sheldon Adelson in particular being seen as Public Enemy No. 1 by the unions in Las Vegas, this was a full-page ad in the Express-Times in Bethlehem on Friday celebrating the opening of the casino there. (I had to scan in three parts and piece it together).

I asked LVS spokesman Ron Reese about this odd turn of events. He proudly reported that the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem is "100 percent union built."

He said they used "some" union labor for building the hotels in Las Vegas. But he had a grin on his face that told me I was not wrong to find this all quite ironic. It was only earlier this month that litigation between LVS and the Culinary 226 in Las Vegas over issues related to the opening of Venetian in 1999 were finally fully ended. The Venetian-Palazzo is the largest non-union shop on the Strip and the halls of the Culinary's downtown offices are adorned with photos of massive protests against Adelson. I want to say there's even photos of people holding pickets in which Adelson has the devil's horns on him.

Yet in the Keystone State, they're 100 percent union built and proud of it! (The service workers are not union, though.) Not only that, but the company spent $743 million to build a casino in a jurisdiction where they'll have to hand over 55 percent of the gaming revenue to the state!?!

What does Bethlehem and Harrisburg have that Vegas and Carson City don't? Anyone?

Sands Bethlehem Pictorial 3: The Quirk

As always, there were other odds and ends from my exposure to Bethlehem and the Sands Bethlehem casino there to share. This, above, was among those, the fact that they charge $7 -- and I heard people said things like, "Oh, that's a lucky number" -- for valet parking. The only hotel that charges for valet parking in Vegas that I know of is the Four Seasons.

Let's see...what else. Well, I found it a bit shocking that Las Vegas Sands would build a casino in a jurisdiction where the state takes a 55 percent share of the gaming revenue. Did you people in Carson City trying to find a few more sheckels between the cushions hear that? LVS thinks it's worth it to spend $743 million to build a thing where they'll get 45 percent of the revenue!

Hey, remember that big crane with the Sands logo on it? Well, look at what they've got attached to it:

This was what is known as a very, very soft opening. Besides the fact that they didn't have the hotel or mall ready -- and won't for more than a year -- the belly-up bar (as Hunter and Mike E call the central-casino bars) didn't even have matchbooks. So I was reduced to doing this for a souvenir:

They had a gift shop called Sands & Co., I think, which is a strange name. I did pick up a couple of T-shirts, a mug and a shotglass I plan to sell off to support the show for $30 or more. Something in the gift shop I did NOT buy:

As you can tell from my other posts as well as my radio, podcast and newspaper work on this story, these folks are very proud of their steel heritage. So proud, in fact, that when Mayor John Callahan took me to another part of the city to see a redevelopment project, I spotted this mural on the wall of a gym:

I also thought it was cute that Bethlehem's non-steel-related nickname is the Christmas City. People mail their mail there in December to get special Christmas-related stamps. Here's some:

Back at the casino, it was also interesting that there are designated nonsmoking areas such as this. That's what that yellow sign says.

You might recall from a recent post here that not only do none of the Vegas joints offer such a thing to my knowledge, but at the Palazzo (owned by LVS, natch) this sign stands in the casino...

...without giving any indication of where said corridor is.

Of course, I loved checking out the Express-Times, the local paper, as they celebrated and reported this opening. Here's the cover of the Exposed section, the Friday entertainment section:

Of course, everything is overdone with gambling cliches. The front-page headline, for instance, was "Today, all bets are on," for instance. That piece included some advice from Michael Bluejay of VegasClick.Com on how to beat the slots. His answer, essentially: You can't.

They might as well learn sooner than later, huh?