Saturday, June 13, 2009

This Week's LVW col: Be grateful, Bethlehem

Here's this week's Strip Sesne column from the Las Vegas Weekly, a defense of -- apologia for? -- the idea of gaming as an economic revival tool. Which is funny because I don't even gamble. Much. -sf

An east target, a misguided notion

Why the people of Bethlehem, Pa., should be grateful for, not suspicious of, their new casino


The day after the May 22 opening of the quite lovely Las Vegas Sands casino in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the local newspaper, the Express-News, ran with a news bulletin on its website: “Easy ways to stay safe at Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem; two patrons report missing wallets.”

We then met Nancy Miller, 61, of New Joisey, who bought a snack at the food court and “shortly thereafter noticed her wallet missing,” and 25-year-old Dominique Alexander of Philadelphia, who left her wallet on a slot machine and “found it had been taken” when she returned.

Stop the presses! People lose shit! The intrepid journalist on the case turned to for news-you-can-use tips on how not to let “loss, theft and other problems spoil your Memorial Day weekend fun at the casino,” which essentially boiled down to: Keep track of your shit.

Yes, this is an example of ridiculous journalism. There’s no chance any serious newspaper would have done a story on these careless people if they had misplaced their wallets at, say, a new Starbucks. Nor would they have drawn the inference that people need tips on how to stay safe at all coffeehouses.

But to me, it was more than that; it was the culmination of a couple of days focusing on a foreign land where a casino was a new and troublesome presence to many. As I covered the Sands opening, I was reminded yet again of how ridiculous the nation’s love-hate affair with Las Vegas and the gambling business has become.

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cinevegas + WSOP = All In

As folks following my Tweets and Facebook statuses know, I've been running around like mad the past few days, working on a new piece for the Times that has sucked up a huge amount of time away from the computer and I've also been trying to keep tabs on Cinevegas because the lineup is the most interesting in all the years I've covered it.

I was a little concerned, though, after "Saint John of Las Vegas" yesterday. The opening night premiere, starring Steve Buscemi and Sarah Silverman, was a weird little flick that just didn't engage me and that distracted me by the several smaller details about its titular city that it got wrong.

But I knew there were a number of really good pictures in the lineup because I'd already seen all the gay-related ones for this Advocate.Com piece. In particular, "It Came From Kuchar" is wonderful and I'm looking forward to Friday's premiere and the Q-and-A session with the Kuchars on Sunday at 9 p.m.

Still, I was unprepared for how much I enjoyed "All In: The Poker Movie" tonight. Premiering as it did during the early stages of the 2009 World Series of Poker across the street from the Palms at the Rio, it drew some poker stars who are also in the film including WSOP commissioner Jeffrey Pollack and two-time bracelet winner Howard Lederer...

Annie Duke and Phil Hellmuth were supposed to be there, too, but they were doing so well in one of the WSOP tourneys they couldn't. Occupational hazard. Amarillo Slim was there, however.

As for the film itself, let me first say that I'm someone who became interested in poker in the first place because it's a perennial story that someone is asks me to cover each year. We also get huge download numbers whenever we have poker stars on "The Strip." (We've had Chris Moneymaker, Jamie Gold, Annie Duke, Howard Lederer, Phil Hellmuth, Jennifer Tilly, Joe Hachem, Jerry Yang and Greg Raymer over the years, all of which can be found at TheStripPodcast.Com.)

But "All In" tonight really taught me something else: The poker boom is about as American as anything ever was. The variation on the game itself -- Texas Hold 'Em -- is an American invention. Risk-taking is the foundation of our capitalist society. And the ingredients that turned it into what it is today include new technology (hole-card cams, Web poker) and anyone-can-succeed chutzpah (Moneymaker) that have deep roots in our national traditions.

It wasn't just that it was a sweeping, artful film. It was that, although some of the blurry camera angles and odd tics of speakers could be grating. But from dignified Doris Kearns Goodwin to cool-cat Matt Damon, from Southern-fried Slim to lovably goofy Phil Laak, from scholarly Dr Dave Schwartz to curmudgeonly Frank DeFord, documentarian Douglas Tirola really cast a very wide net of diverse voices to explain where this phenomenon came from and who it impacts. I also appreciate that not everyone is likeable -- World Poker Tour's Steve Lipscomb comes across as a total, arrogant prick -- and that not everything is positive, as when Tirola delves (briefly) into recent online poker cheating scandals.

That said, there are gaps: No discussion of problem gambling or sexism in the game, no serious effort to allow anyone who objects to online gambling or gambling in general to offer a cogent argument for their side. And Ira Glass? Really? Blech.

But even without all that -- it's not a Ken Burns PBS special after all -- it's really a compelling movie that needed to be done and done with this sort of maturity. If you're near the Palms on Friday at 12:30 p.m., check it out. Too bad it's not on over the weekend. Also too bad I cannot find a YouTube trailer of this film or even a website to point you to.

Meanwhile, Cinevegas has really taken over the Palms. The Lounge, where we did the Vegas Podcast-a-Palooza (and are waiting for the OK to do again in October) last year has been transformed into a headquarters for media and film folks. There's video games...

...and a pool table...

...and music...

...and fun couches.

Finally and appropriately, I was stuck behind this on the way home...

The Show is UP: Engelbert The Engaging

Miles is back -- though still feeling crummy -- and we have a winner -- actually two, sorta -- for the Cinevegas tickets contest. Also, find out what SLS Way was for and hear our chat with Engelbert. You know the drill: click on the date below to listen or right-click and save to your computer. Or subscribe (it's free!) via this iTunes link or via this Zune link. -sf

June 11: Engelbert Humperdinck

In our quest to cover all the classic old-timers of Vegas lore, one fixture we hadn’t yet caught up with was Englebert Humperdinck, the British chart-topper who was first brought to the Strip in 1968 by none other than Dean Martin. Humperdinck, now 73, talks about everything from Liberace to Lambert, recalls Howard Stern's playing with his hair, explains why James Blunt fits in the canon with Clapton and McCartney and discusses the fact that his rival, Tom Jones, has received a knighthood while he has not. Humperdinck performs in Vegas at the Orleans on June 11-14 playing his hits as well as the contemporary pop songs he covered in his 2007 album, “The Winding Road.”

In Banter: Danny Gans’ cause of death, the Cinevegas passes contest winner, the future of the TI, Steve’s show spree, changes at Peepshow, Robuchon’s odd discount and the Chippendales do Paris.

Links To Stuff Discussed:

Engelbert Humperdinck’s website
Tickets for Engelbert Humperdinck’s shows June 11-14 at the Orleans

The shirtless Engelbert Humperdinck “Release Me” video
VegasHappensHere.Com photos and links regarding the Treasure Island changes
Pictures of the Wynn Sky Casino
Joel Robuchon’s “discount” menus
VegasHappensHere.Com on the Peepshow changes
The YouTube version of the special video edition of The Strip from Bethlehem, Pa.
Hear the Gans death press conference

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Coroner: Gans Death "Accidental"

[UPDATE: Here's my New York Times brief and I'll be on KNPR via the radio or Web from about 9:40 a.m. PT on on Wednesday discussing this result.]

The coroner, Mike Murphy, announced a few minutes ago that Danny Gans died May 1 from a combination of "drug toxicity" and a long-term heart problem and ruled it "accidental." He refused to agree to several reporters' efforts to characterize this as a drug "overdose" but he did say that Gans had "toxic" levels of hydromorphone, a pain killer, in his system. Hydromorphone is marketed as Dilaudid. There's more about it at this site.

The hydromorphone had been prescribed for "chronic pain syndrome" and is known to cause circulatory stress. That makes it a peculiar medication for someone with a known heart condition to be prescribed.

Gans manager Chip Lightman, who couldn't be reached today, told Norm Clarke of the R-J all about the heart issue in May while also seeming to play it down. That the heart problem was an underlying cause of his death makes Lightman's statement within hours of Gans' death that he's was "healthy as an ox" obviously incorrect to say the least.

The coroner would not comment on any other substances that may have been in Gans' body because he said his legal obligation is solely to address those things that caused the death and that he's not permitted to disclose other personal health data. He also wouldn't say what chronic pain Gans suffered, but it's widely known that Gans had several surgeries on his knees and shoulders. His minor-league baseball career, in fact, was cut short by an Achilles tendon injury.

I'm sure there'll be more on this, but probably not from me. My editors at the Times just want a brief. But the local media is sure to examine more closely why he was prescribed this medication and what its interaction with his heart condition and any heart medication he was taking might have been.

BREAKING: Shoshana Bean Replacing Mel B in Peepshow

Gotta run now to the Gans presser, but wanted to get this out.

Broadway actress Shoshana Bean is en route to Vegas to take over from Mel B the lead role of emcee/narrator/PeepDiva in the Jerry Mitchell burlesque "Peepshow" at Planet Hollywood. Bean has starred in Wicked and Hairspray. She starts on June 22, as does Holly Madison, who replaces "Dancing With The Stars" star Kelly Monaco as Bo Peep.

Here's Shoshana's site. Mel B's role had no nudity, so it's unlikely Shoshana will be called into topless duty, either. Jerry Mitchell will be in Vegas next week to work with Madison. No word when Bean gets here.

Both Bean and Madison are on three-month contracts.

Danny Gans Press Conference Today

The coroner's office has called a 1 p.m. press conference to discuss findings in the death of Danny Gans. Will see what they say. Will post something and discuss on tonight's show.

The Strip is LIVE tonight w/Englebert!

In our quest to cover all the classic old-timers of Vegas lore, this week's show features our chat with Englebert Humperdinck, the British chart-topper -- don't call him a crooner! -- whose first Vegas shows were produced by Dean Martin and who continues into his 70s to perform around the world. Humperdinck talks about everything from Liberace to Lambert, recalls Howard Stern's playing with his hair, explains why James Blunt fits in the canon with Clapton and McCartney and discusses the fact that his rival, Tom Jones, has received a knighthood while he has not. Humperdinck performs in Vegas at the Orleans on June 11-14.

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

Miles is back, too, so join us at 6:45 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, June 8, 2009

Inside Wynn's Sky Casino

It's a little quiet these days on the blog, so I figured it would be a good time to take you folks inside Steve Wynn's Sky Casino, per a little tour designer Roger Thomas gave me a few weeks back. This is the high-limit private bettor parlor on the 63rd floor of the Encore tower. There are five gaming areas and two dining rooms. (I've read some accounts that say there are five gaming TABLES. I'm a little foggy from this walkabout, but since I've photographed five different tables and I know there was a whole wing of the place I didn't get to see, I'm pretty sure that's false.)

The Sky Casino is technically open to the public but only folks with a credit line of, last I heard, $300,000 can play up here. That, above, is one of the dining rooms with a view of the Wynn signature atop the other tower right outside.

Just off the private elevators, the space has its own cage...

...and the ornate hallways, furnishings and art work that is Thomas' signature...

...and, of course, those floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the city. For whatever reason, I didn't take photos showing better what the views are, so I apologize for that.

Otherwise, it's a pretty straight-up gaming space...

...just away from the rest of us. No word on how often it gets used. It was empty that day, as you can see.