Wednesday, January 13, 2010

LVW col: Being Wayne Newtons

Bonsoir from Montreal! Here's this week's LVW column. Enjoy. -sf

Being Wayne Newtons
Mr. Las Vegas is a unique show-biz figure—or two

What this Wayne Newton is saying about the other Wayne Newton could seem convoluted and a bit vainglorious, but after speaking to him for a bit more than an hour, I think I’m getting it. He’s describing a scene filmed for Vegas Vacation that he successfully had nixed from the 1997 release.

The original script called for somebody called Wayne Newton to lecherously tell Beverly D’Angelo’s character, Ellen Griswold, that he wants her to become a “Newton broad.” She asks what that means and he tells her that it’s a woman who has had “a nose job, a boob job and a butt job.” Then Wayne would part a curtain to reveal 200 such women.

“When I got the script, I went to the director and I said, ‘This is one scene that Wayne Newton can’t do,’” he recalls. “Notice my verbiage. Not that I can’t do, that Wayne Newton can’t do. Wayne Newton is almost in some ways a third party. I almost become a protector of Wayne Newton that way. It becomes humorous, because they write things that Wayne Newton cannot say as Wayne Newton, you know?”

I do. I went into my first interview with the Wayner early this month with a very specific impression of what he’d be like, only to realize that there are at least two—and maybe more—Wayne Newtons.

In fact, Wayne Newton is a peculiar show-biz animal, the likes of which there may be no modern peer. Sure, there are actors like Michael Cera, Joe Pesci or Sandra Bullock who always play the same sort of characters, and there are personalities like Larry King or Oscar Goodman who pop up here and there as themselves.

But Wayne Newton is an actor and singer whose image has been so completely swallowed by a certain persona—the sunny, buffoonish, slightly-but-never-explicitly sleazy elevated-lounge-lizard representation of an older Vegas era—that his only choice is to play it on screen and stage.

In fact, I can be forgiven for expecting that Wayne Newton when we spoke, because that was the Wayne Newton I met the prior evening at a meet-and-greet before his show at the Tropicana. He appeared then in a black velour smoking jacket, with a grove of chest hair a-popping, kissing my female companion so frequently that half his smooches ended up in her hair because she wasn’t paying close enough attention.

Then he got on the stage in Once Before I Go, told his story from 15-year-old Vegas wunderkind to aging survivor of the tuxedo-clad Vegas era before a 23-piece orchestra, his voice significantly, uh, weathered and almost nobody in the audience caring a whit.

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lerner v. LaFleur: Analyst #CityCenter Smackdown!

Reading the analyses of Wall Street smarties on Vegas interests used to be a snooze. Looking at all the same data, these wonks usually came to the same conclusions.

Not anymore! I've been watching two analysts in particular who seem to routinely come up with dramatically different takes and today's email puts it in very, very high relief. Here are the headlines from emails Monday:

Bill Lerner of the Union Gaming Group: "2010 Off To Good Start in Vegas, MGM Most Leveraged to Recovery."

Robert LaFleur of Susquehanna International Group: "Is MGM Having Trouble Filling Rooms at CityCenter?"

Those are two rather different sides of that story, aren't they now?

Lerner has been a persistent cheerleader for MGM Mirage and CityCenter, so his daily "Heard On The Strip" e-blast fit that trend. He suggested that New Year's "may have been the strongest in MGM MIRAGE history" and that "CityCenter and Bellagio foot traffic have been quite strong based on our observations (across a significant number of days and day-parts)." He also wrote that MGM Mirage's 95% occupancy in its 3rd quarter of 2009 after laying off 12 percent of its staff suggests they're doing more with less. That would be good for the balance sheets, assuming those guests are enjoying the diminished service enough to return.

LaFleur, meanwhile, has spoken quite negatively about what CityCenter and Aria are, contradicting much of MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren's loftiest rhetoric. In my big L.A. Weekly piece on CityCenter, for instance, he said: "At the end of the day, the product is the gaming experience broadly defined. There’s nothing unique in the product offering. People don’t go to hotels because of the architecture of a hotel on a recurring basis. You go to a hotel because you like the hotel, you like the service, you like the ambiance."

On Monday, LaFleur reported on his firm's findings of "a notable reduction in asking rates at the Aria, the main hotel at CityCenter." Susquehanna every week catalogs Aria room rates for Saturdays and Wednesdays over the coming three months. Click on this graphic below to enlarge it and see what's been happening:

Wrote LaFleur: "After seeing in last week’s survey that MGM reduced asking rates by $20 a night for weekend nights in January, we saw MGM again reduce asking rates on these January weekend nights by another $30 in this week’s survey. In addition, we saw more sizable reductions in both weekday and weekend asking rates at Aria in February and March, the first time we’ve seen reductions in asking rates for these periods since we began tracking them. MGM management publicly said last week that occupancies were high at CityCenter. Our findings in this week’s survey suggest that MGM may have to engage in more aggressive price discounting to achieve these high occupancy levels."

Whom to believe? Well, at the moment the edge must go to LaFleur because he has actual data and Lerner says their analysis is based on, essentially, eyeballing the scene "across a significant number of days and day-parts," whatever that means. So they've come out of the best weekend in their HISTORY, per Lerner, only to cut room rates two weeks in a row?

Also, Lerner was happy to cite as fact things he can't know any other way than from publicists. For instance, from Monday's e-blast: "The combination of CES and AVN’s (Adult Video News award show) at the Palms this weekend generated incomparable volumes at the casino resort while The Hard Rock’s recently opened expansion is driving record gaming volumes at the property." Says who? What data supports such dramatic claims? Also, assuming the Hard Rock claim is true, wouldn't this volume spike just be the logical outcome of DOUBLED their gaming floor? Isn't win-per-machine or similar data more valuable than such a broad remark?

Meanwhile, LaFleur showed actual data and it is damning. Aria room rates fell $90 for Saturday, Feb. 6? That's 25 percent! It also means that Aria that night, at $269, is less than Bellagio, which is presently at $299. The place has only been open a month; surely if there's as much excitement about it as Lerner believes, Aria would be able to stay at least even with her own older sister?

So is CityCenter an out-of-the-box homer? Lerner would have us think so and, having had more than a decade as a top analyst for Deutsche Bank, he's no newbie. But then how about some real data to back up his exuberance?