The Las Vegas Review-Journal and its owner Sheldon Adelson took some jabs on the most recent installment of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.”
Host John Oliver devoted a portion of his Aug. 7, 2016 episode to the challenges facing the world of journalism, and broached the subject of problems arising from newspapers being owned by bajillionaires.
One of those bajillionaires, Sheldon Adelson, purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and ever since there’s been an exodus of experienced reporters as well as concerns about the publication’s ability to cover stories related to Adelson’s business concerns.
We would make a sharky comment about Sheldon Adelson were it not for the fact he currently employs more lawyers than China, France and Germany combined.
Sheldon Adelson is the Chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns Venetian,
Palazzo and the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas.
During the journalism segment, “Last Week Tonight” explains Adelson’s “businesses are at
the center of a lot of the stories the Review-Journal covers.”
John Oliver goes on to state, “There could not be a worse owner of a paper in Vegas than
Sheldon Adelson, with the possible exception of Cirque du Soleil. Because they wouldn’t
even give you a newspaper, you’d just have a fistful of glitter thrown in your face by a
90-pound man in a thong.”
We are not aware of any Cirque show in Las Vegas that utilizes glitter, but let’s not get bogged down in details.
A highlight of the segment, though, is a satirical commercial for a “Spotlight”-inspired film. The piece shows a news team balancing hard-hitting news with Web-friendly fluff pieces that strive to get lots of clicks, “likes” and retweets. (A scenario, we should say, which plays itself out in local Las Vegas media daily.)
The mock movie trailer includes a review of the movie by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Fun fact: Before appearing on SNL and in awful movies like “We’re the Millers,” Jason Sudeikis used to perform with Second City in Bugsy’s Celebrity Theater at Flamingo.
Here’s video of the segment on “Last Week Tonight.” Skip to 12:20 for the Vegas stuff.
While delivered with a humorous bent, the “Last Week Tonight” segment about the dilemma faced by newspapers made some thoughtful, nuanced points we didn’t entirely understand.
But we really enjoyed the part about the raccoon cat. Totally sharing it on Facebook.
We make no apologies for the fact this blog loves it some “listicles” (a catch-all for “information presented in list form”), and we also love a site that frequently publishes them, Thrillist.
Recently, though, Thrillist was responsible for a story we simply can’t let stand.
The piece is called “10 Sneaky Ways Las Vegas Casinos Take Your Money.” The article rehashes lots of outdated Las Vegas myths, jumps to lots of erroneous conclusions and states a number of falsehoods as truth, so we figured it would be fun to lend our two cents to the conversation.
If you don’t already live by the credo, “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet,” now might be a good time to start.
1. Casinos are Windowless Traps
Right up front, Thrillist asserts “casinos are windowless traps.” We call bull.
Many newer casinos have windows and natural light. The extent to which this assertion is misguided can be easily illustrated by the fact casino companies are now building entire venues outside. Those include the multi-million dollar Linq promenade and The Park, between Monte Carlo and New York-New York.
It’s true The Park at New York-New York is windowless, but that’s because it’s all outside.
The article also asks, “Where is the nearest exit?” Seriously? There are signs for exits everywhere. Fire and safety regulations require casinos to post exit signs everywhere. Being sneaky about exits simply wouldn’t be tolerated in casinos.
Although these tidbits make for a colorful conspiracy theory, they’re simply not true upon further scrutiny.
2. Casinos Don’t Have Clocks
The Thrillist article asks, “What time of day is it?” We say it’s time to get a clue about Las Vegas and the modern world.
While you can’t often find clocks inside a casino, why would you need one? Just about every person in a casino has a smartphone on them that shows the time!
Whether the trope about clocks is true or false, why would it matter if casinos provide clocks? Let’s put this old saw to rest, already.
Clocks? We’ve got a metric ass-ton of clocks.
3. Casino Cages Are Hard to Find
The Thrillist article posits, as fact, casino cages are difficult to find.
“It always seems that the casino cage is hard to find, requiring a walk deep into the casino—past many other games and temptations.”
The hooey is strong with this one.
There’s nothing sinister going on with the placement of casino cages. The location of cages is based upon security concerns, and signage for cages is everywhere.
Today’s casinos are all about customer service. Annoy a customer by hiding a cage and they won’t be back. Also, many casinos have players club desks at the cage, so why would they want to deter players from signing up?
Placement of casino cages has more to do with structural demands and security than anything nefarious.
In addition, most people playing in casinos are doing so at slot machines. Those machines spit out TITO (ticket-in, ticket-out) vouchers that can be redeemed at self-serve kiosks, more numerous than ever.
4. Casino Cages Are Intentionally Understaffed
The Thrillist story continues, “And once you find it, often there is a line with only one person there to service those who want to trade their chips in for cash.”
We have personally been to every casino in Las Vegas, for a time period spanning more than a decade, and we have never been to a casino cage with one attendant.
Again, slow service doesn’t benefit a casino. We presume there are also regulatory and security requirements about someone being left along with millions of dollars in cash.
If hogwash and hokum had a bastard child, it would be this.
5. Wild Casino Carpets “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize”
We’ve heard this ridiculous theory for years now, and it’s never been true. We’re very familiar with the concept of “unpleasant design,” a concept covered masterfully in a recent episode of the exceptional 99% Invisible podcast. (Many Las Vegas casinos use sharp and pointed design elements on their outdoor features to keep vagrants from sitting or sleeping at their venue, for example.)
But casino carpets aren’t that.
The reason casino carpets are colorful, and have distinctive design details, is to disguise stains. Casino carpets get a lot of traffic, and much of that traffic is drunk and carrying liquor. Spills are frequent, and busy carpeting helps camouflage spills and stains. As usual, practicality wins over conspiracy.
Las Vegas fans love casino carpet, even if it looks it was designed by someone with severe head trauma.
6. Casinos Teach Players Wrong
Thrillist encourages casino guests to be careful who they learn from, the implication being that if you take free gambling lessons at a casino, instructors don’t “exactly have a ton of incentive to teach the best bets that give players the best chance to win.”
Free gambling lessons are a popular service, and it’s not on the casino to teach every detail of a given game. The idea is to give an introduction to the game, and it’s on the player to learn the nuances, odds and strategies.
Ultimately, all casino games are stacked in favor of the house. Casinos don’t have to be “sneaky.” They need to make customers feel welcome, they need to differentiate themselves from their competition (free services do that) and they need to provide a memorable, safe, fun experience.
Casinos don’t teach guests to lose, they teach them to play. The winning and losing is all on us.
That said, we’re not oblivious to the ways casino games avoid having big, red arrows pointing to the better bets on a given table game. You won’t find any wording about “odds” bets on a craps table, despite that bet being one of the best in the casino. And you’ll almost always see the “Big 6” and “Big 8” bets (sucker bets) clearly marked.
But casinos aren’t teaching players wrong. They’re whetting our whistles, and what happens from there is up to us.
7. “Cash Advance Leads to Winless Trance”
This item seems to be included in the Thrillist article to warn us against using credit card cash advances. Great advice, but we’re baffled as to how this is a strategy by casinos to take
Yes, casino ATMs charge for withdrawals and cash advances. Fees are clearly stated during the transaction. Yes, credit cards charge interest for money we borrow.
Is any of this underhanded on the part of a casino? Of course not.
8. Dirty Hidden Fees, Part One: Resort Fees
Again, this item isn’t so much incorrect as it is irrelevant.
Thrillist says, “Many casino hotels charge what are called ‘resort fees’—daily charges tacked on to the hotel bill for ‘resort amenities’ rather than just including them in the cost of the hotel room—which is just a way to bump up what you thought was a reasonable bill.”
Fair definition, and nobody likes resort fees, but what in the name of all that’s Vegas do resort fees have to do with casinos?
At one time, Caesars Entertainment touted the fact it didn’t have resort fees. That was adorable.
We bash resort fees often, and predicted they’ll go away this year (don’t laugh) but they’re a worldwide problem in the hotel industry. Proportionately few of the offending hotels are in Las Vegas and only a tiny fraction have casinos in them. Somebody’s fluffing up their listicle!
Note: Thrillist uses a photo of the Fremont casino in its story, a downtown hotel that doesn’t charge resort fees.
Thrillist says, “There are plenty of great restaurants in Vegas and plenty of places to eat in Vegas for $10 or less—but on [sic] of the most infuriating practices for a few restaurants, especially on the Strip, is the Concession and Franchise Fee (known as a CNF)—sticking it to diners for an extra 4.7% on every bill.”
So, we’re not saying Thrillist was wrong in bashing these asinine charges at places like Beer Park and Hexx at Paris, Cabo Wabo Cantina, Senor Frog’s and Rhumbar. We’re just saying what does this have to do with casinos?
CNF charges are a restaurant thing, so while sneaky, they’re not casino-related.
CNF charges are the ugliest kind of gratuitous fees, but they’re not a casino thing.
10. Casino Players Clubs Are Somehow Sneaky
Thrillist says casino players clubs are “the club you don’t want to be a part of,” then the article goes on to say “joining a players club at casinos will earn you ‘cash back’ and ‘players points,’ the more you gamble the more perks and points you get.” Well, they got it half right.
Getting perks and cash back for your play certainly sounds sneaky, doesn’t it?
Then Thrillist goes off the rails, stating “these clubs are designed to keep players at the tables and slot machines longer.”
How do we put this diplomatically? WTF are they talking about? Here’s the truth: Casino players clubs exist to track play and reward loyalty. They’re a marketing tool.
Loyalty clubs are like frequent flyer miles, and in fact, casino loyalty clubs were pretty much lifted from airline reward programs. Are airlines being “sneaky”?
Bonus: Players club cards make excellent picture frames. See our list of other alternate uses for your loyalty club cards.
Loyalty clubs offer players perks they wouldn’t get if a card weren’t used. So, it’s sort of the opposite of a sneaky way casinos take our money. It’s a way to give loyal customers something back.
Again, many of the misconceptions and myths in the Thrillist article are common.
But the bottom line is casinos don’t have to be sneaky to make money. They have two things on their side: Math and time.
For every bet made in a casino, the house gets a piece. When you lose, they get your money. If you win, they take a commission by paying out slightly less than the odds would dictate.
A straight up bet on roulette should pay 37-to-1 based upon the odds, but pays 35-to-1. That difference is called the “vig,” or “juice.”
Every for-profit industry tries to make the most of things that trigger our biases and motivations. Casinos aren’t any worse or better than the others.
If you’re going to go after casinos for trying to make money with design or psychology, you also have to go after breakfast cereal companies for placing products at the eye level of kids.
Articles like the one on Thrillist perpetuate the myth casinos are somehow trying to hoodwink us. The truth is the casino industry is one of the most-regulated industries around.
Casinos and Las Vegas deserve better. Dig deeper, ask questions, don’t perpetuate myths. (No, oxygen isn’t being pumped into casinos.)
The Thrillist article is still worth a read. It’s true people bet more when using chips than cash, and the article also gets it right that “there’s no such thing as free booze.”
If you want to learn more about how casinos use light, sound, interior design and ergonomics to keep the money rolling in, read “Addiction by Design” by Natasha Dow Schull. We’d love to hear your take on all this.
It should be noted we’ve worked at, and for, casinos during our time in Las Vegas. We used to write the blog for Caesars Entertainment, and our current day gig is at Fremont Street Experience, which is financially supported by its member casinos. That said, we have a pretty good history of calling out casinos when they’re doing something we don’t like (which happens far too often, actually). As with anything you read on the Internet, question everything and decide for yourself who gets it right.
In what is likely to be the best part of “Independence Day: Resurgence,” a fake ad has been released touting Las Vegas as a destination, despite Sin City being left in ruins following a thwarted alien invasion.
Please avoid crashing your alien spacecraft into our Strip, thank you.
The mock ad comes courtesy of the Las Vegas Ruins Tourism Board, and slyly picks up where the original “Independence Day” left off.
The ad says, “On July 4th, 1996, aliens attacked our planet, but they did not destroy the spirit of Las Vegas.”
“Come, discover Las Vegas, reborn from its ruins.” Hey, that’s the same line they used when Sinatra drove a golf cart through a glass entryway at the Sands. Long story.
Kudos to “Independence Day: Resurgence” for coming up with a piece that’s not only entertaining, but also provides some background for those who may not be familiar with the now 20-year-old “Independence Day” (‘sup, Millennials).
“Sorry, sir, no photos are allowed in the casino.”
Beyond that, as so often happens in films and television shows, Hollywood manages to whip up some serious Las Vegas WTF.
For example, at one point in the video, there’s a close-up of a craps table. What the hell is a dice cup doing on the table? It’s craps, not backgammon.
Don’t even get us started about that cluster of chips in the Come.
“Enjoy all the excitement of classic gambling on authentic casino tables and machines excavated from the ruins, refurbished to perfect working order,” the ad says.
Then we’ve got this yahoo winning a huge jackpot for getting a cherry, just about the lowest value symbol you can get on a Las Vegas slot machine.
Dude, chill. You won two bucks.
To make matters worse, the coins he’s being paid are clearly stamped “No Cash Value.”
Slot machine tokens are also called “jetons,” something we didn’t know until you forced us to write a caption for this photo.
And don’t get us started on the placement of that dilapidated “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. Oh a hilltop. Somewhere out there. Looking down on the Stratosphere.
It’s possible the aliens successfully invaded, it’s just that they invaded the brains of Hollywood creatives.
Gaffs aside, it’s always great to see Las Vegas highlighted and immortalized on film.
Over the last decade, the number of Las Vegas weddings has dropped nearly 40%. We’ll take what we can get.
Las Vegas is a favorite target of aliens (“Mars Attacks!”) and massive creatures bent on destruction (refer to 2014’s “Godzilla”).
We assume “Independence Day: Resurgence” will be in many ways similar to “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” Four-page script. Jeff Goldblum gets a new house. CGI overkill. We’d love to be wrong, though, just this once. The Las Vegas-inspired promo gives us a small glimmer of hope.
“Independence Day: Resurgence” comes out June 24, 2016.
Las Vegas has been rocked to its core as explicit photos of several Sin City celebrities have been leaked. Vital Vegas has gained exclusive access to these scandalous images.
The shocking photos reveal an intimate side to several members of the Seven Magic Mountains art display recently unveiled in the desert just south of Las Vegas, pictured below.
The Seven Magic Mountains art exhibit has been turning heads in Las Vegas since it was unveiled in May 2016, but you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The Seven Magic Mountains display has gained international attention, but now several of
its stone pillars are likely to receive even more renown, for all the wrong reasons.
It seems several of the rock formations posed for “tasteful nude photos” while in college
to earn extra money to pay for tuition and living expenses. It’s a phenomenon not uncommon
among starving artists, but given the visibility of the Seven Magic Mountains exhibit, this
is sure to send the art world into a tailspin.
Cases of nude photos being leaked is not uncommon among celebrities, but it’s believed this
is the first such instance of nude rock sculptures. The fact the subjects involved are
associated with Sin City makes this story all the more seductive.
It’s unclear whether the subjects of the leaked celebrity photos will pursue legal action,
but you can be sure many lawyers, and probably mineralogists, are looking into the matter.
An important lesson from this episode: What happens in the Earth’s mantle and crust doesn’t always stay in the Earth’s mantle and crust. Or something.
Backers of the beleaguered Lucky Dragon resort have stunned their detractors by announcing the project is fully funded, a result of discovering $55 million under a couch cushion.
The resort’s principals conveyed through a news release, “Lucky Dragon is on track to be completed on schedule in late 2016, assuming our construction company is comfortable accepting lots and lots of coins.”
Lucky Dragon was originally going to be a boutique lesbian and gay resort, the Q. We are not making this up.
The announcement of Lucky Dragon being fully funded came as a shock to many observers given the resort’s rocky financial history.
In February 2016, construction halted on the partially-completed hotel-casino due to a lack of funding.
Prior to that, developers went before the City of Las Vegas to ask for $25 million in subsidies, referred to as “tax increment financing” or TIF assistance. Their pleas were rejected, putting the kibosh on an additional $30 million in bank funding.
The Lucky Dragon site on May 8, 2016. Lucky Dragon is using yellow insulation materials because unlike in American culture, where yellow is associated with cowardice, in Chinese culture, yellow symbolizes heroism.
Now, Lucky Dragon’s financial woes appear to be in the past with the miraculous discovery of $55 million.
“We became concerned when Asian financing activity dried up,” said real estate developer Andrew Fonfa. “We tried a number of fundraising avenues, including busking on Fremont Street. But the new performance circle ordinance has made it nearly impossible to finance a Las Vegas resort. Luckily, our thong investment was minimal, so it did not have a significant fiscal impact.”
To-date, $60 million of Lucky Dragon’s financing has come from EB-5 foreign investment money, a program where foreign nationals can invest in American companies to get a U.S. visa.
The total cost of Lucky Dragon is expected to be $139 million, which by Las Vegas standards is small change.
Another Lucky Dragon principal, gaming executive William Weidner, added, “We readily admit we should have looked under those cushions much sooner. We could have avoided the embarrassment of going before city officials hat in hand. We were left-swiped by the city of Las Vegas and it still burns.”
Success is the best revenge, with Lucky Dragon’s developer Andrew Fonfa defiantly saying, “I believe our property, per square foot, will be the most successful casino ever built in Las Vegas.”
At right, the Allure condominium tower. At left, a wing. At far left, a prayer.
During a recent visit to the Lucky Dragon site, we personally witnessed upwards of half-a-dozen construction workers milling about in hard hats, so we can personally verify the once-stalled Lucky Dragon project has sprung back to life.
“It’s very satisfying to silence critics,” says William Weidner. “Rumors about us pulling tens of millions of dollars ‘out of our butts’ are absurd and, honestly, insulting. You don’t begin building a resort without a solid plan for financing it. We think couch cushion financing could be the wave of the future in Las Vegas. In fact, what do you think the executives at Alon Las Vegas are doing right about now?”
We’re thrilled Lucky Dragon is back on track, and can’t wait to visit when it opens later this year!