Monthly Archives: March 2015

“Mystery Pillar” at The California Casino Turns Out to Be a Time Machine

Rumblings about a “mystery pillar” at The Cal started on a Las Vegas message board. We tend to love a challenge, so we had to seek out the pillar in question at this downtown casino.

The rumors, it turns out, were true. There was, in fact, a pillar in the casino hidden from view, floor to ceiling, by construction wall material. Just the one. Right in the middle of the casino.

California mystery pillar

This Las Vegas blog is drawn to construction walls like gold diggers are drawn to whales.

Come to find out, the mystery pillar was, in fact, a time machine. Why? Because inside the construction walls was a glimpse at things to come at the California. The casino is slated for a major overhaul, including a new decor, new carpeting and a massive new bar.

Rather than just creating a mock-up of the new decor somewhere off the casino floor, it appears management decided to test drive four versions of the casino’s new interior design. One variation of the design was on each side of the pillar.

Recently, the construction walls came down, and it looks like two variations remain.

Cal mystery pillar

The upper panel on the left is tricked out with fabric. Oh, yes, we caressed it. So sue us.

The new design will update the look and feel of the casino that originally opened in 1975. One variation, pictured above, integrates fabric as part of the scheme. It looks like the ceiling tiles will also be updated to the new, cleaner look.

California mystery pillar

The reverse view, sans fabric. Which also happens to be how we prefer our exotic dancers. Hypothetically.

Another Las Vegas mystery solved.

The Cal is being pretty tight-lipped about all the changes in store, but we promise to keep digging up details about the downtown Vegas newness. (You’d think we’d be able to get some inside skinny given our day job is at Fremont Street Experience, and The Cal is in the Fremont Street Experience family, but not so much.)

We do know the casino’s San Francisco Pub is going away. We hear employees are taking part in a contest to re-name the casino bar.

California San Francisco Pub

A remnant of a time when the California was more about California than “80% of our customers are from Hawaii.” No, really.

We did note another change at The Cal worth mentioning.

For many years, the hotel’s Pasta Pirate restaurant had a neon sign outside.

Pasta Pirate neon sign

We called dibs on the Pasta Pirate neon sign before it went to Davey Jones’ locker. Apparently, dibs aren’t as binding as they used to be.

The restaurant closed weeks ago, replaced by the quite good California Noodle House, and the last remaining vestige of the Pasta Pirate has now been retired and replaced by some new neon.

California Noodle House

Neon lights are made by shooting electricity through neon or argon in sealed glass tubes. Well-made neon signs can last 20 years or more. LEDs and bulbs can suck it.

Thanks to our friend at Royal Flusher for pointing us in the direction of the mystery pillar.

Stay tuned for more California casino news, and possibly time travel. Actual results may vary.

Renovated Le Central Casino Bar at Paris is a Stunner

Le Central bar at Paris Las Vegas was already pretty inviting, but it was retooled, anyway, and in a big way.

Paris Las Vegas dropped more than a million bucks on the bar renovation, and the new look has transformed a run-of-the-mill casino bar into a worthy drinking and schmoozing destination on The Strip.

Paris Las Vegas Le Central bar

Now, that’s how you Vegas.

Long gone are the bar’s gazebo and ironwork. Now, it’s full-on Parisian-inspired whimsy at this 24/7 venue that sits next to the casino’s Café Ile St. Louis.

Le Central features some new signature cocktails ($14) like the Dignitary, French Martini, Cinna-Raisin Sidecar, Le Crisp and Smoking Manhattan. See them all.

Paris Las Vegas Le Central bar

You can’t not TV at casino bars anymore. These are fairly unobtrusive, though.

There’s an above-average selection of spirits devoted to Scotch, whiskey, bourbon and cognac. There’s a 40-year-old Dalmore Scotch for $300 a pop, so we assume that’s worth a splurge if you hit big at the roulette table.

There are also brunch cocktails (also $14) including the Bourbon Bloody Mary, Chilled PJ Mimosa and Red Grape PJ Spritzer.

Paris Las Vegas Le Central bar

We’re liking these fancy, laced up chairs.

The drink menu has a section devoted to “Buy a Round for the Table,” with decanters of various wine concoctions ($40-50).

Beer and wine are in plentiful supply, of course.

Paris Las Vegas Le Central bar

You sort of can’t miss it. Complete with a ramp so the really drunk people can easily egress. Not that we would know.

The changes they are many at Paris Las Vegas.

Recently, Martorano’s restaurant opened (sister restaurant of the Martorano’s at Rio Las Vegas) as did Yong Kang Street. Sugar Factory is officially out, and Hexx Kitchen and Bar, and its adjoining Hexx Chocolate and Confections, have replaced it. Renovations at Hexx are about 70% complete, according to a restaurant manager. A grand opening is expected in the next week or two.

Things are perking up at Paris Las Vegas. Let us know what you think of the new Le Central. Or just meet us there. Your treat. Parisian tradition.

The Whole Lion’s Share Thing Was a Bit of a Sham

We’re feeling a little duped at the moment. Thanks a lot, Lion’s Share.

Anyone familiar with the lore surrounding the famed Lion’s Share slot machine, formerly at MGM Grand, is aware of these “facts”:

1) The Lion’s Share slot machine was a hold-over from an earlier time in Las Vegas, and there was just one Lion’s Share left on the casino floor for years. 2) The machine’s biggest jackpot had never hit during its decades of operation. 3) The winner of the progressive jackpot would get to keep the machine. 4) Gaming regulations mandated that the machine not be removed from the casino floor until the progressive jackpot hit.

Lion's Share slot machine

All pay-outs on the Lion’s Share slot were done by hand, providing even more allure.

Those things made the Lion’s Share machine legendary, at least to Las Vegas enthusiasts, and irresistible. Surprisingly, though, not all those things are true.

Come to find out, the bit about the Lion’s Share machine having to pay off before the machine could be taken off the casino floor was, as they say in the casino industry, unmitigated hooey. Bunk. Hogwash. Malarkey. And several other words people actually still use.

If you delve into the gaming regulations (and trust us, it’s lively reading), you discover a jackpot on a slot machine can be transferred by the casino to another machine at any time. Sad trombone.

This pretty much crushes one of the aspects of Lion’s Share that made it such a draw, and the subject of worldwide news when the jackpot finally hit for $2.4 million on Aug. 22, 2014.

Lion's Share

We Photoshopped this photo. See, the truth doesn’t hurt as much if you know about it up front.

Yep, the specific gaming regulations involved here are in the Operation of Gaming Establishments, section 5.110, “In-House Progressive Payoff Schedules.”

The regulations talk about the logistics of how a progressive jackpot can be transferred to a different machine. No, it doesn’t have to be the same kind.

There are some requirements, of course, including that the jackpot has to go to another machine where the new machine “does not require that more money be played on a single play to win the payoff schedule than the game or slot machine from which the incremental amount is distributed.” Which is a fancy way of saying you can’t move a jackpot from a $1 coin machine with a two coin max bet to a $5 machine with a three coin max bet, because players would have to spend more to get the jackpot than they would have on the original machine.

The bottom line is that a key part of the mythology around the Lion’s Share slot machine was just that, myth. Endless news stories were written before and after the jackpot hit, and as far as we can tell, nobody thought to ask if the jackpot had to hit on that specific machine. It just made a better story if we thought it did. (This Las Vegas blog fell for it, hook, line and ATM withdrawal.)

Lion's Share

This was the jackpot the last time we played. Missed it by THAT much.

As the popularity of the Lion’s Share machine spread, MGM Grand did nothing to dispel the myth because the machine made a metric ass-ton more money because of the mystique surrounding it. MGM Grand isn’t in the myth-dispelling business, it’s in the money business. And business at the Lion’s Share machine was good, for a very long time.

The mistaken belief the Lion’s Share jackpot had to hit on that machine created a sense of urgency (it’s known as the “gambler’s fallacy”), and a windfall for MGM Grand. An MGM casino executive estimated the Lion’s Share machine was played five times more than the average slot machine on MGM Grand’s casino floor.

As with so many things in Las Vegas, not everything is as it seems at first glance. Remember, “caveat aleator,” or let the gambler beware.

Sweet Pics Over the Fence at Rock in Rio USA

Rock in Rio USA is right around the corner, so we’re keeping a close eye on the site of the the music festival site, City of Rock.

Rock in Rio is pitching a tent, the festival’s stages are being erected and a lot of turf is being laid. Who doesn’t love seeing a tent pitched, an giant erection and things being laid? It’s Las Vegas. Let’s take a look!

Rock in Rio USA

Here’s the festival’s main stage. It’s right across the street from SLS Las Vegas, formerly the Sahara.

Since we took the time to whip out our big lens, let’s get all up inside the main stage’s grill.

Rock in Rio festival

The Rock in Rio main stage can hold up to 433 tons, mainly because people never verify information they read in blogs.

But that’s not all. We recently shared pics of Rock in Rio USA’s VIP tent framework. Here’s the progress that’s been made since our last security breach.

Rock in Rio

The VIP tent will have air conditioning, a buffet and open bar. Translation: You can’t afford it.

What else have the music festival elves been up to?

Another of the three stages is going up. This is the Sunset Stage.

Rock in Rio festival

Among those who will perform on the Sunset Stage are Gary Clark Jr, Bleachers, Saints of Valory, Tove Lo, James Bay and several other acts we also don’t recognize the names of.

As you’ll note in the photo above, the City of Rock grounds only recently started getting color in the form of thousands of square feet of artificial turf.

Rock in Rio turf

All the golfers are pitching a tent of their own right about now.

Work continues on the themed streets at Rock in Rio USA. The themed streets will be Rock Street UK, Rock Street Brazil and Rock Street USA.

Rock in Rio USA

Many of the building facades are being shipped in from other Rock in Rio locations around the world. Welcome to the desert, facades, and hopefully you brought sunscreen.

Check out our most recent post for close-ups of the Rock in Rio facades.

Here’s a shot of the entire Rock in Rio USA City of Rock, in all its still-under-construction glory.

Rock in Rio

The festival grounds take up about 40 acres between Sahara Ave. and Circus Circus.

Tickets are still available for Rock in Rio USA. Trust us, there are a lot of tickets available for Rock in Rio USA. Find out more at the official Rock in Rio USA site. Rock in Rio USA takes place May 8–9 and May 15–16, 2015.

Donny Osmond’s Reddit AMA Reveals Some Surprising Facts

Flamingo headliner Donny Osmond recently took part in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) to hawk his album, “The Soundtrack of My Life.”

Osmond is savvy about the media and his public image, so he deftly sidestepped anything controversial, including the ongoing Donny & Marie feud. (They rarely speak when they’re not onstage.)

Still, the Reddit AMA was rich with things we didn’t know about Donny Osmond, and we’ve extracted some tidbits below.

Donny Osmond

Donny & Marie launched their Flamingo show on Sep. 9, 2008. It was intended to be a six-week run.

Donny’s most embarrassing showbiz moment was when his loincloth fell off during a performance of “Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

The biggest challenge of his career was getting ready to wear the loincloth in that show.

Osmond recorded his signature song, “Puppy Love,” in three takes.

Donny Osmond

During his AMA, Donny said he once wore braces. Maybe we should put “surprising facts” in quotation marks.

He didn’t like the comedy sketches on the classic “Donny and Marie” show. His favorite parts were the “A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock ‘n’ Roll” segments.

His favorite part of the show at Flamingo is “Soldier of Love.”

The one place he’d like to perform where he never has is the Taj Mahal.

Donny Osmond’s favorite ice cream is Chocolate Chocolate Chip Haagen-Dazs.

Of all his accomplishments, Osmond’s improvised dance in Weird Al Yankovic’s “White and Nerdy” video is one of his proudest. Outtakes, below. He get a Christmas card every year from Al Yankovic.

He is a “Star Wars” fan.

He loves corn as a pizza topping.

Osmond’s favorite singer is Bruno Mars.

Given the choice of having a dragon or being a dragon, Donny would be a dragon.

He prefers non-fiction over fiction.

For recording, he uses a Blue Microphones Baby Bottle mic.

The artist that most influenced him was Stevie Wonder.

Donny Osmond

Michael Jackson once suggested Donny Osmond change his name to overcome his “Boy Scout” image.

He really likes the color purple. Osmond still has a box of his “original purple socks.”

If he were to own a dog, it would be a black lab.

“Top Gear” is one of his favorite TV shows.

If he had to choose another field beside entertainment, it would be in computers, working for Apple.

When he retires, he’ll live in Utah. He says, “I think I’ll die in Utah. I love that state.”

His wife gave him the advice, “When you perform, just be average.” He claims this was “the best advice, ever.” She meant he didn’t have to be perfect, a response to panic attacks related to the pressure of performing and his fear of failure.

Donny Osmond

Bonus trivia: Despite his legions of female fans, Donny has only ever had one sexual partner, his wife.

He gets writer’s block “all the time.”

When comparing being a child star in the ’70s to the scrutiny child stars face today, Osmond says, “I think there’s a lot more danger with social media. Whereas in days past, or in times past, you could cover up a lot of bad stuff.”

So, Donny successfully navigated a Reddit AMA without stepping on any mines. In his case, they might want to call it a Reddit AMAIWTA. (Ask Me Anything I Want To Answer.) Still, credit where it’s due. AMAs can be brutal, and Osmond handled it with his usual charm. He even called out certain questions as “stupid.” You go, Donny.

Check out Donny Osmond’s full Reddit AMA.

Despite the backstage drama, the Donny & Marie show at Flamingo remains one of the best shows in Las Vegas, fully of music, laughter and one of America’s most beloved pair of siblings.


“Pawn Stars” Plaza Construction Begins, Bringing Shops, Bars and Dining to Downtown Vegas

In Vegas, it’s always gratifying to see a project that’s been announced actually come to fruition. At the moment, the folks behind History Channel’s “Pawn Stars” series are fruitioning the hell out of their latest effort, the Pawn Plaza shopping center.

Pawn Plaza Las Vegas

Where’s a Partridge when you need one?

Pawn Plaza is the brainchild of the head pawnsman (possibly not a term that exists) at the now-famous Gold & Silver Pawn shop, Rick Harrison.

Harrison was inspired to build Pawn Plaza after visiting the Downtown Container Park, another shopping center fashioned from shipping containers. (The same company that helped build Downtown Container Park, Xtreme Manufacturing, is also building Pawn Plaza.)

Here’s a peek at what Pawn Plaza’s bars and restaurants will look like.

Pawn Stars Plaza

There are some unique challenges to running a bar or restaurant in a tiny space like this. In fact, many prohibit any two guests from inhaling at the same time. Unless we just made that up.

Rather than shipping containers, Pawn Plaza will be made up of 72 “Xtreme Cubes.”

While it might be stretching things to say they’re “extreme,” the cubes being installed at Pawn Plaza are indeed extremely colorful, already bringing some much-needed new energy to a fairly crappy neighborhood.

Once completed, or rather “assembled,” Pawn Plaza will be home to 16 retail offerings including the aforementioned restaurants, bars and shops.

The first three tenants of Pawn Plaza have been announced: Rick’s Rollin Smoke BBQ and Tavern, Poutine Vegas and Rita’s Italian Ice. Las Vegas is in serious need of a kick-ass BBQ joint, so we have all our digits crossed. All of them. We’ll let you sit with that visual for a minute.

Pawn Plaza shopping

It’s not all Xtreme cubes. There are also Xtreme stairs and what appears to be a green Xtreme ottoman. It should be mentioned, by the way, that the Xtreme Ottomans would make a great band name.

Rick Harrison says about 4,000 people visit the Gold & Silver Pawn shop each day, making it one of the biggest tourist draws in Las Vegas.

Pawn Plaza sits next to the busy shop on Las Vegas Boulevard (see below), and soon guests will have additional diversions during their pawn shop visit. Harrison will also have additional streams of revenue, which he’s never shy about saying is the prime directive.

“You’ve seen my show. Making money’s like my third or fourth favorite thing in the world,” he jokes.

Pawn Stars Plaza

Gold & Silver Pawn was recently named “Place You’re Most Likely to Find Out Your Priceless Family Heirloom is Actually a Laughable, Worthless Fake.”

If you’re into trivia, by the way, check out our interview with Rick Harrison about his sweet new trivia app. Addictive.

Pawn Plaza is expected to open in early June, although a specific date hasn’t been announced. In Las Vegas, builders of things have learned to avoid the specific date announcement trap, preferring to keep things vague until the last possible moment.

You’ll note they’re being careful to call it Pawn Plaza (as opposed to “Pawn Stars” Plaza) to avoid any head-butting with the network that airs “Pawn Stars,” the History Channel. (That’s also why Rick Harrison can’t promote his trivia app on the show. Ne’er shall the two worlds meet, lawyerwise.)

Pawn Plaza Rick Harrison

They were going to go with something more eye-catching, but the flame-throwing mantis idea was already taken.

We love the quirky, family-friendly Downtown Container Park, so we have no reason to think we won’t also love Pawn Plaza. It’s the “Pawn Stars” guys, for chrissake.

One would hope the stars of “Pawn Stars” (Rick, The Old Man, Big Hoss and fan favorite, Chumlee) will frequent the establishments at Pawn Plaza, so there are sure to be lots of photo ops and autographs for their legions of fans.

Enjoy our gallery of the “Chumtainer Park” cubes fulfilling their ultimate destiny, below.

Pawn Plaza Construction

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