Monthly Archives: May 2016

Westin Las Vegas to Lose Its Most Appealing Feature, Max Casino

Westin Las Vegas, known to many by its former name, Westin Casuarina, is closing its small casino in favor of a new restaurant.

Which is a little like dumping your hot young girlfriend to date your aunt. Allegedly.

Westin Max Casino

The impact of Max Casino closing will be minimal.

The Westin’s casino, dubbed the Max Casino in November 2013 with much fanfare, is petite by Las Vegas casino standards, with half a dozen table games and about 150 slot machines. But we’ve always enjoyed the place and will be sorry to see it go.

The Max Casino name was inspired by the hotel’s original name, Maxim Hotel and Casino. It opened in 1977.

Max Casino

Max Casino gave away these $5 chips during the casino’s grand re-opening in 2013. That business model didn’t entirely pan out.

It isn’t rocket science figuring out why the Max Casino is closing. Successful things don’t tend to close in Las Vegas. Refreshingly, Westin Las Vegas candidly admits the casino wasn’t generating enough revenue to make it viable.

Here’s our story about Max Casino and its rebrand in 2013, back when the Westin’s casino was bright-eyed and full of optimism.

Lots of changes are planned for the Westin Las Vegas, but frankly, who cares? You don’t have a casino, you’re dead to us. Thus solving the mystery of why you rarely see stories in this Las Vegas blog about Trump Hotel or Mandarin Oriental.

Thanks to the ever-vigilant Eater Vegas for tipping us off to this sad turn of events at Westin Las Vegas Hotel & Restaurant.

Lucky Dragon Back on Track After Finding $55 Million Under Couch Cushion

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 resort

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.

Lucky Dragon

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.”

It’s just that kind of whimsical thinking that has kept the Lucky Dragon dream alive.

Lucky Dragon

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!

Aria Wisely Closes “Zarkana” in Favor of Convention Space

The weakest show in the Cirque du Soleil family of Las Vegas shows, “Zarkana,” has smartly and finally been euthanized at Aria Las Vegas. The production’s last day was April 30, 2016.

“Zarkana” is only the second Cirque show to close in Las Vegas. The other, “Viva Elvis,” also tanked at Aria. “Viva Elvis” left the building in 2012.

Zarkana

“Zarkana” was a combination of “bizarre” and “arcana.” “Arcana,” of course is Latin for, “WTF were they thinking?”

“Zarkana” had all the things audiences have come to expect from a Cirque du Soleil show, with the exception of it being good.

The best way to describe “Zarkana” would be that it was the theatrical equivalent of a New Jersey Turnpike, a drink made from squeezing the contents of a bar rag into a shot glass.

Rather than attempt another show, Aria has instead opted not to replace “Zarkana,” but rather will use the theater space for an expansion of the hotel’s convention center.

Zarcana

Luckily, this performer has a fall-back career as an arcade claw game.

Sound familiar? The Riviera was closed for the same reason. The main difference is some people will miss the Riviera.

We’re probably being a little hard on “Zarkana,” but Cirque du Soleil so rarely misfires, we might not get the chance again.

Oh, right, “Zumanity” is still at New York-New York.

If you have trouble keeping track of the Cirque shows in Las Vegas, here’s our One-Minute Guide to All the Cirque Shows in Las Vegas, the vast majority of which we actually love.

The Very Latest on the Riviera Demolition

The shuttered Riviera hotel continues to be taken apart, piece by piece.

Riviera demolition

Several buildings at the Riviera site have been demoted to rubble.

We’ve got the latest from the demolition site, from a perspective that reveals Riviera from a whole new perspective.

The wrecking crews are currently demolishing a number of low-rise buildings to the east of Riviera’s main hotel towers.

Implosion of Riviera’s two main hotel towers is slated for June and August 2016.

Riviera demolition

Crews are prepping the hotel towers for implosion by tossing giant chunks of the building out gaping holes. Hey, we’re a blog, not a structural engineer.

Here’s a peek into a little courtyard that can only be seen via drone.

Riviera demolition

You might call it demolition porn, but we call it demolition porn.

Riviera is being flattened to make way for an expansion of the Las Vegas Convention center.

Here’s one more look at the disintegrating Riviera Las Vegas, once a gleaming example of a Las Vegas casino that didn’t actually gleam there toward the end.

Riviera demolition

Riviera’s hotel tower is now see-through.

Workers are making quick work of the Riviera, so swing on by to bid the old girl a fond farewell.

We’ll be keeping an eye on the progress as Riviera’s implosion dates near. It’s a great excuse to indulge in our drone obsession. Sorry, Las Vegas history obsession. Thankfully, those aren’t mutually exclusive.

Vital Vegas Podcast, Episode 14: Pawn Plaza Polka and Lucky Dragon WTF

In this thrilling last episode of Season One of the Vital Vegas Podcast, we stroll the length and breadth of downtown’s Pawn Plaza.

Pawn Plaza is the brainchild of Rick Harrison, the star of reality juggernaut, “Pawn Stars.” The Container Park-inspired collection has restaurants, shops and a bar, and is well worth a stop, especially because of the bar thing. The other parts a nice, too.

Pawn Plaza

Pawn Plaza is the first place we ever had poutine. Think loaded potato skins, but more popular with Canadians.

Also in this episode, we blow through “15 Crazy-Ass Things in a Las Vegas Weekly Story With Andrew Fonfa, CEO of the Financially-Beleaguered Lucky Dragon Resort.” Here’s the story in question.

Because we’re the podcast that goes the extra mile, we also talk about how we became 32% Irish this week. No, really.

Take a listen, already.

M Resort Hosts Joy Prom for Seventh Consecutive Year

M Resort again hosted Joy Prom on May 7, 2016, a community event providing a prom experience for 350 special needs guests.

Joy Prom Las Vegas

Guests get the party started with some strutting on the red carpet.

This is the seventh year M Resort has quietly hosted Joy Prom, an event costing the hotel-casino tens of thousands of dollars a year. M Resort has supported Joy Prom at great expense but has never trumpeted its generosity.

Well, we’re trumpeting it, because it’s an awesome event, and full disclosure, we’ve taken part in Joy Prom Las Vegas since its inception.

Joy Prom Las Vegas

Throngs of volunteers give special needs guests a true red carpet experience.

Joy Prom involves hundreds of community volunteers and dozens of partner, sponsor and guest organizations.

Joy Prom guests are teenagers and adults with cognitive and physical impairments. They come from a number of local nonprofits, including Down Syndrome Organization of Southern Nevada, Good Friends, Holdsworth, Inc., New Vista, Pinnacle Community Services and REM Nevada.

The prom is provided at no cost to guests.

Joy Prom Las Vegas

Joy Prom inspires too many smiles to count.

Joy Prom gives guests a chance to dress up, get their hair and makeup done and each guest gets to walk a red carpet, complete with autograph-seekers and “paparazzi.” Guess which part we help with!

M Resort hosts a full dinner for guests, then they dance late into the evening.

Joy Prom Las Vegas

Joy Prom guests arrive dressed to the nines. Unless people don’t say that anymore. We are a Las Vegas blog, not an Urban Dictionary.

Joy Prom is a one-of-a-kind, community-driven event, as evidence by the unadulterated, well, joy on the faces of those in attendance (both guests and volunteers).

Joy Prom Las Vegas

Guests frequently mention Joy Prom is the biggest night of their lives. We’re so there.

Volunteers from the community spend months planning the event, and M Resort has shown an extraordinary commitment to Joy Prom throughout its history in Las Vegas.

Find out more about Joy Prom Las Vegas, and heartfelt thanks to M Resort, one of our favorite Las Vegas casino-hotels, for hosting this remarkable event.