Monthly Archives: April 2017

All Net Resort and Arena is Doing Its Best to Impress

Like many Las Vegas observers, we’d pretty much written off All Net Resort and Arena as yet another whimsical project with no actual financing behind it.

In March 2017, All Net Arena generated some buzz with news it would begin work installing utilities and building underground parking on the site situated between SLS Las Vegas and the abandoned Fontainebleau.

All Net Arena

Yes, there’s a lot of nothing. We’re interested in the not nothing.

We figured a few trucks would show up, push some dirt around, and the project would again fade away.

But that didn’t stop us from taking another look, and what we saw was a genuine surprise.

It seems not only have the trucks not gone away, they’ve multiplied, dramatically.

A veritable fleet of dirt-hauling trucks (23 rigs, to be exact) are now on display on the 27-acre site, along with other earth-moving equipment.

What does it all mean? Who knows? But it certainly is impressive.

All Net Arena

It looks like a North Korean military parade, but without all the goose-stepping.

Ultimately, we suspect there’s a bit of resort development theater going on at the All Net Resort and Arena site.

It’s likely All Net Arena’s developers are putting on a show to impress upon potential investors how viable the “full steam ahead” project is.

Here’s a closer look at all the hardware currently adorning the the All Net Arena site.

The All Net Resort and Arena is supposed to cost $1.4 billion, and the project has pushed back its opening date numerous times. Most recently, project officials stated construction will be completed by 2019.

If, by some miracle, the project gets financing, it will have a 44-floor hotel, 20,000-seat arena and a shopping and dining district.

While skepticism is warranted with All Net Resort and Arena, it’s important to remember longshots hit in Las Vegas all the time, and we absolutely love shiny new things.

Smith and Wollensky Steakhouse to Close on Las Vegas Strip

A fixture on the Las Vegas Strip, Smith & Wollensky restaurant, is set to close on May 26, 2017.

The three-floor steakhouse, with its distinctive facade, is located across from Monte Carlo resort.

Smith & Wollensky

Thanks a lot, Smith & Wollensky, for photobombing our picture of these palms trees.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, there are plans in the works for Smith & Wollensky to open in another location, but no specifics been provided by the restaurant.

The Smith & Wollensky steakhouse on the Las Vegas Strip is one of nine locations throughout the U.S. and U.K. The chain was founded in 1977 by partners Alan Stillman and Ben Benson. Stillman is best known for creating T.G.I. Friday’s.

Surprisingly, Smith & Wollensky isn’t named after people. Those names were chosen randomly from a Manhattan phone book. (Note to millennials: Yes, people used to look up phone numbers in books.)

The announcement of the very first Smith & Wollensky restaurant used the names Charlie Smith and Ralph Wollensky, but founder Alan Stillman later confided Charlie and Ralph were the names of his dogs.

Dog

This is neither Charlie nor Ralph. We just like dogs.

Smith & Wollensky opened on the Las Vegas Strip in December 1998. The restaurant chain changed hands in March 2016.

A rep for Smith & Wollensky said it’s anticipated the company will share information about their new location closer to the restaurant’s closing date, but that remains to be seen. Smith & Wollensky is a rare free-standing steakhouse on The Strip (we can’t think of another one that’s not inside a hotel-casino), and we’ve never heard much about it, good or bad.

The reason for the restaurant’s closure is unknown, but a good rule of thumb is financially successful restaurants don’t tend to close in Las Vegas.

Update (8/18/17): Our source says Smith & Wollensky will re-open at Venetian-Palazzo.

Update (6/19/18): Our scoop about the re-opening of Smith & Wollensky has been confirmed officially. The restaurant will open at Grand Canal Shoppes in spring 2019.

20 Weird, Wonderful, Useless Facts About the Movie “Casino”

“Casino” is one of the all-time great movies about Las Vegas. The film, released in 1995, was inspired by real people and, in large part, actual events.

“Casino” is a funny, violent, eye-opening glimpse into the colorful history and culture of Las Vegas casinos, and the film has helped shape how many perceive Sin City, for better or worse.

Here, then, are some weird, little-known and arguably useless facts about the movie “Casino.”

1. “Casino” was based upon a real casino boss, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal. He was played by Robert De Niro. Joe Pesci’s character was based on Lefty’s real-life gangster associate, Tony Spilotro. Read more about Frank Rosenthal.

Casino

“Casino” is consistently listed as one of the best Las Vegas movies of all time. The worst? “Showgirls.”

2. The director of “Casino,” Martin Scorsese, said he didn’t expect the head-in-a-vice scene to make it into the movie. He included it because he thought it would distract the MPAA and would make other scenes seem less violent by comparison. It stayed in.

3. The vice scene came from the book “Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas” and was drawn from Tony Spilotro’s interrogation of a gangster named Billy McCarthy. McCarthy committed the unauthorized murder of two brothers, the Scalvos, and Spilotro tried to get McCarthy to give up the identity of the man who assisted with the murders. Spilotro beat McCarthy, then stabbed him in the testicles with an icepick. Eventually, he put his head into a vice and crushed it until his head was just five inches wide. McCarthy didn’t give up the name of his partner, Jimmy Miraglia, until Spilotro tightened the vice enough to make one of McCarthy’s eyes pop out. McCarthy survived long enough for Spilotro to kill him by pouring lighter fluid on him and setting him ablaze.

Casino movie

In this scene, a customer attempts to take photos of the exterior of Palace Station. Long story.

4. The casino in the movie, The Tangiers, didn’t exist. It was based upon the history of the Stardust. The song “Stardust” is played three times during the course of the movie.

5. The film was shot inside the Riviera. Yes, the one that is now a parking lot.

6. The exterior scenes outside the Tangiers were filmed in front of the Landmark Hotel across from what was then the Las Vegas Hilton, now Westgate Las Vegas.

7. Scorsese arranged to shoot at The Riv for six weeks, four nights a week, from midnight to 10:00 a.m.

Riviera neon sign

Riviera’s last hurrah was being featured in the awful action film, “Jason Bourne.”

8. All of the counting room scenes were filmed on a set because the production wasn’t allowed to film inside the counting room in the real Riviera casino.

9. For authenticity, and to keep from having to train actors how to do it, real dealers and pit bosses were used whenever possible.

10. Joe Pesci broke a rib during the filming of the scene where he’s whacked in a cornfield. It was the same rib broken by Robert De Niro during the filming of “Raging Bull.”

11. The real setting of the murders of Anthony Spilotro and his brother Michael was a basement in Illinois. They went there believing Michael was going to be inducted into the mob. This is the same way Joe Pesci’s character is killed in “Goodfellas.”

12. Lots of actresses were considered for the role of Ginger, including Nicole Kidman, Melanie Griffith, Rene Russo, Cameron Diaz, Uma Thurman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Traci Lords and Madonna. Sharon Stone won out.

Casino movie

In casino slang, a woman who uses her sexuality to take advantage of unsuspecting high rollers is called “this blog’s sister.”

13. Martin Scorsese has said his favorite shot in the film is the overhead sequence of Sharon Stone at the craps table when she’s throwing chips up in the air.

14. The High Roller in that scene was played by Ali Pirouzkar (see below). Pirouzkar was cast when talent scouts spotted him strolling through Fashion Show Mall. On his first night of shooting, someone snuck onto the set and offered him $10,000 to leave (so the man could take his part). He declined.

Ali Pirouzkar

If you bump into Ali, please let him know we’re trying to reach him. No, really. His number was disconnected.

15. The costume budget for “Casino” was $1 million. Robert De Niro had 70 different costumes, all made from scratch.

16. More than 7,000 extras were used in the film. There were 120 speaking parts.

17. To avoid the continuity problems, Robert De Niro always held his cigarettes the same distance from the lit end so their lengths were consistent.

18. The “f” word is used 435 times in “Casino,” an average of 2.4 times per minute.

Casino movie

What could possibly go wrong?

19. Most of the conversations between Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in “Casino” were improvised.

20. The studio’s lawyers were very nervous about “Casino,” so they changed the character names and never mentioned Chicago as the mob’s headquarters in the film. (They used “back home.”) The titles said “adapted from a true story” rather than “based on a true story.” Scorsese claimed “pretty much everything” in the movie is true.

There you go. Have more fun facts about “Casino”? Post them in the comments.

First Skill-Based Slot Machines in Las Vegas Debut, Here’s the Low-Down

Skill-based slot machines, the subject of much buzz and speculation over the last couple of years, have officially arrived in a Las Vegas casino.

The first skill-based slot machines in Las Vegas can now be played at Planet Hollywood, and we’ve got all the details about what casinos are hoping will help deal with “The Millennial Problem.”

Gamblit skill-based slot machines

Welcome to Las Vegas, you sexy, skill-based vixens, you.

The Millennial Problem, of course, is the belief on the part of casinos and slot machine makers that traditional slots are “losing their luster,” especially with younger customers, specifically, millennials. While the number of millennials visiting Las Vegas is going up (roughly 34 percent of the city’s 43 million visitors in 2016 were millennials, an increase of 24 percent since 2015), casinos cite a decline in slot machine play as evidence millennials raised on video games don’t find traditional slot machines compelling.

There’s some debate about whether The Millennial Problem actually exists, but damn it, casinos are out to solve it whether it exists or not. That’s where skill-based slot machines enter the picture.

Why, look, here’s one now. This is one of three skill-based slot machines at Planet Hollywood.

skill-based slot machine

If you’re a millennial, your nether region should be throbbing right about now.

Of the three games being tested on the casino floor at Planet Hollywood (the machines have to pass a field trial before regulatory approval can be granted), two are Gamblit Poker and the third is a game called Cannonbeard’s Treasure.

The first distinctive thing you notice about these skill-based games is you can’t play with yourself. Yes, we know how that sounds, we are a snark-based Las Vegas blog.

The machines can accommodate up to four players each, but not individual players.

It should be noted the machines currently won’t take loyalty club cards, in case you’re into that kind of thing.

Here’s how they work.

Gamblit Poker is a variation of (wait for it) poker. Players “grab” cards from a common pool of cards, building a hand of five cards. The player with the best hand wins the jackpot, the amount of which is determined by the machine.

Cannonbeard’s Treasure is a variation of blackjack. Players, again, grab cards from a pool of cards. The cards are added up, and the player whose card total is closest to the target number (without going over) wins the pot.

Here’s a look at how the simulated game play looks on the machines, courtesy of us risking our neck to get video of how the simulated game play looks on these machines.

A key element of skill-based machines, and what differentiates them from traditional slot machines, is customers aren’t playing against the machine (or a dealer), they’re playing against each other. The outcome is based upon skill, rather than chance alone.

Mind, meet blown.

So, let’s dig a bit deeper into the pros and cons of Gamblit Poker and Cannonbeard’s Treasure.

First, a big pro of these games is the low price to play. There’s a $2 Gamblit Poker and Cannonbeard’s Treasure is also $2. There’s also a $5 Gamblit Poker.

Second, the competitive and social aspects of skill-based games are undeniable. Traditional slot machines are solitary endeavors. With skill-based games, you can hang out with friends and do your best to relieve them of their hard-earned cash.

Observing people play skill-based slots, it’s easy to see how one’s competitive instincts can kick in, keeping players engaged and playing longer than they might otherwise.

Interactivity certainly does seem to be more appealing than staring blankly at a screen while repeatedly hitting a button.

skill-based slot machine

This is Cannonbeard’s Treasure. They had us as “each player gets not one, but two, cup holders.”

The biggest twist in this whole story, though, is millennials aren’t actually the ones playing skill-based games, at least not the ones at Planet Hollywood. Millennials are curious about the machines, but they’re hit-and-run looky-loos, rarely playing more than $20 a pop.

Truth be told, we didn’t see a ton of play on these machines at all. But when people played, they weren’t millennials. Who’s playing skill-based slots? Slot players. That’s right, older players who already enjoy slot machines. A representative of Gamblit confirmed millennials aren’t the majority of those playing skill-based slots.

That ought to give casino operators more than a few restless nights.

While play on the machines appears light, there’s obviously going to be a period when awareness of the games has to be raised. At Planet Hollywood, a small sign tells customers they can actually gamble on these tables. Most would mistake them for similar interactive, touchscreen tables like those in several Las Vegas lounges like Ignite at Monte Carlo, Encore Players Lounge at Wynn and iBar Ultra Lounge at Rio.

The new games are simply lost among the crop of current slot machines, many with massive vertical screens.

skill-based slot machines

Not gonna lie, we’re missing you a little right now, Quark’s Bar.

Those who did play the games seemed to spend a lot of time just sitting and drinking and talking. Which is great if you’re trying to increase revenue from drinks, but not so much if you’re trying to make money from gambling. At a table game, dealers and other players keep the pressure on to make more bets. The social aspect of skill-based games actually distracts from the gambling.

A critical downside to these games, though, has to do with perceived value.

As players make bets, the machine serves up the amount of the jackpot they’re trying to win. In the vast majority of cases, the jackpot is less than the players are contributing.

For example, we saw a couple sit down to play Gamblit Poker. They each bet $5, for a total contribution of $10. The jackpot was $7.50. They had fun playing, but the next pot was the same, ditto the one after that. It didn’t take the couple long to realize they were getting dinged a $2.50 “rake” with each passing hand.

The rake accumulates, similar to the jackpots in progressive machines. Part of the rake goes to the machine manufacturer, and the manufacturer has a revenue sharing agreement with the casino. We’ve yet to see any published information about the house edge for these games.

While the potential for larger jackpots is there (the max jackpot on the $5 machine is $1,200, $480 on the $2 machine), the couple cashed out and dashed. A Gamblit rep says the biggest jackpots happen several times each hour, but the perception problem means many players won’t be sticking around that long.

Presumably, though, the more play the machine gets, the more frequently the larger jackpots (considerably more than what the players are betting at any time) will hit.

There are some other peculiar aspects to these skill-based games.

For starters, we were told there will always be an attendant with the games. Why? Because they have to monitor the play to avoid collusion and bullying. We were told there’s the potential for experienced players, or teams, to take advantage of novice players. Essentially, there’s room for cheating.

A smaller annoyance, but one that’s undeniable, is the table surfaces require constant cleaning. Nobody wants to touch a screen that has hand smudges all over it, so attendants have to continually spritz and wipe the screens. High maintenance is right.

skill-based slot machines

Gamblit calls these skill-based slot machines “ModelG.” Find the ModelG spot near the Pleasure Pit, if you get our drift.

Overall, these new skill-based slot machines are a great conversation piece, and any “first” is a great PR opportunity.

It’s premature to say, though, skill-based slot machines are going to halt or reverse the decline of slot revenue trends. In fact, we’re going to venture they’ll have little or no effect on those numbers. Oh, yeah, we’re putting our naysaying right out there.

Gamblit officials have said they’re happy with the early results of their field test, but honestly, what would you expect them to say?

Here’s the bottom line, and it’s something you won’t hear often.

The fact is millennials are smarter than previous generations.

Millennials know more about gambling than their parents or grandparents ever did.

They know casinos have been gradually increasing the house edge for 20 years, and what millennials aren’t particularly interested in is being screwed. Shocker.

Millennials aren’t a thing, they’re people. People who happen to be technologically adept. People who value experiences. They’re people who know when the deck is stacked against them, and know when they’re being squeezed. They want value for their entertainment dollars, just like the rest of us.

Here’s how you solve The Millennial Problem. Lower the rake. Lower the minimums. Bring comped drinks more frequently. Let people take photos in the casino to share with friends.

The Millennial Problem isn’t a slot machine problem or a disposable income problem. It’s a perceived value problem.

And here’s hoping casinos are listening, because giving customers, young and old, better value and remarkable experiences is the solution. All due respect, Cannonbeard.

Vital Vegas Podcast, Episode 47: Las Vegas Tricks, Ellis Island and “Casino”

It’s one of our most rambly podcast episodes, ever, so gird your loins. It’s not like you’re using them for anything else.

For starters, we learn a trick to avoid disappointment when interacting with a Las Vegas prostitute, and it’s all downhill from there.

We also talk about changes at Ellis Island, Monte Carlo’s evolution, progress at the Neon Museum expansion, The Dome at Downtown Container Park, casino credit lines and other awful ideas.

Ellis Island casino

This parking area at Ellis Island casino will soon be The Front Yard. The good news is you don’t have to mow it.

Even in our intoxicated stupor, we share all the latest Sin City news, including stories about paid parking at Cosmopolitan (paid self-park starts May 16), LAX nightclub will become an eSports arena, roulette is making a comeback, “Men of the Strip” is coming to Tropicana and Plaza has finally laid its Beer Garden to rest.

Plaza Beer Garden closed

Plaza’s Beer Garden was a noble experiment, much like the time we purchased Spanx.

In this week’s episode, there’s also history (Riviera opened April 20, 1955) and a listicle about “Casino,” one of the best movies ever made in relation to whacking.

In a world starving for fun, the Vital Vegas Podcast is an all-you-can-listen buffet of succulent Las Vegas sustenance. Or, alternatively, something that makes sense.

Listen, anyway!

Neon Museum Completes Demolition for Expansion

It was just a couple of weeks ago that the Las Vegas Neon Museum announced it would be expanding to an adjoining lot.

Here’s what the site looked like as demolition commenced.

Neon Museum

Fun fact: If you hold the Neon Museum’s visitor center up to your ear, you can hear the ocean.

The neighboring building, the dilapidated L.A. Street Market, has already been removed, making way for an additional .27-acres of neon signs. That might not sound like a lot of space, but it will allow the Neon Museum to display 30-40 signs which have been in storage.

Here’s what the expansion space looks like now.

Neon Museum

The Neon Museum displays about 200 signs. That’s a lot. (We’ll wait.)

The signs are expected to include those from the Las Vegas Club, Spearmint Rhino, Longhorn Casino, Sahara Saloon, Opera House Saloon and Riviera.

Neon Museum

The Neon Museum was founded in 1996. Which is odd, since we didn’t even realize it was losted.

The Neon Museum expansion is happening due to a $425,000 grant from the City of Las Vegas.

Also planned for the new space is an open-air exhibit and events space.

Useless neon trivia: Neon was discovered after krypton and before xenon, and it’s the fifth most abundant element in the universe.