Monthly Archives: May 2017

Bellagio Skybridge Loses Its Moving Walkways

In recent weeks, Bellagio has removed a series of moving walkways on the skybridge stretching from Las Vegas Boulevard to the porte cochere of the iconic resort.

Bellagio skybridge

Sorry, we don’t have a “before” photo. Use your imagination.

People-movers, like their spotlight-hogging twins, escalators, are notoriously unreliable and expensive to repair, so it’s likely Bellagio and its owners, MGM Resorts, figured it was time to pull the plug.

Bellagio skybridge

Here’s another stretch of the skybridge that also doesn’t have moving walkways.

The demise of the people-movers at Bellagio seems to be part of a larger trend.

For many years, Las Vegas casinos went to great lengths to draw pedestrians into the casino. The more foot traffic, the more gambling. The more gambling, the more revenue.

Now, as casinos pay closer attention to the bottom line, such amenities may not play the part they once did.

Las Vegas visitation continues to be at an all-time high, and when times are good and demand is strong, casinos know customers are willing to make the trek without the need for expensive devices like moving walkways, also known as “travelators” in parts of Europe.

In 2013, when Caesars Palace renovated its Pure nightclub to become Omnia, its perpetually dysfunctional people-mover was killed off.

Caesars Palace moving walkway

This former moving walkway at Caesars was built in the 1980s, considered by historians to be the last decade where there were virgins.

When Bally’s decided to build its Grand Bazaar Shops, its people-mover also got the ax.

Bally's walkway

We sort of miss you, moving walkway at Bally’s.

Here’s a look at the deconstruction of the people-mover at Bally’s, circa January 2014.

Bally's people-mover

Don’t even get us started about what’s there now.

Another interesting aspect of moving walkways has to do with the trend of casinos expanding closer to Las Vegas Boulevard. In the early days of Vegas, most guests arrived by car, so it wasn’t especially important to build close to pedestrian traffic.

Now, millions of people stroll along Las Vegas Boulevard, so casinos are closing the gap between the sidewalks on Las Vegas Boulevard and the casino.

Caesars Entertainment, for example, has talked about developing the “underutilized” land in front of Caesars Palace.

Bally’s is another obvious example where management has made a conscious to generate revenue from under-utilized space by tapping into the large volume of foot traffic. Not surprisingly, CVS was all over it.

Strip CVS

Formerly not much, currently printing money.

At New York-New York, a major overhaul of the resort’s frontage makes restaurants and shops readily accessible to passersby.

New York New York promenade

We try not to go outdoors, but some people seem to like it. There’s more outdoors next door at The Park, an outdoor dining district.

There were even misguided rumblings Bellagio was going to eliminate its fountains to build a shopping and dining area. Although an April Fool’s joke by our friends at Vegas Bright, such a move seemed plausible given recent trends.

So, if you’re strolling by Bellagio and decide to go in (and you should, it’s gorgeous), expect a bit of a trek.

On the bright side, the skybridge offers great views of the Bellagio fountains and its casino neighbors on the Las Vegas Strip.

And it goes without saying walking is good for you. Unless you’re a human centipede with bad knees. Which we’re going to need some time to unsee, so thanks a lot.

Comp Drink Validation to Be Rolled Out to Thousands of Slots on Las Vegas Casinos Floors

Another tectonic shift is coming to Las Vegas casinos, and we’ve got an exclusive look at what’s in store.

Back in Sep. 2016, we first reported comp drink validation systems were being installed at all casino bars with video poker at Caesars Entertainment resorts.

The purpose of the comp drink validation systems is to ensure guests are playing enough to warrant free drinks. Getting free drinks, of course, is a longtime tradition in Las Vegas casinos.

The bartop drink validation system measures a guest’s rate of play, and shows a red light or green light to bartenders. Green light, you get your free drink. Red light, you need to either step up your play, or pay for your drink.

Caesars comped drinks

Blue means you’re gambling, green means you’re due a free drink, red means you’re SOL.

Reaction to our original story about comp validation systems was strong, made local and international news and was not especially positive.

In short order, though, just about everyone realized (including this blog) that such systems have no effect on the typical player. They merely serve to deter those who want something for nothing, and provide bartenders a tool to do what they’ve always done—provide free drinks based upon a guest’s rate and level of play.

Ardent drink validation system

These are the drink monitoring devices currently in use at casino bars with video poker machines. But wait, there’s more.

Now, the company that makes and installs the drink validation system for bartops, Las Vegas-based Ardent Progressive Systems & Games, is about to field test a variation of the system for slots across the entire casino floor.

Albert Tabola, an Account Executive with Ardent, says his company currently has developed the next generation of comp drink validation devices, and they’re poised to implement them in thousands of slot machines across casino floors throughout Las Vegas and beyond.

Here’s a first look.

Ardent comp validation system

This simple device is about to change everything.

“Gaming approval has been given, so now we’ll be able to move on to the casino floor machines,” says Tabola.

At the moment, the company has about 1,000 drink validation units on bartop video poker machines. Slots on the casino floor can number in the thousands, from about 1,000 in a smaller casino to upwards of 3,000 in a Strip resort.

The benefit to casinos is fairly obvious. Ardent says one of its casino clients has already saved $1 million in comped drink costs at a single location.

But is there a case to be made drink monitoring has benefits to customers as well?

Tabola and the casinos say “yes.”

For starters, Tabola says his company’s Comp Anywhere comp validation system “will hopefully eliminate some of the arguments and headaches the cocktail waitresses encounter.” Customers looking for freebies without playing have long been a frustration for front line casino employees.

Giving cocktail servers a tool to easily determine if a player has earned a comp could dramatically speed up drink service for gamblers. We would be a huge fan of that particular outcome.

Las Vegas cocktail waitress

Not gonna lie, we were sort of just looking for an excuse to share photos of a Las Vegas cocktail waitress.

Drink validation systems have already proven useful in deterring customers from taking up machines they’re not playing.

“If you’ve been in a casino, you know them, you’ve seen them,” says Ardent’s Tabola. “They play a penny, then sit and wait for the cocktail waitress. We’re trying to solve the operator’s problem of players trying to get something for nothing.”

While Tabola acknowledges some guests are resistant to the use of validation technology, he’s seen reactions evolve as staffers and customers become accustomed to the machines.

“The feedback from casino staff has changed dramatically since the machines were first rolled out. I remember when we first installed these, the bartenders said, ‘This is just another whip you’re cracking on me,’ but after two to three months, they’ve said, ‘This is actually really great, I love this because it lets me clear my bar out of the people that are taking up space.”

The bottom line is there are lots of places to spend time in a casino, but machines are intended for those who are gambling.

Elvis slots

If you can get used to Elvis with a fanny pack, you can adjust to comp drink validation systems on the casino floor.

So, business and philosophy aside, what rate of play does it take to keep the drinks flowing?

On the current machines, it’s about $4-5 “coin-in” per minute. That can sound daunting until you break it down.

Tabola clarifies, “That’s not as much as it sounds. If you’re playing max bet on a video poker machine, that’s $1.25 a hand. So, if you play four hands every minute, then you’re fine. Typically, they’re playing 15-20 hands a minute.”

He says, “As an example, out of every $20 you play, let’s say the ‘hold’ is 10%, so the casino gets to keep $2. Well, if it costs them .80 for a beer, for a couple of beers, that’s $1.60 out of that $2. That leaves .40 to pay for the salaries, the benefits and everything else. That’s not a lot.”

This is typically the point in our drink monitoring stories when people scream, “Everything is ruined. No more free drinks in Las Vegas!” Ironically, comp drink validation systems may just have the opposite effect.

They may actually save the tradition of free drinks in casinos.

comp validation systems

It’s worth saying again, with a calming blue graphic.

“In the end,” says Tabola, “it’s not that casinos don’t want to give comped drinks, they want to do that. This gives them a way to measure that out and get those drinks to the right people.”

He concludes, “This technology helps make it feasible for the casinos to continue to provide complimentary beverages and not see them say ‘we’re not doing this any more at all because we can’t control the costs.'”

It’s what Vegas insiders have known for some time. Las Vegas casinos are taking a long, hard look at all their loss-leaders, and everything is up for grabs, including free drinks.

Slot machines

Back in the day, comped drinks were an incentive. Now, they’re a reward.

On a related note: Our feeling for some time has been that the practice of comped drinks should end in casinos altogether. We have a fondness for a particular brand of liquor, and we can rarely, if ever, get it on the casino floor because of an insidious and widespread practice we call the liquor brand swap. Ending comped drink service would mean we could just pay for our drink at the table, and we’d get the liquor we actually ordered.

In any event, comped drink validation machines aren’t just the future, they’re here and they’re on their way to Las Vegas casino floors.

Slot machines

Most players won’t even know a drink monitoring system is in place. A light will show a cocktail waitress your rate of play from 10 feet away.

The light colors on the card-reading bezels have yet to be determined (so we may not be able to use “red light, green light” as short hand for the practice), but Tabola says once field testing is complete, installation of the devices can be done “fairly quickly.”

Ultimately, free drinks in casinos have never truly been free. They’re paid for by gambling.

Soon, casino staffers won’t have to guess if you’re playing enough to warrant a free drink, the process will be automated. And that’s the biggest change in the culture and business of Las Vegas casinos in recent memory, with the potential for an even greater financial impact than paid parking.

We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Update (5/3/17): Thanks to KTNV here in Las Vegas for a great segment inspired by our story.

Update (5/2/18): KTNV did a follow-up story as a 90-machine test starts in Laughlin.

SLS Las Vegas Casino Sold to Alex Meruelo and Meruelo Group

The SLS Las Vegas casino resort has been sold. The sale was officially confirmed following our story.

SLS Las Vegas has been sold to Alex Meruelo and his Meruelo Group, which we didn’t entirely know existed until we wrote this blog post.

SLS Las Vegas

Dibs on this logo thingy.

Which brings two questions to mind immediately. First, what just happened? Second, who is Alex Meruelo?

The Alex Meruelo part we can help with.

Alex Meruelo’s company, Meruelo Group, has a number of assets, but the one most relevant to owning a casino on the Las Vegas Strip is Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, Nevada.

Grand Sierra Resort has gone by a few names, including MGM Grand Reno, Bally’s Reno and Reno Hilton.

Meruelo also has interests in construction and engineering, television, radio, real estate, food services and private equity, whatever that might actually be. The company’s most recent purchase was a radio station in Los Angeles.

Meruelo Group

Dude doesn’t care about wearing proper protective gear near a construction site. We like him already.

The sale of SLS Las Vegas is another fascinating chapter in the history of the boutique resort that was once the classic Sahara.

Our source says there’s been some talk of changing the resort’s name back to Sahara, which would be several kinds of cool. There’s apparently been discussion about changing the casino’s loyalty club from “Code” to “Club 52.” The Sahara opened in 1952.

SLS Las Vegas

Time to say farewell to this bad boy.

It’s likely Meruelo will rebrand SLS Las Vegas, as he did with Grand Sierra Resort when it was purchased in 2011.

The sale of SLS would likely lead to the demise of two of the best restaurants in town, Bazaar Meat and Cleo, licensed from a former partner of the resort, SBE Entertainment.

SLS Las Vegas, owned by Stockbridge Real Estate, has struggled since it opened in August 2014.

We’re hearing there’s been some internal drama at SLS Las Vegas, and that the sale has been in the works since October 2016, right around the time when Scott Kreeger, former President and COO of SLS Las Vegas stepped down.

A statement confirming the sale included, “terms of the deal were not disclosed,” and this quote: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire a premier gaming property on the world famous Las Vegas Strip,” said Meruelo Group Chairman and CEO Alex Meruelo. “We look forward to bringing our experience and successful track record as a casino/hotel owner, and to leverage our Los Angeles-based media and entertainment properties, to position the SLS as one of the most desired destinations in Las Vegas.”

The statement also said the sale of SLS Las Vegas “is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2017.”

Update (6/3/17): Our source informs us of another exclusive, that SLS CEO Terry Downey and CFO Robert Schaffhauser (both formerly of Aliante) will step down July 1, 2017.

Update (7/10/17): The rumor about Downey and Schaffhauser leaving has been confirmed.

Update (3/7/18): Alex Meruelo’s license to operate SLS was approved by the Gaming Control Board.

Neon Museum Rolls Out Signs for Expanded Boneyard

The Las Vegas Neon Museum has begun taking vintage signs out of storage to display them in a new part of its Neon Boneyard.

The Neon Museum recently demolished an adjacent building, expanding its relatively small footprint. The additional space is just .27 acres, but that’s a lot when measured in classic Las Vegas signs.

One of the signs is a truck-sized monster from the demolished Stardust.

Neon Museum Stardust

We miss you even more than our own youth and virility, Stardust.

The Neon Museum’s expansion will also feature a sign from the Riviera.

Neon Museum Riviera sign

Riviera closed on May 4, 2015, to make way for a super sexy parking lot.

It’s also expected the new space will have signs from the Las Vegas Club, Spearmint Rhino, Longhorn Casino, Opera House Gambling Club.

While we’ve never heard of the Polynesian casino, its sign is apparently one of the signs already on-site.

Neon Museum

We are blog, not a historian.

With a little digging, we found out more about the Polynesian. The Polynesian was one of the many incarnations of what is now the Hooters resort. Prior to becoming the Polynesian, it was the Howard Johnson Hotel, Paradise, 20th Century, Treasury and the Pacifica. It later became the Hotel San Remo.

We can’t wait to see what the Neon Museum has in store. We got a little riled up when we saw random Googie stars lying around the site.

Neon Museum Googie stars

Googie architecture and design flourished from the 1940s to the 1960s, at which time hippies ruined everything.

Fans of the Neon Museum will be happy to hear they’ll be bringing some vintage neon to The Strip for the first time. The Neon Museum is partnering with Fashion Show Mall, and will install a sign from the Red Barn at the shopping complex in June.

The signs at Fashion Show Mall will be swapped out every few months.

Red Barn neon sign

At one time, the Red Barn sign was on display at Fremont Street Experience. It left after becoming annoyed by those idiots beating on plastic buckets.

While we’re on the subject, the Red Barn opened in the late 1950s as an antique store at 1317 Tropicana Avenue. In the early ’60s, it was converted it into a bar. The bar became a favorite spot for the gay community in Las Vegas. The Red Barn closed in 1988.

You can learn more about the Neon Museum at the official site, and the museum’s expanded space should be completed and ready for viewing later this year.

Vital Vegas Podcast, Ep. 51: Palm Restaurant, “X Burlesque” and, Yes, We Went to a Dayclub

We’re back and more rambly than ever!

In this week’s episode, we chat with Larry Close, General Manager of Palm Restaurant. Palm restaurant at the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace was recently renovated, and is not to be confused with Palms resort or Palm Mortuary. Don’t laugh, they get that a lot.

Palm restaurant chicken parm

Palm restaurant is home to one of the best chicken parms in Las Vegas and, thus, the world.

Also on the show, we share our enlightening experience at Drai’s Beachclub. No, you’re not being punked. We actually went to a dayclub. Voluntarily, for the most part.

Our further adventures include checking out the expanded footprint at the Neon Museum, celebrating the 15th anniversary of “X Burlesque” (see below) and a stay at Flamingo.

X Burlesque

What, we were going to show you a neon sign when we could share side boob?

In this week’s perfunctory Las Vegas news round-up, we’ve got the latest about the man suing Planet Hollywood for being startled by a mannequin, Resorts World, free downtown shuttles, restaurants opening and closing, Wynn Paradise Park, changes at the World Series of Poker and some thoughts about the guy who jumped into the safety net at the High Roller Ferris wheel.

Wynn Golf Club

We hope you’re not emotionally attached to the Wynn Golf Club, because it’s being swapped out for a water park.

You won’t want to miss our “Listicle of the Week,” as it features Las Vegas things we’d like to have in our house.

We’ve also got a ton of suggestions from Twitter about how to change up your luck in a Las Vegas casino.

It’s so much Las Vegas, you’ll need to loosen your belt a little. Take a listen.

“L.A. to Vegas” Trailer Debuts and It’s Hysterical

We always have mixed feelings when we hear someone’s doing a Vegas-related TV show. We love us some Vegas, but there are so many things that can go sideways.

Thankfully, a new Fox series, “L.A. to Vegas” seems to be doing everything right. The show’s trailer made its debut, and it’s absolutely lit. Or possibly fire. Look, it’s funny AF. Just watch.

“L.A. to Vegas” is what’s known as an “ensemble workplace comedy.” The workplace is an airline (Jackpot Airlines, no less), one that happens to fly from Burbank to Las Vegas.

We have flown from Burbank to Las Vegas innumerable times, and can personally attest to the comedic potential of that particular route, both directions.

L.A. to Vegas sitcom

Been there, drank that.

The “L.A. to Vegas” trailer simply nails it, with a fresh and irreverent tone.

The new series stars Dylan McDermott, a brilliant casting move. McDermott plays the narcissistic pilot of Flight 1610. McDermott previously starred in “The Practice,” and isn’t known as a comedic actor, but he has a natural flair for it in “L.A. to Vegas.”

L.A. to Vegas sitcom

“It’s time to get high and also fly this old bird. Just a little Captain’s joke. I never get high when I’m flying, unless I mistime the edible.”

Other cast members include Kim Matula as Ronnie (pictured below), Nathan Lee Graham as Bernard, Ed Weeks as Micah, Olivia Macklin as Nichole and Peter Stormare as Artem.

L.A. to Vegas sitcom

We’re stocking up for the “L.A. to Vegas” viewing parties.

The show has an impressive pedigree.

“L.A. to Vegas” was created by Lon Zimmet (who wrote the pilot, pun intended). Zimmet is also the co-producer along with will Ferrell and Adam McKay, Chris Henchy and Steve Levitan. Levitan was the co-creator of “Modern Family.”

L.A. to Vegas series

They had us at “from the.”

With its Vegas tie-in, offbeat premise, quirky characters and razor-sharp dialogue, we’ve got high hopes “L.A. to Vegas” will be a smash.

“L.A. to Vegas” will be a mid-season entry in the 2017-2018 television season, whatever that might mean. Just set your DVR thingy, because it’s rare when a sitcom looks this good straight out of the gate.

We’ll wait.

Update (11/22/17): “L.A. to Vegas” will premiere on Jan. 2, 2018 at 9:00 p.m.