Monthly Archives: October 2018

Lucky Dragon Gets Zero Bids at Bankruptcy Auction

An auction for the Asian-themed Lucky Dragon resulted in zero bids, so it will go to the failed casino’s primary lender, Snow Covered Capital.

The auction on Oct. 30, 2018, had a healthy turnout at the offices of Nevada Legal News in downtown Las Vegas. In fact, the auction was so well-attended, it had to be held in the building’s parking lot.

Lucky Dragon auction

Shout-out to all the Toastmasters who know that’s a lectern and not a podium!

Unfortunately for everyone involved, nobody in the crowd was willing to meet or beat Snow Covered Capital’s $35 million minimum bid, so the company will take ownership of the shuttered Lucky Dragon.

Not only did Snow Covered Capital not get the $55 million it needed to recoup its loan, many others are losing their shorts in the Lucky Dragon saga as well.

There’s a second tier of lenders who are likely to never see a dollar, as well as innumerable craftspeople who have yet to be paid for their work on the ill-fated hotel-casino.

Lucky Dragon

Lucky Dragon may not have been a success, but nobody can say it wasn’t pretty.

The bankruptcy of Lucky Dragon will be especially brutal for the 179 foreign investors who sunk a total of $89 million into the project. Those investors were promised green cards as part of the
federal EB-5 program, and are now what industry experts call “S.O.L.”

We’ve heard a class action lawsuit may be in the making.

Read more about how foreign investors got snookered.

So, what’s next for Lucky Dragon?

While Snow Covered Capital probably would’ve preferred a magical offer of $55 million falling into its lap, having the casino in its possession now means it can pursue a buyer unfettered by the pressures and time constraints of bankruptcy and foreclosure proceedings.

It’s unknown what kind of business could make a go of Lucky Dragon, or whatever it becomes next.

Lucky Dragon

Lucky Dragon was one of our favorite Las Vegas casinos we almost never visited.

More development on the north end of The Strip would certainly make Lucky Dragon more appealing to a potential operator.

We’d love to see a new casino concept, preferably one that serves budget-conscious visitors. A boutique hotel-casino along the lines of Ellis Island could target an under-served customer
looking for a place to stay and play and gamble without being nickel-and-dimed.

In fact, now would be the perfect time for an enterprising operator to establish a casino-hotel built from the ground up to take advantage of growing frustrations about paid parking, resort fees and other irksome practices which have become common in Las Vegas.

Here’s the strategy, enterprising operator:

Swear we’ll never pay for parking, never pay a resort fee or concession fee or venue fee or convenience charge.

Ensure we’ll always get 3-to-2 on blackjack and one zero on roulette, with 100x odds on craps.

Pledge to loosen the slots. We don’t mind losing when we gamble, just make it take longer!

Make the food cheap, quick and a great value.

Pour the liquor brands we want from the bottle, not the gun, and get rid of machines that tell us  when we’re worthy of a drink. Oh, and give us a damn straw with our cocktail without having to ask for one.

Give us a “Do Not Disturb” sign rather than one that says “Room Occupied.”

Let us check in early and check out late.

And while we’re building a wishlist, bring back moving walkways. We loved those things!

Build it (or rather, rebrand it) and they will come.

Vital Vegas Podcast, Ep. 88: Luckiest Episode, Ever

It’s time for another episode of the podcast guaranteed to be more pleasant than an intestinal parasite infection, but just barely.

In this installment, we take full advantage of 88, a number considered one of the luckiest in Chinese culture. We also talk about other numbers that are considered lucky and unlucky, and sometimes both.

There’s a metric hell-ton of updates about the latest news in Las Vegas, from Britney Spears’ new residency at Park MGM to the renovations at SLS and so much exclusive scoop you’ll have trouble fitting it all into your earholes.

We also give the inside skinny on a new lobby lounge at Bally’s, mainly as an excuse to chastise overzealous security guards who have it in for people with big cameras. Don’t get us started.

Bally's lobby lounge

Due to strict rules against photography at Bally’s, we are unable to share this photo of the new lounge.

Man, alive, is there a lot of Vegas news to catch up on.

Red Plate restaurant and Ghost Donkey opened at Cosmo, “Legends” is moving from Flamingo to Tropicana, Celine Dion announced her final shows, Sphere at Venetian broke ground, “Friends The Musical Parody” opened at The D, Downtown Project rebranded to DTP Companies, Mob Museum welcomed its two millionth visitor, Rehab closed for good, Harrah’s is de-theming, “Bat Out of Hell The Musical” is coming to Venetian, “Marilyn” isn’t coming anywhere, Donny and Marie are done at Flamingo next year, Rio’s getting a new venue (DB172), Don’t Tell Mama is moving to Neonopolis, Catch opened at Aria, Zoe escape room opened at Bally’s, Plaza is building a permanent outdoor equestrian center and TI is about to open a new sports bar.

Donny Marie feud

Donny and Marie were supposed to be at Flamingo for six weeks. When they’re done, it’ll be 11 years.

Are you not entertained?

Don’t attempt to do Las Vegas without stuffing your gullet full of WTF. Take a listen.

Hard Rock Rolls Out Painless Drink Voucher System

The first time we ever saw a voucher system for free drinks on a video poker machine, we had a minor meltdown.

That was at Mirage, back in 2015.

Then Caesars Entertainment made a splash when it rolled out drink monitoring to all its casino bars.

We still had sort of a meltdown, but we learned some deep breathing exercises and started asking questions.

Let’s just say we’ve done a 180 since 2015, largely due to understanding more about why drink monitoring systems are necessary and how, surprisingly, they help players.

This knowledge came in handy when we learned Hard Rock casino has implemented drink monitoring in all its casino bars. (Thanks to Lisa H. for the tip!)

Here’s a look at the new message guests see when they sit at a video poker machine at Hard Rock.

Hard Rock drink vouchers

What once gave us palpitations now elicits a “La-dee-dah.” Don’t judge. We used to musical theater.

No meltdown. Either we’re mellowing, or we’re starting to get a clue. You decide, because we’re drunk on comped drinks.

See, drink monitoring accomplishes a lot for casinos.

One, it cuts costs. Gone are the days when players would slip a dollar in a video poker machine and try to drink free all night. These systems assure players are actually playing, which is part of the deal to get drinks for “free.”

That’s the way it’s always been in Las Vegas, by the way, the monitoring was just never automated before.

Two, it takes the drink monitoring burden away from bartenders. Their reaction to drink monitoring systems has evolved much as ours has over the last couple of years, by the way. It’s no fun being a gatekeeper.

Three, drink monitoring systems prevent over-serving. The default in Las Vegas now seems to be players can earn about three free drinks per hour with continuous play. That’s how it works at Hard Rock, too.

So, what do these systems do for players?

One of the best benefits is monitoring systems keep freeloaders from taking up seats where you want to play. You know, to gamble. Which is sort of the point of having video poker at casino bars in the first place. They’re for gamblers.

Also, drink monitoring systems like the voucher system at Hard Rock take much of the mystery out of how much you have to play and at what betting level before you’ve earned more free hooch. You know where you stand.

The message on the machine at Hard Rock makes it clear. You put in $20, you get your first free drink. Then, just make $1 (or more) bets continuously, and you’ll get a steady supply.

By the time we were done at Hard Rock, we had more vouchers than we could actually redeem. We also won $60.

It was yet another reminder why Las Vegas is the best place on Earth.

Hard Rock drink vouchers

If you ever let a drink voucher go unredeemed, you’re doing Vegas wrong.

Some other small print at Hard Rock: The drink vouchers are only good for 12 hours, the vouchers aren’t transferable and the “beverage selection is limited.” They’ll have what you want unless you’re a snooty 60-year-old bottle of Macallan Valerio Adami person.

And, no, we don’t actually know what that is, but you get our point.

So, has Vegas changed in recent years? Yes.

Would we prefer to get free booze anytime, anywhere? Sure.

Are drinking monitoring systems coming to all the slots on Las Vegas casino floors? You bet.

But drink monitoring systems like the ones at Hard Rock or Caesars resorts or Westgate don’t even make the top three of our “Most Bothersome Things About Vegas Casinos” list.

That would be, in no particular order: 1) No plastic straws, 2) paid parking and 3) swapping out the liquor brand we order with a knock-off and lying about it.

By the way, parking at Hard Rock (soon to be Virgin Hotel Las Vegas) is free. Plus, they poured our Captain Morgan from a bottle and even included straws without our having to ask.

Man, alive, we love this town.

Plug Pulled on Tao Group Nightclub and Restaurant at Palms

Boom. We did not see this one coming.

Seemingly out of the blue, Tao Group and Red Rock Resorts announced they’re bailing on plans for a massive nightclub and restaurant at the off-Strip Palms.

The companies made the announcement in a joint statement. (Las Vegas translation: They have to play nice in public.)

Here’s the entire statement, as there’s not a lot of other information about this sudden change of course at Palms.

“Red Rock Resorts, Inc. and Tao Group announced today that they have jointly agreed to terminate the agreements previously entered into by the parties in connection with the dayclub/nightclub and a restaurant that are scheduled to open around the end of the first quarter in 2019 at the Palms Casino Resort. The terms of the agreements are confidential, but no payment will be required of either party under the agreements.”

Palms

This marquee came down as part of the Palms overhaul, probably in an attempt to make us openly weep.

Crazy, right?

Palms has been trumpeting its partnership with Tao Group for some time now, and a substantial investment has already been made in the nightclub space.

The 29,000-square-foot nightclub will presumably move forward at Palms, just without Tao Group as a partner.

Tao was also slated to bring its Vandal restaurant brand to Palms. The original Vandal has been a trendy smash in New York City, and was highly-anticipated in Las Vegas.

Tao Group

It’s pronounced “dow,” no matter how many people insist upon mispronouncing it.

So, that’s all the hard news about this turn of events. The rest is mostly conjecture, and our usual sources are being tight-lipped about the divorce between Palms and Tao, although it’s fairly obvious it was due to “irreconcilable differences.”

There’s a chance Tao got cold feet. Palms is in the midst of a $620 million makeover, and Tao was going to play a significant part.

But Palms already has a nightclub, Apex Social Club. Sources tell us Apex has struggled since opening in the former Ghost Bar space. Reports are mixed about the hotel’s new steakhouse, Scotch 80 Prime.

Did Tao Group lose faith in the new “From Dust to Gold” direction of Palms? See more.

Palms dust to gold

Wasn’t this the plot of a James Bond movie?

Tao Group, of course, sold a majority interest to Madison Square Garden in 2017 for about $180 million. The Madison Square Garden Company has gained a higher profile in Las Vegas with the development of the Sphere at Venetian.

Is there a chance Las Vegas Sands, owner of the Venetian, wasn’t thrilled with Tao Group (and by extension, it’s Sphere partner) playing in somebody else’s sandbox?

There have also been rumblings related to Tao’s Marquee nightclub at Cosmopolitan (rumors it would close have been denied by Cosmopolitan and Tao reps) and Tao Beach at Venetian (we’ve heard its planned expansion was stalled until news of the Palms deal fell through).

We’ll keep poking around to see what we can dig up about what we’re sure is some juicy drama!

Unknown bar Palms

The new Unknown bar at Palms recently joined our list of offbeat Vegas photo ops.

At the moment, it seems Red Rock Resorts and Palms are in need of a dayclub/nightclub partner.

On the restaurant side, there’s no time to cry over spilled hot pretzel steak tartare, whatever that might be. Bottom line: There are tons of exciting new restaurant offerings in the works at Palms.

New concepts on the way include restaurants from Michael Symon (BBQ), Marc Vetri (Italian) and Bobby Flay (seafood). We’re literally getting hungry typing that sentence.

There’s also a new buffet, AYCE (All You Can Eat), a new cafe (Lucky Penny) and a new noodle bar (Send Noodles).

That’s just for starters. Check out our list of 22 New or Renovated Things Coming to Palms.

Renovations Are Underway at SLS Las Vegas

The new owner of SLS Las Vegas, Alex Meruelo, has started what he says will be $100 million in upgrades and renovations to the north Strip resort.

Changes as SLS are already underway, including in the casino, as evidenced by a large portion of the floor being walled off.

SLS Las Vegas renovations

You go, SLS. We love that new casino smell.

It doesn’t appear the current renovations have had any impact on the restaurants, including one of our favorite in town, Cleo.

It’s anticipated most, if not all, of the current SLS dining offerings will be swapped out with new concepts as the resort overhaul proceeds. Restaurants like Katsuya, Umami Burger, Cleo and 800 Degrees Pizza are licensed from SBE Entertainment Group, a previous co-owner of the hotel.

We have heard Bazaar Meat will survive the transition, though, and even expand.

Sadly, the walled-off section of the casino floor does encompass the former party pit, just outside the Sayers Club.

SLS renovations

When you’re in this spot, look up. You’ll see a glorious chandelier made from door handles salvaged from the Sahara.

The renovations brush up against the popular center bar’s video screen.

A couple of signs on the construction wall give a glimpse into what’s to come for the SLS casino floor.

SLS Las Vegas

The casino at SLS never looked finished. Clearly, now it will.

Upgrades in the casino will include changes to the ceiling, carpeting and lighting.

Here’s another peek through the time portal into the future of SLS. Or something.

SLS renovations

Adios, exposed air conditioning ducts. And random monkeys.

By the time the renovations are done at SLS, it’s likely the resort won’t bear that name anymore. The most likely candidate is Grand Sahara, a throwback to the casino’s original name while integrating a brand owned by Alex Meuelo in Reno, the Grand Sierra Resort.

Oh, all right, nerd. The Sahara’s original name was Club Bingo. Just play along!

Beyond the casino, renovations to the resort will involve hotel room upgrades, the pool and entertainment venues. It’s all fairly amazing given the resort only opened as SLS four years
ago, on Aug. 23, 2014.

As far as we know, SLS hasn’t had a profitable month since it opened, and the hope is Alex Meruelo and his team can turn things around.

SLS renovations

The good news: SLS is one of the few remaining casinos on The Strip with free parking.

Meruelo’s team has already made dramatic moves to cut costs at the resort, including terminating a lease of a nearby employee parking lot that was rumored to be costing the company $40,000 a month.

A big change at the resort took place when W Las Vegas was shown the door in August 2018. Details of that deal are murky, but it brought back operation of the hotel’s Lux Tower (now called the Grand Tower) after the boutique “hotel within a hotel” concept opened in Dec. 2016.

Some of the changes haven’t been received warmly by employees (don’t get them started about the employee dining room), but in recent weeks we’ve found them to be in better spirits, and play in the casino seems to have picked up a bit.

Generous food comps and free play offers seem to be flowing freely, and that’s a great way to keep us coming back.

We’re looking forward to seeing how SLS Las Vegas revamps its casino. One change we’d love to see is a loosening up of the slots, as they clamped down tight a few months after SLS opened, presumably as a way to increase revenue when the anticipated crowds of cool kids from L.A. never materialized.

We’ve always liked SLS a lot. The restaurant mix is appealing, and we tend to prefer our casinos less crowded and rowdy. SLS qualifies.

The success of SLS Las Vegas could hinge on increased development on the north end of The Strip. If projects like Resorts World, The Drew, All Net Resort and Arena (don’t laugh, we hear there’s new funding) and the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion come online, there’s hope. And who knows, Lucky Dragon might re-open again in some form after its sale (Alex Meruelo was in the mix as a potential buyer at one point).

There’s also a rebrand in the works at The Strat, and much more activity at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds (site of the forgettable Rock in Rio music festival fiasco), just across the street from SLS.

In the meantime, eat as much of the Chicken Tagine at Cleo and take lots of selfies with the goofy statue in the hotel’s porte-cochere, while you still can.

SLS casino chip

This fake chip will soon be a collectible!

We’d love to hear your thoughts about what’s in store for SLS Las Vegas.

Vital Vegas Podcast, Ep. 87: The Bestish of Las Vegas

Gird your loins for another wildly disappointing installment of the podcast even less valuable than a roulette chip at a cashier cage.

In this episode, we take on the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s “Best of Las Vegas” awards. Some of the awards nail it, while others give our WTF muscles a strenuous workout.

Bestish of Las Vegas

This year’s Best of Las Vegas awards got 3.1 million votes, many of them not completely insane. We’re looking at you, whoever voted Rollin’ Smoke BBQ “Best Dessert” in Las Vegas.

We also dive into what makes Las Vegas so much better than everywhere else. Hint: It’s a very long list.

Examples of things that suck about other places: There’s nothing to do, everything closes early, humidity is awful, there are too many people and toll roads, and you’ll rarely find room values like you do in Las Vegas, even with those annoying resort fees.

There’s also a quick review of “A Mob Story” at Plaza, a show we fully expected to hate but didn’t, because great choreography. And stories told by a former “made man.” And butts.

A Mob Story

Oh, there will be whacking.

Learn more about A Mob Story at Plaza, and see it while you can.

Sure, you’re very busy, so shove a Las Vegas podcast into your earholes because it’s not like you’re eating with them. Or something.

Take a listen and get all the Vegas you’ve got coming to you.