Monthly Archives: June 2019

Vital Vegas Podcast, Episode 99: Stop, Inebriate and Listen

It’s time for another installment of the supremely skippable Vital Vegas Podcast.

We cover the whole gamut of Las Vegas news, several gamuts if we’re being completely honest.

We talk about the Caesars and Eldorado merger, of course, including the wild speculation and poorly researched opinions for which we have become so well known among residents of correctional centers.

Caesars Palace fountains

By the time you listen to this podcast, Caesars Entertainment could be a very different thing.

There’s also talk about Vic & Anthony’s at Golden Nugget, tons of news at SLS (soon to be renamed Sahara), Apex and Kaos at Palms and an upcoming partnership between Virgin Hotel and Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment. See more.

Our listicle of the week floats “10 Great Gifts for People Who Love Las Vegas.” Fair warning: At least one of the gifts can be used as a murder weapon.

Ready to get pumped full of Las Vegas in a fully consensual context? We’ve got this!

Hard Rock/Virgin Las Vegas to Partner With Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment

There are lots of rumors swirling about an increased tribal presence in Las Vegas at the moment. We know, because we’re the one who’s been swirling them.

Tribey

Just because a word doesn’t exist doesn’t mean you can’t use it.

From casino purchases to other high-profile investments (give it a couple of weeks and we’ll be sharing more huge tribe-related scoop), it’s clear sovereign tribal nations have their eye on Las Vegas in a big way.

The first big move by a tribe in the Las Vegas market looks to be a partnership between Hard Rock Las Vegas, which is transitioning into Virgin Hotel Las Vegas, and Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment.

Mohegan Tribe Virgin Las Vegas

Vegas is full of surprises.

We’re told reliably the Mohegan tribe will be managing the casino at Virgin Hotel Las Vegas (technically, Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, but there’s only one planned at the moment, so we’re keeping it singular).

No official announcement has been made about this partnership, but when has that ever stopped us from spilling some tea?

As this news hasn’t been made public yet, there’s no concrete timeline. We do know Hard Rock will close after the Super Bowl (about April 1, 2020) for about four months (through July 2020) as the resort completes its changeover to Virgin Hotel. We trust Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment will be in place managing Virgin’s casino operations by that time (August 2020).

This is a huge partnership both for the Mohegan tribe and the owners of Hard Rock resort, JC Hospitality and Richard Branson’s Virgin Hotels.

Virgin hotel Las Vegas

Adios, Hard Rock. Hello, Virgin.

This gives the tribe a foothold in Vegas, and gives Virgin Hotel a whole new pool of potential customers who have played at the popular Mohegan Sun resort in Connecticut. Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment manages Mohegan Sun. Read more.

Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment (MGE) owns and manages resorts throughout the U.S., including in Connecticut, Atlantic City, Washington and Louisiana. Oh, and in South Korea. See more.

Interestingly, MGE owns the Connecticut Sun, a WNBA team, and the New England Black Wolves, a professional lacrosse team in the National Lacrosse League. In case you haven’t heard, sports is sort of thing in Las Vegas at the moment, despite our best efforts.

Join us in getting a crash course on Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment.

Expect official confirmation of this scoop in the next few weeks, and look forward to an influx of tribe-related headlines in the months to come.

Eldorado Resorts to Merge With Caesars Entertainment

There have been rumblings about a sale of Caesars Entertainment for months, now several major news outlets are reporting a deal has been struck.

According to sources familiar with the deal, Eldorado Resorts Inc. has agreed to merge with Caesars Entertainment. The selling price is expected to be $8.6 billion. Here’s more.

The cash and stock deal is said to be valued at $17.3 billion (which represents the sale price and a metric ass-ton of Caesars Entertainment debt).

Eldorado Caesars merger

Eldorado operates 26 casinos in 12 states. That number’s about to jump up a smidge.

It’s fairly certain the merger was the result of pressure from bajillionaire Carl Icahn, currently the biggest shareholder of Caesars Entertainment.

Assuming reports of the merger are true, that would put the value of Caesars stock at $13 a share.

For a little historical perspective, in 2004, Harrah’s bought Caesars for $17 a share.

In 2007, Apollo Global Management LLC and TPG bought Harrah’s for $90 per share. Fun fact: When the buyout happened, the company’s CEO Gary Loveman made $94 million in one day.  No, really.

Caesars Entertainment filed for bankruptcy in 2015 with a staggering debt load of $24 billion. Read more.

Yep, it’s been a wild ride, to say the least.

There’s a lot of head-scratching going on regarding the Eldorado and Caesars Entertainment merger. Also, there are still a lot of moving pieces involved, such as rumors we’ve heard certain Caesars-owned resorts—Rio and Planet Hollywood, specifically—are being sold off.

Rio Las Vegas sign

It’s time to say “goodbye” to Rio.

We’ve also seen some signs Caesars Entertainment may shed its Horseshoe brand.

Ah, the glorious drama!

An official announcement of the Eldorado and Caesars merger is expected on June 24, 2019, and we’ll know more about the specifics of the deal, and hopefully what it all means for your Las Vegas experience.

Update (6/24/19): The merger of Eldorado and Caesars Entertainment has been confirmed. The combined company will have 60 casinos in 16 states, and will be called Caesars. The company will be headquartered in Reno, Nevada. The deal is set to close in the first half of 2020. He’s the official statement from Eldorado Resorts. Here’s a sassy statement from Carl Icahn.

Since the announcement, there have been a lot of questions about the fate of the Caesars Rewards loyalty club. We’ve got this. Thanks to Eric R. on the Twitters for passing this along.

Caesars Rewards Eldorado

Translation: Chill.

Pop-Up Casinos Appear for a Day at Former Las Vegas Club and Mermaids

We love pop-up casinos!

No, that’s not what they’re called officially, but just play along.

Recently, temporary casinos opened at the former sites of the Las Vegas Club and Mermaids in order to meet gaming requirements to extend the licenses associated with these demolished venues.

For exactly eight hours each.

The sites are now part of the construction site of a new resort, Circa Las Vegas, so guests got the chance to be the first to gamble as the new casino. Sort of.

Here’s the temporary casino at the Las Vegas Club, open for a day on June 11, 2019.

Pop-up casino

No drink service, but charming nonetheless.

Each pop-up casino had exactly 16 video poker machines.

Las Vegas Club and Mermaids closed back in 2016, but the current owners, Greg and Derek Stevens, need to keep the gaming licenses active, so they get to indulge in this fun (but expensive) ritual.

Here’s a look inside the miniature casino at the Las Vegas Club site.

Circa pop-up casinos

Ever get lost in a Vegas casino? Not this one. You’re looking at the entire thing.

We say “expensive” because these pop-up casinos cost $50,000-$60,000 to set up and operate for a day. Century Gaming is the go-to vendor for such temporary casinos around town. The money wagered in the machines goes to them, not the company that arranges for the pop-up casino.

After the first day, on June 12, 2019, all the machines were moved a few feet away to where Mermaids used to serve its infamous deep fried Oreos. We know, because we had the last one ever served there. We still don’t feel quite right.

Mermaids pop-up casino

Even on a construction site, still cleaner than Mermaids was.

For whatever reason, people don’t tend to flock to these pop-up casinos. The pay tables aren’t great, but they aren’t horrible.

Just five people played on the machines at the first location, and about the same played the second day, reportedly.

Let’s look inside the Mermaids pop-up casino for no good reason other than for posterity.

Mermaids temporary casino

The easiest way to tell a loose slot machine is to see which one we’re playing.

We love them, however, and have yet to lose when playing at a temporary casino. In fact, at the Mermaids location, we hit two four-of-a-kinds and walked away with $100 in profit.

Circa popup casino

Construction dust is lucky!

The real question, of course, is were we among the last to play at Mermaids or among the first to play at Circa?

We would be remiss if we didn’t share the latest from the Circa construction site.

Circa 2019

Circa is going vertical.

Up above, Fremont Street Experience (where we work in digital marketing as our day job) is in the throes of a $32 million renovation of the Viva Vision video screen. Here’s an update on the progress of that project as well. Don’t you know this blog at all?

Viva Vision upgrade

The upgraded screen looks bomb, or possibly fleek. See more.

Pop-up casinos are quirky part of Las Vegas casino culture.

While we think they’re sort of dumb and a waste of time and money, we will rarely turn down the chance to gamble outside and stick it to The Man with a win.

The Next Big Change in Free Casino Drinks is Already Here

Back in the day in Las Vegas, drinks flowed freely. Emphasis on “free.”

You gambled, you drank free. Sometimes, you drank free whether you gambled or not.

Over time, though, casinos realized the cost of free hooch was affecting their profits, so they started paying more attention to whether guests were playing enough to warrant free drinks.

Stratosphere cocktail

Colorful cocktails are a great way to calm one’s nerves prior to diving into drink monitoring.

Here’s a quick overview of how drink monitoring has evolved.

1) Back in 2015, Mirage began using drink vouchers at its lobby bar. If you put $20 into the machine, you got a free drink. As you played more, you got a voucher which got you more free liquor. The Cosmopolitan’s Chandelier Bar still uses a similar voucher system.

Mirage Vegas comp drink voucher

Oh, look, a harbinger. We’re real big on harbinging.

2) In 2016, we dropped the bombshell Caesars Entertainment was rolling out drink monitoring machines (we informally referred to them as “red light, green light” machines) at its video poker bars. Again, guests who played a minimum bet (usually $1, or four quarters a hand) at a steady pace got a steady supply of free drinks. For bartenders, traditionally the free drink gatekeepers, these machines took the guesswork out who got a free drink, and how often. Green light, you’re good. Red light, keep playing until you meet the freebie criteria.

Everyone freaked out, including us.

Caesars Palace sports bar comps

These drink monitoring systems are ubiquitous now and we aren’t just saying that to prove we finally learned how to spell “ubiquitous.”

3) In 2017, we shared drink monitoring would be coming to casino floors. (That’s still in the works, but systems are still being field tested in Laughlin.) In 2018, Westgate implemented drink monitoring on slot machines across the resort, but the program didn’t pan out.

4) Earlier in 2019, we made sort of an awkward prediction based upon discussions with industry insiders. Hold onto something.

Free drinks in casinos

Yes, it’s overly dramatic. It’s the Internet. Get used to it.

If you haven’t heard about MGM 2020, it’s an initiative that’s taking a long, hard look at the way MGM Resorts does business with the goal of saving hundreds of millions of dollars. Read more.

We’d seen some red flags related to comp drinks at Park MGM, formerly Monte Carlo. When Park MGM opened, drinks weren’t being comped for video poker players. The casino quickly reversed course on that, thankfully.

Now, though, we think MGM Resorts is putting a new system into place that will fundamentally put quotation marks around “free” in the phrase “free drinks in Las Vegas casinos.”

In Park MGM’s West Bar, patrons are no longer getting comped drinks if they are not members of the MGM Resorts loyalty program, M Life.

Guests still get a drink when they put a minimum of $20 into a video poker machine, but only if they use a player’s club card.

Park MGM bar

This bar at Park MGM is ground zero for the way free drinks will work in casinos, mainly because “ground zero” sounds pretty badass.

After that first drink, a player must either pay for their drink—yes, even if they’re gambling—or earn 10 session points. A bartender shared the program originally required 25 session points, but customers shared their displeasure, so the number was reduced.

On the bright side, it’s easy to tell how much longer you need to play before your next comped drink. Here’s what’s displayed on the machine.

Park MGM drink monitoring

Even if you can’t pace yourself, this bad boy can.

What we’re seeing is a practice we’re fairly sure is going to become the new normal. Not just at MGM Resorts casinos in Las Vegas, but at all of them.

The era of free drinks in casinos, without limits, is done.

Comped drinks will be closely tied to gambling, as has always been the case, but now play will be tracked more closely and free drinks will have to be earned.

Here’s the thing, though.

Our view of drink monitoring has changed dramatically since the inception of such practices. Our outrage subsided when we realized the threshold for free drinks is still relatively low. Monitoring is really just an attempt to prevent people trying to get something for nothing.

We have no problem with that. Casinos aren’t charities.

Drink monitoring ensures seats at video poker bars are available for people who want to play, as opposed to people who slip a $1 bill into the machine and immediately demand free liquor.

Drink monitoring serves a secondary purpose for casinos, too. It keeps customers from being over-served. The average time between comped drinks is about 20 minutes, or three cocktails an hour.

The long-standing practice of giving away free drinks in Las Vegas casinos is remnant of a time when gambling subsidized everything. Now, as gambling revenue declines and casino stock prices slip, casino companies are faced with the reality giving free liquor costs them millions.

Oh, and if you think the issue of casinos scrutinizing the return on their comped drinks, check out this memo from a casino comptroller at the El Rancho in 1955. Thanks to our friends at Classic Las Vegas for this amazing find.

El Rancho comps

The more things change, the more bean counters stay the same.

Moving forward, even if your drink is “free,” expect to earn it.

At the bar, in the sports book, at the slots and table games and anywhere else free hooch is served in Las Vegas casinos.

Our advice: Sign up for the loyalty club. always use your card. Find a machine with a decent pay table and have a blast.

That’s why you’re in Vegas in the first place.

Fremont Street Experience Finishes First Section of Viva Vision Upgrade

Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas recently completed work on the first portion of a $32 million upgrade to the world’s largest video screen, Viva Vision.

The renovation started May 6, 2019.

The first completed section, near the Golden Gate casino, was tested on June 5, 2019.

Viva Vision upgrade testing

The technical term for this visual display is “big-ass test pattern.”

The Viva Vision upgrade is being done in eight 150-foot sections to avoid disruption to the nightly light shows.

When fully renovated, Viva Vision will be four times the resolution and up to seven times the brightness of the current screen.

This is the second time the screen has gotten a facelift. It opened in December 1995, and got an LED upgrade in 2004 at a cost of $17 million.

Here’s a close-up look at one of the new LED panels. The holes allow sunlight to shine through during the day.

Viva Vision LED module

The renovation will involve 67,456 of these bad boys.

The new Viva Vision screen will have 49,299,456 LEDs. Probably. We sure as hell don’t have time to count them. We are very busy being a smart-ass.

When completed, the new screen will have 16,433,152 pixels. Ditto what we said about the counting thing.

What does all this mean? Well, for the first time in the history of the attraction, Viva Vision can show content during daylight hours.

Here’s some video of the daytime testing of the first section of the canopy.

The fully upgraded Viva Vision screen is scheduled to debut on Dec. 31, 2019, on New Year’s Eve.

Visitors will get a sneak preview of the newly upgraded canopy during the reveal of a new light show featuring Steve Aoki on June 13, 2019.

The Aoki light show is the second new show in recent weeks. Another, with the music of The Chainsmokers, debuted May 31, 2019.

Chainsmokers light show

We weren’t particularly familiar with The Chainsmokers, but have come to love them because their Viva Vision show features a hell-ton of neon.

Because the new canopy be used 24/7, a substantial amount of new content will be created in the months to come intended to make the most of the screen’s dramatically increased resolution.

The Viva Vision renovation is a big deal for downtown, as surveys show most Las Vegas visitors make their way downtown because of Fremont Street Experience and the light shows. Hit the official site for more information.

It’s also worth noting we work at Fremont Street Experience in digital marketing as our day job and we can personally confirm many people visit downtown specifically to buy us a Captain Morgan and diet. Hint, hint.

Viva Vision upgrade

If this is how it looks during the day, bring on the night.

The Viva Vision screen renovation is moving along at a brisk pace, so stay tuned for more updates.