Monthly Archives: June 2019

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.

Hakkasan Grid is an Eye-Opening Wonder of Science and Art

If Vegas knows anything, it’s dazzle, and the new Hakkasan Grid at Hakkasan Nightclub takes dazzle to a whole new level.

The multi-million dollar light installation made its debut during EDC (Electric Daisy Carnival, May 17-19, 2019), and delivers on the promise of a sensational new reason to visit Hakkasan inside MGM Grand.

Hakkasan Grid

You’re going to wish you had more eyes.

The Hakkasan Grid is a marvel of technology. The ceiling light installation is made up of 57 individual triangles that can be turned into a virtually unlimited number of shapes, colors and configurations.

Here’s a look at some of the technology involved in making the Hakkasan Grid such a stunner.

Hakkasan Grid Las Vegas

Only slightly less complicated than brain surgery.

The overhead display undulates and pulses, intensifying the impact of the music, creating an ever-changing visual feast for nightclub-goers.

Hakkasan Grid

The 57 triangles are moved using 169 winches, which is 2.964912280 winches per triangle, which can’t be right, but we are a blog, not a mathematician, so let’s move on.

Yeah, you sort of have to see it in action. Behold the Hakkasan Grid.

It’s like a space ship, a kinetic sculpture and a neon factory had a threesome and the Hakkasan Grid is the offspring.

The thing is straight-up amazing, and we aren’t even a nightclub person.

If you’re a light installation nerd, it’s worth noting the Hakkasan Grid is 30 feet wide, and each of the triangles was custom-designed and 3-D printed. The display features pixel mapping and color-mixing technologies as well.

Hakkasan nightclub Las Vegas

Hakkasan is a Japanese word meaning, “You have no chance with that girl, so stop pestering her, you big dope.”

Hakkasan opened in 2013, making it 104 in Las Vegas nightclub years.

Given its substantial investment in the new light installation, Hakkasan clearly isn’t resting on its laurels and intends to stay relevant as the nightlife landscape continues to evolve in Las Vegas.

Hakkasan nightclub Vegas

The exterior of Hakkasan got some digital mapping since your last visit. You need to get out more.

The venue boasts world-class DJ talent, including Tiesto, Zedd, Steve Aoki and others. Such residencies are the bread-and-butter of nightclubs, but it can’t hurt to have a mind-blowing light show in the mix as well.

Hakkasan Grid Las Vegas

Hakkasan it the place to let your geometry freak flag fly.

We’ve added the Hakkasan Grid onto our list of must-see attractions in Las Vegas, right up there with the Bellagio fountains, the new Eiffel Tower light show, the Viva Vision canopy on Fremont Street, the Mirage volcano and us in a thong.

That’s weird. People usually don’t read this far. Good luck unseeing that.

SLS Resort to Be Rebranded to Sahara Hotel & Casino

Ever since SLS Las Vegas was purchased by developer Alex Meruelo, speculation has run rampant about what the new name of the resort would be. Now, we know.

According to a well-placed source, SLS will be renamed Sahara Hotel & Casino.

And all was right with the world.

Sahara SLS

Best. Rumored. Rebrand. Ever.

Since about the time Meruelo Group acquired SLS in April 2018 (yes, we broke the story, because that’s how we roll), rumors swirled the casino would be named Grand Sahara Resort. Meruelo also owns Grand Sierra Resort in Reno.

In the end, though, we hear cooler heads prevailed, and the name Sahara Hotel & Casino will be announced as the hotel’s official name in the next few weeks.

We are downright elated at this news.

Renaming SLS as Sahara is a brilliant move. It plays upon the storied history of the casino, while saving a metric hell-ton of money by playing up an existing brand rather than trying to create a new one from scratch.

While the previous Sahara went downhill toward the ends of its life (Sahara closed in 2011 after 59 years of operation), there’s a surprising amount of goodwill toward the brand, and we suspect Vegas visitors and locals will embrace the new Sahara’s throwback vibe.

Since acquiring SLS, the resort has had a multi-million dollar facelift, including dramatic changes to the casino and the recent opening of the Casbar lounge.

The original Sahara had a Casbar lounge. Ah, the circularity of the universe. (We’ll share more about the new lounge soon, as it’s incredible. We’re just too Captained to do it justice at the moment. Yes, “Captained” can be used as a verb.)

New Sahara Las Vegas

This is not your grandpa’s Sahara.

Clues about a Sahara rebrand abound at SLS.

For example, the casino’s loyalty club is called Club 52. Sahara opened in 1952. The loyalty club’s logo features a design flourish used in the original Sahara’s advertising.

SLS Sahara

Those aren’t ovaries. They’re a design flourish! Freak.

Oh, and while we’re delivering the scoop, here’s another juicy item: We hear Alex Meruelo has purchased another Las Vegas casino.

Mind blown.

Now, we can redirect our speculation from the new name of SLS to which casino he’s acquiring. Treasure Island? Planet Hollywood? Another Caesars Entertainment casino?

We’ll get an official announcement soon.

Also, expect more news out of SLS/Sahara soon, including official confirmation of scoop we’ve already shared: Cleo is closing. Umami Burger is closing. 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria is closing. Bazaar Meat is staying and getting an expansion. “Magic Mike Live” is moving in.

Oh, and expect an announcement of a major renovation to the resort’s pool complex. Are you not entertained?

In the meantime, let’s just bask in the magnificence of a new name for SLS: Sahara Hotel & Casino.

We can’t wait to have her back.

Vital Vegas Podcast, Ep. 98: Las Vegas Tea Time

It’s time for another installment of the podcast that never fails to disappoint!

In this episode, we chat with casino owner Derek Stevens about the debut of Circa Sports, a new sports book at Golden Gate. Read more.

Circa Sports Golden Gate

The oldest casino in Vegas has the newest sports book. There will be a quiz.

Stevens shares updates about not only the new sports book, but also brings us up to speed on construction of Circa Resort.

Also on the show, we share our experience at the Top of the World restaurant at The Strat, as well as Alder & Birch at Orleans.

But, wait, there’s more.

We also pass along some inside scoop about the Hakkasan Grid, a new light installation at Hakkasan nightclub at MGM Grand.

Hakkasan Grid

Behold the newest eye candy in Las Vegas, the Hakkasan Grid.

Naturally, we cover all the juicy Las Vegas rumors and speculation you have grown to know and love.

We talk SLS resort, the Front Yard at Ellis Island, resort fees, the former Intrigue nightclub, the World Series of Poker at Rio, the Mill Meek fiasco and more.

It’s the final episode of the first season, so take a listen.