Monthly Archives: April 2020

Vital Vegas Podcast, Ep. 108: The Comeback Trail

It’s time to talk about what’s next for Las Vegas, because things pretty much suck at the moment.

Catch our award-worthy interview with international entertainment titan, Ross Mollison, producer of three hit shows on the Las Vegas Strip: “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace, “Opium” at Cosmo and “Atomic Saloon” (see below) at Venetian.

Atomic Saloon

Bawdy and brazen, Ross Mollison’s shows have turned the world of Las Vegas entertainment on its head.

Mollison shares his insights about the impact of the Strip shutdown on shows, as well as scoop about his latest Vegas production currently in the works.

Ross Mollison

They broke the mold before, during and after making producer Ross Mollison.

Plus, we read some mean reviews of our podcast and share the first 10 things we’re doing when Las Vegas gets back online.

MGM Resorts Survey Gives Insights Into What May Lie Ahead

A survey sent to MGM Resorts loyalty club customers provides fascinating insights into the opportunities and challenges ahead for Las Vegas casino companies.

The survey apparently went to the company’s highest loyalty club tier levels, Platinum and Noir.

MGM lion

Inquiring minds.

The survey attempts to gauge customer sentiment about returning to Las Vegas following the COVID-19 shutdown.

MGM Resorts survey

Further proof it takes money to make money.

The survey starts with a question related to whether free parking or free play would increase the likelihood of visiting a Las Vegas resort.

MGM survey

The first rule of Vegas: Never underestimate the power of free slot play.

“Free parking” has such a magical ring to it, doesn’t it?

One component of that question was shocking, honestly.

The survey asks respondents about the idea of “a policy that only resort guests are allowed on the premises.” That’s the first time we’ve seen that idea floated by any casino company, and would be a dramatic (and expensive) move to make players feel safe in their favorite resorts.

MGM survey

Hurtful.

MGM Resort is also testing the waters about doctors on site, self-service food ordering and dividers between staff and guests.

MGM survey

It remains to be seen if these changes are temporary or permanent.

There were also a number of questions related to safety measures, including masks and gloves being made available to guests, temperature checks and enhanced viral cleaning of rooms.

casino survey

We vote yes.

One of the most intriguing question in the survey broached the prospect of non-smoking policies throughout casino resorts.

Given health concerns around COVID-19, which affects the respiratory system, there’s been speculation casinos might implement temporary or permanent smoking bans.

smoking casino COVID-19

It’s about time.

Casinos have been one of the few hold-outs when it comes to smoking indoors, but it seems that practice could soon go the way of buffets and hand-shaking.

MGM Resorts seems to be anticipating reluctance on the part of some customers to make the casino the focus of their visit, so asks players about experiences outside the casino.

survey

Until now, Las Vegas casinos have been fairly anti-outside.

The survey also asks guests about their interest in all-inclusive experiences.

There’s also a mention of exclusive “player parties,” the implication being the company may offer opportunities that minimize mingling.

surveys

Please note we have not made a single joke about MGM Resorts spending a lot of time probing its customers. It’s called maturity.

Customers were also asked specific questions about their spend prior to the crisis, and how much they’d expect to spend on a first trip back to an MGM Resorts casino.

The company also asked customers when they expected to make their first trip back to Las Vegas.

There was also a question about the possibility of a private charter airline to provide transportation to Vegas.

Nevada Governor Sisolak’s shelter-in-place directive expires on April 30, and a number of Las Vegas hotel-casinos are taking reservations for May 2020. MGM Resorts has communicated its Las Vegas resorts will remain closed through May 31. The company is taking reservations for June 1, 2020.

It’s clear companies and other businesses are weighing their options and gauging customer sentiment prior to the reopening of Las Vegas.

Wynn Resorts Takes the Lead on Reopening Plans

Wynn Resorts has been hitting all the right notes in its response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The company proactively closed up shop even before Governor Sisolak’s directive for casinos to do so, and the company is ponying up $3 million a day (or $180 million over two months) to pay its full-time and part-time employees through May 15, including what they would’ve made in tips.

Now, Wynn Resorts is taking the lead on how it will reopen. The company’s plan, shared in a 23-page document, is likely to become a de facto template for other Las Vegas casinos and businesses, especially because no plan has been forthcoming from Nevada leadership. Awkward.

Wynn Encore

One of the benefits of doing business in China is Wynn Resorts had a head start in dealing with the bug.

The “Wynn Las Vegas Health and Sanitation Guidelines” are too extensive to cover here, but check out the full document at The Nevada Independent, the first site to share Wynn’s plan.

Yes, it’s a long read, as if you have anything better to do right now. Here are some highlights, because we know you’re damn well only going to skim the thing.

Wynn plan to reopen

Masks are the new coughing into our elbows.

The new “Employee and Guest Health” program confirms some of our predictions about how Las Vegas casino will change after the shutdown.

The plan features thermal cameras, physical distancing, copious hand sanitizer, ample signage about safety procedures (for guests and employees) and case notification policies.

The health guidelines go into great detail about the guest experience moving forward.

Guests will be screened by security and asked to use hand sanitizer and a mask (provided by the resort).

Note: Valet services are being discontinued until further notice.

The report even mentions elevator buttons will be cleaned hourly, and no more than four people will be allowed in elevators at a time.

Cleaning protocols are getting a major overhaul, of course.

The most noticeable changes for guests will be physical distancing within the casino(s).

Anywhere lines form, distancing rules will be marked. Front desk agents will use every other work station. Restaurants and bars will reduce seating capacity to allow for six feet between each seated group or party of guests.

In the slots area, machines will be turned off or reconfigured to allow for more separation between guests. No congregating.

Slot attendants will offer to sanitize slots for guests sitting down at a machine, and all machines will be sanitized once every four hours.

Same goes for table games, including removing chairs, and every other table will be open. This is similar to what happened in may casinos prior to the shutdown.

Wynn Resorts has really done its homework and dug into safety protocols for all its table games.

Wynn Resorts reopening plan

Feel free to sanitize the dice as long as you don’t rub off all the mojo.

Among the craps procedures, dealers will sanitize the dice for each new shooter.

For roulette, the wheel head, ball and dolly will be sanitized when a new dealer enters the game.

Roulette dolly

That’s a dolly, also known as a marker. Now, you know.

How detailed is Wynn’s plan? “Dealers to verbally give breaks instead of ‘tapping in’ and maintain appropriate separation.”

A key element of the safety plan (at least to us): “Cocktail Servers will remain available and serve beverage(s) upon request.”

Social distancing will also be enforced in convention spaces, retail spaces and pools. At pools, seating will be set up to allow for six feet of separation between groups of guests.

Translation: We won’t be seeing dayclubs happening for awhile. Ditto nightclubs. The guidelines state, “Pending guidance from local authorities and medical experts.”

Surprisingly, it appears “Le Reve” will open with new procedures in place.

Le Reve reopen

Fun fact: Showroom snack bars are one of the best places in Las Vegas to be socially distanced from your money.

This could mean good news for other Las Vegas shows which have taken a massive hit by the shutdown, as many predicted it could be months before theaters would open.

It’s well worth a few minutes to look at Wynn Resorts’ plan in its entirety, as this is likely to be how other Las Vegas casinos move forward.

While there are challenges ahead, it’s great to see a light at the end of the tunnel, especially if the part about reopening parts of the local Nevada economy in early May holds. Given Wynn Resorts’ recent track record, we’re playing there first.

Update (4/22/20): While the Wynn Resorts plan didn’t initially specify a date for reopening, it appears to be May 22, 2020. The following was shared via the company’s Wynn Slots Game Facebook page.

Wynn Slots Game

If this date could hold, that’d be great.

Brahma Shrine at Caesars Palace is a Fun Vegas Find

When you return to exploring Las Vegas again, here’s a hidden gem even frequent visitors may not realize exists.

It’s the Brahma shrine at Caesars Palace.

Caesars Palace shrine

Neon isn’t the only bling in Las Vegas.

The shrine sits near the entrance to Hell’s Kitchen restaurant, a few feet from the “Absinthe” tent.

The shrine is a replica of one of Thailand’s most popular shrines found at Bangkok’s Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel. It was donated to Caesars Palace in 1984.

Caesars shrine donors

Shout-out to the only Brahma shrine in Western Hemisphere.

The shrine is 14 feet tall and weighs about 8,500 pounds. It originally weighed 1,200 pounds, but then the Bacchanal Buffet opened at Caesars, so that flew out the window.

Visitors stop by the shrine outside Caesars Palace because it’s said to “bestow prosperity and good fortune on those who come to visit and make their hopes and wishes known.”

Or, as gamblers put it, “Hey, it can’t hurt.”

Buddhist shrine Las Vegas

Caesars directions: “Outside Hell’s Kitchen.” Bangkok directions: “Ratchaprasong intersection of Ratchadamri Road in Lumphini Subdistrict, Pathum Wan District.”

In the center of the shrine, Brahma has eight hands holding various objects like a vase (sacred water), a string of beads (karma), a book (knowledge), a spear (willpower), a conch shell (wealth) and Caesars Rewards loyalty club card (freebies). Unless, of course, it’s culturally insensitive to make jokes like that, then nevermind.

Beyond Brahma’s eight hands, it also has four faces.

The Internet can’t decide what the four faces mean. Some sources say they represent the divine states of mind: Loving kindness, compassion, sympathy and equanimity. Others say they represent career/life, relationship/family, wealth and wisdom/health.

Vegas shrine

The ’80s were a good time to be a plaque maker.

Fun Thai fact: In Thai culture, it’s best to avoid praying at the Brahma shrine during your period, as it’s considered disrespectful. We are not making this up.

The bottom line is the Brahma shrine at Caesars Palace has a lot of mojo and shouldn’t be overlooked as a place for calm and introspection and possibly an edge before you hit the casino.

11 Ways Las Vegas Casinos Will Change After the Shutdown

The only constant in Vegas is change, and possibly cleavage, but mostly that first thing.

There’s a lot of change in the works as Sin City grapples with the fallout of the coronavirus shutdown.

Here’s a look at some of the changes coming to Las Vegas once the town reopens.

casino social distancing

The new normal, social distancingwise.

1. Deals

Even when Las Vegas resorts open again, it’s going to be a slog until customer demand builds again. That means the casinos will be highly motivated to attract customers, and that means deals. Travelers are already seeing great deals on flights, and rooms will surely follow. Some have suggested Las Vegas resorts will dump their parking and resort fees, but that’s unlikely. They will, however, offer great perks and bargains at a time when many will have less disposable income.

2. Buffets

For better or worse, the era of the Las Vegas buffet is coming to an end. These communal troughs are loved by many, but they’re a holdover from a very different time. Our sources say the buffets at Treasure Island and Golden Nugget are done for good, with other permanent closures in the works. While buffets are a fairly inexpensive player perk for casinos, there’s just too much risk moving forward. Buffets were always weird, and a new awareness and sensibility related to the potential hygienic pitfalls of buffets, and that attitude will mean the end for a time-honored but peculiar Vegas tradition.

El Rancho buffet

Sorry, buckaroo, it was fun while it lasted.

3. Some Resort Businesses Won’t Be Back

There’s a lot more to Las Vegas resorts than rooms and casinos. There are myriad associated businesses, such as bars, restaurants and retail shops, and the reality is a number of these operations won’t survive the economic stresses of the shutdown. We’ve been asked if entire casinos may shutter, but we’re pretty sure none of the existing casinos are going under. The Drew is an exception. It didn’t have funding, and it’s even less likely to get it now, so that one’s tabled, possibly for good.

4. Casino Procedures

Expect unprecedented and lasting changes at Las Vegas hotel-casinos because all of them are updating their procedures to reflect the latest in recommendations from the CDC, Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD) and other health authorities. Some of the emergency policies will be instituted permanently, including elements of social distancing and capacity limits, as well as much more frequent cleaning of anything humans touch (get your mind out of the gutter, we’re talking about elevator and slot buttons) with EPA-approved chemicals. There’s even been talk of implementing a stylus for video poker machines as they would be easy to sanitize and replace, for those who aren’t immediately comfortable to using touchscreens.

Slot machine social distancing

Just prior to the shutdown, casinos were turning off every other machine to ensure social distancing. Expect more elbow room when they reopen.

5. The Lottery

All right, so this could just be wishful thinking, but public coffers are being quickly depleted by the shutdown, and tax revenue is being disrupted, so it’s about time Nevada had a damn lottery. Lottery revenue is needed now more than ever, and legislators need to stop treating citizens like children. Read more.

6. Diversification

The coronavirus shutdown has made it clearer than ever Las Vegas is basically a one-trick pony in terms of its tourism-based economy. While lip service has been given to economic diversification, it’s time to pony up and invest in education (Nevada consistently ranks as one of the least educated states in the country), as an educated workforce is essential to draw new businesses to the state.

7. Automation

The big casinos were in the throes of rolling out more automation, but now you’ll see that process accelerated. While primarily a cost-saving measure, replacing humans with machines will now serve as a way to reduce human contact. For example, we hear Caesars Entertainment is moving to dramatically increase the number of kiosks used in departments like hotel registration and players clubs. How dramatic a change will this be? The phrase we were told was “nearly full automation.”

Linq kiosks

Check-in kiosks, like these at Linq resort, aren’t uncommon in Las Vegas. Soon, they’ll be even more uncommoner. Just checking to see if you’re still reading.

8. Theaters, Event Venues, Nightclubs, Pools

Some of the biggest unknowns in post-reopen Las Vegas involve large gatherings of people. When the phased reopen happens, it’s likely theaters, nightclubs and pools (especially dayclubs) will be among the last venues to open. Even if social distancing is implemented, such as reducing audience and attendance capacity, the fear associated with the outbreak will still be on our minds for months or longer. This means even more financial stress on shows, including a likely bankruptcy for even the biggest companies like Cirque du Soleil.

Tournament of Kings eating with hands

Farewell, peculiar practice from a simpler, less germy era.

9. Work Culture

Many of the changes in Las Vegas after the shutdown will be related to casino culture. In the past, when those in low-paying service industry jobs got ill, they sucked it up and worked. That is a thing of the past. People who turn up to work sick will be sent home, temporarily or even permanently. It’s possible temperature checks for employees could be permanent (and possibly temporary for customers, by the way). Expect to see more employees on casino floors using gloves and masks. In the past, casinos prohibited their use by dealers and others on the floor (as they’re not particularly welcoming), but employees and their unions are going demand more control of their own well-being.

10. Hand Shaking and High-Fiving

At long last, these annoying interactions are done. Howie Mandel was right all along. Elbow-bumping will be a thing, and Las Vegas casinos may even take a cue from their Asian visitors and start bowing. On the bright side, Derek Stevens, owner of The D, Golden Gate and the under-construction Circa, won’t have to ice his hands on the drive home after a night of schmoozing. We are not making this up.

Vegas fist bump

It’s about time.

11. We’ll Never Take Vegas for Granted Again

This isn’t so much a change in Las Vegas, but a change in us. And we don’t mean the first person plural “us,” but the collective, all-of-us “us.” While we love Las Vegas, we’ve also taken it for granted, and that’s going to change dramatically. Some things we vow to not take for granted: Bellagio Conservatory, views from the Strat or Eiffel Tower restaurant, drinks with friends, cranky craps dealers, Wheel of Fortune, flair, being approached by sex workers, quads, Guy Fieri, Vegas podcasts, hand pays, cranes, knowing a guy, drunchies, Viva Vision, tacky magic shows, crappy casino social media posts, aquariums at Mirage or Silverton or Golden Nugget, grocery store employees, “Absinthe” and Cirque, lap dances, rideshare, oontz, Sigma Derby, cookies in the high limit room at Cosmo, bill breakers, housekeeping and, yes, even sports.

Missing Vegas

Looking at you, paper straws.

The majority of Las Vegas casino companies are eyeing May 1, 2020 as a reopening date. Others are working with dates later in May. There are a lot of unknowns, but what we do know is Vegas and the world are likely to change forever.

These are surreal and uncertain times, Las Vegas will need to adapt to be able to thrive again.

Bankruptcy Looms Large for Beloved Cirque du Soleil

Las Vegas fixture Cirque du Soleil is in a world of financial hurt, and closure of all its shows due to the coronavirus—44 productions in all—is likely to lead to the company filing for bankruptcy protection.

Moody’s credit rating service recently downgraded Cirque du Soleil’s rating to “Ca” (Moody’s second lowest rating) meaning Cirque is already in default on its loans, or soon will be. Moody’s has also said Cirque has “limited prospects for a tenable capital structure” following a stretch of what’s expected to be steep losses in 2020.

Cirque du Soleil is rumored to be more than $900 million in debt.

In late March 2020, the company abruptly laid off 4,679 people, or about 95% of its employees.

Cirque du Soleil

The “Sun Circus” is experiencing a partial eclipse.

The awkward fact is Cirque was in trouble prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

The culprit? Leveraged loans.

A leveraged loan is one given to companies with a lot of existing debt or a poor credit history. Leveraged loans have a higher interest rate than typical loans.

Insiders share Cirque began to lose its way with ownership and leadership changes following the sale of the company in 2015 to three investment groups, including TPG Capital, for $1.5 billion. Those risky leveraged loans made the sale possible.

The company’s founder, Guy Laliberte sold 90% of Cirque in 2015 for $1.5 billion, then sold his remaining stake in Feb. 2020.

The new owners reportedly pivoted Cirque toward being an analytics-driven culture, which is pretty much the best way to suck the souls from creative people. You know, the ones who made Cirque the entertainment juggernaut it had become.

Beyond taking on risky loans, Cirque’s leadership made a number of expensive decisions, leading to a string of massive losses.

The company is rumored to have lost $30 million its touring shows in China, $20 million on its NFL Experience in New York City and a whopping $70 million on the disastrous “R.U.N.” at Luxor in Las Vegas. “R.U.N.” closed on March 8, 2020, after just a few months. Read more.

RUN

We feel just terrible about this graphic. Which apparently didn’t keep us from sharing it. Do you know this blog at all?

In an attempt to cover its losses, Cirque reportedly cut marketing and creative budgets, which hurt attendance. As a result, the company raised ticket prices and feed, which further hurt attendance.

All eyes are on Cirque’s CEO Daniel Lamarre. Lamarre is the one who unceremoniously fired pretty much everyone at Cirque via video in March.

Jumping ship just before the fecal matter hit the fan was the company’s COO, Jonathan Tetrault.

Hear more about Cirque’s financial straights, and leveraged loans, on the Wall Street Journal podcast.

What does this mean for Cirque’s shows in Las Vegas? As with so many things right now, it’s “fluid.”

It seems likely theaters and other venues where crowds gather won’t open until after casinos and hotels do. That’s going to put additional pressure on Cirque du Soleil.

Cirque is no doubt scrutinizing its shows to determine which, if any, might need to go. We’ve talked to Cirque du Soleil insiders and hear the company’s touring shows may not come back, at least in the foreseeable future.

Of its Las Vegas shows, sources say “Zumanity,” “Love” and “Ka” are candidates for the chopping block.

Zumanity 69

We are not making this up.

Cirque du Soleil has become so intertwined with Las Vegas, it’s painful to hear about the company’s financial struggles.

From what we understand, Cirque’s ticket sales are still respectable. The company makes about $120 million a year in Vegas alone, and average occupancy sits at about 70% from what we’re told.

It’s worth noting several of the Cirque productions in Las Vegas are decades old. For example, “Mystere” at TI is nearly 30 years old.

For the sake of its artists and technicians, and the myriad individuals and companies dependent upon Cirque du Soleil, we hope Cirque can find a way to return to its roots, and a stronger financial footing, once again.

Las Vegas wouldn’t be Las Vegas without Cirque du Soleil.