Category Archives: Las Vegas Casinos

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.

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.

Lucky Dragon Sells for $36 Million to Construction Equipment Company

The Lucky Dragon saga has taken yet another odd turn. The failed casino was purchased for $36 million by the owner of an equipment rental company, Don Ahern.

The biggest surprise is we didn’t break the story. Ha, ha. We find us hysterical.

Lucky Dragon

Dibs on the dragon.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports the Lucky Dragon sale closed on April 22, 2019 with Don Ahern, CEO of construction equipment firm Ahern Rentals.

Please try to contain your excitement.

The new owner plans to re-open the Lucky Dragon under a new name (a solid strategy) as a non-gaming hotel (insert sad trombone here).

Ahern says he will turn the Lucky Dragon’s casino space into conference and convention space. The sad trombone player is being put through his paces on this one.

The Asian-themed Lucky Dragon closed in October 2018, probably because the casino had no craps table. And we couldn’t find a slice of pizza to save our life.

Lucky Dragon

Dibs on…nevermind.

While $36 million is more than we expected a buyer to pay (a bankruptcy auction garnered zero bidders), it was considerably less than what was owed on the hotel, about $50 million.

In the Las Vegas Review-Journal article, Enrique Landa of Associate Capital (linked to the Lucky Dragon’s lender, Snow Covered Capital) said, the Lucky Dragon “is a terrific property with a bright future.”

It’s just that kind of extraordinary vision and business acumen that helped the Lucky Dragon trainwreck happen.

Lucky Dragon

“Zài jiàn,” Lucky Dragon.

You do not, by the way, want to delve into the financial wheelings and dealings of this whole debacle. About 179 EB-5 investors have been left holding the bag, losing $550,000 each because the casino didn’t stay in operation long enough for the investors to earn their promised green cards.

Lucky Dragon’s challenging location made it a longshot from day one, so it’ll be interesting to see what the new owner might have in mind.

We’re seeing some cross-promotional ideas with Dig This, for starters.

And we just registered ExcavatorDragon.com. Just saying.

10 New Things Happening in Downtown Las Vegas Right Now

It’s time to dive headlong into a metric ass-ton of downtown Las Vegas updates. The alternative is for us to get a life, and you know that’s not happening.

Enjoy this hastily slapped-together list of things going on downtown at the moment, including some new things to do in downtown Las Vegas, in no particular order.

1. Flamingo at Lyft Art Park

The Lyft Art Park, in the parking lot next to Park on Fremont restaurant, has updated its collection of “Grammable” art with Phoenicopterus Rex, a 40-foot flamingo. The giant flamingo made its debut at Burning Man in 2017.

Flamingo Lyft Art Park

About 750 pounds of steel are used for each of the flamingo’s legs.

2. Circa Las Vegas Gets Its Pour On

Circa Las Vegas, a new casino resort coming to Fremont Street, has already made significant progress, including a couple of recent, massive concrete pours. Here’s the latest from the site.

Circa

While Circa is expected to eventually have 777 rooms, it will open with 500 rooms and 71 suites.

On Apr. 9, 2019, 205 concrete trucks lined up to deliver 2,050 cubic yards of concrete for the foundation of Circa. Here’s where some of it went.

Circa

We will not bore you with the technical details of what’s happening here, mainly because we don’t know what those are. We do know these are elevator shafts. One bank will go halfway up Circa, the other will go all the way up.

Circa is slated to open in 2020, and the good folks at Circa have thoughtfully put up a schedule so we can keep abreast of what’s happening when.

Circa

Thanks, Circa. Suitable for lamination.

Here’s a bonus new thing you need to know about: If you’re a fan of the Project BBQ truck, please know it’s relocated. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding it, as it’s only moved 20 feet.

Project BBQ

Consider your visit to the Circa site a catered affair.

Oh, and here’s a bonus bonus: In a nearby location, we spotted some early exposure tests of the Circa windows.

Circa windows

Fun fact: The spots without glass are LED panels. So, the entire side of Circa will essentially be a video screen. The mind reels.

3. Golden Gate Sports Book Underway

Just across from the Circa site, Golden Gate is quickly working on its news sports book. We popped our head in, because that’s sort of how we roll, despite it’s being related to sports. The new sports book at Golden Gate will open June 1, 2019, under the Circa Sports brand.

Golden Gate sports book

While the sports book at Golden Gate will be one of downtown’s smallest, the one at Circa is being billed as the world’s biggest.

4. Santos Tacos & Beer Opens

We’ve spoken often of “Restaurant Row” on Carson Street downtown, as it boasts several popular dining establishments including Carson Kitchen, Vegenation, 7th & Carson and Eat. Now, Santos Tacos & Beer has taken up residence in the former Bomb Tacos space.

Santos Tacos downtown

This space has hosted a string of restaurant concepts. Let’s hope this one sticks.

Santos Tacos is a solid offering, and well worth a stop to help manage those drunchies. One of the quirky aspects of this new restaurant is its “Saint of the Day.”

Santos Tacos

The day we visited, Celine was the “Saint of the Day,” and we can all get onboard with that.

5. Cat’s Meow Karaoke Bar in the Works

Despite our best efforts to keep karaoke from being a thing in Las Vegas, Cat’s Meow at Neonopolis actually seems to have potential.

Cat's Meow

In case you’ve wondered what’s going on in there. This is that.

Cat’s Meow has its roots in New Orleans, and will take over a massive, 10,000-square-foot space on the second floor of Neonopolis.

Cat's Meow

Curiosity is the only thing we have in common with cats.

You can see Cat’s Meow from the street, and the owners say they’re trying to get approval for a staircase from Fremont Street. Access has proven a challenge for a number of businesses in Neonopolis.

Cat's Meow Las Vegas

Cat’s Meow will have multiple bars, a necessary amenity when there’s karaoke.

It sounds like Cat’s Meow will open in May 2019, and another sing-along business, OD’s, will follow in a adjacent space.

6. Don’t Tell Mama on the Move

In other Neonopolis news, Don’t Tell Mama, a piano lounge with a passionate following, has moved to the retail complex. Don’t Tell Mama originally opened in 2009.

Don't Tell Mama

Now, you know where that place you know nothing about is.

7. Downtown Grand’s Gets a New Tower

While Downtown Grand’s casino is often under-peopled, the hotel side of the business is apparently booming, so Downtown Grand is building a new hotel tower. The new tower will sit in the space where the hotel’s porte cochere used to be and construction will add 495 new rooms to the hotel.

Downtown Grand construction

Rest assured, we’ll be keeping an eye on Downtown Grand’s new erection.

8. Whiskey Licker Up at Binion’s

Construction continues in dramatic fashion at Binion’s, making way for a new venue called Whiskey Licker Up.

Whiskey Licker Up Binion's

Binion’s lost a little neon, but there’s plenty left.

Of course we poked our head inside. Do you know this blog at all?

Whiskey Licker Up Binion's

Walls are highly overrated.

Whiskey Licker Up will be a bar and lounge with a rotating bar as its centerpiece. There will be food, dancing and live entertainment as well. Read more.

Whiskey Licker Up

Consider this the “before” photo.

The new bar will wrap around one corner of Binion’s providing a sweet view of the festivities below. Whiskey Licker Up is expected to open summer 2019.

9. Hotel Apache Takes Reservations

See what we did there? Back in February, which never seems correctly spelled, Binion’s announced it would open about 80 rooms in a boutique, hotel-within-a-hotel, Hotel Apache. The rooms are decorated in a vintage style, and Binion’s isn’t being shy about how some believe the place is haunted. Rooms can now be booked online.

Hotel Apache

We’ve heard Hotel Apache, like its sister hotel, Four Queens, won’t have a resort fee, so there’s that.

10. First Fremont Street Experience Canopy LEDs Arrive

Fremont Street Experience, where we work in marketing as our day job (opinions are our own, as if that weren’t readily apparent), is getting a $32 million renovation of its Viva Vision screen. The canopy upgrade is a huge undertaking, and the first shipment of LEDs were recently delivered.

Fremont Street Experience canopy upgrade

These crates hold just 1/16th of the LEDs needed for the Viva Vision upgrade.

We poked our camera into one of the crates to get a look at the new LEDs. The Viva Vision canopy renovation starts around May 6, 2019, and the upgraded video screen will debut on New Year’s Eve.

Viva Vision modules

These LEDs will give the Viva Vision screen seven times the brightness and four times the resolution.

The light shows at Fremont Street Experience will continue to play throughout the upgrade. Installation of the new LEDs will happen in the late evening through early morning in 150-foot sections (from the west end of the street, near Golden Gate, to the east, near White Castle), but the shows will play with little interruption.

This Doesn’t Fit With the Rest of the List, But We’re Sharing Anyway

We figured it was worth mentioning, Beauty Bar on Fremont East has closed and isn’t coming back. The entertainment venue didn’t go down without some drama, but the curtain has fallen for the last time on this beleaguered venue.

Beauty Bar closed

Beauty Bar opened in 2004, and was once co-owned by Corey Harrison of “Pawn Stars” fame.

We trust our list satisfies your thirst for downtown Las Vegas updates.

Downtown offers a distinct and idiosyncratic, to say the least, alternative to the Las Vegas Strip.

We do our best to keep you in the loop on all the latest news, mainly because it gives us an excuse to drink and gamble downtown more. We also love keeping you informed. But mainly the drinking and gambling thing. Just keeping it real.

MGM Resorts to Replace Bartenders With Machines (No, Really)

Can we write a sensational headline, or what?

Thing is, we’re not kidding.

Several sources inside MGM Resorts have confirmed the company will soon roll out automated cocktail dispensing machines in its service bars (also called “well bars”) in Las Vegas and across the country.

That’s right. All those stories you’ve heard about humans being replaced with robots is sort of coming true, and its happening by the end of August 2019, according to our sources.

Smartender

Science meets drunken gambling benders.

MGM Resorts has quietly been testing automated cocktail machines at casinos in other markets (specifically, MGM Springfield in Massachusetts and MGM National Harbor in Maryland). Now, MGM Resorts is bringing those automated bartenders to Las Vegas.

As you may have heard, MGM Resorts is in the first phase of a massive cost-cutting initiative, MGM 2020. The goal is to save $300 million, with $100 million of that coming from savings on labor costs.

MGM 2020 is a “company-wide, business-optimization initiative aimed to leverage a more centralized organization to maximize profitability and, through key investments in technology, lay the groundwork for the company’s digital transformation to drive revenue growth.”

There’s nothing sexier than leveraging, if you ask us.

Dozens of top level MGM Resorts executives are expected to take “voluntary resignation” packages, saving the company millions.

Also in the crosshairs are jobs that can be done through automation and technology.

Lago cocktail

Insert gratuitous cocktail photo (a machine can’t make) here.

While everyone involved with the roll-out of drink dispensing machines have been sworn to secrecy (suck it, NDAs), we’ve heard from several employees they’re bracing for what could be the first wave of machines replacing jobs traditionally done by humans.

It’s no wonder Las Vegas unions dug their heels in during the recent contract negotiations. One of the sticking points: Automation.

It’s clear the union knew changes were coming and did their best to ensure employees losing their jobs would at least be treated fairly. Union leaders and members have said publicly they are “legitimately worried” about touchscreen beverage ordering systems.

It turns out they had good reason to be worried.

While we haven’t been able to confirm who’s making the beverage system coming to MGM Resorts casinos in Las Vegas (a reliable source says it’s a company called Easybar), we found one that illustrates what these machines can do, from a company called Smartender.

Take a look.

Brilliant, really.

Is it wrong we sort of want one for our house?

Basically, a server will put ice in a glass, hit a button, add a garnish and deliver the drink, all without the involvement of a bartender.

Here’s the Easybar teminal.

Easybar

We hear the Easybar cocktail station costs about $30,000, or roughly half what a human union bartender costs.

Here are some of the selling points of the Easybar self-service cocktail station.

Easybar

Seriously, get us one for our birthday.

To be fair, given all the benefits to a business, it would be hard to fault MGM Resorts for making this move.

Among the benefits of these machines: They reduce “overpours” and waste, they’re accurate within 1/20th of an ounce, drinks are recorded in a database and there’s “total accountability” because a company knows precisely who served what and how often.

Also, the company will assert, these machines provide guests a consistent experience across all venues. (At least that’s what they said when we caught them reducing their standard pour size back in 2016.)

MGM Resorts statement

Proof we’ve been annoying MGM Resorts since at least 2016.

So, how much should we freak out?

Unless we’re a service bartender, probably not much. (Actually, the way seniority works, service bartenders are pretty far up the food chain, bartenderwise. So, as they get displaced, they’ll bump others from their positions, and so on, down the line.)

These machines aren’t likely to replace your favorite casino bartender, though. These machines will be used in service bars, bars behind the scenes churning out thousands of drinks for players on the casino floor.

We should mention there are service bars in restaurants, too, and our sources say those bartenders will be phased out as well.

If you tend to freak out about technology in general, well, that autonomous ship has already sailed.

Any number of casino and hotel jobs have already been affected by technology. Gone are the days when casino employees lugged around massive bags of coins, thanks to TITO (ticket in, ticket out) technology.

Recently, hotels have made hotel check-in available through smartphones and kiosks, slashing the number of front desk agents. (Example: Staffing at the front desk of Park MGM has gone from about 15 agents to three following the implementation of check-in kiosks.)

In Vegas, robot room service is a thing. Robots have also taken some concierge jobs.

Tipsy Robot Las Vegas

Robot bartenders at Tipsy Robot inside Planet Hollywood. They’re a hoot.

We hear, as part of MGM 2020, restaurant cashiers are likely to be a thing of the past at MGM Resorts casinos, too.

Some in the business estimate thousands of MGM Resorts employees will ultimately be affected by the MGM 2020 initiative.

Leveraging and optimizing come at a cost, of course.

You can bet MGM Resorts is looking at what’s happening at Caesars Entertainment and is highly motivated to avoid a similar scenario. (It’s looking more and more like Caesars Entertainment will be sold, or broken up and sold off in pieces.)

If you’re bored, watch us drop this scoop on KLAS, Channel 8 in Las Vegas.

There’s much more to come.

Update (3/6/19): Our story has been confirmed.