Category Archives: Las Vegas Casinos

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.

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.

Update (6/27/19): It looks like the official-official name of SLS will be Sahara Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. Big thanks to Fernando D. on Twitter for the find.

New Sahara Las Vegas logo

Boom. A little past, a little next, it’s the new Sahara Las Vegas.

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.