Category Archives: Las Vegas Casinos

SLS Las Vegas Shares Peek at New Casino

SLS Las Vegas has taken down a construction wall enclosing a section of its casino, revealing a dramatically different look and feel the new owner and his management team hope will help change the fortunes of the long-struggling resort.

SLS casino renovation

SLS is getting it some fancy.

The new owner of SLS, Alex Meruelo, has said he’ll invest $100 million in making over the former Sahara.

SLS Las Vegas

In Vegas, never don’t bling.

The new decor at SLS more closely aligns with what traditional casino patrons expect, veering away from a trendier look, including a fairly unpopular “unfinished” ceiling with exposed ducts.

SLS Las Vegas renovation

This was one of the few things in Vegas that didn’t benefit from exposure.

The new interior design at SLS will be familiar to those familiar with Meruelo’s other resort, the Grand Sierra Resort & Casino in Reno.

It’s expected SLS will be rebranded Grand Sahara Resort & Casino at some point.

The carpeting is also a distinct departure from the eclectic SLS design.

SLS renovation

New on the left, old on the right.

The new carpeting actually has a hypnotic effect if you look at it long enough.

SLS

It’s an urban myth casino carpeting is busy to force players to look up at the slot machines. They’re designed to camouflage stains.

One of our favorite features of the casino at SLS was the giant, high-resolution video screen over the center bar. The screen is known for featuring slick, 3-D animation.

The plug’s been pulled on the screen, but we’ve been informed it will be relocated elsewhere in the resort, near Bazaar Meat restaurant. So, there’s that.

SLS renovation

The screen showed 3-D legs, a duck and a human face.

Oh, like we were going to mention a freaky 3-D face and not actually show it to you? Do you know us at all?

We were going to spend more time talking about how much we like the direction of the SLS Las Vegas overhaul, but we were kicked out of the resort for taking photos. Buzzkill.

SLS

Look! It’s a photo we weren’t allowed to take! Suck it, The Man.

While overzealous casino security is an all-too-common phenomenon in Las Vegas, being kicked out of SLS raised some red flags for us.

See, SLS may not realize what it’s up against.

No matter what’s invested in the resort’s renovations (it won’t be $100 million), none of it will matter if SLS doesn’t differentiate itself with amazing service, a friendly, welcoming environment and a fun, lively casino.

Kicking out a casino guest for taking photos is a great example of the exact opposite of all that.

SLS renovation

A little compare-and-contrast action.

SLS needs word-of-mouth. SLS needs buzz. SLS needs to be a party. SLS needs to get its shit together.

SLS also needs to appeal to locals, and locals aren’t going to put up with poorly-trained staff or intrusive policies for one minute.

SLS needs to attract and retain every possible customer it can. If someone walks up to the casino cage and tries to rob it, SLS needs to offer the thief a line of credit.

We were taking photos. Of things the resort itself had shared in its social media channels earlier in the day. We posed no security risk. We weren’t taking photos of gamblers with their mistresses.

A simple request to discontinue taking photos would’ve been understood (yes, reluctantly, because such policies are outdated and idiotic) and accommodated. And we’d have gambled and had dinner at Cleo.

SLS

Spirals were engraved in Mayan temples. We’d show you a photo of one, but the Mayans had strict policies about such things. You see what happened to the ancient Mayans. Just saying.

Alienate guests without cause and word gets around.

Treat employees poorly, word gets around.

Breeze into our town (yes, it’s ours) and think you’ll succeed because you’re a big deal in Reno and you changed out some light fixtures—you’re destined to fail. And we’ll be there for a heaping helping of schadenfreude.

Give us a warm smile, decent odds, looser slots, great food (see the aforementioned Cleo) and make us feel welcome and respected and appreciated, you may just have a chance of success, slim as it is.

Resorts World is Making Striking Progress

After seemingly endless delays, construction at Resorts World is picking up steam.

Not only are windows being installed, but sources familiar with the project report the main hotel tower at Resorts World is growing by about a floor per week.

Resorts World

Object in photo is larger than it appears. By a hell ton.

As a basis of comparison, here’s a look at Resorts World in March 2018.

Resorts World

Resorts World was adorable as a baby.

Here’s a closer look at the windows being installed at Resorts World. Break out the squeegees!

Resorts World

The first references to squeegees, in the mid-19th century, referred to deck-cleaning tools for sea-faring vessels. Related: Writing photo captions isn’t easy.

Observers have noted the similarity between the look of Resorts World and that of Wynn and Encore, just across the street (see below).

We’ve heard Genting Group, owners of Resorts World, may make a play to purchase Wynn Resorts, so the similarity because the hotels could very well be intentional. Read more reckless rumors.

Wynn Las Vegas

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Wynn should feel very flattered right about now.

We went around to the back of Resorts World for a rare look at the side of the hotel tower facing Circus Circus. Windows are also being installed on that side.

Resorts World

We could’ve called this the north side, but we’re going with backside. Because we are 12.

Construction at Resorts World is no longer a laughing matter, as the hotel looms large at about 35 floors.

It’s hard to imagine, but the plan is for the tower to have 60.

Resorts World

It’s not just the height of one’s hotel that matters, it’s also the girth of one’s lens.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Resorts World, it sits on the former Echelon Place site. Which, we’re assuming, helps you not at all. Resorts World is between Circus Circus and the site planned for the Alon resort. Also not helpful, we get it.

If you’re a shopper, it’s just north of Fashion Show mall.

If you like Mexican food, it’s across the street from Tacos El Gordo.

If you’re sentimental, Resorts World is across the street from the former Riviera casino. It’s also the site of the former, legendary Stardust.

If you’re into antipodes, it’s roughly on the opposite side of the Earth as Madagascar.

If you’re an optimist, it’s just south and across the street from the future Drew hotel.

Resorts World

Genting Group was founded by Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong, a name inspired by the sound a saucepan makes falling down a  flight of stairs.

Resorts World is slated to open in 2020, and the odds of that happening seem to improve with each new floor and window.

Given our saucepan joke, we assume we’re not invited.

Lucky Dragon Gets Zero Bids at Bankruptcy Auction

An auction for the Asian-themed Lucky Dragon resulted in zero bids, so it will go to the failed casino’s primary lender, Snow Covered Capital.

The auction on Oct. 30, 2018, had a healthy turnout at the offices of Nevada Legal News in downtown Las Vegas. In fact, the auction was so well-attended, it had to be held in the building’s parking lot.

Lucky Dragon auction

Shout-out to all the Toastmasters who know that’s a lectern and not a podium!

Unfortunately for everyone involved, nobody in the crowd was willing to meet or beat Snow Covered Capital’s $35 million minimum bid, so the company will take ownership of the shuttered Lucky Dragon.

Not only did Snow Covered Capital not get the $55 million it needed to recoup its loan, many others are losing their shorts in the Lucky Dragon saga as well.

There’s a second tier of lenders who are likely to never see a dollar, as well as innumerable craftspeople who have yet to be paid for their work on the ill-fated hotel-casino.

Lucky Dragon

Lucky Dragon may not have been a success, but nobody can say it wasn’t pretty.

The bankruptcy of Lucky Dragon will be especially brutal for the 179 foreign investors who sunk a total of $89 million into the project. Those investors were promised green cards as part of the
federal EB-5 program, and are now what industry experts call “S.O.L.”

We’ve heard a class action lawsuit may be in the making.

Read more about how foreign investors got snookered.

So, what’s next for Lucky Dragon?

While Snow Covered Capital probably would’ve preferred a magical offer of $55 million falling into its lap, having the casino in its possession now means it can pursue a buyer unfettered by the pressures and time constraints of bankruptcy and foreclosure proceedings.

It’s unknown what kind of business could make a go of Lucky Dragon, or whatever it becomes next.

Lucky Dragon

Lucky Dragon was one of our favorite Las Vegas casinos we almost never visited.

More development on the north end of The Strip would certainly make Lucky Dragon more appealing to a potential operator.

We’d love to see a new casino concept, preferably one that serves budget-conscious visitors. A boutique hotel-casino along the lines of Ellis Island could target an under-served customer
looking for a place to stay and play and gamble without being nickel-and-dimed.

In fact, now would be the perfect time for an enterprising operator to establish a casino-hotel built from the ground up to take advantage of growing frustrations about paid parking, resort fees and other irksome practices which have become common in Las Vegas.

Here’s the strategy, enterprising operator:

Swear we’ll never pay for parking, never pay a resort fee or concession fee or venue fee or convenience charge.

Ensure we’ll always get 3-to-2 on blackjack and one zero on roulette, with 100x odds on craps.

Pledge to loosen the slots. We don’t mind losing when we gamble, just make it take longer!

Make the food cheap, quick and a great value.

Pour the liquor brands we want from the bottle, not the gun, and get rid of machines that tell us  when we’re worthy of a drink. Oh, and give us a damn straw with our cocktail without having to ask for one.

Give us a “Do Not Disturb” sign rather than one that says “Room Occupied.”

Let us check in early and check out late.

And while we’re building a wishlist, bring back moving walkways. We loved those things!

Build it (or rather, rebrand it) and they will come.

Renovations Are Underway at SLS Las Vegas

The new owner of SLS Las Vegas, Alex Meruelo, has started what he says will be $100 million in upgrades and renovations to the north Strip resort.

Changes as SLS are already underway, including in the casino, as evidenced by a large portion of the floor being walled off.

SLS Las Vegas renovations

You go, SLS. We love that new casino smell.

It doesn’t appear the current renovations have had any impact on the restaurants, including one of our favorite in town, Cleo.

It’s anticipated most, if not all, of the current SLS dining offerings will be swapped out with new concepts as the resort overhaul proceeds. Restaurants like Katsuya, Umami Burger, Cleo and 800 Degrees Pizza are licensed from SBE Entertainment Group, a previous co-owner of the hotel.

We have heard Bazaar Meat will survive the transition, though, and even expand.

Sadly, the walled-off section of the casino floor does encompass the former party pit, just outside the Sayers Club.

SLS renovations

When you’re in this spot, look up. You’ll see a glorious chandelier made from door handles salvaged from the Sahara.

The renovations brush up against the popular center bar’s video screen.

A couple of signs on the construction wall give a glimpse into what’s to come for the SLS casino floor.

SLS Las Vegas

The casino at SLS never looked finished. Clearly, now it will.

Upgrades in the casino will include changes to the ceiling, carpeting and lighting.

Here’s another peek through the time portal into the future of SLS. Or something.

SLS renovations

Adios, exposed air conditioning ducts. And random monkeys.

By the time the renovations are done at SLS, it’s likely the resort won’t bear that name anymore. The most likely candidate is Grand Sahara, a throwback to the casino’s original name while integrating a brand owned by Alex Meuelo in Reno, the Grand Sierra Resort.

Oh, all right, nerd. The Sahara’s original name was Club Bingo. Just play along!

Beyond the casino, renovations to the resort will involve hotel room upgrades, the pool and entertainment venues. It’s all fairly amazing given the resort only opened as SLS four years
ago, on Aug. 23, 2014.

As far as we know, SLS hasn’t had a profitable month since it opened, and the hope is Alex Meruelo and his team can turn things around.

SLS renovations

The good news: SLS is one of the few remaining casinos on The Strip with free parking.

Meruelo’s team has already made dramatic moves to cut costs at the resort, including terminating a lease of a nearby employee parking lot that was rumored to be costing the company $40,000 a month.

A big change at the resort took place when W Las Vegas was shown the door in August 2018. Details of that deal are murky, but it brought back operation of the hotel’s Lux Tower (now called the Grand Tower) after the boutique “hotel within a hotel” concept opened in Dec. 2016.

Some of the changes haven’t been received warmly by employees (don’t get them started about the employee dining room), but in recent weeks we’ve found them to be in better spirits, and play in the casino seems to have picked up a bit.

Generous food comps and free play offers seem to be flowing freely, and that’s a great way to keep us coming back.

We’re looking forward to seeing how SLS Las Vegas revamps its casino. One change we’d love to see is a loosening up of the slots, as they clamped down tight a few months after SLS opened, presumably as a way to increase revenue when the anticipated crowds of cool kids from L.A. never materialized.

We’ve always liked SLS a lot. The restaurant mix is appealing, and we tend to prefer our casinos less crowded and rowdy. SLS qualifies.

The success of SLS Las Vegas could hinge on increased development on the north end of The Strip. If projects like Resorts World, The Drew, All Net Resort and Arena (don’t laugh, we hear there’s new funding) and the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion come online, there’s hope. And who knows, Lucky Dragon might re-open again in some form after its sale (Alex Meruelo was in the mix as a potential buyer at one point).

There’s also a rebrand in the works at The Strat, and much more activity at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds (site of the forgettable Rock in Rio music festival fiasco), just across the street from SLS.

In the meantime, eat as much of the Chicken Tagine at Cleo and take lots of selfies with the goofy statue in the hotel’s porte-cochere, while you still can.

SLS casino chip

This fake chip will soon be a collectible!

We’d love to hear your thoughts about what’s in store for SLS Las Vegas.

Total Rewards Reportedly Will Rebrand to Caesars Rewards

In what would be a big shake-up in the casino loyalty club realm, we’re hearing Caesars Entertainment will rebrand its popular Total Rewards program to Caesars Rewards in early 2019.

There’s been no official announcement of the Caesars Rewards roll-out, but when has that ever stopped us from sharing news?

Total Rewards Diamond

Using a loyalty club card is one of the best ways to get your fair share of perks.

The Total Rewards loyalty program began as Total Gold. Later, the program was called Total Rewards II.

Caesars Entertainment’s growth into a casino powerhouse owes a lot to its loyalty club, created in 1998 by the company’s former CEO Gary Loveman, borrowing heavily from similar programs in the airline industry.

How valuable is the Total Rewards program? In the company’s recent bankruptcy, the Total Rewards database was valued at a billion dollars. Yes, with a “b.”

Caesars Entertainment reports Total Rewards has about 55 million members.

Caesars Rewards

Unrelated to anything, don’t miss our alternative ways to use your loyalty club cards, including as ninja throwing stars.

While it’s unknown when the rebrand to Caesars Rewards is expected to occur, insiders suspect it will be Feb. 1, 2019, because higher tier cards in the program expire on Jan. 31.

It’s also unknown what changes to the loyalty club might accompany the rebrand.

Caesars Entertainment is currently trying to make the most of its brand, including licensing the Caesars name for non-gambling resorts in Dubai and Puerto Los Cabos, Mexico (we broke that news, naturally).

In related news, we hear Caesars is also going to experiment with a new rewards center at Linq said to be similar to an Apple store environment. You’ll know more when we do.

Should the rumor pan out, a rebrand from Total Rewards to Caesars Rewards is a bold move given the substantial investment made over a number of years to making Total Rewards one of most-recognized casino loyalty clubs in the world, the other being M Life Rewards from MGM Resorts.

In 2012, Caesars spent tens of millions for a relaunch of its Total Rewards loyalty program. The promotion was called “Escape to Total Rewards” and featured simultaneous concerts in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New Orleans. No expense was spared, and artists included Mariah Carey, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Maroon 5, Gavin DeGraw, Mary J. Blige, Lil’ Wayne and Cee Lo Green.

Full disclosure: We used to work at Caesars Entertainment and did their Total Rewards loyalty club e-newsletter, with about five million subscribers. Yes, that’s less a disclosure thing and more of a humblebrag, but you know how we are.

Golden Gate is Shaking Things Up Again

Golden Gate is back in action again with some dramatic changes and a new casino expansion.

We took a peek behind-the-scenes at what were, until recently, walled off areas of Golden Gate’s casino floor.

The casino’s floor is expanding into the space previously occupied by Du-Par’s restaurant.

Golden Gate expansion

The Du-Par’s kitchen was at left, counter and tables to the right. Yes, we all miss the pancakes. Bright side: Pancakes never gave anyone a jackpot.

Du-Par’s made an abrupt exit from Golden Gate when the restaurant’s owner got into hot water with the I.R.S. for tax evasion. There are no plans to have a restaurant at Golden Gate anytime soon.

The new floor space will accommodate an additional 50-60 slot machines, a significant number for a casino with a very small footprint.

Golden Gate

The door at back leads to Main Street, the one on the right to Fremont.

Here’s one more look at the work-in-progress. The area will be accessible to the public in a few days, and slot machines will be brought in within a week.

Golden Gate

Golden Gate regulars will notice another big change to the casino floor, a move of the casino cage.

It’s moved closer to the hotel’s registration desk and valet entrance. Don’t forget to check out the old-timey slot machines on display nearby.

Golden Gate

Due to strict rules about capturing images of casino cages, we are unable to share this photo, sorry.

Next up at Golden Gate, an expansion of the high limit room.

Currently, high limit is table games only, but with a move into the previous cage space, the high limit room will now include high limit slots.

Golden Gate

More room for high limit slots, or what we commonly refer to as our “retirement plan.”

Here’s a look at the current high limit room.

Our favorite part: The fringe on the walls was inspired by the fringe on the uniforms of the casino’s dancing dealers.

Golden Gate

This is the den we’d have if we were ambitious or even moderately successful.

The high limit room revamp is set to include some intriguing elements inspired (and necessitated) by the building’s original design features.

Here’s a look at the other side of the construction wall. Golden Gate’s original arches will play a part in the design of the new high limit room. Now you know.

Golden Gate arches

There’s a chance these arches were around when Golden Gate opened in 1906, but we aren’t sure. We are a blog, not that guy in the Amish hat on “Pawn Stars.”

The latest changes at Golden Gate follow on the heels of another recent, multi-million dollar expansion that integrated the former La Bayou casino space.

That expansion also included a new entrance, loyalty club desk and beer distribution room. Of course, we got photos. Do you know this blog at all?

Golden Gate has managed to do a lot with a little, and we hear there are still more surprises in the works.

Update (7/11/18): Golden Gate owner Derek Stevens has shared one of the “surprises,” a new sports book. We got a look at the space.

Golden Gate sportsbook

It’s not much to look at now, but give it a minute.

The future sports book space sits behind a temporary wall at the south side of the recent casino expansion into the former La Bayou space.

While we’re providing updates, here’s a look at the most recent casino expansion as slot machines were being installed.

Golden Gate

Not too shabby for a place that’s been around since 1906.

There’s more to come.

Update (7/12/18): We said there was more to come!

Here’s a look at the expanded Golden Gate casino, complete with shiny new slot machines.

Golden Gate expansion

The newest casino space in Las Vegas in the oldest casino in Las Vegas.

Oh, all right, just one more.

Golden Gate casino

Everyone loves that new slot machine smell.

See you at Golden Gate.