Category Archives: Las Vegas Casinos

The Latest From Park MGM, Plus Bad News About the Future of Comped Drinks

It’s been awhile since we popped into the Park MGM. In fact, the last time we visited, it was Monte Carlo.

All that’s changed, because Monte Carlo is no more.

Park MGM

Park MGM might have less character than Monte Carlo, but we love that new hotel-casino smell.

That’s right. Monte Carlo, after two decades, is officially Park MGM, a member of the MGM Resorts family.

The company is investing $550 million in the rebrand.

While the hotel’s name has changed, the resort is still in transition, so we snapped some pics to keep you in the loop about what’s up. No thanks, necessary, although we are a big fan of foot rubs. Just saying.

Park MGM

Yes, you’re suppressing a yawn, but it gets better.

We’re pleased to report Park MGM isn’t in the rough shape we’d heard rumors about. The rebrand of Monte Carlo started in 2016, if you can believe that.

Business at the Strip resort has taken a huge hit because guests encountered extensive construction for months on end, with lots of venues closed and walled off, and word spread.

Now, though, things are starting to take shape at Park MGM, including the unveiling of new offerings like Juniper Cocktail Lounge and Money Line sports bar.

Let’s take a look at Park MGM, back to front.

The rebrand has included the build-out of a new reception area.

Park MGM

Vegas hotels have castle themes, circus themes, Egyptian themes and Venice themes. Park MGM is foliage themed.

Nearby, there’s a new restaurant and bar, Primrose.

Park MGM

Primrose comes from a Scottish word meaning “tree of the moor,” moor or less.

The hotel’s pool area has been completely done over. Now, there are three small pools, with lots of seats and umbrellas and people wishing they’d hit the treadmill a bit more often before their Las Vegas vacation.

Park MGM pools

The pool complex offers a number of ways to spend money, including reserved lounge chairs ($15), daybeds ($75), cabanas and Baja loungers ($15).

There’s a new high limit slots room, where we made sure to donate some of our disposable income.

Park MGM high limit

The high limit table games are awkwardly out on the casino floor nearby, but we suspect they’ll have a new home soon.

A very new addition to Park MGM is its new West Bar. It’s a fairly typical casino bar, with 19 video poker machines.

Park MGM bar

Only about half the seats at West Bar have video poker, presumably because guests aren’t gambling like they used to.

We played some video poker and were given comped (that’s Vegas for “complimentary”) drinks during our play. And, yes, they even poured Captain Morgan spiced rum from a bottle.

Yes, we’re touting the fact a casino bar 1) comps drinks, and 2) pours liquor from a bottle. You’ll see why in a minute.

Making our way through the casino, we got to see the new Juniper Cocktail Lounge. We’re pretty sure this was the same space as Monte Carlo’s Hit Lounge.

Juniper has a pretty swanky design, and features a number of video poker machines at the bar.

Park MGM Juniper Cocktail Lounge

Don’t try to read that sign or you’ll put an eye out.

As you might expect at a lounge called “Juniper,” there are a ton of gin-based cocktails on the menu. Gin gets its main flavor from juniper berries, a reminder how much you can learn while hanging out in Las Vegas cocktail lounges.

Most of the cocktails at Juniper Cocktail Lounge are in the $15-17 range.

We were dismayed to learn no drinks are comped (free) for those who play video poker at the bar. Hey, we warned you in the headline there would be bad news. There’s more to come.

Park MGM Juniper Lounge

We say either have video poker and comp drinks, or don’t have video poker. Otherwise, you’re just being annoying.

Closer to The Strip, there’s the new Money Line Sports Bar & Book.

Money Line Sports Bar & Book has a welcoming layout, with a pool table and a couple of mini bowling lanes.

Park MGM sports bar

When you bet on a “moneyline,” you’re betting on the outright winner of your favorite sportsball game.

The bar, of course, is lined with video poker machines.

As we started to play, we were informed (again), there were no comped drinks for video poker players. Not even a soda.

Park MGM sports bar

The Moneyline sports book and bar was almost entirely empty during our visit. On a Saturday night. Coincidence?

Our earlier dismay turned to annoyance as we realized this isn’t a fluke, but a trend, and not the good kind.

It seems MGM Resorts is taking a page from the Wynn Las Vegas playbook, as Wynn stopped comping drinks at its video poker bars some time ago.

This “trend” is troubling because while Wynn and Encore are just two hotels, MGM Resorts has a slew of them on The Strip. Don’t be surprised if this is a glimpse at things to come.

Denying video poker players comped drinks is getting some customer backlash, according to staff we spoke to, but whether this policy will spread remains to be seen.

Oh, well. We’re not going to let a misguided policy put a damper on our visit. Probably. We’ve got more exploring to do.

Much of the negative buzz about Park MGM has had to do with the temporary entrance from the Las Vegas Strip.

It’s fairly easy to see why.

Park MGM

Not optimal.

Again, these are growing pains, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

Let’s head out front. Who needs comped drinks when we’ve got a security breach to lighten our mood?

Here’s a look at the construction on the Strip side of Park MGM.

Park MGM

Former home of 800 Degrees Pizza, Blvd. Creamery, Yusho Japanese Grill and Sambalatte. Hey, they were all four years old, so time to go!

There are a ton more photos in the gallery, so hang out awhile.

Park MGM Las Vegas

Our first Park MGM security breach. You always remember your first.

This front structure is supposed to be Eataly, a “vibrant marketplace with cafes, to-go counters and sit-down restaurants from Mario Batali, the guy accused of sexual misconduct.”

We added that last part ourself.

This whole Eataly thing is complicated.

MGM Resorts says the $13 million project will continue despite explosive allegations against Mario Batali, but we’re thinking the company is probably looking for another partner for the venue.

Las Vegas Sands (owner of Venetian and Palazzo) recently pulled the plug on three Batali restaurants, despite his company’s claims Batali is no longer involved.

Set to close July 27, 2018, are B&B Ristorante and Otto at Venetian and CarneVino at Palazzo.

Park MGM Eataly

If you miss the Monte Carlo casino, we hear there’s another, less interesting one, in Europe somewhere.

MGM Resorts has been very public about its zero tolerance policy for sexual misconduct, so they’re in an impossible position at the moment.

The space is looking pretty good, though, and here’s what it’s supposed to look like when it opens.

Park MGM resort rendering

They’re definitely trying to class up the joint. Just ask the former Diablo’s Cantina.

So, that’s our whirlwind tour of the new Park MGM, a work in progress.

While we’re not thrilled about the comped drink policy at Juniper Cocktail Lounge and Money Line sports bar, there’s a lot to like about Park MGM, including the staff.

Most members of the Monte Carlo staff have made the transition to Park MGM with their friendliness intact. They’re not shy about admitting there’s been some chaos during the rebrand, but they’re starting to see former Monte Carlo customers return.

The reality, though, is those Monte Carlo customers aren’t really the target customer of Park MGM. Park MGM has aspirations to attract younger, more affluent customers.

A prime example is Bavette’s Steakhouse & Bar. While we’ve heard it’s good, it’s not really for the value-conscious.

Juniper seems more along the lines of Skyfall at Delano and Clique at Cosmopolitan than fans of the Hit Lounge.

Park MGM

Although it’s not on the sign, Park MGM will have a boutique hotel, NoMad. NoMad needs a better agent.

It’s odd to think of the Las Vegas Strip without Monte Carlo, but Las Vegas is always throwing something new against the wall to see if it will stick.

Enjoy more photos from our recent foray to Park MGM.

Park MGM Progress - June 2018

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Wynn Resorts Rights a Wrong, Rolls Back Paid Parking

Few saw it coming, but Wynn Resorts has bucked a trend by announcing it will give free parking to its hotel guests, as well as a way for us commoners to get free parking, too.

Your first question, of course: Las Vegas hotels make their own guests pay for parking?

Well, yes. Where have you been?

Currently, Wynn and Encore charge guests for self-park and valet, a trend that’s become the norm in Las Vegas, just as it is in other cities.

Self-park rates run $7 for the first 1-2 hours, $12 for 2-4 hours and $15 up to 24 hours. Valet charges currently run from $18 (up to two hours), to $27 for 24 hours.

Starting July 1, 2018, that all changes.

Wynn Encore

Wynn Resorts could use some positive buzz right about now. Free parking is a great place to start.

Guests of Wynn and Encore will be able to self-park or valet for free. Remember when free parking was a thing in Las Vegas?

Free parking for hotel guests will be included in their $39 resort fee. Wynn Resorts assures customers the resort fee won’t be increased to accommodate the new policy.

Don’t get us started about resort fees. That’s a fight for another day.

But wait, there’s more.

Non-hotel guests will also be able to park free, albeit with validation. Guests will be validated upon receipt of a $50 spend at Wynn or Encore.

That minimum can be spent at all the retail stores, restaurants, shows, nightclubs and lounges at either of the resorts.

Players will be pleased to hear even money spent gambling counts toward the $50 minimum spend to get free parking. The company hasn’t release details about how that will work, but we trust they’ll figure it out.

Wynn parasols

Sorry, gazing at the pretty things won’t get your parking validated. Buy a couple of drinks, though, and you’re good.

This change in paid parking policy is a pretty big deal in Las Vegas. Paid parking is an ongoing source of frustration for visitors, and many believe is has caused a shift in public perception of Las Vegas as a value destination.

We are one of those people.

So, what’s the motivation behind Wynn Resorts’ move?

Well, there’s the official answer, referred to as “horseshit” in public relations parlance.

Maurice Wooden, President of Wynn Las Vegas, said, “We have come to believe that charging additional parking fees is counter to the personalized service we provide. This new policy directly reflects the way we know our guests want and deserve to be treated.”

So, it suddenly dawned on them guests don’t like having to pay for parking? Right.

Wynn $5,000 machine

This machine at Wynn is $5,000 per spin. You’re covered on the parking.

Wynn Resorts has at least three reasons to change its paid parking policies.

First, its restaurants, shows and retail stores have taken a hit since paid parking was instituted. And it’s not just happening at Wynn and Encore, but at casinos all across Las Vegas.

Restaurants don’t receive the financial benefits of paid parking, at all, so they’re being hurt with nothing to show for it.

Increasingly, restaurants, shows and retail stores are letting their casino overlords know they’re suffering, and it appears Wynn Resorts is listening.

Second, it’s Wynn Resorts, so there’s an undeniable public image component.

Generously setting aside parking fees can’t hurt during a time when Wynn Resorts is trying to restore its tarnished reputation following the Steve Wynn sexual misconduct scandal.

Wynn Resorts is throwing everyone a bone. Which, come to think of it, is what got Steve Wynn in all that trouble in the first place.

We’ll wait.

Wynn funny chip

Oh, like we’d do a story about Wynn without including this chip. Do you know this blog at all?

Third, follow the money.

Wynn’s neighbors, Venetian and Palazzo, still offer free parking. That means many customers park at these competing casinos and walk to Wynn and Encore.

One of the cardinal rules of Las Vegas casinos: Don’t send customers to a competitor. Guests may intend to pass through Palazzo to gamble and dine at Wynn, but there are lots of distractions along the way.

So, the bottom line is Venetian and Palazzo deserve props for holding strong on free parking. If they’d rolled out paid parking, it’s unlikely Wynn Resorts would be changing its policies.

Palazzo

We all owe you a beer, Palazzo.

Along those same lines, let’s not forget another neighbor with free parking: Fashion Show Mall. You can bet there’s a collective sigh of relief at retail outlets inside Wynn and Encore right about now.

We can only hope the new parking program at Wynn and Encore is an acknowledgment by casinos that paid parking is an unnecessary annoyance to customers.

Paid parking is a short-sighted revenue play that hurts brands and, ultimately, Las Vegas.

Let’s hope the other big casino companies in Las Vegas, Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts (which started this whole paid parking mess), see the light, too.

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Take a Walk Along a Las Vegas Casino Surveillance Catwalk

It’s rare when you see something you’ve never seen before, but gird your loins, you’re about to.

A few years back, before Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall (originally Barbary Coast) was gutted to become the Cromwell, we got to stroll the casino’s old-school, labyrinthine catwalk.

casino security catwalk

Do you have any idea how long we’ve waited to use the word “labyrinthine” in a blog post?

Before the “eye in the sky” came along, casino surveillance guys (they were pretty much universally male) would peer down from above with binoculars to watch for dishonest employees and players trying to cheat the house.

Mostly that first thing, surprisingly.

What was it like? Here’s a never-before-seen glimpse into a bygone era in Las Vegas.

Many of the old security passageways in Las Vegas casinos were closed off years ago, but a few remain.

Given the extensive renovation of Cromwell, it’s unlikely the security catwalk in our video survived.

Casino security has come a long way since the early days of Las Vegas, of course. Now, casinos use sophisticated cameras and video analysis software to protect their assets.

casino security

In older casinos, new technology (dome cameras, left) co-exists with old. Note the one-way mirrors at right.

In recent years, Las Vegas casinos have started using what’s called “non-obvious relationship awareness,” or NORA, software. This software allows security to tell if players and dealers are colluding.

Casinos even employ cryptographers and game theorists to assist with security efforts.

Here’s a fun fact: Casino employee uniforms are designed to deter theft. Sleeves are often kept short to prevent concealing chips, and pockets are either disallowed or covered with aprons.

craps dealer

Short sleeves and no pockets. Now, you know why.

Enjoy another glimpse into the past of Las Vegas.

casino security

Even that red discard tray is a security measure! They help security detect inks, or “daubs,” used to mark cards.

There’s something thrilling, and more than a little creepy, about walking in the footsteps of those early surveillance teams.

Back in the day, casinos often didn’t hand over unscrupulous employees or cheats to the police, preferring to deal with the issues internally. If you get our drift.

While some may pine for the early days of Las Vegas, we tend to prefer our kneecaps unbroken and our eyes unpopped out.

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Margaritaville Casino, 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar and Tag Sports Bar Reportedly Closing

There’s been a recent flurry of rumors from guests and staff that three venues are closing in the near future: Margaritaville Casino and 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar at Flamingo and Tag Sports Bar at the Linq hotel-casino.

At the moment, it appears the Margaritaville restaurant will be sticking around. It’s working through a five-year contract and is said to rake in about $30 million a year, making it the most successful of the chain’s locations.

Margaritaville Casino Flamingo

Every good run must come to an end.

While there hasn’t been an official announcement about the closings, it seems Caesars Entertainment, which owns Flamingo and Linq, is shaking things up in preparation for two new mid-Strip offerings, the Fly Linq Zipline and Kind Heaven.

Flamingo neon

Insert gratuitous photo for Pinterest here.

We were the first to share plans for the Fly Linq zipline, a $20 million attraction that will fly guests on 10 ziplines from the Vortex at Linq to the base of the High Rollers Ferris wheel.

The $100 million Kind Heaven is also slated for Linq and the Linq promenade. Kind Heaven is an Asian-themed walk-through attraction with music festival roots.

While the Margaritaville Casino and 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar at Flamingo aren’t directly affected by the new attractions, word is the casino-within-a-casino was under-performing, so out with the old and in with the new. It’s Vegas, after all.

Margaritaville Casino

The Margaritaville Casino was wasting away, so time for something new.

The 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar is perhaps best known for its happy hour featuring five-cent beers.

Margaritaville casino happy hour

Putting the “happy” in “happy hour.”

From what we hear, the 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar will be rebranded, so don’t freak out, the closure of the bar will be a zero-sum game, whatever that might actually mean.

5 O'Clock Somewhere

While the world is partitioned into discrete time zones, “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere” is not accurate because it does not take into account the times between 5:01 and 5:59.

The Margaritaville Casino officially opened Oct. 14, 2011. The casino opened as a way to generate revenue from about 1,500 square feet of unused public space, and we’ve enjoyed our visits.

The Margaritaville Casino at Flamingo accounted for about 22 table games and 220 slot machines.

The space has lots of Jimmy Buffett-inspired decorative touches, including table games felt adored with palm fronds, shark-infested slot machines and a huge-ass margarita glass.

Margaritaville Casino

Bonus: Huge-ass lime slices.

And let’s not forget about the carpeting that looks like a topographical map of an island chain. Or an alien riding a dragon. Whichever.

Margaritaville Casino

There are about 2,000 islands in the world’s oceans, and at least one “in the stream.”

While a licensing agreement with Margaritaville Holdings might have appealed to Caesars Entertainment at one time, the company’s M.O. has changed in recent years. For example, Caesars swapped out partners Sin City Brewing at Flamingo (for Patio Bar) and Fat Tuesday at Linq (for Purple Zebra) to manage the venues in-house and keep more of the pie.

It’s also been rumored another nearby bar will close at the end of June 2018, Tag Sports Bar at the Linq hotel-casino.

Tag Sports Bar opened in March 2014.

We didn’t visit Tag Sports Bar too much, because “sports,” obviously.

Tag Sports Bar

Tag, you’re not it.

Apparently, even hundreds of beers and a “holographic” dealer couldn’t save Tag Sports Bar.

Las Vegas is always serving up something new, so we look forward to hearing what’s next for the spaces freed up by the closures of Margaritaville Casino and 5 O’Clock Somewhere at Flamingo and Tag Sports Bar at Linq casino.

Margaritaville Casino

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Rumor: Signs Point to Cosmopolitan Sale to Hard Rock International

It’s the juiciest rumor we’ve heard in weeks: Cosmopolitan is strengthening its bottom line for a potential sale to Hard Rock International.

Hard Rock Las Vegas

Don’t toss out those signs from the Hard Rock casino quite yet.

We’ve been Tweeting furiously about odd news out of Cosmopolitan recently, that staff layoffs were taking place and credit lines were being halted and reviewed.

Now, we know why.

Cosmopolitan ownership reportedly brought in a company specializing in business efficiency and steps have been taken to make the resort more appealing to a surprise suitor, Hard Rock International.

Here’s just one example of the recent cost-cutting measures happening at Cosmopolitan: We’ve learned in March 2018 the resort switched from Coke to Pepsi, about a 10% savings by some estimates.

The Cosmopolitan

Rumors have swirled for some time about a sale of the Cosmo, but this one could have legs.

Details are few about the potential sale to Hard Rock International, but who has time to wait for a news release? Don’t be surprised if there’s official news of a sale in the near future.

Chandelier Bar Cosmopolitan

Just another day at Cosmo.

Rumors of the sale of Cosmopolitan to Hard Rock International comes on the heels of a sale of the nearby Mandarin Oriental to a mystery buyer (we’ve heard it’s a private investor, but could be a Ritz-Carlton) and confirmation the Hard Rock casino in Las Vegas was sold to Virgin Hotels and a group of investors.

When we first shared rumors of the sale of Hard Rock Las Vegas, it was Hard Rock International believed to be the buyer—it appears they may have had their eyes on a bigger prize.

Hard Rock Las Vegas wasn’t part of the Hard Rock International family, it was owned by Brookfield Asset Management. There will be a quiz.

MGM Resorts was reportedly eyeballing Cosmo at one point, but has apparently moved on.

Interesting times in Las Vegas, to be sure.

More sales, mergers and acquisitions are anticipated in the months to come.

Update (5/3/18): Following our story, two well-placed sources have confirmed Hard Rock International has entered the “due diligence” phase with Cosmopolitan. What’s “due diligence”? That’s where a hotel being sold provides an metric ass-ton of documentation to a potential buyer. Here’s a sampling (.pdf) of what’s involved. More to come!

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Hard Rock Las Vegas Sale Finally Officially Confirmed

After months of us sounding like a crazy person, the sale of Hard Rock Las Vegas has been confirmed.

A news conference was held at the Hard Rock in conjunction with the long-awaited announcement. Watch it.

The Hard Rock was purchased by Richard Branson’s Virgin Hotels in partnership with a group led by Juniper Capital Partners and Fengate Real Asset Investments along with their partners Dream, Cowie Capital Partners and other private investors.

The sale closed March 30, 2018.

How much did the Hard Rock Las Vegas resort sell for? About $500 million.

Virgin Hotels

It’s about time you showed up!

In attendance at the news conference were Richard Branson (described as a “partner” in the deal), new CEO Richard “Boz” Bosworth, Virgin Hotels CEO Raul Leal and a number of young women dancing around in bikinis.

We first got wind of the Hard Rock sale back in March 2017, then reported the involvement of Richard Branson’s Virgin Hotels earlier this year. We love when a plan comes together, no matter how long it takes.

Virgin Las Vegas

It’s officially official.

During the news conference, it was announced Hard Rock will continue to operate under its current name through 2018.

A major renovation of the resort will happen in 2019. Changes will be “phased in” according to Virgin Hotels, and the resort will officially become a Virgin Hotel in late 2019.

We’re pleased about this news as it allows us to share this rendering we made. Because chastity belts. And virgins.

Virgin Las Vegas rebrand

Hey, you keep something under wraps this long, we’re going to fill in the gaps.

“We’re going to spend hundreds of millions in transforming this property,” said Richard Bosworth of Bosworth Hospitality.

According to a news release, “The hotel will feature 1504 well-appointed Chambers, Grand Chamber Suites and Penthouse Suites; a 60,000 square foot, fully-renovated casino, multiple pools over five acres, world-class restaurants, lounges and bars, including new nightlife venues and the brand’s flagship space, the Commons Club, as well as numerous meeting and convention spaces.”

We trust “chambers” are like rooms, only more “Virginy.”

Here’s more about the sale of Hard Rock Las Vegas and its transition to Virgin Hotel.

At the news conference, as if it needed asking, one reporter asked, “Why Las Vegas?” Richard Branson said, “Virgin’s all about fun, entertainment and not taking ourselves too seriously.”

Richard Branson passed on giving specifics of the cost of Hard Rock.

While Branson didn’t get into details about the sale at the news conference, when asked about rebranding the hotel’s entertainment venues, he said, “The Joint’s got a fun name.”

Virgin Hotel Las Vegas will continue to have a casino, thankfully. A gaming partner will be announced at a later time, per Virgen Hotels CEO Raul Leal.

As for the Hard Rock’s memorabilia, it’s staying.

Richard Branson has been quoted as saying, “You’re not going to walk into slot machines the moment you walk into a Virgin Hotel like you do the Hard Rock, but we’ll be tasteful, fun, and we’ll get the right balance there. I come from the rock ‘n’ roll business, and the memorabilia is something that fortunately comes with the hotel. So it’s incredible for me to suddenly have this collection of wonderful rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia.”

Hard Rock Las Vegas

Dibs on this sign.

It’s been a tough slog for the Hard Rock recently, and this sale will breathe some much-needed new life into the resort.

Richard Branson said, “It’s been allowed to get a bit tired over the years, but it’s got fantastic staff and that’s the absolute key.”

Virgin Hotels is an intriguing brand that’s been described as “disruptive,” and Las Vegas loves disruption as much as we do.

It was fun while it lasted, Hard Rock, and welcome to Las Vegas, Virgin Hotels.

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